The costly witness of the church: The World Council of Churches' study on ecclesiology and ethics

John A Jones, Marquette University


Wherein lies the esse of the church: in what it is or in what it does ? The very genesis of the modern ecumenical movement tended toward these divergent emphases--either identity or mission--eventually taking institutional form in the commissions on "Faith and Order" and "Life and Work." Whereas Unit I (Faith and Order) typically emphasizes the identity and theology of the church, Unit III (Life and Work) typically emphasizes its mission and action. During the 1990s the World Council of Churches sponsored a series of dialogues between these two units to address this divergence and dichotomy. The resulting documents, Costly Unity, Costly Commitment, and Costly Obedience, contain remarkably honest and insightful reflection on the nature of the church. The documents suggest overcoming the dichotomy between the two streams of the ecumenical movement with a reunion of ecclesiology and ethics, depending heavily on the concept of "moral formation." In chapters one through three, I interpret and analyze the documents in order to explore questions about the relationship between the church's ethical engagement and its ecumenical dialogues. Based upon this analysis, I extend this notion of moral formation, utilizing the contributions of Free Church theologians to develop an understanding of "witness." In chapter four, I draw on the work of "baptist" systematic theologian, James Wm. McClendon, Jr. to develop a theology of witness which extends and strengthens the trajectory of the study documents, locating the nature and mission of the church in the gospel story. I then apply that theology of witness in chapter five to the difficult ecclesiological issue of authority, the operation of power in the church. The theology of witness developed is suggestive both for ecclesiological and ethical conversations, both in ecumenical circles and in more confessional settings. By situating ecumenical dialogues within a more fully developed understanding of witness, Christians and others can be more fruitfully and communally engaged in ethical issues from religious convictions without such motivations necessarily proving divisive.

Recommended Citation

Jones, John A, "The costly witness of the church: The World Council of Churches' study on ecclesiology and ethics" (2006). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3267437.