Olle Kristenson: Ecumenical document should be studied ecumenically


First I will express my gratitude to John for an inspiring and challenging paper with a lot of ideas to discuss and explore further. I will start with the challenge from Bishop Charles Brent after the 1910 Edinburgh conference when he said that leaving the conference means that people “go away with some fresh duties to perform”. That statement made me recall an editorial from the Church of Sweden magazine just before the Busan assembly.


Here it was stated that the implementation of the results of the assembly in the Swedish context was a double responsibility. One was evident: the responsibility for us who were there to share the items dealt with back home in Sweden. The other, perhaps less evident, was the willingness of those not present in Busan to reflect on what took place there and its relevance for the Swedish context. I believe that our Faith and Order conference in Helsinki is part of this process.


In Sweden the two WCC member churches, the Church of Sweden and the Uniting Church in Sweden, are preparing their responses to The Church – Towards a Common vision. Parallel to this, the Christian Council of Sweden is preparing an ecumenical reception of the document. We believe that ecumenical document should be studied ecumenically and not only within each member church. Our intention is to have discussions with several local Christian councils in Sweden and after that process the board of the Christian Council of Sweden will send an ecumenical response to the Faith and Order commission.


It is encouraging to hear John talking about how successful the ecumenical movement has been. It is important to be reminded of this as we often don’t realise how profoundly ecumenism has renewed the churches. I believe that this is probably true and we should be grateful for it. But I can also see the risk that we take it for granted and forget that people, the pioneers of ecumenism, have worked hard to achieve this and that they were met with resistance by many. There was a time when ecumenism was something almost subversive and I recall how my father, who also was a priest in the Church of Sweden, once was reported to the bishop for preaching in an ecumenical service in the 1960s. We definitely don’t want that situation back, but sometimes I miss the passion from the ecumenical pioneers in today’s established ecumenism.


We need to be reminded of the quotation from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in Busan saying that if the charismatic renewal “is not reflected in actions of peace and justice, it is simply a feeling”. I think that the concluding chapter in The Church – Towards a Common Vision for this reason is essential. The document very clearly states what the Church is but also as in chapter 4 what the Church does. And as I interpret the document the doing of the Church is not only an activity, but also an important part of its being. As John correctly pointed out: “This vision of the goal of unity of the Church in one faith and in one Eucharistic fellowship is not an end in itself, but it is related to the mission of the Church as sign and servant of God’s design for the world, the koinonia of all.”  


Much can be said about the richness of the koinonia concept. I I am trying to really digest the profoundness in it and I am grateful to how it is developed in The Church and to how John has developed it in his lecture. Personally I am also surprised how the whole discipline of ecclesiology has intrigued me. Before listening to John for the first time speaking of ecclesiology as “operating system” and reading The Church I didn’t pay much attention to it. Now I realise how essential it is.


Olle Kristenson

Director for Ecumenical theology

Christian Council of Sweden

Suomen Ekumeeninen Neuvosto / Ekumeniska Rådet i Finland       Eteläranta 8 / Södra kajen 8            PL / PB 210          00131 Helsinki / Helsingfors

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