By ANDREW BOYLE, Now that most of the delegates to Amsterdam have returned home, the significance and lessons of the first World Council of Churches are beginning to emerge in outline.
It was no small undertaking to accommodate the views of hundreds of eminent Churchmen from 148 Christian communions; and as the warm enthusiastic glow of the Conference atmosphere grows fainter those who took part are busily assessing just what was achieved.
Few judicious observers would go so far as to suggest that the lessons of Amsterdam will shortly be heard from non-Catholic pulpits and platforms round the world
Yet several balanced Anglicans who sat through the crowded sessions in the great Concertgebouic, or took part in the Section Subcommittees, have expressed to me the belief that " much of practical value has been learnt— and there are steps that can be taken immediately."
Perhaps the most striking fact about the World Council is that it took place at all.
This is not to decry the many divisions between the Christian bodies concerned; rather is it to praise the sincerity, determination and joint awareness of the tremendous ' tasks that must be shouldered by Christians in the darkening world of the midtwentieth century.
Any idea. however, that a shortcut to a Reunion of the Churches might be forged at Amsterdam was
foredoomed. On the ground of basic belief. there was little out of which a kind of "Super-Church " might be built. Which probably accounts for the stern face that has since been set in this country against the founding of a World Church.
The section dealing with the need of evangelism or conversion in the modem world proved 'somewhat tricky country. Here, as much as anywhere. the dangers of encroaching on the preserves of individual Churches were considerable. As a result, the findings were cautious and even dull. According to one Anglican spokesman I met: " This seemed to me one of the woolliest parts of the Conference." But it was in Section Three. where the critical problems rising from modern economic and political life came in for searching examination, that the World Council had its
most obvious opportunity. And, unfortunately. it was here too that fundamental disharmonies in ontlook made it difficult for delegates to give an unambiguous lead.
" It staggered me," another Anglican said, " how far apart sonic of
us were. I could understand the immediate absurdity of expecting a native African missionary to denounce the evils of factory civilisation and disappearing personal responsibility.
' It was distressing, not to say unedifying. to hear the utilitarian Christianity of some Western representatives. It was strange to hear the natural law being challenged or doubted by official spokesmen of some Churches."
Beyond any doubt, the effort to reconcile conflicting viewpoints cost dear when agreed statements were drafted.
By a process of discreet whittling
down, " dangerous " resolutions were made innocuous; and more of the Churches felt able to underwrite what had been finally arrived at. Thus. such arresting problems as Work and Vocation and Man's
Rights as a creature of God were dealt with summarily and rather weakly.
Moreover, in the Section on International Affairs, problems like modern warfare and the use of modern weapons like the atomic bomb were skirted with wariness.
The discussion on Communism brought into conflict delegates from East and West of the Iron Curtain. Professor Hromadka, from the Universitty of Prague, carried few people with him in his defence of Caeshoslovakia's new rulers; though the subsequent airing of opinions produced some of the liveliest denunciations of the evils and abuses of Capitalism.
'When I asked an Anglican clergyman what he thought could be done as a practical follow-up to Amsterdam, this was his reply: " That will depend as usual on the local parish. And certainly the test for us will he in making our beliefs real to every man and woman we meet and know, " I think we did well to clarify our thoughts on certain problems that are troubling the world. But from my own point of view. Amsterdam was an inspiration. It showed how many Christians everywhere are trying hard to live according to their beliefs."