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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: Evanston, 1954

Looking Back

Friday October 10 2014

Looking Back: World Council of Churches meets at Evanston

Extracts from Life and Work's report from the World Council of Churches' second assembly, held in Evanston, Illinois, in August 1954.




This report is from the Rev. J. FRASER MCLUSKEY, M.C., B.D., one of the delegates of the Church of Scotland, which had some notable part in the proceedings. Principal [John] Baillie was elected one of the six Presidents. Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, one of missionaries, was convener of the committee which prepared the Message of the Assembly. Dr. Robert Mackie was there as Director of the Department for Refugees and inter-Church Aid. The hall where the Assembly met is a memorial to a Scots Presbyterian.

THE afternoon was at it hottest and most trying and the members of the Assembly Working Committee on “Youth” looked in neither youthful or working mood. The young delegate from Indonesia grew more and more restive. At last he managed to catch the chairman’s eye and burst into a torrent of vehement speech, ending up with a series of sharply pointed questions. What was the good of these conferences anyway? Did they ever accomplish anything? Wasn’t it the case that most of the delegates and visitors came along because they liked to travel and enjoyed the trip?

It’s not impossible that you have asked similar questions in relation to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches. What did it achieve, this gathering of 1.298 official participants from 179 Churches in 54 countries?

The answer, quite certainly, is a very great deal. At Amsterdam six years ago 150 branches of the Christian Church decided that they would “stay together” in a comradeship of study and service. At Amsterdam the Council’s member Churches resolved that in the coming years they would seek to become better acquainted and would seek also to bear a common witness to their common Lord. This has actually happened. It went on happening at Evanston.


In relief of suffering

In as many as forty-three countries the Churches are working together through the World Council to serve refugee needs. During 1952, 2,500 refugees from from Hong Kong were resettled in Australia, Canada, South America and Europe. In the last six years more than half of the displaced persons in Western Germany have found employment and thousands of the sick and aged are being cared for in special homes. Impressive proof has been furnished of what can be accomplished when the Churches will thus pool their resources in the succouring of those tragically uprooted from home and country.

In the counsels of the nations

The work of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs is not so widely known as it deserves to be. The Commission is composed of forty-five members, two-thirds of whom are Christian laymen with specialised knowledge of international affairs. It has close and harmonious relationships with governmental departments in many countries and with the various branches of the United Nations Organisation. Here is a new and important way in which Christian opinion may be voiced in international affairs.


On the meaning of Christian hope

In the covering statement which accompanies the Report the Assembly plainly speaks its mind. Christians, we are told, must always look for the second coming of the Lord with eager confidence and joy. They must also discern with thankfulness, and help the world to discern, the many proofs of Christ’s presence with His followers here and now.


“Where the Gospel has found true lodgement in men’s hearts,” says the Report of this Section, “they have been inspired with passionate desire to share it with their fellows.” This means that the Church, to be true to its own nature, must be the evangelising Church.

The report stresses yet again that a divided Church cannot bear a true witness to its Lord. “Therefore will the Church deal with these divisions with holy impatience and passionately strive for unity.”

Social and international questions

The meeting of the Assembly was itself the sharpest and most pointed reminder that we live in a tragically divided world. Neither the Church in China nor the Church in Russia was represented at Evanston. All the more welcome then were the delegates from Hungary and Czechoslovakia and from East Germany who were able to attend.

The Report on Social Questions has much to say that is well worth saying. “The Church’s task is to point a two-fold danger: on the one hand the temptation to succumb to anti-communist hysteria and the danger of a self-righteous assurance concerning the political and social systems of the West: on the other hand the temptation to accept the false promises of communism and to overlook its threat to any responsible society.”


We thank God for such unity as we are granted. Long after the precise content of speeches and resolutions fade from the memory, delegates will recall most vividly the opening Assembly service, conducted by four of the five retiring Council presidents. Dr. Boegner of the Reformed Church in France read the Old Testament Lesson in French. Archbishop Athenagoras of the Orthodox Church read the New Testament Lesson in Greek. Bishop Berggrav of the Lutheran Church in Norway led the great congregation in the repetition of the Creed, saying it himself in German. Bishop Oxnam of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the States preached the sermon in English. Here, as we joined in our common worship, singing the hymns and saying the prayers in the language most familiar to us, we were given a vision of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

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