The Report of the Seventh Assembly
1. "Come, Holy Spirit - Renew the Whole Creation!" With this prayer on their hearts Christians from around the world gathered 7-20 February 1991 in Canberra, Australia, for the seventh assembly of the World Council of Churches. This southern "Land of the Spirit" (From the title of a book written in preparation for the assembly on the Australian religious experience)- a land of stark beauty, where the air is filled with the sharp cries of birds and the pungent smell of eucalyptus leaves - formed the background to this new stage of the churches' search for visible unity, for words of prophecy and wisdom, and for common witness and service to the world.
2. We met at a pivotal point in history, a time of disappointed visions of peace, of wars and rumours of wars, of threats to planet earth and to all the creatures which it bears. We were sustained by a deep hope in the renewing energy of the Holy Spirit. We confessed the Holy Spirit as one with the Father and with Christ, undivided, indivisible, embracing the whole created order within its life-giving, reconciling and redemptive love. Yet we recognized, too, the need for discernment and the danger of speaking too easily and quickly about the presence of the Spirit, of identifying the Spirit with our own priorities and programmes. We were challenged to submit all that we are and all that we do to the Spirit's purifying judgment, waiting for the Spirit to reveal all truth.
3. This assembly as those before it was shaped by the context in which it met. Through the presence and testimony of the original inhabitants of this land we learned of their history, suffering and hope for a future marked by the full recognition of their unique identity and dignity. We learned of serious efforts towards this end by both the church and the wider society, but recognize that much remains to be done. There were moving moments of reconciliation when Aboriginal Christians invited non-Aboriginal Australians to join in working for a just society, and when at the celebration of the Lima liturgy officers of the World Council of Churches and Aboriginal Christians shared the eucharist together.
4. Our life and work were warmly supported by the Australian churches, and for many a high point of the assembly will remain the dramatic presentation "Under the Southern Cross" which presented the vitality and diversity of Australian culture and the important role which the churches play within it. There were many cherished chances to meet Australian Christians, and many participants took the opportunity to experience the worship and wider life of a local church. For all the care shown and work done on our behalf. we are profoundly grateful. We register our deep gratitude also for the presentation made to the assembly by the prime minister of Australia, and for the cooperation and support extended by the civil authorities of this land.
5. We were nurtured in this assembly by a rich worship life both solemn and festive, and by Bible study which drew us together in reflection on the theme and sub-themes. In prayer and praise of the Triune God, in confession together of the faith, and in common reflection upon the scriptures, we experienced the unity which is already ours in the Spirit. We met with gratitude and joy many Christians from diverse confessions and cultures, forging and renewing bonds of friendship and affection.
6. The sixth assembly in Vancouver in 1983 had envisioned the churches growing more and more into Jesus Christ; at Canberra they were called to grow in their relations one with another, to grow into a deeper communion in faith and life. This requires bringing cherished traditions and convictions to the discussion, listening and learning from one another, and worshipping, and working together. It may require that we offer or admit that we need to receive - a costly forgiveness.
7. The concern for a speedy end to the conflict in the Persian Gulf, and a just resolution of the situation there, was constantly on our minds. There were differences of opinion as to how this should be achieved, but we were united in our anguish for all who suffer and resolute in our prayer and witness for peace.
8. The theme of gospel and culture arose with new force as we heard how concepts and images from particular cultures are being used as vehicles for Christian truth. We affirm that the church is called to communicate the gospel message intended for all humankind so that it may be heard, understood and accepted in all cultures. Such a handing on of God's truth requires faithfulness to the apostolic faith of the church, creative application of the gospel to contemporary issues and situations, and self-criticism of efforts to communicate the gospel in fresh ways. We continue to search for a common understanding of how to live out these criteria in different contexts.
9. This more than any previous assembly sought to embrace the full diversity of God's people. There was serious commitment to sharing leadership among women and men, young and old, ordained and lay. Strenuous efforts were made to bring new persons into the ecumenical community. This very openness has raised fundamental questions of participation and representation both for the World Council of Churches and for its member churches, questions which must be addressed in the years ahead.
10. There was at this assembly a fresh awareness of our divisions as wounding the body of Christ. For many the greatest pain was felt when we were unable to express fully our communion by sharing the eucharist. It was asked: how may we help overcome the divisions of the world when we cannot even celebrate together our Lord's sacrifice for its salvation? Here and elsewhere we need desperately a mobilizing portrait of visible reconciled life that will hold together an absolute commitment to the unity and the renewal of the church and an absolute commitment to the reconciliation of God's world - and that will show us the inseparable relation between them.
11. In these and other areas we are practising a costly growing together. Both hurting and healing are held within the circle of Christian community, that healing may prevail. Holding fast to one another, bearing the cost of our divisions, we seek from the Spirit of unity the gift of reconciliation and renewal.
12. The heart of the assembly was the work done in its four sections, exploring aspects of the theme relating to creation, to truth and freedom, to unity and reconciliation, and to transformation and renewal. Several issues and questions emerged in more than one section, these included the nature and role of the church, the activity of the Holy Spirit, the relation of the gospel to other cultures, the search for a renewed community of women and men, and the transformation of the international economic order.
Section I: Giver of Life - Sustain Your Creation!
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth... And God saw everything that God had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:1,31).
13. The universe in all its beauty and grandeur manifests the glory of the Triune God who is the source of all life. All things have been made in Christ, in whom God's creation comes to fulfilment. The divine presence of the Spirit in creation binds us as human beings together with all created life. We are accountable before God in and to the community of life, so that we understand ourselves as servants, stewards and trustees of the creation. We are called to approach creation in humility, with reverence, respect and compassion, and to work for the mending and healing of creation as a foretaste and pointer to the final gathering up of all things in Christ (cf. Eph. 1:10).
14. The earth was created by God out of nothing in a pure and simple act of love, and the Spirit has never ceased to sustain it. Yet our earth is in grave peril, the very creation groaning and travailing in all its parts (Rom. 8:22). This is a "sign of the times", calling us to return to God and to ask the Spirit to re-orient our lives. Through misunderstanding - and sometimes through deliberate choice - Christians have participated in the destruction of nature, and this requires our repentance. We are called to commit ourselves anew to living as a community which respects and cares for creation.
The theology of creation: a challenge for our time
15. What is our place as human beings in the natural order? The earth itself, this little watery speck in space, is about 4.5 billion years old. Life began about 3.4 billion years ago. We ourselves came on the scene some 80,000 years ago, just yesterday in the twinkling of the Creator's eye. It is shocking and frightening for us that the human species has been able to threaten the very foundations of life on our planet in only about 200 years since modem industrialization began. So where do we belong in the Creator's purpose?
16. The Christian scriptures testify that God is the Creator of all, and that all that was created "was very good" (Gen. 1:31; cf. I Tim. 4:4). God's Spirit continually sustains and renews the earth (Ps. 104:30). Humanity is both part of the created world and charged to be God's steward of the created world (Gen. 1:26-27, 2:7). We are charged to "keep" the earth and to "serve" it (Gen. 2:15). in an attitude of that blessed meekness which will inherit the earth.
17. Human sin has broken the covenants which God has made and subjected the creation to distortion, disruption and disintegration - to "futility" (Rom. 8:20). In our own day we have brought the earth to the brink of destruction. But we confess that the redemptive work of Christ was the renewal not only of human life, but of the whole cosmos. Thus we confidently expect that the covenant promises for the earth's wholeness will be fulfilled, that in Christ "the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the glorious freedom of the children of God" (Rom. 8:21).
18. The sacramental Christian perspective influences our approach to the creation; we confess that "the earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it" (Ps. 24: 1). In the whole of the Christian life we take up the created things of this world and offer them to God for sanctification and transfiguration so that they might manifest the kingdom, where God's will is done and the creation glorifies God forever.
19. We agree that some past understandings have led to domination, to forms of control which have been destructive of life, and to views of nature which regard it as subject to human "ownership" and unqualified manipulation. Many streams of the tradition have misunderstood human "dominion" (Gen. 1:28) as exploitation, and God's transcendence as absence. The more theology stressed God's absolute trancendence and distance from the material sphere, the more the earth was viewed as an "unspiritual" reality, as merely the object of human exploitation. While we repudiate these consequences of some theologies of creation, we also know that they are closely related to ways of life which have received theological sanction and support.
20. We are one in our confession of the Holy Spirit as the Source and Giver of Life, and have rejoiced in exploring together at this assembly the presence and the power of the Spirit. But much remains to be explored. How do we understand the relationship between the presence of the Spirit and "sustainability", and indeed the meaning of that word and relationship for our common life? These are life and death questions for humanity and for the planet as a whole.
21. Our exploration of a Spirit-centred theology of creation has led us to deeper understanding. The heritage of indigenous peoples and nonWestern cultures, especially those who have retained their spirituality of the land, offers new insights for all. Worldwide, women and the land have often been seen and treated in parallel ways. The Spirit works to heal the wounds of both. Women's experience is invaluable in helping us to understand and to heal our relationships with the earth and with each other. The poor, who invariably suffer first and most from a degraded environment, also teach us things we must know for an adequate theology of creation. In a world so intimately interconnected, their struggles are the critical starting point for all. The community of scientists is also indispensable, for they carry the single most powerful set of tools for our understanding nature and nature's fragility in the face of human onslaught. And beyond this, our sense of the mystery of life and our awe and wonder at the C
reator's handiwork is deepened by what we learn from science. We thank God for all these sources of insight, wisdom and understanding.
22. Opinion is divided, however, on how to relate inherited faith claims to the new cultural perspectives of emerging Christian voices, on how to relate Christian accounts of creation to creation stories from other traditions, and on how to relate faith to science in the continuing dialogue on creation.
23. Surely the Spirit blows where it wills. We hope that the WCC as a whole will join our plea to stand in its refreshing breezes, even as we carry on the necessary task of discerning together the spirits to see if they are of God. There are new perspectives and new partners in today's world. We cannot turn our back on them.
Towards an ethic of economy and ecology
24. In the institutions of the sabbath, the sabbatical year and the jubilee year, the Bible has shown us how to reconcile economics and ecology, how to recreate people and society (Ex. 23, Lev. 25). Effective economics and stewardship of the earth's resources must be seen together. Law and mercy, discipline and social justice complement one another.
25. Reducing the destructive human domination over creation calls for a new, inclusive experience of community and sharing. The biblical vision is of an intimate and unbreakable relationship between development, economy and ecology. This vision is dimmed when progress is seen as the production and consumption of more and more material things, while development is equated with growth. The vision vanishes when wealth is cut off from the needs of the poor, and the world is divided between North and South, industrialized and non-industrialized nations. Exploitation of nation by nation, of people by companies, and of those who have only the work of their hands to offer by those who have access to powerful economic resources, leads inevitably to conflict. The unfair distribution of resources brings starvation to our neighbours, while destroying the integrity of our souls. In efforts to increase the gross national product, the gross natural product is diminished.
26. Any policy or action that threatens the sustainability of creation needs to be questioned. We cannot ignore the burden of debts that can never be repaid, biotechnologies through which human beings usurp Powers that belong to the Creator, or the fact that the root causes of Population growth lie largely in the poverty and lack of social security Still prevailing in two-thirds of our world. In facing these and other crucial issues we need the dynamic power of the Spirit which integrates faith and life, worship and action to overcome our fear of change.
27. The free-market economy facilitates rapid response to needs expressed in financial terms. But markets and prices do not possess any inherent morality. The vast and shameful arms trade illustrates clearly the immorality of our world economic order; it is one of the root causes of the Gulf war. The international ecumenical movement has for years criticized the lack of economic democracy, social injustice, and the stimulation of human greed. But flagrant international inequality in the distribution of income, knowledge, power and wealth persists. Acquisitive materialism has become the dominant ideology of our day. The irresponsible exploitation of the created world continues. Changes will come only by active opposition and informed and responsible social pressure. We are now more than ever aware that the market economy is in need of reform, and to that end we suggest the following means:
28. Local self-empowerment: Around the world we see that small groups of people of all races and classes, filled with courage and hope, can make a difference. These small local communities try to live against the trends of an acquisitive society in which individual greed and social and ecological exploitation predominate. Those forms of local direct action often bring a new quality of life based not primarily on acquiring goods, but on living in right relation with all of creation. A similar change in values is even more necessary on the part of those who enjoy more privileged life-styles.
29. Government control: Today the limits of bureaucratic control are easily seen. Legislation is effective only if it is part of a full process of social change, applied within a properly functioning legal system. In many countries more could be done to promote the effectiveness and democratic character of governmental control. Without both political and economic democracy there will be no genuine respect for creation. The effective investigation, public prosecution and punishment of ecological crimes is a matter of urgent concern.
30. Rethinking economics: We should not lose sight of how the world community must be accountable to the whole creation, and how it is responsible for the economic and ecological choices to which the world system of trade leads. Market prices rarely reflect real long-term scarcities. Prices should reflect the need to conserve and to regenerate what nature offers; a market economy price is based on demand and supply, which are both being calculated on a very narrow, short-term basis. Non-material needs receive no price; hence they are often not satisfied through consumption, but only increased.
31. What we need, therefore, is a new concept of value, one based not on money and exchange but rather on sustainability and use. We need likewise a new concept of development as opposed to simple growth, a development which results in a self-sustaining whole. What is "just" and ,,right", then, must be found in social, biological, and physical relationships involving humanity and the earth. Such a true development focuses on the level of the ecosystem as a whole.
32. A universal declaration on human obligations towards nature: The existing Universal Declaration of Human Rights serves as a moral standard for those charged with the responsibility of exercising power. In June 1992, the second United Nations Conference on Environment and Development that will take place in Brazil will present a plan for an "earth charter". It would comprise an international agreement on the obligations and responsibilities of governments to the global environment and to future generations. We think that the charter should include a section on the obligations of industrial and agricultural producers of goods and services, with special reference to global corporations, and a section on the responsibilities of consumers. There should be judicial mechanisms for the implementation of the charter from international to local levels. And an international organization, comparable to Amnesty International, should be founded to expose violations of the charter and to mobilize the public conscience. Collective action by consumers would be very helpful to this end.
33. Education.- We need to educate ourselves, each other and our children in the new ecological values and responsibilities. Such teaming should take place in the home, school, church and work place. And beyond this, we need a spirituality which will enable us to resist the forces which treat us only as acquisitive, exploiting creatures. We need to catch the biblical vision of development, ecology and social justice. Then we must go out into the world and, as a new type of missionary, challenge every economic, social and political structure which does not conform to the standards of the gospel.
The church: for the life of all creation
34. The church, a redeemed community which is a sign of the "new creation" in Christ, is called by God to a crucial role in the renewal of creation. Empowered by the Spirit, Christians are called to repent of their misuse and abuse of nature and to reflect critically upon the ways of understanding the Bible, and the theological systems which have been used to justify such abuse.
35. A new appreciation of the theology of creation and a fresh awareness of Christian responsibility towards all of creation may deepen the faith, and enrich the life and work, of the church.