How We Work: The Forum Model

The Canadian Council of Churches was born in 1944 in the climax of World War II. The Council stemmed from hope and the desire for reunion and churches to work together. About 15 years ago, Council members recognized the fundamental ecumenical dilemma: churches seeking the way to be together must at the same time find a way to preserve the integrity, the Witness to Truth (John 17:17-23), which each member church holds dear and essential. Through the 60-year history of the CCC the Council’s greatest success has been to find a solution to this dilemma.

For more than 15 years now, the CCC has identified itself in terms of “Forum” both as a defining theology of the reality of Churches meeting together and also as an operating procedure. Forum acknowledges the validity of the theological principle of the Truthfulness of Deep Tradition. Member churches – and their representatives on governing bodies – are expected to bring to the ecumenical table the fullest possible witness to the truth of the Gospel as their Tradition understands it (2 John 8-9). As a working procedure all participants in any ecumenical action speak and make commitments only with the authentic voice of their own church. Explicitly or implicitly, action-decisions of the CCC carry the full approval of the magisterial authoritative office within each member church. Hence, “the voice of the CCC” – the voice of our common Christianity — is heard in actions which receive 100% consensus. (Actions that do not find 100% consensus might be facilitated as “joint actions of some member churches” if they do not violate fundamental doctrines of one of the member churches). The results of this understanding and definition of ecumenism by the CCC have been absolutely historic, a major success in the 20th century search for an ecumenical reality and for a mode of operation in an ecumenical council. All — including the Roman Catholic Church and many independent Reformed Churches in addition to the customary “ecumenical” churches from the Protestant and Orthodox traditions — recognize this definition of ecumenism to be honest, true to present historic circumstances, faithful for every member church, and yet still workable and effective. The result is a major contribution to the history of Christianity in the 20th century, and our work is just at its beginning!

By 1995 the Council was working on naming what it considered important and what it should be doing. Within a year, the Council had revised itself in a way that proved to be a pioneering effort in ecumenism.

At the November 1996 board meeting an agreement was reached on how the Council was to function as a forum. This agreement was adopted for a two-year trial. The thrust according to acting general secretary The Rev. Robert Mills was that:

  • Each member church has equal voice in discussing issues;
  • The Council acts as coordinator of churches wishing to work together, enabling them to act together or to delegate the Council to act on their behalf.
  • Member churches should take control of the agenda, with requests being referred to a committee, commission or board to which representatives are appointed by member churches; and
  • Any resulting action is thus endorsed by the participating member churches. Other member churches may opt in to such action or remain apart.

To function properly, the forum statement noted, all representatives are expected to be able to speak for their churches.

The forum model, Mills said, “recognizes our diversity and provides a method by which we can work together, acknowledging our unity as Christians yet remaining faithful to the respective traditions.

“It allows the widening of the ecumenical circle and has the potential for providing renewed commitment to ecumenism.”

The circle did indeed widen.

In 1996 The Council of Christian Reformed Churches in Canada (since renamed the Christian Reformed Church in North America- Canada) became a member.

The Forum agreement also stated an intention for the Council to become functionally bilingual. As of 2004, the majority of staff is not only bilingual, but multilingual. Council documents are frequently available in both official languages.

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