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Membership matters

06 September 2006

1. Application for membership 

The Lao Evangelical Church (LEC)  

The Lao Evangelical Church (LEC) presented its application in 2003, the first application from the Indo-China region, where the WCC has been active since the Vietnam war and where most of the Protestant churches have a rather conservative evangelical background. 

The LEC grew out of the work of Swedish Protestant (1890), Swiss Brethren (1902) and Christian and Missionary Alliance missionaries (1928). The missionaries who worked in three different parts of the country came together and adopted a constitution to establish the LEC in 1956. The newly formed church was granted corporate status by the Royal Lao Government in 1960. The change of government in 1975 impacted the church negatively. Between 1975 and 1990 the church did not have any contacts with the outside world as the country remained a closed-door society where religious freedom was restricted. Since the country opened up in 1990, the membership of the LEC has been growing. Today, the LEC has about 300 congregations with more than 100,000 members and is served by 75 full time pastors and more than 200 elders/lay ministers. Most pastors were trained in neighbouring countries. The LEC recently started a Bible school training programme at its headquarters in the state capital Vientiane. Since 1975, no expatriate missionaries have been permitted to work within Laos. Although public evangelical activities are not encouraged by the socialist government, the churches in the capital city, towns and rural areas are experiencing considerable growth, especially with increasing youth membership. 

LEC is headed by an executive president, vice-president and directors of programme departments for Christian education, youth, women, social development and relations with the government. The highest governing body of the LEC is the General Council, which meets annually. 

Besides the spiritual activities, the LEC has social development programmes such as a medical clinic, vocational training centre for women, assistance to primary school, clean water supply, etc. The LEC is the largest Christian denomination in the country officially recognized by the Government of the Lao People's Democratic Republic (LPDR). The LEC maintains good relations with other churches and the Theravada Buddhists who make up 60% of the total 5 million population of the country.  

The ecumenical family's involvement in Laos started in 1969 when WCC/CICARWS initiated channelling of development relief funds to Laos. Since 1994, the LEC has been closely associating with WCC through the WCC-CCA Indochina programme. WCC provided scholarships for several students to study theology in Thailand and facilitated visits of several Lao church leaders to other Asian countries.  

The LEC has been a member of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) since 1967, but the LEC did not have contacts with CCA from 1975 to 1990 due to the political situation in the country. Ever since the LEC was allowed to relate with overseas Christian bodies, it became an active member of CCA. Dr Prawate Khid-arn, General Secretary of the CCA, has strongly recommended to accept the application (September 2005). 

A three member delegation, composed of WCC Central Committee member Rev. Dr Herman Shastri (Malaysia), H.G. Dr Yakoob Mar Iranaues Metropolitan, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, (India) and WCC Asia Secretary Dr Mathews George, had meetings with the leaders of LEC at Chiangmai during the CCA General Assembly in April 2005. During this encounter the new criteria for membership and membership contribution were discussed with the leadership.  

The report of the delegation was presented to executive committee (September 2005), which recommended to the central committee to accept the application of the Lao Evangelical Church according to the rules in force, subject to a visit before its meeting in September 2006 (cf. Minutes of the executive committee, 13-16 September 2005, p. 58). 

Following this recommendation of the executive committee, Rev. Dr Sint Kimhachandra, general secretary of the Church of Christ in Thailand and member of the WCC central committee, has visited the Lao Evangelical Church in July 2006. He also strongly recommended to accept the application of this church. 

Suggested action:

That the executive committee recommends to the central committee that the Lao Evangelical Church be received as member of the WCC fellowship.  

Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil 

In 1903, a quarter of a century after the arrival of the first Presbyterian missionary in Brazil Ashbel Green Simonton, the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil - known as IPIB - organized itself as a Brazilian church with 7 pastors and 15 elders. The founders under the leadership of Rev. Eduardo Carlos Pereira, were determined to be independent from the North American missionaries. 

Financial difficulties of the early period and the lack of pastors made the journey of the young Brazilian Protestant church difficult. Theological education for the preparation of new pastors lead to the foundation of the Seminary (1905) and the acquisition of its own building (1914) in São Paulo. In 1922, the church organized its social work and in the 1930's an ecumenical youth project was designed to bring about the social transformation of the nation, based on the "biblical principles and not on a static theology". In 1934, the Constitution of Brazil gave women the right to vote, and for the first time in Brazilian Protestantism a movement for deaconesses began. Also, for the first time in Latin America, a woman graduated in theology from the seminary of São Paulo. In the 1950's and 1960's, the Church had to cope with the persistent Pentecostal question. In 1993, it opened the way for understanding and dialogue. 

Nowadays, the Church counts around 95.000 members, 3 theological seminaries, 502 churches, 15 synods, and 52 presbyteries Throughout its 100 years, IPIB has deepened its knowledge for ancient as well as new issues, related to renewal of reformed theological thought, liturgical renewal, pastoral work, the diaconate, and mission. 

For the development of its activities, the IPIB has an institutional organization divided into three ministries: The ministry of mission (awareness building on 'Missio Dei'), of education (programmes for continuing education, secular and Christian education) and of communication (a monthly journal and a quarterly magazine). Other activities include: integral mission (health, education and evangelization), social work, social projects (such as shelter and other projects in the Amazon area), environmental and ecological projects. 

The denomination has three seminaries and two centres for the preparation of missionaries. In August, the general assembly of the IPIB approved a project of theological education, emphasizing the study of the Bible, the reformed heritage and pastoral sciences. 

As far as doctrine is concerned, the official confession of the Church is the Westminster Confession of Faith. IPIB has been developing a project for the elaboration of a contemporary confession of faith with the objective of preparing a confessional text suitable to the local reality. 

The IPIB is organized along the patterns of the Presbyterian system. The local churches are governed by male and female elders who are elected directly by their members. A group of local churches compose the presbytery which is in charge of overseeing the churches within its jurisdiction. The presbyteries, which get together regionally in 15 synods, are spread all over the national territory. Finally, the synods come together to form the general assembly, responsible for the national management of the denomination. 

The IPIB has also been improving its relationship with other churches both inside and outside the country. A "fraternal Presbytery", namely the Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of Formosa in Brazil works with the population of Taiwanese origin who live in Brazil. On the other hand, partnerships were established with the following churches: the Presbyterian Church of the USA (PCUSA), the Presbyterian Church of South Korea (PROK), the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan, and the Evangelical Church of the River Plate. The IPIB is also a member of CLAI and of WARC. 

During the 9th assembly in Porto Alegre, a large delegation of the IPIB met with the deputy general secretary of the WCC who explained the procedures for membership application, particularly the new criteria for membership and the rules adopted by the assembly. 

A delegation from the WCC, made up of Dr Elias Abramides (Ecumenical Patriarchate, Argentina), Dr Odair Pedroso Mateus (World Alliance of Reformed Churches), Dr Magali do Nascimento Cunha (Methodist Church in Brazil) and Rev. Dr Marcelo Schneider (Evangelical Church of Lutheran Confession in Brazil) visited the IPIB in August 2006. The delegation had deep discussions with the leadership about the current ecumenical situation in the country, the WCC's new expectations from its rules on membership and membership applications and they also listened carefully to the life and witness of the church. 

The delegation submitted its report and recommends that the ICIB be received in the fellowship of the WCC. 

Suggested action:

That the executive committee recommends to the central committee that the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil be received as member of the WCC fellowship. 

2. International Ecumenical Organizations 

Ecumenical Church Loan Fund (ECLOF) 

The WCC and ECLOF have a long and special relationship. The history of the two sister organizations dates back to Dr Visser 't Hooft, one of ECLOF's founders and first general secretary of the WCC. Until 1998 ECLOF was organizationally part of the WCC. 

ECLOF's specific ecumenical mission is "to provide fair credit for human development and sustainable communities, in witness to the Christian faith". It works through nearly 40 national committees and has developed partnerships and strategic alliances with several ecumenical organizations, including the WCC. 

Today ECLOF and the WCC work together in many areas and coordinate their programmes wherever possible. Representatives of the WCC participate in ECLOF's decision making bodies.

Suggested action:

That the executive committee recommends to the central committee that ECLOF be recognized as an international ecumenical organization in working relationship with the WCC, in accordance with Rule XVIII of the WCC constitution and rules. 

3. Specialized ministries

The executive committee recommended (cf. Minutes of the executive committee, September 2005, p. 59) that the ecumenical partners listed below be recognized as ecumenical organizations "in working relationship with the WCC". 

In anticipation of the decision of the central committee, the executive committee had authorized the general secretary to invite these partner ecumenical organizations to send each a delegated representative to the assembly. 

The executive committee further authorized the general secretary to forward to the central committee any other applications that came in the meanwhile from specialized ministries participating in the WCC Round Table. These applications are included in the list below. 

Expected action:  

That the following ecumenical organizations be recognized as specialized ministries engaged in ecumenical relief and development "in working relationship with the WCC", in accordance with Rule XVII of the WCC constitution and rules: 

  • Brot für Alle, Switzerland

  • Christian Aid, United Kingdom

  • Christian World Service, New Zealand-Aotearoa

  • Church World Service, USA

  • DanChurchAid, Denmark

  • Division for Global Mission - Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, USA

  • Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst (Church Development Service), Germany

  • Evangelisches Missionswerk in Deutschland, Germany

  • FinnChurchAid, Finland

  • General Board of Global Ministries - United Methodist Church, USA

  • HEKS (Hilfswerk der Evangelischen Kirchen Schweiz - Swiss Interchurch Aid), Switzerland

  • ICCO (Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation), the Netherlands

  • International Mission and Diakonia - Church of Sweden

  • Justice, Global and Ecumenical Relations - United Church of Canada

  • Kerkinactie/Global Ministries, the Netherlands

  • Lutheran World Relief, USA

  • Mission Department - Mission Covenant Church of Sweden

  • Norwegian Church Aid, Norway

  • Ökumenische Diakonie - Diakonisches Werk der EKD, Germany

  • Presbyterian World Service and Development - Presbyterian Church in Canada

  • Primate's World Relief and Development Fund - Anglican Church of Canada

  • Week of Compassion - Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), USA

  • Wider Church Ministries - United Church of Christ, USA

  • Worldwide Ministries Division - Presbyterian Church (USA)