A Theology of the Other in an Ecumenical Reality (Part 1)

The World Council of Churches (WCC) takes the call for unity to task with its historic document, The Church Towards a Common Vision (TCTCV). Their objective, highlighted in their 2012 bylaw, suggests that they exist

to serve the churches as they call one another to visible unity in one faith and in one Eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and common life in Christ , through witness and service to the world, and advance towards that unity in order that the world may believe. [1]

This “mutual calling” is an urgent push to embrace perichoretic moments that seek to stabilize the church.[2] These perichoretic moments represent episodes when “we are ‘habitable’, for one another, giving one another open life-space for mutual indwelling. Each person is indwelling and room-giving at the same time.”[3] The WCC’s desire to append itself to the needs of the “Other” is an essential element to bring forth systemic change. Paul Collins asserts that “the ‘Other’ may relate to intra-Christian and extra-Christian relations and dialogue. The ‘Other’ may be seen in terms of the difference as in stranger/foreigner, whom ‘we’ might welcome or reject. Another might be in the terms of the opposition of friend/foe. This in turn leads to the drawing of borders or boundaries and begs questions of how the ‘Other’ is to be assimilated…The question of the relationship of the church to the ‘Other’ also impinges upon the theology of the church itself…”[4]

Mitzi Smith denotes in her defining of other(ness) as a “description of interaction.”[5] She further states that “Other(ness) is about proximity not alterity; the other who is most like us is most threatening and most problematic…Difference is constructed in order to distinguish ourselves from proximate others. Our constructions of the other generally function to subordinate the other to us.”[6] The intention of this paper is to give a perspective of  TCTCV on how attending the relational needs of the “Other” make ecumenism paramount in a postmodern and racial society –an ecumenical reality that is shaped more around culture rather than God.


[1] World Council of Churches.  The Church:  Towards a Common Vision.  Faith and Order Paper No. 214. Geneva:  WCC Publications, 2014 (Note:  Download from the World Council of Churches web site), vii.

[2] Ibid. The Church.

[3] Jurgen Moltmann,”Perichoresis: An Old Magic Word for a New Trinitarian Theology” in M. Douglas Meeks ,ed., Trinity, Community and Power: Mapping Trajectories in Wesleyan Theology. Nashville: Kinswood Books,2000.,114.

[4] Paul M. Collins, “The Church and the ‘Other’: Questions of Ecclesial and Divine Communion” in Gesa Elsbeth Thiessen, ed., Ecumenical Ecclesiology: Unity, Diversity and Otherness in a Fragmented World. New York: T&T Clark,2009.,101

[5] Mitzi Smith. The Literary Construction of the Other in the Acts of the Apostles. Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2011.,3.

[6] Ibid.,Smith.,3.






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