The World Council of Churches was founded with a noble aim: to overcome the divisions of Christianity and restore the unity of purpose of Christ’s original followers. After the retirement of its founding spirit, Willem Visser ‘t Hooft, it drifted away from its original concerns, a development that accelerated after his death in 1985. Today it has shrunk in effect to a small secretariat in Geneva that draws inspiration from its obsession with the Palestinian problem and has little else currently to its credit or discredit.
The intention to create a World Council of Churches (WCC) was proclaimed at a meeting in Utrecht in 1938, where its first General Secretary, Willem Visser ‘t Hooft, was also appointed. Because of the Second World War, however, it was only in 1948, at its First Assembly, that the WCC was officially founded. Visser ‘t Hooft remained its General Secretary until 1966. Even after his retirement, he continued to wield considerable influence on its activities by serving as its Honorary President until his death in 1985.
During Visser ‘t Hooft’s period, the WCC placed its greatest emphasis on the need to overcome the multiple divisions of the Christian world. Gradually, the membership was expanded to include numerous Orthodox churches as well as Protestant churches. From 1968 on, Catholics began to appear as observers at WCC meetings. The Vatican, however, has not allowed Catholic churches to join the WCC. It is only Old Catholics, who broke away from the Vatican in the nineteenth century, who have become full members of the WCC.
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