National councils and conferences

In 1910, at the time of the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference, there were only two national Christian councils. One of the objectives of the International Missionary Council (IMC), which was formed after the Edinburgh conference, was to encourage missionary societies to set up national conferences or councils for the coordination of their work. By 1948, thirty councils were members of the IMC. When the IMC merged with the WCC in 1961, these councils became affil­iated with the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism. This relationship still exists. Thirty national councils of churches (or national Christian councils) were affiliated with CWME in 2005.

Click on the regions and countries to find a National council or conference;

The process by which missionary conferences developed into Christian coun­cils, and then, even if not always in name, into national councils of churches (NCCs), was already advanced by 1948. In the following years it was carried fur­ther. Asian and African Christian leaders began to think that it was inappropri­ate for missionary agencies to have membership in a national Christian council. While their financial contributions were useful, and even necessary, their mem­bership both obscured the nature of the councils and diminished their effective­ness in their relationships with communities and national governments. The National Council of Churches in India is a typical example. The Missionary Coun­cil was formed in 1912; then the National Christian Council of India, Burma and Ceylon in 1921; then the National Christian Council of India and Pakistan in 1947. According to its revised constitution of 1956 "only organized church bodies are entitled to direct representation in the Council". Missions which were still not integrated in a church in India could become associate members. Thereafter, the Christian councils have tended to become councils of churches. In 1979 the National Christian Council of India changed its name to the National Council of Churches in India, reflecting the change in understanding of membership as church-based.

The Second WCC Assembly at Evanston (1954) made provision for a more formal relationship of national councils of churches/Christian councils with the WCC, by creating a category of "associate councils". The difference between "associate councils" and "affiliated councils" is that associate councils are for­mally related to the WCC as a whole. They are represented by advisers at WCC central committee meetings and by delegated representatives at assemblies. In 2005, the number of associate councils was 64.

Affiliated councils are legally members of the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism and support the work of the WCC Commission on World Mission and Evangelism. Some of these councils do not wish to become directly associated with the WCC because of objections in some of their member churches. In order to provide a framework for cooperation with these and other councils, a third cat­egory of relationship has been established, called "councils in working relation­ship with the WCC".

In the late 1960s, the WCC made specific efforts to encourage and facilitate the creation of national councils of churches/Christian councils in countries where they did not yet exist. In 1971 it convened the first international conference of national councils, to discuss their nature and purpose, their role in the ecumeni­cal movement, and cooperation and relationships between the WCC and national councils. A second international consultation was held in 1986, this time jointly organized by the WCC, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) of the Catholic Church, and a working group set up by the councils. In 1993 the third international consultation took place in Hong Kong, organized by the NCCs themselves, with the participation of the WCC and the PCPCU. Two more consultations have been held, in 1997 and 2002, in conjunction with meet­ings of the WCC central committee. These have been limited to associate councils, mainly for financial reasons. A small liaison group composed of general secre­taries of NCCs in various continents relates to the WCC on matters of overall rela­tionships and consultation. Programme cooperation between the NCCs and the WCC takes places in many ways. Very often the national council of churches/Christian council is the primary ecumenical partner of the WCC in a particular country.

National councils of churches exist in all the regions except the Middle East. There is a consensus among the churches in the Middle East that the purpose of Christian witness and unity in the region is best served at the regional level, through the Middle East Council of Churches.