Unity in Edinburgh and Oxford in the summer of 1937

The greatest concentration of Christian thought and action in the history of the Church since the Reformation

In the summer of 1937, representatives of churches from around the world gathered for two conferences. During July, they met at Oxford for the Conference on Life and Work, focusing on the theme “Church, Community, and State.”

In August, representatives met in Edinburgh for the Conference on Faith and Order, which dealt with “the dogmatic and ecclesial questions confronting the churches and more specifically with the problem of church unity on the basis of creed and doctrine.”

A year later, Swiss theologian Adolph Keller wrote that “together they represented the greatest concentration of Christian thought and action in the history of the Church since the Reformation.”

An American journalist, Charles Clayton Morrison, analyzed the conferences in a sociological manner, in sharp contrast to Keller’s spiritual-theological approach. His analysis focused upon the impact of these conferences on American participants.

Oxford and Edinburgh, and the plethora of publications they engendered, helped set the stage for the unity movements that have continued across the Christian world since that time. Church leaders at these conferences were deeply committed to ideas and issues that led to the launching of the Consultation on Church Union twenty-five years later. This connection is what persuaded me to give attention to the two conferences in that summer on the eve of World War II.

Although Morrison’s analysis of the conferences was analytical and detached, some of his other writings during this period show some of the characteristics that Keller expressed: the dread of impending crisis, anticipations of the collapse of civilization, a conviction that the churches were failing in their work of saving civilization in a form that would be faithful to God and healthful for all of its people, and the urgency of Christian unity in order for the one church of Christ to be capable of doing what God intended it to do.

Read more–Oxford & Edinburgh 1937

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