Vancouver, British Columbia
It ended as it began - with prayer and song and praise for God. While pulpit and pageantry marked the 18-day World Council of Churches convocation in Vancouver, British Columbia, it was highly seasoned with political doctrine and social dogma that will probably continue to provoke controversy. The theme was ''Jesus Christ - the Life of the World.''
To many of the 900 delegates from 300 churches across the globe, the messages were inspired ecumenical calls to action. To others, within and without, they were sometimes viewed as a left-wing rhetoric, a socialist scenario in the name of God.
On balance, the messages and resolutions emanating from Vancouver are not likely to have lasting effect on governments or even churches. But they are likely to stir some debate among many Christian denominations and extend the longtime unresolved questions over the role of religion in civic affairs.
Political discussions as well as worship took place amid evident joy and friendship. Expectably, many delegates carried Bibles and prayer books to both secular and nonsecular exercises. Clerics and lay people of all races exchanged brotherly greetings when they encountered one another on the campus of the University of British Columbia's conference center.
'' 'Jesus Christ - the Life of the World!' These are words that speak of joy, of meaning, of hope,'' proclaimed South African black theologian Allan Boesak, president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.
''Our life and power is Christ,'' said Bishop Leslie Boseto of the United Church of Papua, New Guinea, and Solomon Islands. ''It is true that we live in the world, but we do not fight from worldly motives. The weapons we use in our fight are not the world's weapons, but God's powerful weapons.''
''Both prayer and action deepen our understanding of faith,'' declared a task force report on ''taking steps toward unity.'' And south India Bishop I. Jesudasan said: ''This grand spectacle gives a foretaste of heaven.''
Of theological significance was the approval by the assembly of a ''unity'' accord, which many saw as a historic move toward bringing closer together not only the world's Protestants, but Roman Catholics and others as well. A document on ''Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry'' - 56 years in the making - has been passed along for study to member churches by the WCC's Faith and Order Council.
The ''Lima Liturgy,'' agreed to in principle in Lima, Peru, last year by an international conference of theologians, paves the way for accord among churches on such issues as the Eucharist and baptism. These, among others, have long divided theologians and resulted in the development of hundreds of separate Christian churches.
On the political and social level, unity among the delegates was much less apparent. After a final week of task force debate on such issues as peace and freedom and human rights, WCC delegates ended up with resolutions sharply criticizing United States policy in Central America; condemning possession of nuclear weapons ''as a crime against humanity''; urging opposition to US deployment of Pershing II and cruise missiles in Western Europe; denouncing apartheid in South Africa and holding that ''any theology that supports or condones it is heretical''; calling for the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state; and favoring the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan , but only after an ''overall political settlement'' is reached. The last was coupled with a resolution to request a cutoff of arms supplies to Afghan freedom fighters.
The WCC was criticized for what it did and what it did not do. An international group of evangelicals accused delegates of ''equating Christ with anything that seems to satisfy human craving for a richer life'' and misusing Christian heritage as a forum for ''social-political ideologies.''
Others are laying strong charges of political bias at the council's door for denouncing US policies in Central America while watering down its criticism of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. The WCC is also being taken to task by some for refusing to hear an appeal from Soviet Christians who claim persecution and discrimination in the USSR. Two letters to the council vividly detailed such treatment.
A highlight of the meetings came with the appearance of controversial South African Bishop Desmond Tutu, who preached an impassioned sermon against racism and apartheid.
Bishop Tutu was first denied a passport by his government, but this decision was later reversed. The black dissident's proclamation of love for mankind was broadly embraced. His rejection of ''capitalism'' and defense of ''socialism'' brought a mixed reaction.