On August 27, 1953, at the third world conference on Faith and Order, meeting in Lund, Sweden, a text was agreed upon titled: "A Word to the Churches." This text was released to the press for worldwide publication almost immediately. A part of this statement eventually became known (in ecumenical circles) as "The Lund Principle." The statement comes from a sentence which asks:
"Should not our churches ask themsevles whether they are showing sufficient eagerness to enter into conversation with other churches, and whether they should not act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately?"
The final part of this question, which I've put in italics, subsequently became known as The Lund Principle. This may be the most often quoted statement in the history of the Faith & Order Commission. It is often used as an exhortation but in the original context you can readily see that it is a question. The intention was to challenge the churches to talk together so that they could more effectively act together.
Lund was held after the union of churches in South India in 1947. This immensely successful venture, led in large part by Lesslie Newbigin who became the first bishop of the new Church of South India, created a high level of desire for further church unions. Following Lund interpretations of the Lund Principle arose which weakened its original impact. For example, it was used oratorically as a general principle to encourage limited and "spasmodic relationships" (Morris West), such as the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This is a time of prayer for unity that I deeply support. But the writers of this statement intended that their question be applied to the ongoing, day-to-day life of the churches. If answered affirmatively, which the writers hoped for, it would press the question of more permanent change, both locally and nationally. Churches would be required to act, not passively talk about unity.
There are growing signs, admittedly small ones here and there, that a new movement for unity is beginning to happen. This time it is less about a union of churches and more about the mission of Christ carried out in real unity. This is particularly true in local contexts where covenantal partnerships are forming on the ground level where people and churches actually live and function. It seems to me that the Lund Principle is alive and well. The question should still be asked today. Simply put, not as a question but as a statement of principle: "What we can do together we must do together."
I believe this question is more vital than ever, especially in the West where the church is declining in all its historical expressions. I believe the 21st century will see the further decline of Christianity in the West, unless we see a great renewal. I believe that a true renewal will include a renewed emphasis upon the Lund Principle. This principle affirms that churches should act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately. If you want to understand my deep and personal resolve to work for unity remember the Lund Principle is behind my actions. I believe this principle is a burning, prophetic and Spirit-directed question for us more than ever.