number 8, december 12, 1998

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Amsterdam had a Message

It was 50 years ago when the first "Message" was issued by the World Council of Churches. As the council’s 8th assembly draws toward a close on Monday, it’s worth recalling that message from 1948.

The World Council of Churches, meeting at Amsterdam, sends this message of greeting to all who are in Christ, and to all who are willing to hear.

We bless God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ who gathers together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad. He has brought us here together at Amsterdam.

We are one in acknowledging him as God and saviour. We are divided from one another not only in matters of faith, order and tradition, but also by pride of nation, class and race. But Christ has made us his own, and he is not divided. In seeking him we find one another.

Here at Amsterdam we have committed ourselves afresh to him, and have covenanted with one another in constituting this World Council of Churches. We intend to stay together. We call upon Christian congregations everywhere to endorse and fulfil this covenant in their relations one with another. In thankfulness to God we commit the future to him.

When we look to Christ, we see the world as it is – his world, to which he came and for which he died. It is filled both with great hopes and also with disillusionment and despair. Some nations are rejoicing in new freedom, and power, some are bitter because freedom is denied them, some are paralysed by division, and everywhere there is an undertone of fear.

There are millions who are hungry, millions who have no home, no country and no hope. Over all mankind hangs the peril of total war. We have to accept God’s judgment upon us for our share in the world’s guilt.

Often we have tried to serve God and mammon, put other loyalties before loyalty to Christ, confused the gospel with our own economic or national or racial interests, and feared war more than we have hated it.

As we have talked with each other here, we have begun to understand how our separation has prevented us from receiving correction from one another in Christ. And because we lacked this correction, the world has often heard from us not the Word of God but the words of men.

But there is a word of God for our world. It is that the world is in the hands of the living God, whose will for it is wholly good; that in Christ Jesus, his incarnate Word, who lived and died and rose from the dead, God has broken the power of evil once for all, and opened for everyone the gate into freedom and joy in the Holy Spirit; that the final judgment on all human history and on every human deed is the judgment of the merciful Christ:  and that the end of history will be the triumph of his kingdom, where alone we shall understand how much God has loved the world.

Millions of our fellow-men have never heard it. As we are met here from many lands, we pray God to stir up his whole church to make this gospel known to the whole world, and to call on all men to believe in Christ, to live in his love and to hope for his coming.

Our coming together to form a World Council will be vain unless Christians and Christian congregations everywhere commit themselves to the Lord or the church in a new effort to seek together, where they live, to be his witnesses and servants among their neighbours.

We have to remind ourselves and all men that God has put down the mighty from their seats and exalted the humble and meek.

We have to learn afresh together to speak boldly in Christ’s name both to those in power and to the people, to oppose terror, cruelty and race discrimination, to stand by the outcast, the prisoner and the refugee.

We have to make of the church in every place a voice for those who have no voice, and a home where every man will be at home. We have to learn afresh together what is the duty of the Christian man or woman in industry, in agriculture, in politics, in the professions and in the home.

We have to ask God to teach us together to say No and to say Yes in truth.

No to all that flouts the love of Christ, to every system, every program and every person that treats any man as though he were an irresponsible thing or a means of profit, to the defenders of injustice in the name of order, to those who sow the seeds of war, or urge war as inevitable.

Yes, to all that conforms to the love of Christ, to all who seek for justice, to the peacemakers, to all who hope, fight and suffer for the cause of man, to all who – even without knowing it – look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.

It is not in man’s power to banish sin and death from the earth, to create the unity of the Holy Catholic Church, to conquer the hosts of Satan. But it is within the power of God. He has given us at Easter the certainty that his purpose will be accomplished. But, by our acts of obedience and faith we can on earth set up signs which point to the coming victory.

Till the day of that victory our lives are hid with Christ in God, and no earthly disillusion or distress or power of hell can separate us from him. As those who wait in confidence and joy for their deliverance, let us give ourselves to those tasks which lie to our hands, and so set up signs that men may see.

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end.

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Read other articles in this issue:

Polygamy no problem for African churches
Mandela to attend assembly tomorrow
Catholic Church doesn't want to 'dwarf' WCC
Evangelicals work the stream at WCC
Orthodox find the space for dialogue
Padare, the assembly energizer
Unmasking Orthodox claims
Amsterdam had a Message
50 million members, and growing fast
Some quiet nourishment

8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary

copyright 1998 World Council of Churches. Remarks to webeditor