Issue No. 1
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Peace and greetings from Geneva!
I am very blessed to share with you, in this issue, some materials of past events which have inspired our journey to proclaim the always good news of the Gospel ecumenically.
The first was our School for Evangelism, which was held in Suva, Fiji, November 10-16, 2004, for the churches in the Pacific Region. I am enclosing the letter “Voicing the Gospel in the Pacific”, which was sent to the churches in the area.
We will, of course, start publishing in our ELEs a whole series of materials related to the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism, which just took place in Athens, Greece, May 9-16 on the theme: “Come Holy Spirit, Heal and Reconcile. Called in Christ to be Reconciling and Healing Communities”. More information will come on the different workshops (synaxeis) which were offered on evangelism as well.
In this particular issue, we will publish the Letter to the Churches, which can also be found in our website www.mission2005.org. We would encourage you to browse through this site to find not only information on the conference but also preparatory documents and other resource material to support our work in voicing the gospel ecumenically. On the other hand, we are printing an interview made by Simon Barrow (Secretary of the Churches’ Commission on Mission of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland), focusing on “holistic evangelism”.
Finally, for your information, our desk has printed two valuable resources for evangelism. One is a full report of the Fiji School with useful articles and the other one is called “Evangelism. A Programme designed for voicing the Gospel ecumenically, published for the CWME conference. You can order both booklets from our office, contact: Denise Von Arx (firstname.lastname@example.org)
We pray for the Lord to continue inspiring the healing and reconciling mission laid on your shoulders.
SCHOOL FOR MISSION: VOICING THE GOSPEL IN THE PACIFIC
The School for Mission: Voicing the Gospel in the Pacific, was held from 10-16 November 2004, at the Jovili Meo Mission Center of the Pacific Theological College, in Suva, Fiji.
The location for meeting was ideal, not only because of the privileged geographical situation of Fiji for the Pacific Region in relation to the promotion of the ecumenical movement, (it is the headquarters of the WCC Pacific Regional Office, the Pacific Council of Churches’ (PCC) Office and the Pacific Theological College (PTC)), but also because the newly opened Mission Center provided the optimum facilities for the School, in terms of logistics, meeting conditions and equipment, as well as the human quality of the staff.
The main goal of the seminar was to engage in a study and discussion of the biblical and theological understandings of the evangelism aspect of mission. It is hoped that the outcomes of this School will support the local churches in their efforts to share joyfully and ecumenically the good news of the Gospel. The seminar, therefore, provided opportunities for training and equipping us to fulfill the Great Commission. As citizens of God’s Kingdom we are called to love, worship and obey our Lord, and to present the Gospel for everyone worldwide.
A major activity that historically CWME and the WCC’s Mission and Evangelism program have carried out have been the Schools for Evangelism. These are held in order to promote reflection on authentic evangelism and enhanced commitment to its practice. They are organized nationally or regionally, in cooperation with ecumenical bodies, in order to enable multipliers working in churches to reflect on their evangelistic mandate and practice.
In the past years, in the Pacific Region there has been a proliferation of new denominations and New Religious Movements, which have provoked an increasing tendency towards confessionalism; therefore mission, and particularly evangelism, have become very sensitive issues. Many of the islands have become targets of a very strong and aggressive evangelistic effort of many churches from the “West”, which while bringing many blessing to the region, have also created many problems with the established churches, since proselytism –recognized as a “scandal and counter witness”— is one of the biggest missional challenges for them.
The challenge to empower the churches for common witness, to evangelise together, was therefore, one of the main motivations to hold this School for Evangelism in the Pacific Region.
The meeting was carefully planned in several sessions primarily by Fei Tevi, WCC program staff for the Pacific, Dr. Gert Rueppell, a colleague from Ecu-learn and our evangelism desk. Our colleagues Denise Von Arx and Malama Toma, our youth intern also contributed significantly to the success of the event.
There were more than thirty participants, coming from different denominations in the following islands: American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. As mentioned before, we benefited by the participation of the Rev. Francois Pihaatae, member of the CWME Commission and pastor of the Evangelical Church in French Polynesia.
This open letter was sent to the churches by the participants:
“Voicing the Gospel in the Pacific”
|Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We, brothers and sisters from many countries of the Pacific region, (American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu) representing our churches, came together to listen to God’s word, to learn from each other’s sharing and to grow mutually in the understanding of how to voice the gospel in the Pacific. The School for Mission, organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) became for us an opportunity to grow more closely together in the mission of God’s people for the people of God.
|The main goal of the seminar was to engage in a study and discussion of the biblical and theological understandings of the evangelism aspect of mission. It is hoped that the outcomes of this School will support the local churches in their efforts to share joyfully and ecumenically the good news of the Gospel. The seminar, which took place at the newly opened Jovili Meo Mission Center of the Pacific Theological College, provided opportunities for training and equipping us to fulfill the Great Commission. As citizens of God’s Kingdom we are called to love, worship and obey our Lord, and to present the Gospel for everyone worldwide.
We were reminded that evangelism includes an invitation, an explicit and intentional voicing of the Gospel, a call for people to repent, a call to personal faith or conversion and new life in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. We are also called to discipleship, witness and obedient service in the world. We reaffirm the urgency and need for evangelism in unity for the whole body of Christ to come together in the mutual understanding that we serve the same Lord. We noted that when we dialogue with people of other faiths, we need to be aware of the tension between our own conviction that there is no salvation other than through Jesus Christ, while at the same time knowing that we cannot set any limits to the saving power of God.
On the other hand we have been challenged by recent developments:
We call upon the churches to respond to these developments fearlessly and accept the challenges that they pose as an opportunity to grow and to transform each one’s own church structures or one’s own forms of expressing faith in Jesus Christ. How well prepared are church leaders to address issues around New Religious Movements?
We were encouraged by experiences where cooperation and community building replaced denominational `competition` and on-going fragmentation of the body of Christ. We believe that the spiritual growth of the followers of Christ should also lead to renewed efforts to overcome this competition and fragmentation.
We believe that individuals and churches as a whole are called to reflect Jesus’ humility and thus to allow people to see Christ in all of us. We understand that evangelism does not begin with the evangelization of the other, but with the evangelization and transformation of ourselves. We therefore urgently call upon the churches to come together in unity, to grow in our mutual understanding and to further develop a deeper understanding of Jesus Christ. We encourage the churches to reflect the oneness of the Body of Christ in the relations between the churches.
We were reminded to focus on the growth of the Kingdom and not only the growth of the churches. Our evangelistic agenda shall be Christ-centered rather than church-centered. We commit ourselves to developing ecumenically, on the level of the local community, and to continue learning how to communicate with each other. In addition, we commit ourselves to cooperating with each other on issues that concern our society as a whole and, thus, reflecting vital elements of the wholeness of the body of Christ.
The context of the School for Mission included reflections on the World Council of Churches’ (WCC) Decade to Overcome Violence. At the same time it engaged the participants in the reflection on the theme for the next Conference on World Mission and Evangelism, ‘Come Holy Spirit, Heal and Reconcile: Called in Christ to be Reconciling and Healing Communities’, to be held in Athens, Greece, May 2005.
The fellowship and community that we experienced during our School became for us a sign of the gift of unity that we already have, and further encouraged us to pursue a deepening of our visible unity for the sake of the mission of God to the world. We, as individuals and churches commit ourselves to the work of fulfilling His Great Commission in our church, our nation and our region. It is in this Spirit that we greet you and invite you to further engage in mission and evangelism together.
A LETTER FROM ATHENS TO THE CHRISTIAN CHURCHES,
Come Holy Spirit, Heal and Reconcile:
(Version adopted by the CWME Commission - edited May 19, 2005)
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Greetings from Athens, Greece. We write to you during the holy time between Easter and Pentecost, when the risen Christ prepared his followers for the gift of the Holy Spirit and called them to carry the good news to “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), promising to be with them until “the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Here, on the shores of the Aegean Sea, 600 of us have gathered, from 105 countries, hosted by the Church of Greece and other churches in Greece and called together by the World Council of Churches for the 13th international Conference on World Mission and Evangelism, meeting from 9-16 May 2005. And as the sun rose on the conference, a small boat sailed out of the dawn, carrying a huge olive-wood cross: a gift from the churches in Jerusalem, a sign of both suffering and hope, made from the fragments of the trees uprooted during the building of the wall separating Palestinians from Palestinians and from Israelis. We pray that this cross become a sign of reconciliation.
For the first time, this CWME conference has taken place in a predominantly Orthodox context. Young people, though far fewer than planned, have played an important part. For the first time the meeting included a significant number of fully participating delegates from non WCC member churches, that is the Roman Catholic Church and some Pentecostal and Evangelical churches and networks. ‘We’, therefore, are a diverse group, from every corner of the world and many ethnic and cultural backgrounds, speaking many languages, and representing the major Christian traditions. Our theme is a prayer: “Come Holy Spirit, Heal and Reconcile”.
This letter is an attempt to share with you some of the week’s insights and challenges, as well as the experiences of joy and pain it has brought us. In these days, we have journeyed together, although we have not always agreed. We are in mission, all of us, because we participate in the mission of God who has sent us into a fragmented and broken world. We are united in the belief that we are “called together in Christ to be reconciling and healing communities”. We have prayed together. We have been particularly helped by readings of Scripture as we struggled, together, to discern where the reconciling, healing Spirit is leading us, in our own contexts, two thousand years after St Paul arrived on these shores carrying the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We want to share that journey with you, and to invite you to make it your own.
We stand now at a particular moment in the history of mission. While the centres of power are still predominantly in the global North, it is in the South and the East that the churches are growing most rapidly, as a result of faithful Christian mission and witness. The missional character of the Church is experienced in greater diversity than ever, as the Christian communities continue the search for distinctive responses to the Gospel. This diversity is challenging, and it can sometimes make us uneasy. Nevertheless, within it we have discovered opportunities for a deepening understanding of the Holy Spirit’s creative, life-sustaining, healing and reconciling work. For the power of the Holy Spirit touches us in many ways: in gentleness and truth, comfort and creativity, worship and action, wisdom and innocence, communion and sanctification, liberation and holy contemplation. But there are evil spirits too, active in the world and sadly even in many of our histories and communities. These are spirits of violence, oppression, exclusion, division, corruption, self-seeking, ignorance, failure to live up to our beliefs and of fearful silence in the face of injustice. In discerning the work of the Holy Spirit, we have experienced the need to return constantly to the roots of our faith, confessing the Triune God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ, the Word-made-flesh.
In Athens we were deeply aware of the new challenges that come from the need for reconciliation between East and West, North and South, and between Christians and people of other faiths. We have become painfully aware of the mistakes of the past, and pray that we may learn from them. We have become conscious of our own tendency to reinforce barriers by excluding and marginalising on grounds such as race, caste, gender, disability or by tolerating the continuation of oppressive practices within our own societies and our own churches. Halfway through the Decade to Overcome Violence, we realise anew that the call to non-violence and reconciliation stands at the heart of the Gospel message. As a global gathering, we are challenged by the violence inflicted by the forces of economic globalisation, militarism, and by the plight of the marginalised people, especially the indigenous communities and peoples uprooted by migration.
St Paul speaks of the new creation heralded by Christ and enabled by the Holy Spirit. “In Christ”, he says, “God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:19-20) It is this “new creation” that we hold to be the goal of our missionary endeavour. With Paul, we believe that reconciliation and healing are pivotal to the process by which that goal is to be reached. Reconciliation, as the restoration of right relations with God, is the source of reconciliation with oneself, with other people and with the whole of creation.
|But the road to reconciliation and healing is not an easy one. It involves listening, truth-telling, repentance, forgiveness and a sincere commitment to Christ and his justice. For this reason, we have explored a range of ways by which the healing power of God is made available to us. These include the healing that takes place through prayer, ascetical practices and the charisms of healing, through sacraments and healing services, through a combination of medical and spiritual, social and systemic approaches, and through sensing the sustaining presence of the Holy Spirit, even when we accept and continue to struggle with illness and traumas. We celebrated healing services and were moved by the stories of Christian health and counselling professionals and their struggle for more holistic approaches.|
|We were inspired by the stories of people living with HIV and AIDS and were challenged to counter stigma and discrimination and to promote wholeness for those living with HIV and AIDS. We heard testimonies of people healed by the power of the Holy Spirit, as well as those who have not been healed, or have encountered corrupt or exploitative healing practices. We also heard stories of healing in the midst of struggles for social, economic and ecological justice. All true healing comes from God. It includes physical, mental, emotional and spiritual healing, and it shares the tension of the coming of God’s reign as ‘already here’ and ‘yet to come’. We therefore celebrate true healing as a living sign of God’s new creation.
Living in the Holy Spirit, anticipating the reign of God, called to be children of God’s new Creation, we have also to acknowledge the troubled and confusing present. It is a source of pain to us to recognize that God’s mission is distorted by the divisions and lack of understanding that persists in and among the churches. In our longing for a fuller and more authentic participation in God’s mission, we continue to carry the pain of our inability to overcome the barriers that prevent us from celebrating together the most healing and reconciling of sacraments, the Eucharist – the Lord’s Supper. The conference theme, therefore, has been a call to a humble acceptance of our own need for healing and reconciliation.
But God calls us to be a community of hope. “Called in Christ to be healing and reconciling communities”, we have continued here in Athens the task of defining the kind of community God desires us to become, a community that bears witness to the Gospel in word and deed; that is alive in worship and learning; proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all; that offers young people leadership roles; that opens its doors to strangers and welcomes the marginalised within its own body; that engages with those who suffer, and with those who struggle for justice and peace; that provides services to all who are in need; that recognises its own vulnerability and need for healing; and that is faithful in its commitment to the wider Creation. We pray that the Holy Spirit will breathe healing power into our lives, and that together we may move forward into the blessed peace of the new creation.
In conclusion, we wish to express our deep gratitude to all those who made this conference possible. From the country in which St Paul proclaimed the Gospel of God’s reconciling love in Jesus Christ, we pray that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all.
(Signed by Ruth Bottoms, George Mathew Nalunnakkal and Jacques Matthey, officers of CWME)
WCC has Good News to share, say mission leaders – Simon Barrow
Following the historic thirteenth Conference on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME), convened by the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Athens from 9-16 May, British and Irish participants are calling for “an ecumenical recovery of the central Christian vocation to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ”.
The request comes in a letter to the WCC’s mission commission, which has been meeting this week in the aftermath of a gathering that drew together participants from 300 churches, confessions and Christian bodies across 105 countries. It was the most widely representative conference of its kind, involving Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Evangelical and Pentecostal delegates from six continents.
The letter to the WCC was coordinated by the Churches’ Commission on Mission (CCOM) of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, and has been signed so far by the Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Rev Graham Cray, the General Secretary of the Church Mission Society, the Rev Canon Tim Dakin, Fr Philip Knights of the Catholic Agency to Support Evangelization in England and Wales, the Rev Dr Jim Campbell of the Irish Council of Churches, Dr Kirsten Kim, lecturer in mission at the University of Birmingham, and Simon Barrow, Secretary of CCOM – which links the work of the global mission departments and agencies of the churches in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
Welcoming the attention of the WCC world mission conference to the work of the Holy Spirit and the vocation of the church as a healing and reconciling community, the letter says that the next step for the ecumenical movement is to learn how to “talk the walk” better.
“Holistic evangelism” is described as “the means through which the nature, identity and call of Jesus Christ – the one who breaks down the world’s dividing walls – is made known.” It combines word and deed, “renews the church, and grows its capacity for further witness and service.”
The growing list of signatories, from among the 30 CWME participants from Britain and Ireland, say that the WCC also needs to engage directly with new mission movements from the global South and with “fresh expressions of church” in the North.
“The ecumenical movement was birthed out of the Edinburgh 1910 world mission conference,” explains CCOM Secretary Simon Barrow, who is also an Ekklesia associate. “Since then the demographic of world Christianity has shifted dramatically to the South, as reflected in the rainbow composition of the Athens gathering. Christians across the theological spectrum are now seeing the urgent need to re-communicate the liberating message of the Gospel in a divided world.”
Barrow continued: “This is not another fashionable criticism of the WCC, but an expression of deep partnership – one that lends fresh visibility to the prophetic and pastoral mission of healing and reconciliation for which the fellowship of the World Council of Churches is known.”
One of the concerns about evangelism is that the word (which means both ‘good news’ and ‘ambassador’ in New Testament Greek) has often been hijacked by fundamentalist churches with American-inspired imperial designs.
The writers of the letter to the WCC stress that what they are calling for is something quite different - a faithful articulation of the Gospel which shows that it is a source of justice, peace, healing and personal and social change.
Several plenary speakers at the Athens mission conference made cautionary references to the “abuse of the Word” and to proselytism, the manipulative targeting of one church by another in order to steal members. The latter is a concern especially to the Orthodox, and the WCC has spoken strongly against violations of “common witness” which mis-use evangelism to justify such actions.
But contrary to the image it often has, the World Council of Churches is committed to proclaiming the message of Christ’s transforming love to the whole world says the Rev Dr Carlos Ham, the WCC’s evangelism secretary. He was speaking at a seminar held as part of CWME last week.
In this sense the letter from the British and Irish church leaders is seen as congruent with steps many in the WCC wish to take.
Please remember that this Letter is published in the four languages of the WCC