Search for unity an 'urgent need today', says WCC chief

By agency reporter
September 11, 2017

The need for the ecumenical movement is an urgent one today, said World Council of Churches (WCC) General Secretary, the Rev Dr.Olav Fykse Tveit, as he spoke last week at the College of St Benedict and St John's University in Minnesota .

“It is an urgent need today, for the sake of the future of the churches—and for all humankind and the creation,” he said. “The search for the unity of the church is a service to all – and therefore a central dimension of the mission of the church of Christ in this world.”

Tveit offered a reflection entitled “The Past as Prologue: The Reformation and the Challenge of Religious Relation” at two separate events, one on 8 September in the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis, and the other on 10 September in the Great Hall of Saint John’s Abbey and University Church.

The events were co-sponsored by the Collegeville Institute, St John’s Abbey, St John’s School of Theology and Seminary, and St John’s University, as part of the observation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Tveit was a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute in Minnesota in 1999.

He described for the audience the WCC’s vision of a pilgrimage of justice and peace: “moving onwards, into the future together, based on the results of the ecumenical dialogues so far.”

He explored the question of how people can contribute to the hope of the world. “The Reformation was a period in time”, he reflected. “This year we count 500 years since an event in Wittenberg that became a starting point for enormous changes in theological reflection, in church leadership, in political dynamics and the landscapes of power, in economic realities, in creating a public sphere for change.”

When we long for the full fellowship and shared communion of all churches, we should not forget what we have received already, Tveit continued. “The ecumenical dialogue in its many efforts has been producing substantial fruits,” he said. “Now is the time to be accountable for what we have achieved, manifesting it as we did in the light of the heart of the Reformation message.”

Tveit urged people to continue their mutually accountable dialogue about what it means to share the Gospel with one another and the world. “The most effective and appropriate approach is for Christians and the church to look to the past and the present in accountability to God, whatever has happened”, he said. “To stand before God is to stand at the same time in accountability to all of God's creation, and particularly to those created in the image of God – human beings and the one humanity.”

We need to show that we are accountable, reliable, and honest, Tveit said. “Indeed, we urgently need to understand just what is required of us to be on the way of justice and peace as a diverse community in mutual accountability, and what the core of our Christian faith can contribute in responding to the main challenges we are facing together as human beings on the way”, he said.

“What does this mean in a multicultural and multi-religious context, where the strong self-interests of individuals, groups, and nations block the change that is necessary and fuel conflict and war to the detriment of human communities and all life on planet Earth?”

Interdisciplinary cooperation demonstrates clearly that a theology and church-centred approach alone is never enough to understand the dynamics of change in history, Tveit added.

“The scope of mutual accountability needs to include the religious dimension, but it cannot be reduced to it”, he said. “We are also to be accountable beyond the church to our fellow human beings in all dimensions of life.”

The ecumenical movement must be a movement of faith, hope and love, concluded Tveit. “It cannot be for the sake of the academics or for the sake of church politics, but must serve the people and their need for different expressions of hope. This hope can only be grounded in the love of God which we receive through our faith.”

* The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, by the end of 2012 the WCC had 345 member churches representing more than 500 million Christians from Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other traditions in over 110 countries. The WCC works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.

* World Council of Churches


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