Section III: Spirit of Unity - Reconcile Your People!

"Through Christ God reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18).

58. Christians see truth in different ways and yet at the same time are united in the power of the Holy Spirit. Our rich diversity of insights and practices is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Sadly all too often diversity is a cause of division even in the life of the church. Yet as members of the body of Christ we are already united by our common baptism; guided by the Holy Spirit, we are drawn into a koinonia (communion) rooted in the living and receiving life of the Holy Trinity. What we work towards is unity of faith. life and witness. In this process it will be especially important to face up to the divisions which prevent us from sharing the eucharist together, and make it impossible for churches to recognize each other's ministries.

59. Christians are even more deeply divided from people of other faiths and ideologies, even though we share a common humanity and face common challenges and tasks. There are also deep divisions within and between other living faiths and ideologies.

60. From the depth and pain of our divisions we cry "Spirit of unity - reconcile your people". Reconciliation happens when there is honest recognition of the actual sin committed against our neighbour and when practical restitution has been made for it. When costly repentance meets costly forgiveness the Holy Spirit can lead us into community (koinonia).

Christian community, as koinonia in the Spirit

61. In developing perspectives on ecclesiology, in discussing the nature and mission of the church, the idea of koinonia can be most helpful. This is so particularly as we reflect upon the identity of our own church in relation to ecumenical developments such as the text Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, (BEM), which has received encouraging responses from so many churches. Koinonia in the Holy Spirit is based on sharing in the life of the Trinitarian God and is expressed by sharing life within the community. It becomes possible through reconciliation with God and with one another in the power of the Holy Spirit.

62. Unity and diversity are twin elements in Christian koinonia, but that diversity must have its limits. For example, amidst all diversity the confession must be maintained of Jesus Christ as God and Saviour, the same yesterday, today and forever. And a diversity that divides and excludes, thus destroying the life of the body of Christ, i@ unacceptable.

63. The gospel finds its historical expression in many cultures, which are transformed, renewed and corrected by it. Though national and ethnic identities are legitimate they should not be allowed to impair the unity of the church, or to become masks which shelter un-Christian elements.

64. In reflecting on the relationship between unity and koinonia we find a new vision in the statement entitled "The Unity of the Church as Koinonia: Gift and Calling", which was prepared by the Faith and Order Commission at the invitation in 1987 of the WCC central committee and has been adopted by this assembly.

65. The statement affirms that the purpose of God according to holy scripture is to gather, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the whole of creation under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The church is the foretaste of this God which is promised for the whole creation. It is called to proclaim reconciliation and to provide healing, to overcome divisions based on race, gender, age, culture or colour and to bring all people into communion with God. It is a sad fact that churches have failed to draw the consequences for their own life from the degree of communion which they have already experienced, and from the agreements already achieved through the ecumenical movement.

66. The unity of the church is envisioned as a koinonia (communion) given and expressed in the common confession of the apostolic faith; a common sacramental life entered by the one baptism and celebrated together in one eucharistic fellowship; a common life in which members and ministries are mutually recognized and reconciled-, and a common mission witnessing to the gospel of God's grace to all people and serving the whole of creation. The goal of the search for full communion is realized when all the churches are able to recognize in one another the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church in its fullness. This urges action, for in taking specific steps together the churches express and encourage the enrichment and renewal of Christian life.

67. A true community of women and men is God's gift and promise for humanity, which is created "in God's image" - male and female (Gen. 1:27); and the church, as sign of that which God desires for women and men, is called to embody that community in its own life. Today Christians from many traditions look together for a more complete and authentic community of women and men. We affirm that the domination of women by men does not belong to human community as intended in God's creation (Gen. 1,2) but to the consequences of sin. which distort the community of women and men as well as the relationship between human beings and nature (Gen. 3:16-19). The God who created us as women and men calls us into community. The Christ who identifies with our suffering calls us to become his body. The Spirit who empowers us to witness and serve sends us forth as God's agents, co-workers for a new heaven and a new earth.

Towards a wider ecumenical community

68. Particularly in this century the world has witnessed the rise and growth of movements which emphasize the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit (charisms) or, as they themselves like to put it, "baptism in the Spirit" or "filling with the Spirit". They are not all of the same type but are called charismatic or Pentecostal movements and, in Africa, are sometimes identified with African instituted churches.

69. In their emphases on the charisms of the Spirit described in the New Testament and their rediscovery of the ministry of healing, these movements are valid expressions of Christian faith. If seen as based on a reappropriation of the gifts received in baptism they can be integrated into the life of the churches, bringing them many gifts. They may also represent stronger faith and fellowship, increased spontaneity, openness and freedom among worshippers, all of these leading to greater participation in the life of the churches. There are, however, negative implications for the ecumenical movement if "filling with the Spirit" as a "second experience" after baptism is seen as normative for all Christians. Such teaching may be divisive, as may be an over-emphasis on the Holy Spirit as working independently of the Father and the Son.

70. There is often misunderstanding between Pentecostals and Christians of other traditions. Some Pentecostals have rejected the traditional churches in a desire to enliven their own worship; some have rejected the ecumenical movement as a "human" attempt to produce Christian unity, or because of genuine theological differences about the nature of the Christian faith and its expression in the modem world. But others have sought fellowship with Christians outside their boundaries, particularly with evangelicals. They have begun to take an interest in questions of visible church unity; traditional churches have in turn become more open to the spiritual and theological insights that Pentecostals bring. In Latin America, for example, Pentecostals (now the numerically dominant form of Protestantism in the region) take part in the Latin American Council of Churches. Similar dialogue has been taking place in other areas as well. These hopeful signs bode well for future efforts to bring the churches closer togethe r.

The Christian community in mission

71. A reconciled and renewed creation is the goal of the church's mission. The vision of God uniting all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10) is the driving force of the church's life of sharing, motivating all efforts to overcome economic inequality and social divisions.

72. Whatever our approach to mission at home or abroad, our mission needs to be "in Christ's way". Wholeness of mission demands a will to break down barriers at every level, and involves the whole people of God in sharing, serving and renewal in a spirit of love and respect. Each church acting in mission is acting on behalf of the whole body of Christ. At the same time we affirm local ecumenical endeavours in mission. Always we need to remember our original understanding of mission, which is preaching, teaching and healing. It is best done together, and should never divide, alienate or oppress. Our conviction is not hesitant or partial that Jesus Christ through the action of the Holy Spirit is God's saving presence for all.

73. Since the church's mission is to reconcile all with God and with one another, sharing can be recognized as part of mission in Christ's way. It includes sharing faith, sharing power, sharing material resources. Such sharing encourages reconciliation. We affirm that what we call "ours" is given by God in love, and is given to be shared. At times sharing offers up and receives emptiness and suffering as well as fullness and joy. There can and must be no barriers to sharing, whether giving or receiving. In this spirit we affirm the WCC "Guidelines for Sharing" as an important means towards common mission and service.

74. The gospel of Jesus Christ must become incarnate in every culture. When Christianity enters any culture there is a mutual encounter, involving both the critique of culture by the gospel and the possibility of the culture questioning our understanding of the gospel. Some of the ways in which the gospel has been imposed on particular cultures call for repentance and healing. In each case we need to ask: Is the church creating tension or promoting reconciliation?

The Christian community, in relation to others

75. The Holy Spirit works in ways that surpass human understanding. The Bible testifies to God as sovereign of all nations and peoples. God's love and compassion include everyone. We witness to the truth that salvation is in Christ, but we seek also to remain open to other people's expression of truth as they have experienced it.

76. Today in many parts of the world religion has become a divisive force, with religious language and symbols being used to exacerbate conflicts. Ignorance and intolerance make reconciliation difficult. We seek to live in respect and understanding with people of other living faiths, and to this end we need to build mutual trust and a "culture of dialogue". This begins at the local level as we relate to people of other faiths, and take common action especially in promoting justice and peace. The first step is to come to know and to trust each other, telling our stories of faith and sharing mutual concerns. Both the telling and the hearing of faith are crucial in discerning God's will. Dialogue is an authentic form of Christian witness and ministry. As Christians we affirm the Holy Spirit counselling us to hold fast to the revealed Christ, to keep faith, and to encounter the other's faith.

77. Ideologies may be constructive or destructive; but both types tend to demand absolute loyalty and to ignore the essential ingredient of accountability, thus causing conflict. In recent years this has most strongly affected churches in Marxist-influenced societies. Now we have experienced the collapse of this system; but this is no reason for triumphalism about the free-market system, as we are increasingly confronted with its negative effects throughout the world. We all, as Christians, need to analyze and understand the ideologies under which we live. Some are "hidden" - not openly acknowledged and discussed yet deeply rooted and influential in society. Among these are wealth and achievement-oriented value systems which ignore human and personal factors. The task of the community of faith is to apply prophetic, biblical values to all ideologies.

78. Ideological trends can be found in fundamentalism and nationalism. We must learn to distinguish between fundamentalism as an approach to biblical hermeneutics and fundamentalism (whether Christian or non-Christian) which is an intolerant ideological imperialism, closed to other approaches and realities. Nationalism is positive when it unites people in the struggle for cultural, religious and political self-determination, but it is negative when used to dominate some and to exclude others. It may be even more oppressive when it contains elements that equate faith with a particular nationality.

© 2001 by Ulrich Schmitthenner • Bildschirm-Version