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Subthemes - Report of Section III: "Spirit of Unity - Reconcile your people"


Excerpts

B.Mission in the power of the Spirit - the ministry of reconciliation and sharing

The reconciled community that we seek can only be found through Jesus who laid down his life for his friends and forgave those who nailed him to the cross. The suffering of the victims of division is intertwined with the cross. There is a solidarity in suffering on the part of those who share in the pain and suffering of Christ through which they are also united with the pain of all humankind. The reconciliation brought about by the cross is the basis of the mission of the church.

A reconciled and renewed creation is the goal of the mission of the church. The vision of God uniting all things in Christ is the driving force of its life and sharing. Sharing also means that we work concretely to overcome economic disparities and social antagonisms between classes, castes, races, sexes and cultures. The diversity of cultures is of immediate relevance to the church's ministry of reconciliation and sharing for it affects both the relationships within churches and also the relationship with people of other faiths.

1. Wholeness of mission

We affirm that we are called to share the gospel among all peoples locally and globally and we recognize that the Holy Spirit leads different people and churches into mission in different ways. Our mission needs to be in Christ's way, in full obedience to the will of God as it was analyzed at the world mission conference in San Antonio. Wholeness of mission demands a will to break down the barriers locally and globally. We affirm JPIC as a mission imperative that promotes interconnectedness and mutual commitment.

While the unity of the church and wholeness of its mission are inseparable, we do not need to achieve visible unity of the churches before we address the needs of the world together. Indeed such common endeavour in the world may further the unity of the church. Each church acting in mission is acting on behalf of the whole body of Christ. At the same time we affirm local ecumenical endeavours where people of various churches engage in mission together. The possibility of such ecumenical endeavours could be greatly increased as the churches grow towards consensus on issues such as baptism, eucharist and ministry which at present impair their communion. We need to remember our original understanding of mission which is preaching, teaching and healing. This involves the whole people of God in sharing, serving and renewal in a spirit of love and respect. Mission is both local and global and we must be sensitive to each situation and the ways to address each situation.

It has been customary to speak of "sending churches" in some parts of the world. Where aggressive "sending" has been done by churches, particularly from the West to the South, the phrase is problematic. If we continue to use the term we should emphasize that Christ sends through the church in the power of the Holy Spirit. Structural changes are required where "sending" perpetuates denominational engagement in mission and separated churches.

Our brother and sister Christians in many parts of the world suffer pain, persecution and oppression. Many are exploited to satisfy the desire of people in the North and the West. The church must be in solidarity with these victims in their suffering. Christians in these prosperous areas must have the humility to learn from those oppressed sisters and brothers. Thus there can be a real sharing and a partnership in mission even in the midst of economic injustice and political hostility and this is a witness by the church to the gospel of reconciliation,

Evangelism is a vital part of mission and is the responsibility of all members of the church and not of some particular individuals. Here again the churches of the North and West have much to learn from Christians in Latin America and Africa.

Proselytism among the churches was identified by the section as both a scandal and a challenge. The WCC defined and repudiated proselytism in 1960. More work needs to be done on this to avoid increasing bitter relations between the churches and the tendency to advance the concerns of one group at the expense of another.

Religious fanaticism and the alliance of religion with forces of injustice and oppression have often torn human society apart and today threaten the very possibility of a world at peace. The danger is within all religions. Our conviction that Jesus Christ through the action of the Holy Spirit is "God's saving presence for all" is not hesitant or partial and we seek to live in respect and understanding with people of other living faiths.

2. The community of sharing

We affirm that all sharing begins with the recognition that what we call "ours" is given by God in love, that we have a duty to serve as stewards of those gifts, and that sharing is shown forth when the church manifests itself as one body, the body of which Jesus is the head and all the faithful are members. Sharing depends upon creating opportunities for offering up and receiving emptiness and suffering as well as fullness and joy.

The church's mission is reconciling all humankind with God and with each other. Sharing means giving and receiving, by all to one another to effect reconciliation and to promote growing together. In response to the cries of the poor and marginalized in the world, sharing means committing ourselves as churches to the sharing of power and resources so that all may fully participate in mission.

Sharing happens at all levels: individually, locally, nationally, and internationally. We should not just share with those whom we like and with whom we have good relationships. We are compelled to share with those from whom we differ and whom we have neglected and ignored because of their sex, race, caste, etc. This is the way to bring about lasting reconciliation.

We must begin immediately to enable further the community in sharing by endorsing the "Guidelines for Sharing" (El Escorial, 1987) and by urging the churches to implement these guidelines. We recognize that there have been impediments to sharing, in the process so far and we must all work to remove and overcome them. the community in sharing must not bar people for reasons of sex, age, caste, ethnicity or economic, political, physical or mental capacity.

We confess our own lack of recognition and acceptance of the gifts of others. We recognize that all individuals and comunities have gifts to share and that all must be encouraged to offer these gifts if we are to become the truly inclusive community.

We strive for a community in which sharing will be carried out within the framework of the covenant a agreements of the JPIC and gospel imperatives such as those found in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.

3. Community of cultures

Culture can be defined as a system or framework of meaning, behaviour and symbols and the way in which we orient our lives within it. In the interaction between the gospel and culture, the gospel may challenge various elements of that culture and there is also the possibility of a culture questioning a particular understanding of the gospel.

There is a need for some churches to repent of the ways in which the gospel was brought to particular cultures. Through the healing, power of forgiveness. God's creative spirit can then enable them to renew their old structures in order to promote justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.

Christians are called to be sensitive to the fact today that they live in pluralistic communities with all the attendant problems of racism, tribalism, sexism, age-ism that are exacerbated by economic and social injustices which further polarize people. Young and old are often lured by false claims of community which are put forth by TV and advertisers: these tend to further factionalize us and make us confused, afraid, and disoriented and then drive us into drugs and harmful subcultures. We need to ask: how far does the church create tension and how far does the church promote reconciliation? We need to discern what parts of the culture help communicate the gospel and what parts are outside the gospel. We also need to study colonialism and neo-colonialism in relation to missionary activity to be more aware of the tendency to present the gospel from the perspective of the dominant cultures.

Recommendations:

  1. That sharing be fostered through experimentation by member churches in different contexts assisted by the WCC and its guidelines for sharing, and that the results of this experimentation including reporting in story form be offered as a resource for others.
  2. That the WCC identify and promote models to enable the churches to share in mission in the next century.
  3. That member churches be encouraged to convene regional and local consultations to identify gifts and needs and to propose action.
  4. That the resource-sharing process be termed "community in sharing" in order to give better expression to our understanding of the church in mission.
  5. That the WCC assist the member churches in establishing priorities for sharing which recognize the special gifts of marginalized groups. e.women, young people, indigenous people and the differently-abled.
  6. That the WCC identify the special gifts of member churches and stand ready to call on them to share these gifts on behalf of the whole body at times of special need (e.g. the historic peace churches in times of war).
  7. That the WCC be socially responsible in its investment policies.
  8. That member churches be encouraged to develop partnerships with churches from other cultures, north and south, east and west, to promote koinonia and healing.
  9. That the WCC promote a process of analysis and study about Christian faith, cultural domination and their incidence in the missionary conception.

C.Spirit of unity and the encounter with peoples of other faiths and ideologies

1.Reconciliation with people of other faiths

The Holy Spirit is at work in ways that pass human understanding: the freedom of the Spirit may challenge and surprise us as we enter into dialogue with people of other faiths. The gospel of Jesus Christ has taught us the signs and fruit of the Holy Spirit - joy, peace, patience and faithfulness (Gal. 5). Dialogue challenges us to discern the fruits of the Spirit in the way God deals with all humanity.

The Bible testifies to God as sovereign of all nations and peoples as the one whose love and compassion include all humankind. We see in the covenant with Noah a covenant with all creation. We recognize God's covenant with Abraham and Israel. In the history of this covenant we are granted to come to know God through Jesus Christ. We also recognize that other people testifv to knowing God through other ways. We witness to the truth that salvation is in Christ and we also remain open to other people's witness to truth as they have experienced it.

Today in many parts of the world religion is used as a force of division and conflict. That religious language and symbols have been used to exacerbate conflicts makes us more urgently aware of our need for dialogue as a means of reconciliation. There are many barriers to this reconciliation, however. Too frequently we are ignorant of one another and unwittingly bear false witness or become intolerant. Political and economic realities as well as the inequality of minority religious communities often inhibit dialogue. Yet the difficulty of dialogue must not deter us from recognizing the urgency of dialogue in situations throughout the world where religious communities are divided by fear and mistrust.

The need for reconciliation and building mutual trust leads us to move beyond meetings, exchanges and formal encounters to what we might call a "culture of dialogue". This culture of dialogue begins at the local level with our daily living and relationship to people of other faiths and leads to common action towards a common future, especiallv around concerns of justice and peace, given the overwhelming problems of our interdependent world. We have heard many stories of reconciliation and growth in mutual understanding which have occurred in places of shared encounter.

In situations where dialogue at a local level is difficult, relationships at a regional or international level can play a role in building bridges and enabling dialogue to begin.

The first step in dialogue is to know the other as a person. In mutual encounter, people come to know and trust one another, telling their stories of faith and sharing their concerns and service to the world. Both the telling and the hearing of faith are crucial in discerning God's will. Dialogue can help people and communities to understand one another's stories. Part of dialogue is standing together under God and leaving space for us to be touched by the Holy Spirit. We enter into dialogue with the other asking God to be present among us. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we build bridges of trust.

Dialogue is an authentic form of Christian witness, and an encounter of commitments. As Christians we affirm the Holy Spirit counselling us to keep faith in the revealed Christ and to encounter the other's faith. Dialogue is an authentic ministry to which many are today being called and which we affirm is urgently needed. Interfaith dialogue has proved difficult for some churches and Christians because of our continuing problems in understanding religious plurality and God's relationship to people of other religious traditions. It is important to continue to explore this issue in ways that open up our churches to the challenges of living in a world of many faiths.

2.Dialogue with ideologies

Churches today find themselves in acute confusion about the role of ideologies in society. Until recently one could speak of prevailing, dominant ideologies, but the obvious failure of communism as a state ideology has created a new situation. It challenges the churches in a fresh way to discriminate between constructive and destructive elements in any ideology and to clearly express the criteria of truth and justice as a basis for critical dialogue with the adherents of such ideologies.

Ideological conflicts arise when an ideology demands absolute loyalty, ignoring the essential ingredient of accountability. This has affected most strongly churches in a Marxist-dominated society. For a long time Marxism was seen as a possible partner in dialogue with Christianity. Now we are confronted with the collapse of this system. There is no reason for the triumphalism of the freemarket - system given its negative effects. The churches have no pretension to construct an alternative social and economic system. The JPIC process can provide important criteria for every social and economic order and inspire new concepts.

Ideological trend can be found in fundamentalism and nationalism. We must learn to distinguish between convictions that affirm our identity and fundamentalism, whether Christian or not, which becomes an intolerant ideology, closed to other approaches and realities. Nationalism and ethnicity are becoming new phenomena intended to be unifying factors in the struggle for cultural, religious and political self-determination, but which sometimes become dominant ideologies that exclusively interpret history and are not open to the reality of people's experience. These ideological expressions become difficult when faith components are used as an instrument to justify exclusive approaches. Churches as communities of reconciliation need to take into account that we have inherited an understanding of missiology and evangelism rooted in exclusive values and dressed with Western patterns. This reality does not always facilitate dialogue and a comprehensive approach to reality. In this moment when plurality is affirmed in many contexts, mission and evangelism must pay attention to those trends, and churches need to be spaces of encounter of peoples, visions and even of ideologies.

There are also "hidden ideologies" which are not institutionalized or publicly supported. Nevertheless they are very influential and deeply rooted in social consciousness. This seems to be especially a problem for Western societies which think that they have overcome ideologies altogether. Hidden ideologies include:

  1. patriarchy, which is rooted in, and in turn strengthens, a system of religious beliefs shared by many of the world's religions;
  2. economic materialism which reduces valuejudgements to the calculation of costs and benefits and thus disregards the dignity of human persons and the integrity of creation;
  3. achievementoriented individualism which places personal achievement above efforts aimed at the well-being of society;
  4. pluralism, resulting from uncritical affirmation of secularization making the Divine less than creation,
  5. modernization which aggressively breaks up the liberative cultural values of the two-thirds world, affecting in particular the lives of young people.

The tasks of the community of faith are:

  1. to name the hidden ideologies and to expose the contradictions between the ideological claims and the realities of people's lives;
  2. to enter into critical dialogue with the exponents of such ideologies on the basis of the biblical criteria of God's preferential option for the marginalized and for the well-being of creation. It is the power of truth as encounter with reality which brings these hidden ideologies to accountability.

Michael Kinnamon (ed.):World Council of Churches. Signs of the Spirit. Official Report Seventh Assembly. Canberra, Australia, 7-20 February 1991; Geneva (WCC Publications) 1991, ISBN 2-8254-1000-4; Grand Rapids (Eerdmans) 1991, ISBN 0-8028-0628-7. pp. 100 - 107


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