2.1 Preamble to Act of Covenanting

From March 5-12, 1990 representatives of many Christian churches, movements and Christian World Communions from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, North America, the Caribbean and the Pacific met in Seoul, Korea to consider together their common response to the threats of injustice, violence and the degradation of the human environment. They summarized their findings in the following report which is addressed to Christians and congregations, to churches and movements, in the hope that it will contribute to strengthening wide cooperation with all who share the same concerns and commitments.

1. God - giver of life

We have come together in Seoul to consider our common response to the threats the present generation faces. We have come because we share the conviction that God, the giver of life, will not abandon the creation. We have come in confidence and hope and at the same time in deep anxiety about the present situation and the prospects for the future. Humanity seems to have entered a period of its history which is qualitatively new. It has acquired the capacity to destroy itself. The quality of life is being diminished; even life itself is in peril. We are confronted by new and complexly interwoven threats:

  • by entrenched and deadly forms of injustice: while a few of the earth's citizens enjoy unprecedented affluence and power, millions languish in crushing poverty, hunger and oppression;
  • by universal violence in open and hidden conflicts and increasing violations of fundamental human rights: torture, extrajudicial killings and genocide have become features of our time;
  • by the rapid degradation of the environment: the processes upon which life itself depends are being systematically undermined; already many species of animals and plants are lost forever.

The real danger lies in the interaction of these threats. Together they represent a global crisis. Unless far-reaching changes are made now the crisis will intensify, and may turn into a real catastrophe for our children and grandchildren.

2. God's covenant

As we face the uncertainties of the future, we remember God's covenant with humanity and, indeed, with the whole of creation.

  • God, who is love, does not dwell in unreachable heights but is present in the creation as its sustaining power. God is alive in all that breathes and grows. Human beings, men and women alike, have been created as God's partners, called to witness to God's all embracing love.
  • Though time and again human beings refuse to accept and abuse the status and role assigned to them, God does not abandon them to themselves. God stands ready to restore the broken communion. The sign of the rainbow reminds us of the promise: "Behold, I establish a covenant with you, your descendants and with all living creatures" (Genesis 9: 9-10).
  • Repeatedly people have been chosen to witness to God's saving purpose. Abraham received the promise to be a blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:3). God's covenant with Israel expected Israel to be a servant to the whole world (Isaiah 42: 1-7).
  • God's covenants were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The promise of a new covenant, to be written in the hearts of people, was realized in human history through Christ's incarnation and his death on the cross - the supreme expression of self-giving love. Through the resurrection of Christ, God's irrevocable yes to life has become manifest.
  • By baptism we have been placed under Christ's covenant; and whenever we celebrate the Eucharist we hear anew the words: "this cup is the new covenant in my blood" (I Corinthians 11). The sign of the Eucharist anticipates here and now God's reign of justice and peace, the new heaven and the new earth which are to come; it is a meal we share with Christ who identifies with all who suffer injustice and violence.
  • The covenant community is open to all. At Pentecost, walls were broken down. Through the Spirit a new community is being gathered out of the dispersion and hostility of nations, religions, classes, sexes, ages and races. Through the Spirit we all have access to God. The Spirit presses us to recognize and to rejoice in God's gifts in all people and in all places.

3. Discipleship in a period of survival

What does it mean for Christians to respond to God's covenant at this moment of history?

  • Christ calls us to radical discipleship. The threats we are experiencing today remind us of the price we have to pay for turning away from God's covenant. God's saving and healing love can only become manifest as we follow Christ without compromise.
  • God's love seeks in the first place the weak, the poor and oppressed. God never forgets the victims of human violence. We will experience God's presence and love as we identify with those who suffer and as we participate in their struggle against oppressive powers which dehumanize people and destroy the face of the earth. The anger and the rebellion of the oppressed are a sign of hope for a more human future.
  • Given the complexity of modern society and the fragility of peace among nations, violent conflicts pose a greater danger than ever before in history. War as an instrument for solving conflicts needs to be abolished. The church is called to be a force for justice, reconciliation and peace-making.
  • God's covenant extends beyond the present inhabitants of the earth to future generations and to the whole of creation. If humanity is to survive, the rights of future generations and the intrinsic value of nature must be recognized.
  • To give an adequate response to the global threats of today, the churches need to discover new ways of giving expression to their universal calling. They need to live and to act as one body, transcending the boundaries of nations and at the same time breaking down the barriers of injustice by which Christ's body is dismembered today.

4. Repentance and conversion

As we state these implications of God's covenant we realize how much we are betraying God's love by our witness and our life. The present impasse is of human making. If this is to be broken, a radical reorientation is required.

God confronts all of us with a call to repentance and conversion. Be reconciled with God, the source of life! But this call does not mean the same for all. Jesus' call to life took many forms - for the rich, it meant to get free from Mammon; for the sick it meant to believe in God's love and healing power; for the privileged, it meant to share wealth and power; for the down-trodden it meant to overcome despair; for the educated, it meant to renounce the pride of superiority; for the weak it meant to gain self-confidence.

Today, as well, Jesus' call takes different forms. We live in radically different conditions, and are still far from having understood the implications of these differences. But at the same time, Jesus' call is addressed to us through today's threats. Repentance and conversion have become essential for survival.

Who are we before God? We cannot find the answer by ourselves. We are accountable to one another and need one another to learn who we are before God. A global communion of mutual solidarity will only grow when we have learned to listen to one another, to see ourselves through the eyes of the other, to share our perplexities and to assess our failures together.

5. A community of hope and sharing

Conversion is the door to a new and firm hope - the conviction that the course of history can be changed. We are easily overcome by doubts: Has not power always had the last word? Are victims not inevitable? Are not war and hatred part of the human condition and therefore cannot be overcome? Is it not true that technological development has its own dynamics and therefore cannot be reversed and mastered?

Christian hope is a resistance movement against fatalism.

We want to share this hope with all people. We want to join with them in the same movement. We want to learn from their experience and from the hope by which they are sustained in their struggle.

6. Sing to the Lord a new song

This invitation means more than using a new tune. The Psalmist urges us to celebrate the new things God is doing in our midst. We are invited to be open to the future, and ever anew to interpret the signs of the times. As we reflected together at the convocation on what should be our response to God's covenant, we realized how quickly the world scene is changing and new challenges are emerging. There is therefore need to stay together in the process of mutual commitment to justice, peace and the integrity of creation, and to be prepared for a new vision, commitments and actions.

At the beginning of his ministry, in the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus, quoting the prophet Isaiah, proclaimed the "acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:19).

The expression refers to the Jubilee Year (Leviticus 25) which was to be celebrated by Israel in intervals of fifty years in order to redress injustice and oppression and to recognize the limits placed on the human claim on God's creation. Jesus proclaims a permanent jubilee and thereby confronts the church with the constant task of witnessing to the demands of justice, reconciliation and the dignity and rights of nature.

The covenant community is a jubilee community in the service of all.

© 2001 by Ulrich Schmitthenner • Bildschirm-Version