A 24-page reflection booklet on the Assembly theme, “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity”, notes this is the first time “love” has been part of an assembly theme and calls for an “ecumenism of the heart” in a broken world.
“Many people among the churches are urging that our seeking of unity must be not only intellectual, institutional, and formal, but also based on relationship, in common prayer, and, above all, in mutual affection and love,” the text asserts (p. 19).
God’s foremost attitude to the world is love which “more than ideas and ideals, gathers, inspires, and creates unity”. As the language of our faith, love “can actively and prophetically engage the world as we see and experience it today in a way that will make a difference for a shared tomorrow” (p. 20).
“Those who are in Christ, . . . are called to do so in this world, . . . living as a sign and a foretaste of the kingdom to come and making visible the love that fills our hearts with joy, even on the bleakest days” (p. 4).
Churches are called to be a sign of this sacrificial love of Christ. “This witness does not come from human effort alone . . . but is made possible by the love of Christ working in us” (p. 16).
Further, churches are not only witnesses to the world but, as part of the world God has made, “Already, within the church itself, the world is being gathered into unity” (p. 17).
Affirming the need for a “renewed ecumenical movement for the sake of the world”, the text says that churches “are called by the risen Christ to be ‘sent’ into the very public and open spaces of the world, to reframe our corporate sense of what matters, to make idols fall, and to be part of welcoming the kingdom of God in which the poor are blessed and captives set free” (p. 23).
Differing understandings about the nature and mission of the church have been either an overarching or an underlying theme in many ecumenical dialogues over the years, and during the 1970s, the concept of koinonia (communion) has emerged as central to the quest for a common understanding of the church and its visible unity. The term has proved helpful ecumenically, offering a biblical basis for the churches’ search for unity and for their common engagement in service and mission. Dialogue about the reign of God has also affirmed the notion of koinonia as descriptive of the right relationships God wills for the whole of creation. Bringing the two themes together, there is an emerging consensus about the relationship between the church and the reign of God in which the church, precisely as koinonia, is affirmed as a sign, instrument, and foretaste, as a “kind of sacrament” of God’s eschatological reign.
Of particular interest is the third phase of the international Reformed/Roman Catholic dialogue on The Church as Community of Common Witness to the Kingdom of God, which makes use of case studies from Canada, South Africa, and Northern Ireland to explore how the two churches’ actions on behalf of social justice reflect their understandings of the church’s role in relation to the reign of God and what that has to say about the specific ecclesiology of each (nos. 68-123).
Reflecting on the case studies, the dialogue report states: “There is no disagreement between us regarding the basic affirmation that the church is and should be a community of common witness to the kingdom of God.”
Further, “Our common understanding of the kingdom enables us to read together many of the signs of the times” (no. 157).
In the final chapter of their report, members of this dialogue group affirmed the dialogue itself as a form of common witness as well as a challenge to renewal in both churches. They assert, “In a fundamental sense, our dialogue itself is already an act of common witness, a reconciling experience that calls for further reconciliation of memories as obedience leads us to unity in faith and action, to a common witness in which the signs of the Kingdom are shared with the poor” (no. 198).
With its participants coming together from all over the world, this WCC Assembly, too, will provide opportunities for dialogue calling the churches to ever greater fidelity in their common witness to the kingdom of God.
Download the booklet (PDF) reflecting on the WCc theme.
(from an online article by Sr Dr Donna Geernaert SC)