The seventh general secretary of the World Council of Churches the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit made a rare appearance at the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa on Sunday. Addressing some 4,000 participants from 200 countries, Tveit spoke from the Apostle Paul's second letter to the Corinthians about the ministry of reconciliation and the shared vision and calling for all Christians. The Ecumenical Press caught up with Rev. Tveit on Monday for a brief word about his participation in the event.
EP: What kinds of events or realizations among ecumenicals and evangelicals do you think led to your invite to this year's congress?
Tveit: Both here and in Edinburgh, our common roots in the 1910 event are very important for all of us. And I think it's important that we also are aware of how much the call to be one is also linked to the call to share the gospel, which is very clear in what is said in John 17.
It's also very important to understand the ecumenical movement. The ecumenical movement from 1910 was also a response to how we do mission - can we really continue doing mission as different churches and different confessions as if it was not the same gospel we were sharing. That is also a very important focal point that I want to have in my connection to the Lausanne movement - sharing this conviction that we are called to be one and we are called to share the gospel. These two calls cannot be divided, saying that some of us can care about unity and some of us can care about sharing the gospel.
I think in the last 20 years, we are getting closer in different ways. One is that I think we don't have the caricatures that were part of the story. All our churches are doing mission everyday, and many of - I would guess the majority of – those who are here come from member churches in the WCC.
Secondly, the evangelical movement is now, in many ways, expressing their support for many of the concerns the WCC has had over many years, such as care for creation, and working for justice and peace and human rights. It's a shared commitment much more than before, and I've seen strong expressions of that.
And thirdly, I think that we all see that we have to learn from our mistakes, as to how mission work has been done. Mission is a part of colonial history, mission has been seen as an attack - has been perceived by people from other faiths as an attack on them - and maybe some mission activities of this or that sort can be criticized that way.
But I think we all see that to follow Christ means to be humble, to seek unity and to share what we have received. At the same time, we shouldn't offend other people or ignore other Christians and their way of doing mission in their context, and we should stand together in sharing the gifts of God which we have received through Christ.
And as I said, the world needs reconciliation - with God, one another as human beings, and with nature. And this call is so strong, we need to stand together in our response to it, and I see that many evangelicals want to do this also together with an organization like the WCC, and that I find very promising.
EP: This year, the Edinburgh 1910 centenary, has it been particularly fruitful in seeing the growth in relationships between ecumenicals and evangelicals?
Well, I think it's important to see that there have been people with strong commitments for things that God has called all of us to do but in different times and different situations. Some have had a very strong calling of now we have to work for unity, or now we have to work for justice, like we did as an ecumenical movement responding to apartheid. And like in 1974, now we have to make sure that we remember our call to share the gospel with everybody. So because of different emphases and different commitments, there might also be conflicts between different groups and movements.
And of course, we represent different contexts and opinions in many ways, although now we have been able to see that there is a time for addressing these commitments more together. I'm quite hopeful, actually, in that sense, that we are now see that, while we disagree on some things, we have a such a strong common calling and a strong common commitment to respond to God's call.
EP: Do you see a gathering this large, where both the WCC and the Lausanne Movement would participate together, happening some time in the near future?
Well, the Lausanne Movement and the World Council of Churches are two different kinds of institutions. We are a fellowship of churches, they are a fellowship of individuals. I think there is a more supplementary perspective that can be strengthened, and that's more important for me than aiming that this should be one in the sense that one of them should merge into the other. I think the cooperation is more valuable and I hope we can do that in a fruitful way for all of us.