WCC General Secretary Reflects on Theology of New Mission Statement

((Photo: World Council of Churches/Peter Williams))

World Council of Churches General Secretary the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit marked the new year with a sermon Monday examining the theology behind scripture's use of the word "all" and how it relates to the modern ecumenical movement's emphasis on "mission from the margins," which seeks to include marginalized peoples as active agents in mission and evangelism.

Speaking from the Ecumenical Center in Geneva, Tveit stressed the universality of God's love as communicated by St. Paul in Colossians 1 :15-20, which states in part, "For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him."

The head of WCC offered three observations on the word "all" and the "mystery of Christ," saying the references encompasses our own personal experience as part of God's creation, the presence of God in our reality as fully expressed in the cross of Christ , and membership in the Church of Christ as a reality itself amid a world of mystery and misery.

"One major meaning in this hymn speaking about 'all' is that no one is meant to be excluded, no one is automatically excluded," said Tveit.

"In Christ, the word 'all' does not refer to any measure attained through colonial, imperial, globalized or geopolitical power, or anything like that; it means that no one who has been created is meant to be excluded from the love of God."

Tveit said the church in Colossae, probably a marginal Christian Church, was "challenged by their surroundings, the great social and political powers of great aspiration: the power of the market, the power of competing ideologies and faiths". Churches today also face similar challenges in working toward justice and peace, according to the WCC head.

Tveit's message comes at the beginning of a milestone year for the ecumenical movement and its driving agent, the WCC, which will present a new ecumenical mission affirmation, "Together towards life: Mission and evangelism in changing landscapes," at its 10th Assembly in Busan, Republic of Korea in October.

Where as mission has traditionally been done from a position of privilege and power, carried out from the center to the marginalized, the ecumenical movement has adopted a new understanding of mission that view those in the periphery and margins as contributors to mission and evangelism, rather than simply recipients.

The new mission statement is only the second official WCC position statement on mission and evangelism in the history of the organization. It was adopted by the WCC Central Committee in September 2012 in Crete, Greece.

The first mission statement, "Mission and Evangelism: An Ecumenical Affirmation" was adopted 30 years ago in 1982.

While the WCC already represents over 560 million Christians from 349 churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries worldwide, the organization seeks to draw even broader appeal with the new statement.

"In this mystery of being in Christ we can be ourselves, belonging to the global reality of Christ, knowing that we are what we are – and still something more," said Tveit.

On the Web: Read the new WCC mission statement, "Together towards life: Mission and evangelism in changing landscapes."

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