Distinguished Chairperson, Bishop Hegge,
Distinguished and most respected co-panellists,
Members of the Community of Sant Egido,
Dialogue partners in the Paths of Peace,
Sisters, Brothers all.
First of all I give to the God of Life for this extremely important gathering under the visionary leadership of the Community of Sant Egidio and all those who have crossed divisive boundaries and borders to join in the Spirit of Assisi. This is one of the rare and important spaces for inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogues for peace making and peace building in these troubled times. Special thanks to Roman Catholic Dioceses of Munster and Osnabruck for hosting us in this place so historically and symbolically steeped in the quest for real lasting peace.
The World Communion of Reformed Churches is grateful to have been given this opportunity to listen, learn and join in the prayer, reflection, and common action to which the God of Life in the power of the Spirit following Jesus of Galilee calls us.
The WCRC (World Communion of Reformed Churches) is a family of Protestant Christians which at last count comprises 233 member churches, in over 110 countries representing over 100 million persons.
Our communion is a family of Reformation churches but it is important to underline that we are made up of Presbyterian, Reformed, Congregationalist, United and Uniting, Waldensian, Czech Brethren and other First Reformation churches. In our rich diversity the living Reformed tradition embraces various reformation movements and traditions including those that pre-date the sixteenth century and non-confessional and ecumenical denominations that have enriched our identity to the point that Methodist, Anglican, Lutheran and others have shaped the WCRC. Identified with Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, yes and firm in witnessing that to be Reformed is to be Ecumenical. In our global context the theological, ecclesiological and missiological agenda of the Reformation remains unfinished. Within our own communion, among the churches of the reformation and between all churches. We speak of, “ a Reformed Church always Reforming according to the Word of God”. We understand through the prophetic word of the Gospel that the Reformation and renewal of Church is for the Transformation of the world. We understand our selves a church family called to communion and committed to Justice.”
Our tradition in its complexity contributed much to the fundamental and world changing realities of the Reformation movements and re-centering the life of faith on the word of God, the life giving Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our traditions have focused on the belief that Reformation must encompass the reformation of all of society. We emphasize that all of creation is the theatre of Gods grace and that therefore all social, political, economic, ecological and cultural realities are called to transformation so that Gods will maybe done on earth as it is in heaven.
At the same time the Reformed tradition played a specific and shaping role in the creation of denominationalism, division of the body of Christ, anti-Semitism, anti-Islamic teaching and aggression against the Anabaptists. Reformed theology and Biblical interpretation used to justify and undergird racist, sexist, colonialist and individualistic dualist social and political social structures and spiritualties.
So more than 500 years after the Reformation movements we turn again to repentance and reconciliation. Calvin was scandalized by division and referred to the dismembered bleeding body of Christ. He said that unity was so crucial that he would “cross 10 seas” for cause of unity. The Gospel challenged us to confront our complicity in injustice and oppression in obedience to the God of Life. The God of Justice.
In a dialogue with Pope Francis in 2016 I began by saying that I came with joy and urgency. Joy because of the great strides that have been taken in overcoming divisions and in deepening dialogue, understanding and cooperation. Urgency given the perilous and scandalous situation of humanity and all of God’s creation faced with massive threats to life and global sustainability in a world fallen among thieves.
Our WCRC family celebrated its General Council meeting in July of this year. The theme was “Living God, Renew and Transform Us.” We cry out to the God of life out of the extreme depths of oppression, violence, war, persecution of minorities, poverty, hopelessness and inequality that is afflicting the people and planet. We turn to God in hope and in the joy of Gospel. The root of suffering of the people and of the earth is the same. We suffer under the domination of a complex global system of economic, social, political, military, the cultural, religious, and ecological injustice that serves the interests of the very few at the cost of the very many and creation itself. The Biblical name for this reality is Babylon. We have been bold to call it Empire. When we cry transform us…we include persons, church and the whole earth community.
We understand that our faith imperative is to bring the Reformation turning to the living Godin radical transformation in each of our global families three defining contexts. a)The 500 years of Reformations b) Our own context as a world communion where our unity and witness still is threatened and incomplete. We are still divided by unequal and injustice power relations between North and South, Men and Women, Youth and Age, Racial and Class divisions within our communion and the koinonia of the church. c) Our context of witnessing to life for all in this scandalously unjust and violent world fallen among thieves.
This year 2017 we have embraced the prayer for renewal by following the path of reconciliation and unity opened for us by the bold and courageous dialogue of the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation which led in 1999 to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. The World Methodist Conference associated themselves with the JDDJ some years later and now with considerable joy and thanksgiving I can say that the WCRC joined in this historic widening of the circle of reconciliation and unity. As with the Methodists we were able whole heartedly and in our case with significant reflection and debate embrace the JDDJ because of the significant method employed on the road to reconciliation: that of differentiating consensus. While clearly identifying our differences and distinctives on the important doctrine of justification we affirmed our core agreement on the doctrine and declared that while we still have differences those differences enrich us and are robbed of the power to divide us. Robbed forever of the power to undermine the unity necessary to overcome the system sin and evil afflicting Gods creation. The method is transforming as we were also able to add our Reformed voice as we associated stressing the inherent and inseparable relationship between Justification and Justice. Joining the Methodists in their lifting up of the integration of Justification and sanctification in Gods saving work.
As we gathered in the Schloss Kirche in Wittenberg to associate with the JDDJ together with RC, Lutherans, Methodists supported by the presence of Orthodox and Mennonites upheld by prayer by the Anglicans ( who will be affirming the JDDJ in their own way on Oct 32 at Westminster Abbey), we were over whelmed by the gift of unity. Aware that much still divides us. Aware that Christian Unity must only be for the service of all and against none. Aware and awed that 5 Christian World communions had been gifted to enter the next 500 years testifying that reconciliation that honours differences and diversity ius Gods will for us…and now for all.
I am sharing the panel today with cardinal Kaspers who was among the visionaries. Bishop Younan who has nurtured the JDDJ and called us to associate. We give thanks to God for their bold leadership.
On that same day in Wittenburg ,the LWF and the WCRC signed the Wittenberg Witness pledging as the TWO PRINCIPAL CHURCHES of the Reformations we would put the conclusion of our dialogues to practise and ensure that our churches and we as communions would work together even more closely and live out the unity to which God calls us.