10.05.05 09:15 Age: 7 yrs
World Mission Conference makes history
The most widely representative global gathering of Protestant, Catholic, Anglican, Evangelical and Orthodox Church leaders concerned with the 21st century mission of the world's 2.5 billion Christians begins today. It will be a unique moment in Christian history, writes Simon Barrow for Ekklesia from Athens, Greece. The assembly will commence with the gift of a huge wooden Cross from Jerusalem, due to be blessed by Orthodox Archbishop Christodoulos.
Some five hundred delegates and 200 advisers and media have gathered from every corner of the earth through the auspices of the thirteenth World Council of Churches' Conference on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME). They will confer, debate, pray and work together from 9-16 May under the theme "Come, Holy Spirit, Heal and Reconcile!"
The conference in Athens convenes at a time of continuing division among nations, across peoples, between religions and throughout the churches. WCC general secretary, the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, will this morning issue a stirring call to Christians of every tradition and theological persuasion to take with renewed practical seriousness the Gospel of peace, justice and reconciliation which called them into being in the first place.
The World Council of Churches brings together 340 churches, denominations and church fellowships in over 100 countries and territories throughout the world. Alongside most of the Orthodox churches this includes Anglicans and the many other inheritors of the historic traditions of the Protestant Reformation - Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed.
The Roman Catholic Church is an observer at the WCC, but a full participating member of its major Commissions on Mission and on Faith and Order. Representatives of independent Pentecostal and Evangelical churches and movements will also be involved in the Athens meeting.
World mission, together with reconciliation after the Second World War, was one of the founding impulses of the WCC in 1948. In 1961 the International Missionary Council, convened out of the 19th and early 20th century missionary movements through a historic gathering in Edinburgh 1910, united with the World Council of Churches.
Mission is both a unifying and divisive topic for Christians. Historically it has been a great source of human good, founding many social care institutions (especially hospitals and schools) and including expressions of solidarity with groups of the world's poor and marginalized.
But the message of hope in Christ has also been mixed with colonialism and territorial expansion, an aggressive attitude to those of other faith and none, and with activities which co-religionists and secularists have accused of being domineering and manipulative.
The twelve previous world mission conferences (Edinburgh 1910, Jerusalem 1928, Tambaram 1938, Whitby 1947, Willingen 1952, Achimota 1958, New Delhi 1961, Mexico 1963, Bangkok 1972-3, Melbourne 1980, San Antonio 1989 and Salvador de Bahia 1996) have been keen to demonstrate that the proclamation of the Christian message to the world is liberating not enslaving. They have challenged manipulative forms of proselytism and have renewed the call for common witness based on good deeds alongside good words.
The CWME gathering from six continents in Athens this week will vividly illustrate the extent to which Christianity is now a world faith re-centred on the global South, although it has often been portrayed in the media as a Western-centred phenomenon.
But the arguments among Christians of different persuasions are also likely to surface, as delegates wrestle with how the churches can better become agencies of the healing and reconciliation they proclaim.
**Simon Barrow, who is representing the Churches' Commission on Mission of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland at CWME, will be reporting exclusively for Ekklesia from the event this week.**
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia