WCC 11th Assembly, Karlsruhe Report
Ecumenical leaders reflect on steps to unity and common witness
In the final plenary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) 11th Assembly on Sept. 5 in Karlsruhe, Germany, the head of the World Student Christian Federation, a Vatican ecumenist, an Orthodox metropolitan and the head of the Council for World Mission addressed the plenary theme, "Christian Unity and the Churches' Common Witness."
The comments of the Kenyan Anglican, Canadian Mennonite, Australian Pentecostal and Mexican Methodist will be shared in the March issue.
Each connected it to the assembly's theme, "Christ's Love Moves the World to Reconciliation and Unity," how that affects daily issues and what Christ's love means for Christian unity and common witness in the world.
The day's scripture was on the sons of Zebedee asking Jesus who would sit at his right and left hands, and hearing that "whoever wishes to be great must be a servant." Jesus uses the term "diakonia," calling disciples to be servants to one another and the world.
Marcelo Leites, general secretary of the World Student Christian Federation, said the federation was formed in 1895 by youth leaders, encouraged by Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican churches to engage in ecumenical dialogue.
"Today, we affirm our support of mission work and leadership in search of Christian unity and witness for all humanity. God's reign means justice for everyone. We celebrate the legacy and the WCC's ecumenical path as we envision ecumenism in the 21st century," he said.
Marcelo called for addressing the climate crisis, challenging discrimination, working for gender justice, supporting the marginalized, promoting peace and acting against unjust economic systems.
"Our responsibility is to provide hope—not an empty hope, but a hope full of promise. The world's struggles are the churches' struggles," Marcelo said. "We can only do our mission if we do it with youth, people on the margins, the women's movement, indigenous people, forced laborers, and those historically undermined."
He challenged WCC delegates to involve more youth in leadership.
Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, delegate of the Evangelical Church of Germany, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria and the WCC's new moderator, invited speakers to see the "source of our unity and mission in Christ's love."
He uplifted the impact of two documents, "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision" and "The Call to Transforming Discipleship," and invited strengthening WCC relationships internally and with Catholics and Pentecostals.
Metropolitan Job of Pisidia, the permanent representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the WCC, said the Common Understanding and Vision document was "an extraordinary ecumenical achievement, calling for Christian unity between and among churches from different ethnic, social and political perspectives that "cause divisions within churches."
"It was a document of convergence: what divided Christians could say together on the meaning, nature and mission of the church," he said. "This is an important step towards Christian unity given the divisions between and within the churches."
Metropolitan Job said the Commission of Mission and Evangelism in 2018 at Arusha, Tanzania, called disciples to emphasize that "we are called as Christians, to care for all creation and to assure justice and peace in the world.
"Before we look to the future, we must open our eyes in the present, when one Christian country, Russia, attacks another Christian country, Ukraine. Christians are killing Christians," he said. "Is this the witness we offer for Christ who gave his life so the world would believe?
"We need to reconcile within and between our churches, with all humanity, especially with those excluded and marginalized and with the entirety of God's creation," he said. "The WCC must be a prophetic voice."
The Most Rev. Brian Farrell, secretary of the Vatican's Dicastery for promoting Christian Unity, said the Roman Catholic Church has worked with the WCC since Vatican II.
"Cooperation has grown into partnerships manifest in countless ways and places around the world as Roman Catholic communities and WCC churches cooperate," he said.
Since Busan, he has seen progress on the "Common Understanding and Vision," which "sets parameters toward the next challenge after decades of discovering what we have in common," he said. "We face questions of difference. What differences are ones we still need to overcome because they stand in the way of full communion?"
From involvement with the Commission of World Mission and Evangelism, he said "Transforming Discipleship" will deepen ecumenism.
"Over the years, we received a divine grace that goes beyond our plans, politics, social and humanistic activity," Bishop Brian said. "Only Christ's grace will bring us to reconciliation and unity, especially as Faith and Order works on moral and ethical issues that divide churches."
He called for churches to move beyond the isolation of therapeutic Christianity to a Christianity of working more and more together.
"Catholics and the WCC need to open our hearts and minds to listen to our young people and give them roles," he said.
Jooseop Keum, general secretary of the Council for World Mission and a pastor in the Presbyterian Church of Korea, said that, between the assemblies in Busan and Karlsruhe, the WCC convened 1,200 delegates in Arusha for the fourth Commission of Mission and Evangelism on the theme, "In the Spirit, We Are Called to Transforming Discipleship."
There was unanimous approval of the Arusha Call to Discipleship that seeks radical change, not slight improvements in mission and unity.
"It calls us to confront false gods in the economy and the assumption of economic utility that creates more inequality and injustice," he said. "No one dares confront the false god of mammon in her temple of the market.
"To be authentic disciples is to interfere with the global hegemony of the economies in power," he said. "Transforming discipleship calls for celebrating life with all people in their contexts, engaging in this world.
"Mission happens when the church meets the world. If the church does not meet the world, mission will never happen," he said.
"The world is deeply wounded. Survival of the fittest is the rule. For some, wealth is the way to protect lives and gain power," he added. "There is yearning for transformed discipleship that brings reconciliation.
"The goal of unity in mission is to understand that God's way to defeat hatred and fear is by witnessing together to God's love in ways that confront systems and empires that deny life and divide us," Jooseop said.
"Transforming discipleship helps us rediscover our faith at the margins where we meet to be the hope of the world as agents of change. Together we have the power of God's love," he said. "The church is a movement of God's people sharing God's love in the world."
For information, visit oikoumene.org/assembly/assembly-live#thematic-plenaries.