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Hospitality: A tool to address 21st century challenges

28 July 2004

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The Christian concept of hospitality may help the ecumenical movement to address the challenges of the 21st century with a sensitivity and creativity similar to those it showed when responding to major world crises during the previous century, World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia told the WCC Faith and Order commission.

While it is often set aside, this concept of hospitality is based on the welcome that Christ himself offered to the poor, the outcasts and the sinners and, according to Kobia, it poses a challenge to both the churches and the world today. Churches, he suggested, are called to repent for "viewing and presenting the boundless grace of God within the narrow confines of dogma and tradition", while the world must answer for its dominant economic and political systems that "favour (…) privileged groups at the expense of others".

Kobia's remarks were made during his inaugural presentation today to the Faith and Order plenary commission which is meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from 28 July to 6 August, 2004 under the theme "Receive one another, as Christ has received you, for the glory of God" (Romans 15:7).

Nearly 100 commission members - theologians from virtually every Christian family and all world regions - together with some 30 observers, guests, younger theologians and representatives of local churches are participating in the meeting. Their commitment to Christian unity despite past divisions, Kobia told them, is "a miracle" that "reflects the work of God's Spirit in our midst".

Unity is essential to the identity of the church, therefore the search for unity "must impact (…) all the ways in which the church works and witnesses," and the commission's insistence on this point is "the core of Faith and Order's contribution to the WCC," Kobia affirmed. Conversely, however, "The search for unity must be informed and impacted by (…) every aspect of (churches') life, witness and service," he added.

The WCC general secretary also underlined the relevance of Christian hospitality to the issue of religious plurality. "Are there limits to our welcome?" he asked, acknowledging the complex and delicate nature of this issue as well as the need to address it faithfully.

Kobia spoke also of "the need for a faithful and creative process to receive, even to welcome" the report of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC. "By sharpening fundamental ecclesiological questions," this report challenges the work and agenda of Faith and Order while, at the same time, encouraging them by confirming that "the issue of unity constitutes the heart of our fellowship" in the World Council of Churches.

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