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Reformation through pilgrimage explored in context of African theology

Reformation through pilgrimage explored in context of African theology

A group of African youth visit the holy mountain of Thaba Bosiu, ‘Night Mountain’, in Lesotho. © Albin Hillert/WCC

19 October 2017

”What does Reformation mean for Africa in 2017 in the church and in the society, in the context of the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace?”

Giving a keynote speech  to an audience of 100+ scholars, religious leaders and lay people during a Reformation conference held at Stellenbosch University, South Africa on 12 October, World Council of Churches (WCC) deputy general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri explored 500 years of Reformation, arguing that the WCC’s Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace can provide a framework that helps articulate what the Reformation has meant and continues to mean, for churches and their theology in Africa today.

“The Reformation is a reminder that the basis of the salvation and the unity of Christians is not because of who Christians are but who God is and what God has done for humanity,” Phiri reflected.

“In the African context, we celebrate the gift of translation, of how bringing the Bible into the lives of believers has promoted the growth of the church in Africa,” Phiri added. “And we see every day the gift of the Holy Spirit to transform the lives of people who read the Bible, hear the voice of God afresh and act on it.”

Diakonia and Pilgrimage as transformative action

Phiri, who is responsible for the WCC’s work in the area of Public Witness and Diakonia, highlighted in particular the value of diakonia as an understanding not only of what churches do, but of who they are.

“As we reflect on the wounds of today in the church and society in Africa in the spirit of the Reformation,” Phiri remarked, “the church learns: First and foremost to be self-critical. Christians should visit together the wounds of inequality and poverty, of the rise in internally displaced people, shortage of food and medicine, and gender-based violence.”

“One of the key elements coming out of the 2017 commemoration of 500 years of the Reformation is working together to heal the world by emphasizing peacebuilding, economic justice, climate justice and human dignity based on biblical mandate to all Christians,” Phiri observed.

“And so while many churches and theological institutions do not use the word diakonia, we can see that it is an integral part of the mission of the church, and that it reflects a strong link between the churches' being and their joint action as a worldwide communion.

“The Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace reflects an understanding of a servant church,” Phiri concluded, “and a commitment to the social reality of vulnerable, marginalized communities.”

“In the context of the international community’s work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, we hear clearly the call for ‘no one left behind’. Through ecumenical diakonia, we call for justice for all’. Being transformed ourselves, the pilgrimage may lead us to concrete actions of transformation. We may grow in courage to live in true compassion with one another and with nature.”

Responding to the world’s challenges: forum shapes strategy on diakonia (WCC press release of 4 October 2017)

Public witness and diakonia