Cape Town, South Africa, Sunday 17 October 2010

By the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches

“All this is from God”: Mission as Ministry of Reconciliation

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18). “Olav, this is what it is all about, it is the ministry of reconciliation.” So said the dean of the Norwegian School of Theology to me as I was called to his office 30 years ago on my first day as a theological student, wondering what God had meant by bringing me there. He was a former missionary in Madagascar, and he gave me a small piece of paper with these words from St Paul’s Second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 5. “Remember this,” he added.

When I was called to my ministry as general secretary of the World Council of Churches, I remembered well what the missionary said. We are called to participate in the one mission of God. We are called to be one, to be reconciled, so that the world may believe that God reconciles the world to himself in Christ (John 17).

When Dr Doug Birdsall came to my office some months ago and invited me to come here and greet dear friends in the Lausanne movement, I was again reminded what it is all about. This historic invitation is a sign of that God has called all of us to the ministry of reconciliation and to evangelism. I am honoured to be here with a delegation from the World Council of Churches and to greet you on behalf of this global fellowship of Orthodox, Protestant, Old Catholic, Anglican and Pentecostal member churches. Many of you belong to these churches.

Ever since I read the Lausanne covenant for the first time when I was 15 years old, I was struck by the clarity of its vision: We are called to share the gospel of reconciliation with all. I have seen how this is exactly what happens in all our member churches every Sunday. The gospel is read, heard, and received, in some of the churches this happens every day. During the past few Sundays I have been privileged to worship with Orthodox churches in Ethiopia and Albania, in churches filled with devoted, singing worshippers of all ages, in countries where they have quite recently been under heavy restrictions or the banning of their churches. I was moved by how they celebrate the cross of Christ as a sign of new hope.

All churches need a strong commitment to the ethos of the Lausanne movement in order to stand together in this constant sharing of the gifts of the cross and the resurrection.

In this country and this town where reconciliation has become a reality far beyond what could ever have been imaginable some years ago, we are reminded what it is all about. We are all created in the image of God; we have been reconciled by Christ; we can be empowered by the same Holy Spirit to love, to work for justice, to make peace and to care for the creation. Here we are reminded of the words of one of the former archbishops of this city, Desmond Tutu, who some years ago said: “Apartheid is too strong for a divided church.” Let me add: The needs of the world for reconciliation with God, with one another, and with nature are too big for a divided church.

We are together continuing the celebration and commemoration of Edinburgh 1910 in Cape Town via Edinburgh 2010, and are reminded that this is what it is all about. I can see how much we share a common vision of the holistic mission of God. I am very encouraged by how evangelicals, churches and individuals share our calling as the WCC to address the needs of the whole human being and the whole of creation.

The distance between Lausanne and Geneva is not very far, and it should not be. Let us keep the road open, and the dialogue going, so that we learn from one another how we can participate in God’s mission together with respect to others as one Body of Christ. In this common journey it is important to share the gospel in Christ’s way without humiliating people of other faiths.

I thank God for your strong commitment and contribution to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. I pray that God’s blessings and guidance will be upon you throughout this Congress for your ministry of reconciliation. For all this is from God. Amen.