Greetings to the LWF Council meeting,

27 June to 2 July 2018 in Geneva

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC General Secretary



Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Dear President of the LWF, Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa,
Dear General Secretary, Rev. Dr Martin Junge,

I am deeply moved to see you here all, as members of the ecumenical family, but even more for me personally to see the gift of the Lutheran communion - as a member and pastor in one of your member churches, the Church of Norway.

Freely you have received, freely give (Matt. 10:8), the theme of this meeting of the General Council of the Lutheran World Federation goes to the heart of our shared mission as churches, and it points to the most significant contribution of the Lutheran tradition.

In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 10, the apostles have not yet been sent into the world “to make disciples of all nations.” But already here, the apostles are being commissioned to “proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’”  When they  “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers (and) cast out demons,” they are not to take gold or silver but are to share the power they received without any condition, freely, as a gift to those in need. This is the logic of discipleship in mission, which we also explored together in the recent World Mission Conference in Arusha, Tanzania, hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania.

Those attitudes stand in stark contrast to the realities of our time. We see around us continually growing inequality of wealth and income, focused primarily on profit, resulting in a globalization that leaves many people in poverty.  The Greek word dórean, which  is translated in the English version of your theme as freely, means more precisely, in its nominative form, a free gift, as opposed to one kept for myself or given in exchange for money.  Here it points to the divine power of healing that the apostles have received from God. The gratuity of the gift can never have a monetary equivalent. The relationship with God and with one another shall not be commodified or mediated by money. These values of generosity must have an impact on how we share the resources of the world and how everyone must have affordable access to the sources necessary for life and survival such as water, food and shelter.

There is a very close connection between the meaning of this verse in the Gospel according to Matthew and chapter 3 of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which was  so critical for Martin Luther’s understanding of justification by grace. We find the Greek word dórean again in Romans 3:24:  “They are now justified by his grace as a gift.”

Later in the Greek Bible, in the last chapters of the book of the Revelation of St. John, we find again the word dórean, this time referring to the free gift of the “waters of life,” as in

“Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a (free) gift” (Rev. 22:17). What is essential for life is God’s free gift to those who search for it in faith.

God’s love is freely shared with us in Christ, without conditions. And we in turn are to become disciples following Christ and sharing the gift of God’s love, which we received freely, with each other and with this world.

In your LWF Council meeting, you are discussing the new strategic plan for the community of churches that is the LWF. It is barely a week since representatives of the member churches of the WCC did the same in our central committee meeting.

In my report to the central committee, I chose to speak of the ecumenical movement as a movement of God’s love. The one ecumenical movement is a reality, strongly affirmed for example in Lund 2016 and in the central committee with the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis last week here in Geneva.

The one ecumenical movement is a gift to the churches – to be shared among us – and with the world, so that world may believe in the love of God.

In the ecumenical movement we need at least two perspectives on love, both eros and agape. We need the passion for fellowship, the longing for togetherness with each other – to be with one another. We also need the willingness to give, to offer what we have, even to sacrifice, to be able to put the needs of others first, following the example of Jesus Christ.

We have seen both dimensions of love, and that makes me confident in speaking about an ecumenical movement of love in these 70 years of the WCC. The question, “What’s in it for me, for us?” cannot characterize a koinonia of love. We cannot ignore one another or withdraw our attention when it is no longer primarily serving our own interests.  We are here to serve one another with the gifts we have.

The blessings that come from being a fellowship of love are many. This is not a zero-sum deal for doing business together. One plus one is more than two in the power of love. Those who give freely get more. We have been sharing our gifts from the different churches, confessions and contexts. Sharing the sufferings and the precious joys has brought new and added dimensions to being church. I have been inspired and moved by seeing the many initiatives, agendas and  people who carry them forward through these 70 years as expressions of love, that is, genuine attempts and efforts to act in love for the fellowship and for justice and peace in the world. The life and the contributions of the LWF are among the precious gifts to the one ecumenical movement.

Let me at this point add that we as WCC see the presence of the LWF here in the Ecumenical Centre in this perspective. The Lund cross installed in the chapel as a milestone in our joint pilgrimage towards unity and of justice and peace remembering the 500 anniversary of the Reformation.  We need you, we need one another, as partners in this house.  As we proceed with our building project, the Green Village, we will do all we can to secure for you good and ample work spaces for costs equivalent to today’s.  We also plan for shared facilities for all kinds of meetings in the future.  The Ecumenical Chapel and the Visser ’t Hooft Hall are classified as historical heritage sites in Geneva and will remain places for our shared legacy and hopefully a shared future.

The challenges we have received from one another in this movement of love have changed our preconceptions about one another, but also dealt with the truth about one another.

From the early initiatives, long before 1948, till now it has been clear that the quest for the unity of the church has served a wider purpose: life together as God’s creation – as one humanity.  The love that could be expressed among the churches should serve the life and peace of the world. After 70 years we have come to a place in our journey where we should not be shy to say that we have learned a lot about how to reconcile, how to work for unity with diversity, how to seek justice and peace. This must be a legacy shared among us and with others who need it today. We have learned enough to see that we have to continue. The mission is not complete. Therefore we need what you, the confessional families, can contribute to the whole.

We now have a momentum in the one ecumenical movement, where we have strong and wide participation in efforts of mission and diakonia. It is important that the churches own these agendas and that we continue to discuss what that means in practice, for example, in our cooperation with the ACT Alliance.  The principles and the practices should be shared and developed.  The world desperately needs our joint efforts.

Urgent needs for unity, justice and peace have driven us forward. We can accept, even embrace and celebrate, what are imperfect but real and diverse expressions of unity and shared service for justice and peace. Even if our unity is imperfect, it has dimensions driven by the love of Christ for us and for all humankind and the whole of creation. There are many ways from conflict to communion.

This love of Christ moves us on (2 Cor. 5:14).  A strong focus on justification by faith is a powerful contribution and gift to the visible unity of the one ecumenical family.  We have received your gifts.  We continue offering what we have to share with one another – and with the world: God’s love.  Freely.  Let us continue, dear sisters and brothers.  This moment and this momentum are given to us now.