Greetings to WCC 70th Anniversary Symposium, Amsterdam, 23 August 2018

Fellow pilgrims, I greet you in on behalf of the World Council of Churches and all its member churches throughout the world. I am delighted to participate in this symposium on the life, work, and future of the WCC, on the occasion of its 70th anniversary, and I thank you all for your thoughtful contributions to this moment of shared reflection.

From near and far, we arrive here today to celebrate the great gift of unity, fellowship, and love among Christians.

What was inaugurated 70 years ago today in this very city was a genuine movement—to narrow our differences, to heal our divisions, and to link arms in Christian solidarity for the sake of the world. Faced with a world devastated by war and imperiled by an uneasy peace, the delegates to the WCC 1st Assembly and its 117 churches covenanted to stay together in one ecumenical movement. They reaffirmed the relevance of the gospel as a countersign to “man’s disorder.” They marked the indispensability of recognizing and supporting universal human dignity and freedoms, and they began the long self-critical process of coming to terms with the Holocaust and the sin of anti-Semitism.

In many ways, Amsterdam created a common platform for critical theological reflection in the interests of unity, commitment to framing a more just international order, and working together to ensure peace and justice. Whether in renewing theology, reframing mission, or bringing together churches and their ecumenical partners to serve, that platform has enabled the churches, in countless and consequential ways and places, and in ever-changing contexts, to serve each other and the world.

Over the decades, through the WCC and the ecumenical movement, Christians have reached out together to build consensus on fundamental aspects of faith and order, build institutions of peace and peacebuilding, support human rights and human dignity, face down injustice and racism, address gender inequities, nurture reverence for the integrity of creation, and renew the churches themselves. These are enormous accomplishments.

Indeed, from our vantage point, we can see that, in its deepest meaning, this ecumenical movement has been, then and now, a movement of love. Over these decades, it has been the love of God in Christ, of our fellow humans, and of the earth that has animated and energized Christians to journey in faith together, to overcome their historic divisions and reach out in love.

Today, 70 years later, however, we face a radically different world—not only in the scale and urgency of its problems but also in its fundamental character. We find the very foundations of the postwar world and liberal democracy challenged. We see hard-won postcolonial freedoms threaten to dissolve into chaos. We witness the globalization of a neoliberal economic system that institutionalizes injustice and inequity.  We observe a historic shift in Christianity’s centre of gravity to the global South. We see a dramatic and often volatile encounter of the world’s religious traditions.

My fellow pilgrims, our long pilgrimage is not over. In word and sacrament, in conscience and calling, God still urges each of us to transcend our stubborn boundaries of self and reach out in love for God and each other, to follow Jesus more truly, to articulate a message of healing and salvation, and to open ourselves up in radical hospitality to the needs of our neighbour. In this new landscape, I believe that the ecumenical movement of love, and its commitment to just peace, is more relevant than ever:

  • Today again people are on the move, and millions of migrants and refugees need our help to secure their safety and integrate them into their new homes.
  • Today, despite enormous progress, the health and well-being of millions remain at risk from HIV and AIDS and from a range of infectious diseases, as well as from the effects of racism and xenophobia.
  • Today, from Amsterdam to Zimbabwe, from the Middle East to East Asia, from the Congo to Columbia, violent conflict and atrocity rend fragile communities and demand international solidarity with the victims and patient nurturing of just peace.
  • Today we must still strive to ensure that women are treated with dignity and respect, safe from violence and abuse, and that children are protected and enabled to thrive and grow.
  • Today as churches we still search out ways to form authentic community, responsibly self-critical and accountable in our faith, our polity, and our openness to each other and to other faiths.
  • Today people everywhere still long for an authentic, credible word of meaning and hope from us, a word of faith, in an often brutal, impersonal, and heartless world.
  • Today the earth itself cries out for relief from the destructive consequences of our sinful economic structures and systematized greed, for our care of this, our common home, and for a just future for our planet.

Returning here, back where we began 70 years ago, we still walk, work and pray in that movement of love. In fact, the dangers we face make us more conscious of our shared humanity, and our solidarity as Christians frees us to serve the one world created by the one God.  Indeed, I sense here a new momentum, with the advent of a new generation whose creativity, openness, and joy can offer fresh energy and ideas to make our earthly home more closely akin to the realm of God and God’s justice.

How will this happen? How it always happens: love will find a way.

Love will bind us as churches and as Christians to each other and to our neighbours across the street and around the world. Love will free us from distorted values and deep prejudice.  Love will see through the falsehoods of racism and tribalism. Love will open us up to learn from criticism and self-criticism of our own complicity. Love will fire our dreams of freedom and peace. Love will unleash new visions, creative thinking, and fresh approaches to our steepest challenges. And love will give us the courage and stamina, the heart and soul, to rescue progress from deep danger, and peace from peril.

Fellow pilgrims, you are—we are— that ecumenical movement of love, grounded in the one Spirit of Christ, ever eager and alert to journey on together in faith and hope for a better world.

Olav Fykse Tveit
General Secretary, World Council of Churches