Terima kasih! Thank you!
This meeting is of historic importance for several reasons:
First, it is the first in-person meeting, where we are coming together as whole human beings, and not only on gathered on a screen. We cannot overestimate the importance of face-to-face discussions, sharing prayers, sharing meals, all the informal fellowship that can create real friendship, what the WCC Assembly called “ecumenism of the heart”.
Second, during this meeting we will make decisive decisions for our work during the upcoming period of the Commission, until the next WCC Assembly in 2030.
Third, we will make major decisions in planning for Nicaea 2025, the Faith and Order World Conference.
And, finally, during this meeting we are going to elect the Vice-moderators of the Commission. This is of great importance for the leadership of our work, because this Commission relies on shared understandings and shared responsibility for the fulfilment of our tasks.
In my address, I want to share some thoughts related to 2 areas:
I would like to explore for a moment why our work in this Commission is of utmost importance, and how it might be relevant not only for us, but for our churches and the message we share with the world.
Based on this, I would like to suggest some of the themes which might be explored through the study groups we are going to establish during this meeting.
What does our world need for the time being? What can we as Christians, coming from all parts of the world and all Christian denominations, offer to the world based on our faith?
I suggest that it is hope that should be at the heart of our Christian message to the world. Perhaps we should begin with some basic reflections:
In what ways does our faith guide us and lead us to find hope, to embrace and nurture hope, and to bring hope to the world? And what role does the Faith and Order Commission play in this endeavor?
The Norwegian poet Jon Fosse, who recently won the Nobel prize for literature, he himself a devoted Roman-Catholic Christian, wrote in one of his poems:
“In the depths of despair,
Hope shines like a beacon,
Leading us to brighter days.”
Our world is in depths of despair. Ongoing wars, the climate crisis; political instability; multiple high- and low-intensity wars in many parts of the world; poverty, famine, and drought; and an endless number of other situations of crisis are threatening us and the whole creation, in our different contexts. “The depths of despair” are present everywhere.
Fosse continues by saying: “Hope shines like a beacon.” I live in a country with a long coastline, where throughout history beacons have been decisive for the survival of the fishermen and everyone else who is travelling by boat or ship. In the dark, in stormy weather, the beacons are showing the way towards safe harbors, and helping those at sea to navigate safely in rough weather, to survive and not to crash into the devastating rocks of the shores.
“Hope shines like a beacon.” As Christians and Churches, we might not be able to change the whole world. Nevertheless, we can offer to the world what is our most precious and joint treasure: our faith, and the hope that spring from it.
As 1 Peter 3:15-16 underlines: "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; 16yet do it with gentleness and reverence." (NRSV)
What are we hoping for amidst despair?
Why do we have hope?
Our hope relies on God as creator of all, for fullness of life with God and the whole of creation; God who never despairs of creation or of the creatures.
Our hope is rooted in God who became human in Jesus Christ, suffering for and together with humankind and the whole creation, and overcoming suffering and death, for the sake of all. Our hope is rooted in our faith in God who promises eternal life, where there is no more suffering and despair-- and exactly this hope seeks to empower us to fight against suffering and despair, in our world today, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Hope as the decisive contribution Christianity can bring to today´s world. And this is a vital part of the vision and the work of Faith and Order. Whatever differences we have of theology, of ecclesiology, of worship, of mission and ministry, no matter how challenging those differences may be, even so, there is always more that binds us together than what divides us. This was one of the groundbreaking insights of the last Commission on work on ecclesiology: there is always more that unites us than divides us, because we share a common hope, we live and work together in a common hope. Our work in this Commission is by its sheer ongoing existence a sign of unity and an embodiment of and testimony to hope. It is our hope that keeps us going through this long and difficult but ultimately rewarding process. Hope means we don't give up, and that no matter how hard it is, we are being faithful to the God who is faithful to us.
Faith and Order can contribute to the life of our churches and to the life of the world by focusing on and witnessing to our churches and to the world our common hope that shines like a beacon in the depths of despair.
It is indeed easy to focus on differences and problems. It is easy to concentrate on all the challenges and things that divide us. And doing our work properly, we certainly should not pretend that all theological differences and church-dividing questions are solved. That would be both naïve and dishonest. Nevertheless, we as the Faith and Order Commission have a specific obligation and possibility to work for theological agreement across borders and denominational differences in a way no other theological commission can do. Faith and Order is the broadest composed multi-lateral theological Commission that exists, where all major church families and traditions participate, while we seek to connect with other commissions and global bodies, such as the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME), and the Global Christian Forum.
And amidst all differences, let us look out for agreements and unity, in a spirit of openness, attentiveness and mutual accountability, and like 1.Peter said, with “gentleness and reverence”.
Ecumenical dialogues never function as “quick fixes”. Participants in ecumenical dialogues need a long breath and a lot of patience, and sometimes even a good sense of humor. Some processes, such as the work on ecclesiology from the first convergence statement, Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry (BEM) to the second, The Church: Towards a Common Vision (TCTCV), took not years but decades. And there are a lot of unresolved ecclesiological questions that remain to be worked on. Yet there is a great deal of agreement and convergence in this crucial area.
I am not a very patient person. I like things to move forward, and difficulties to be solved. Thus, ecumenical dialogues can be demanding processes for me. I have been a member of the International Lutheran-Orthodox Commission for more than 20 years. Sometimes, I feel a little disillusioned because of the very slow movement towards greater unity achieved by this dialogue. At one point, one of my Orthodox colleagues and friends said to me: You know, Stephanie, we have been disagreeing on these questions for about 1000 years. How can you expect this to be solved within a few years of dialogue? For me, that was a good reminder about the need for patience in ecumenical dialogues. Nevertheless, I also believe that our dialogues need a bit of impatience, to move us forward towards further unity.
I think that the hope that we share, our Christian hope, is the source and energy for our work, and also something we need to name explicitly among us, and in our world today.
Hope is about much more than the life of the world to come. It is about our life on earth, here and now, empowering us to witness about the gospel in word and in deeds. Maybe our Commission needs to address exactly this question in the coming years: What is our hope that unites us, and how can this hope be shared with the world we are a part of?
“Hope, like a gentle breeze,
Whispers of possibilities.
Carrying dreams to distant shores.”
says Jon Fosse in another poem.
Perhaps the Faith and Order Commission has not been known historically for articulating “gentle breezes of hope”. Rather, the Commission has generated robust theological statements and a lot of text, in fact a whole library, which has been more or less received by the churches. Nevertheless, the mere fact that we are still gathering with all our backgrounds and different theologies to witness to our real but still imperfect communion, to engage in dialogue, and to seek ways towards visible unity testifies to and embodies hope, and “whispers possibilities” of sharing our faith and hope across borders, and of “carrying dreams to distant shores”. The value of our commitment and our perseverance cannot be overestimated. Gathering around the same table to seek together for unity is a beacon of hope of lived unity; it is a foretaste of the greater unity we seek. And, indeed, in our world of despair, we need beacons of hope. Let us together make sure that this Commission is a safe place for everyone, where everyone can express freely their theological perceptions and experiences. On this Commission, every voice counts, and every person around our table counts.
This leads me to the second part of this address: Looking forward towards the next working period of our Commission.
Where to now for Faith and Order?
Every person around the table counts. That certainly leads us to the question: Who is seated at this table? Who does not have a seat, but should have? Whose voices do we hear, and whose voices do we miss?
Thus, broadening the table of conversation will continue to be at the heart of this Commission´s work. This Commission is composed in a broad way, when it comes to geography, denomination, gender, and other criteria. Our task will be that we together make sure that all Commissioners have an equal voice in our discussions. In addition, we need to continuously consider which voices are not heard, who is not represented at our table. In this context, the Faith and Order Commission needs to consider ways of decolonizing its work. Our colleagues from the Commission on Mission and World Evangelism share this concern, and we look forward to closer cooperation.
During our last working period of the Commission, we concluded several main processes.
- The pilgrimage of justice and peace has been followed up by smaller studies which are easily accessible for many through greater use of various technologies and modes of communication. The WCC Assembly has decided on a “Pilgrimage of Justice, Reconciliation and Unity”. The theme of unity is at the heart of next year’s Nicaea Jubilee and Faith and Order World Conference.
- The work on ecclesiology, resulting in the document The Church: Towards a Common Vision (TCTCV), and the analysis of the responses to TCTCV, concluded decades of work after BEM. The Commission identified specific themes that the churches ask us to address as a result of this work. It always has been, and still is, the task of Faith and Order to pursue ecclesiological study and dialogue to support the search for visible unity of the churches. This work will continue, and during this Commission meeting decisions will be taken on what will be the focus for the coming years.
- Finally, the Commission has been working on “moral discernment” for many years. The work has brought many fruits, among them the studies on the impact of history and tradition on moral decision-making, and the tools for moral discernment which were developed during the last period. Moral issues are indeed keeping our churches busy, and we have obviously not solved all the questions related to moral discernment. The Commission´s work has contributed to some decisive achievements, not at least the mutual acknowledgement that all churches, even though they might come to different conclusions in specific moral questions, are honestly searching for the right answers based on their faith and tradition, and sincerely trying to find the right answers based on their understanding of the Holy Scriptures as interpreted within their own tradition. This acknowledgement is itself a significant achievement for the Commission and one which can make a huge difference to the churches. The questions now will be how this can be followed up, and how the studies can be further disseminated and developed and applied in different contexts.
Finally, I would like to point to two ecclesiological themes that emerged from the Commission’s work with the 78 responses to TCTCV, and the perspectives for future work which were outlined there. I hope these themes can be pursued further by the Commission, so as to assist the churches in our common ecclesiological work and our search for the visible unity into which God calls us.
The Church as the People of God: The Quest for a Baptismal Ecclesiology
Much focus in ecclesiological work has been put on the discussion of ordained ministry, and of questions of ecclesial order. One of the striking coherences in the responses to TCTCV was the emphasis on an ecclesiology beginning from the people, the baptized, the faithful and the gathered. This goes together with a quest for a baptismal ecclesiology, not replacing but widening the ecumenical emphasis on a eucharistic ecclesiology. This growing understanding in multilateral ecumenism that the mission and unity of the church must begin from the baptized, the people themselves, seems to be a notable ecumenical convergence.
There is a need to explore together a baptismal ecclesiology, beginning with all the baptized and all the people of God as partakers in Christ´s royal priesthood and becoming the presence of Christ in the world. Such an emphasis on the people of God as the Church might help to search for the visible unity of the Church in different and new ways, moving the ecclesiological conversation from questions of ordained ministry and ecclesial order to questions of fellowship, koinonia, mission and evangelism, peace, justice, and solidarity—to the ordering of our common life and witness. In this context, conciliarity and synodality will be decisive aspects for further consideration. This also means that we need a deepened discourse on the role of all the baptized faithful in conciliar processes, in discernment processes and in decision-making structures, perhaps particularly above the level of local community.
Churches, God´s people, are called to being an embodiment of as well as testimony to hope.
The Faith and Order Commission might consider exploring a deeper theological understanding of the nature and mission of the Church in the light of a baptismal ecclesiology.
The Church in and for the World.
Baptismal ecclesiology concentrates on people belonging to the church, on the people being the Church. Yet this belonging has a purpose beyond itself. As the responses to TCTCV underlined, it carries with it the imperative of mission in its broadest sense, as service to the world and proclamation of the gospel for evangelism. For many of the respondents, what matters most is that the Church is an effective sign and servant of God´s mission to the world, rather than a mere theological agreement about common structures, polities, or institutions. Obviously, this focus on mission is at the heart of both the shrinking churches in the global North and the growing churches in the global South. Many churches urge that ecclesiological work on the Church in relation to the world needs to be fuller and more comprehensive. What matters is that churches are witnessing to the hope we have, based on our faith and calling. Not giving up, but being beacons of hope in our world through witness and service, is maybe our primary task today. Exploring such hope theologically might be one of the relevant tasks for this Commission in the coming years.
I want to conclude with a quote from TCTCV chapter 4:
“The Church was intended by God, not for its own sake, but to serve the divine plan for the transformation of the world.” (§58)
The forms of the Church may vary considerably. But its grounding in the Gospel does not.
To serve the divine plan for the transformation of the world, there is a need for our churches, for us as the Faith and Order Commission, to serve as beacons of hope.
Because, as Jon Fosse says:
“Hope is a whisper,
Soft and gentle in the dark,
Guiding us forward.”
The Faith and Order Commission is one of the agents of that whisper of hope, for the sake of the world God has made and is always remaking.
Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (NRSV)
North Sulawesi, 1.2.2024
 Jon Fosse, «Så mykje her eg skulle ha sagt» («So Much I Should Have Said»).
 See Towards a Global Vision of the Church, Volume I and II.
 See Churches Respond to The Church: Towards a Common Vision, vols I and II; What are the Churches Saying about the Church?; and Common Threads.