Warm greetings to each one of you as we gather for this momentous occasion—the first meeting in person of the new Faith and Order Commission. This marks a significant milestone in our journey, and I am filled with gratitude for the commitment and dedication each of you brings to the ecumenical table. The online interactions in the last months of last year, including the Faith and Order Commission and the Nicaea 2025 Steering Group Meetings, served as a testament to your resilience and adaptability. Your commitment to deep theological reflection is vital in fostering the bonds of fellowship within the World Council of Churches (WCC) and beyond.
Faith and Order has played a foundational role in illuminating the path for the WCC from its inception. The most recent commission has skillfully navigated the complexities of ecclesiology, moral discernment, and the Church’s journey toward justice and peace. Ecclesiology, a fundamental concern for Faith and Order, persistently explores the particularities and the riches of our ecclesial traditions, drawing us nearer to the understanding of the Body of Christ. Moral discernment, which grew out of studies on the intersection between ethics and ecclesiology and on theological anthropology, grapples with challenges that arise when churches, grounded in scripture and their traditions, arrive at divergent understandings of moral discernment. The pilgrimage paradigm, initiated at the Busan Assembly in 2013 and given renewed purpose at the Karlsruhe Assembly in 2022, has evolved into a vibrant pursuit of justice, reconciliation, and unity. As the pilgrimage takes root in the broader WCC vision, the work of Faith and Order becomes instrumental in shaping our mission.
The theological insights derived from the past Faith and Order processes do not merely establish a foundational framework but extend well beyond the WCC fellowship, contributing to cultivating dialogue and communion among churches. Study processes, consultations, convergence documents and study documents, methodically crafted through deep theological contributions of Faith and Order commissioners, responses from churches, and engagement of the permanent secretariat of Faith and Order, all serve as
significant contributions that resonate in our journey towards visible unity. The mission of Faith and Order serves also as a catalyst for a more profound ecumenical engagement with the world.
The significance of this Faith and Order meeting in Indonesia cannot be overstated. The religious diversity in this region serves as a vibrant backdrop for your deliberations, reminding us of the global nature of our mission. By coming together in North Sulawesi, we deepen our understanding of the challenges and opportunities unique to this context, enriching our theological discourse and strengthening our fellowship with local churches. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to PGI and the churches on this Island who have made it possible for us to meet here in these days. We appreciate that they take the WCC so seriously.
You started your mandate as Faith and Order commissioners, with the focus on the World Conference in 2025 under the theme “Where now for visible unity? This significant event in the life of the WCC is set in the context of commemorating 1700 years since the first ecumenical council in Nicaea, demanding profound reflection and strategic planning. The question "Where now for visible unity?" serves as both a compass and a challenge. It calls upon us to reassess our ongoing efforts in fostering unity among churches, urging us to delve deeper into our commitment and to envision new ecumenical pathways. It challenges us to confront the divisive forces that hinder our shared mission and to engage in the transformative work of reconciliation, acknowledging that our unity is both an intrinsic aspect of our faith in the Triune God and a powerful testimony to the redemptive work of Christ in the world.
Your work is integral to the preparation of the broader vision of WCC for 2025 under the generic title “Living the apostolic faith together today”. This overarching vision underscores the pivotal role your commission plays in the broader ecumenical landscape, emphasizing the interconnectedness of our journey toward visible unity with the broader mission of living out the apostolic faith in our contemporary context. Such a context also expects us to explore new questions and to pour new wine into old wineskins. Albert Einstein often asked his secretary to type out questions for his students and she asked him why he always asked the same questions to which he responded, “Because I have new answers.” How can we look at old questions through new theological lenses while still appreciating and retaining the substance of our Christian faith? How do we provide space to study and dialogue with new and emerging theologies that may be different from our own church traditions? How can theological reflections lead to and encourage theological praxis as it speaks to real life experiences and challenges? The WCC Assembly in Karlsruhe stressed that we should consider seriously the aspect of decolonialisation and how it may shape our theological thinking, life, work and witness together as the WCC moves into the future. I hope you that you would be prepared to engage and explore in your conversations some of these questions and directions as you bring in your diverse backgrounds and experiences into theological formation, renewal and relevance.
The preparations for 2025 align with the WCC’s strategic plan, which will guide our ecumenical journey until 2030. Central to this plan is the emphasis on nurturing a living fellowship of member churches and on the coherence of the one ecumenical movement. Therefore, your role in shaping discourse on critical issues and providing coherence and fostering cooperation is vital. The first priority, aiming at “visible unity,” resonates with the overarching theme of our ecumenical journey. The second priority underlines the imperative to “broaden the table” in demographic and epistemic terms. The pilgrimage of justice, reconciliation, and unity, embraced as an invitation, a direction, and a methodology, becomes a cornerstone of our collective pursuit. Reference Group for Pilgrimage of Justice, reconciliation, and Unity is currently developing further the paradigm of PJRU and the discourse on the theology of companionship. I would encourage you to read the document Pilgrimage of Justice, Reconciliation and Unity adopted by the Executive Committee, to engage with it, and provide your suggestions to the Reference Group on conceptualizing the theology of companionship, permeating all of our work.
We acknowledge that our journey is one of constant learning and growth. In more than seventy-five years, the WCC has placed its trust in God to sustain its significant work. The strategic plan also emphasizes readiness for future changes and the ability to face challenges with resilience and openness for renewal. Importantly, it calls for a more coordinated approach, breaking down silos within the WCC, and fostering a culture of collaboration to better serve the churches. In that regard, I am delighted to know that the leadership of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, Moderator Rev. Dr Michael Blair, and Director Rev. Peter Cruchley, will be with you for this meeting. It is encouraging to have the two historic WCC Commissions working together. I also know that you are diligently developing plans with the Commission on Education and Ecumenical Formation on the GETI program for Nicaea2025. I want to applaud your efforts, but also to encourage you to maintain this collaborative spirit, and think of ways that you can pursue your efforts in cooperation with other WCC commissions, transversals and programmes, as well.
In conclusion, this Faith and Order Commission meeting stands as both an affirmation and demonstration of our commitment to a more coordinated, cohesive, and spiritually grounded approach to our shared mission toward visible unity. Your dedication, scholarly contributions, and collaborative spirit are essential to this ongoing success. May your time together be marked by a sense of celebration for the gifts you receive from almost a century of Faith and Order work. Let this be a period of profound theological consideration, meaningful dialogue, discernment, prayer, and renewed commitment, guiding the WCC and its member churches as we continue our pilgrimage of justice, reconciliation, and unity.
Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay
World Council of Churches