To the Moderator, General Secretary and participants from all ten synods of the church, gathered in your general synod, I am delighted to greet you in the name of the global fellowship of the World Council of Churches with 352 member churches in 120 countries and almost 600 million Christians. I send our heartfelt prayers and great hopes for your synod.
As you know, my relationship with the Dutch Reformed Church goes back a long way through the friendships I have developed with many of your leaders, the partnerships with the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Pretoria when I was Dean, but most of all in serving as a facilitator of the unification process of the Reformed family over a few years. Of course, I was deeply saddened that this did not materialize in the way we had hoped, and I still pray that the vision for unity and reconciliation would not be lost.
As you know the WCC is a fellowship of churches that seeks the unity of Christians in the world. In a world that is riddled with sufferings, pain, injustices, violence, war, climate emergency, natural disasters, churches need to be united more than ever to bring a strong witness, transformation and alternative message to the world. This is captured well in the statement on unity at the WCC Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany, in 2022.
We are facing many sins of profound injustice, such as casteism, racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, colonialism, economic exploitation, the unequal distribution of power and resources, and the corruption of our relationships with creation, alongside so many kinds of alienation. These sins push people apart from one another and suppress our God-given longing for recognition, connection, and communion. In a world like this, wounded by divisions, the churches are called to witness to the indestructible power of love to bring together and reconcile. Through the faith they proclaim in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the churches are called to bear a counter-cultural witness: the hope of unity, justice, and peace. And yet, despite Christ’s invitation to unity, the churches continue to remain divided. Amid this division, affecting both the world and the churches, Christ’s call to unity rings out even more profoundly.
I hope that this gathering occasions among you an ever deeper unity in the love of God made visible in the person and presence of Christ Jesus, so that it becomes manifest in your shared faith, common prayer, sincere deliberations, and growing consensus on the many less than irenic issues facing the church itself. Amidst the challenges you face as a Church my prayer is that you would value and live up to the prayer offered by Jesus that we may be one so that the world may believe (John 17:21).
I also pray that your general synod truly reflect on and grapple with the grave challenges that we South Africans and people in Southern Africa face yet also, equally, the creative potential that Christian hope, inspiration, commitment, and advocacy can provide to our fellow citizens.
Of course, in some respects, today’s challenges are steeper than at any time since the end of Apartheid. We in the global fellowship of the WCC have stood in solidarity with the people of South Africa and with the church’s great changes over the last generation, and we seek to partner with you in the ongoing personal, ecclesial, and societal transformations that the contemporary situations in South Africa demand.
I believe that the Reformed tradition, which I share, can be a real resource in our journey of faith. Anchored in biblical and theological integrity, the tradition can fuel our devotion, discipleship and work for justice. As we rediscover its original vision of the good and just society, mitigating social inequities and systemic injustices, we can turn to address today’s miseries of youth unemployment, inadequate healthcare, and strained governance with optimism and determination.
So, I urge you not to lose heart. A transformed society is achievable. Jesus’ vision of the reign of God begins within each of us, kindled by his promised presence among us and by the koinonia (fellowship) we enjoy. Expressed in the church’s life of prayer, its many ministries, and its bold advocacy and service for social justice and human dignity, it can yield a hundredfold, a renovation and renewal exceeding even what we witnessed a generation ago. For with God all things are possible!
I pray God`s blessings and wisdom over you as you deliberate, discern and decide on numerous matters at your General Synod in this week.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay
World Council of Churches