In a world crying out for justice and peace, the theme of the 2022 assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity,” speaks of hope for a future in which resources are shared, inequalities are addressed and all can enjoy dignity, according to a new publication reflecting on the assembly theme.
The result of the work of an international group drawn from different regions and confessional traditions, the text is intended as a resource for churches and Christians worldwide in advance of the WCC’s 11th Assembly, to take place in Karlsruhe, Germany, from 31 August to 8 September 2022.
The assembly, according to the text, is an opportunity to find inspiration in the love of God, the Holy Trinity; a love that has been revealed in Christ; and that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is moving in and through all humankind and all creation.
“The love of Christ which is central to the assembly theme is placed within a trinitarian context and develops further the vision of the WCC Common Understanding and Vision document, which states that the purpose of God’s love incarnated in Jesus Christ is for the reconciliation and unity of all, of the whole cosmos (Col. 1:19; Eph. 1:10),” said the Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, the WCC’s interim general secretary.
“It opens new horizons and possibilities: it will concentrate on what it means for churches and for Christian unity to confront together the many challenges of the world we live in and on witnessing to our common Gospel values, but does not stop there, as the purpose of God’s love in Christ is for the whole world. It means openness and care for the whole world, and dialogue and cooperation with people of other faiths or of no faith but who share the same values.”
The publication offers biblical and theological reflections on the assembly theme, inspired by a biblical verse – “For the love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor. 5:14) – against the backdrop of critical issues confronting churches and humanity as a whole.
“The assembly theme invites us in this turbulent period for our world, to reorientate our existence toward the one God in Trinity; toward the very source of life, who so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,” said Prof. Dr Marina Kolovopoulou, the theme group moderator, referring to a verse from John’s gospel (3:16).
“With this faith, guided by the work of the Holy Spirit, and in Jesus Christ our Lord to whom we see the Father we are called to testify our witness today in a wounded and suffering world,” she said.
“This reflection on the theme of the next WCC assembly is intended to encourage church leaders and local congregations to meditate and discuss the timely significance of Christ’s compassion in a world marked by the climate emergency, systemic economic injustice, the digital revolution, and national populisms nurtured by the fear of the other,” said the Rev. Dr Odair Pedroso Mateus, interim WCC deputy general secretary and director of the WCC’s Commission on Faith and Order.
“As Christians and churches come together to respond these global challenges, they grow in the love of Christ and manifest his gift of unity,” he said.
The WCC’s assembly in 2022 will take place after “a time of waiting,” the reflection notes, having been postponed by a year because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, something that has exposed and highlighted both the vulnerabilities of humankind and the world’s profound inequalities and divisions.
“We are convinced that the assembly’s theme has never been more necessary in a world that longs for peace, justice, health, unity and solidarity,” said Dr Verena Hammes, general secretary of the Council of Churches in Germany, who also belonged to the group that drew up the theme reflection.
“The churches in Germany are looking forward to host the assembly, and the text will offer guidance also to them as they face pastoral challenges such as the current deep uncertainty, the ambivalences of the digital revolution, climate change, xenophobia and the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hammes noted.
It is the first time that the word “love” has been the focus of a theme for one of the WCC’s assemblies, which take place about every eight years.
“Love as the language of our faith can actively and prophetically engage the world as we see and experience it today in a way that will make a difference for a shared tomorrow,” the text states.
At the same time, the focus on love “does not only unite us together as Christians but also draws us to a deeper relationship with all people of faith and all people of good will.”
According to theme group member Rev. Dr Kenneth Mtata, general secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, the theme reflection explores how love is one of the Christian foundational pillars upon which confidence and hope can be built.
“This love which is first received from God through Christ grows as it is shared with the neighbour through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
“It shapes the internal relationships of the faith communities but must also be manifested powerfully in the public sphere to invite for reconciliation and judging with justice,” said Mtata.
The theme reflection underlines the need for an “ecumenism of the heart,” noting that many people are urging that the search for unity should not be only “intellectual, institutional, and formal, but also based in relationship, in common prayer, and above all, in mutual affection and love.”
A world that is “crying out for profound love, for community, for justice and hope needs churches that are visibly in communion, longing for oneness where there is division, and finding a new future for humankind and all creation.”
“This reflection on the theme offers a theologically balanced and inclusive perspective that avoids the possible pitfalls of Christian triumphalism and a narrow christomonistic interpretation,” said the WCC interim general secretary Sauca.