Ecumenism, Pluralism and Europe as the New Mission Frontier

Samuel Kobia, the head of the largest ecumenical body in the world, said Europe is now one of the new “mission fields” in need of the gospel of Christ, during the Faith and Order plenary commission, July 28, 2004.

“I fear we are faced with the loss, in all cultures, of fundamental information about the Christian faith as a viengable option for men and women today,” said Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches. “In many places today, we can no longer assume the religious, much less Christian, awareness which existed 20 years ago.”

Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya, was among some 100 theologians and representatives of “virtually every Christian family and all world regions” who came out for the WCC’s Faith and Order commission in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“Regions such as Europe, where we could count on at least a ‘cultural awareness’ of the faith, are now becoming mission fields full of persons who have never heard of the faith,” he said during his opening speech.

The Commission is widely known as the “most comprehensive theological forum in Christendom” and often focuses on the spirit of ecumenism and unity within Christianity.

“This is not a new phenomenon,” said Kobia, referring to the growing challenges posed by religious pluralism, “but through increased travel, communications and economic forces we are increasingly aware of the diversity of religious belief and practice.

“It becomes more and more crucial for persons and cultures with different faith convictions to find ways of understanding one another, and preventing their differences from leading to tension or conflict,” he added.

At that light, Kobia emphasized unity as a core essence of the church.

“Unity must impact (…) all the ways in which the church works and witnesses," said Kobia. "The issue of unity constitutes the heart of our fellowship" in the World Council of Churches.
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"The search for unity must be informed and impacted by (…) every aspect of (churches') life, witness and service.”

The meeting in Malaysia – the first such gathering in a Muslim-majority country, is set to last through Aug 6.