The outgoing head of the World Council of Churches delivered his final address to the ecumenical organization’s central committee Wednesday, emphasizing the importance of the “visible unity” of the church – not as an end in itself, “but for the sake of the future of humanity and all of God’s creation.”
“The sinful and deadly reality around us can be transformed by Christ as God’s love is communicated both by people who are witnesses to Christ’s self-emptying love and in all the wonders of God’s creation as it is continually renewed by the Holy Spirit,” stated the Rev. Samuel Kobia, who has served as general secretary of the WCC since January 2004.
However, a “relevant witness” of the churches in today’s world is no longer possible, he added, “if churches stay divided and cannot demonstrate to the world that the transformative power of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the driving force in making the whole church a sign and foretaste of a united humanity that cares for each other and for this planet.”
While on his travels, Kobia said he has seen churches almost breaking apart because of conflicts regarding “ethical issues” such as human sexuality. Even between members churches within the WCC, Kobia said he has observed increasing tensions due to differing views and positions.
But Kobia also reported on the “genuine hope” he’s seen in churches and societies all around the world, which he said is rooted in culture and religious tradition and, for believers, is Christ.
In Rwanda, for example, where hundreds of thousands from one ethnic group were killed by members of another in 1994, Kobia said such hope enabled survivors to stretch out their hands even to the perpetrators of the crimes and to work for reconciliation with the former enemy.
“The churches of Rwanda and their council in partnership with the government and civil society are doing a commendable job of social and spiritual transformation of the society which had been ravaged by the genocide,” Kobia reported.
And in other regions, such as the Philippines, Israel-Palestine, and Latin America, Kobia said people have demonstrated "a strong will and capacity to survive under serious threats, still sustaining hope for a life with dignity and peace, which would be the fruit of justice."
“In my pastoral journeys to the different regions of the world, I was both deeply touched and enriched by the signs of hope that I discovered among those who were yearning for justice and peace in the midst of suffering and despair,” the WCC head reported in his comprehensive address, which touched on a host of issues, including the need for greater involvement of youth and young adults in the ecumenical movement, the impact of migrant communities, and climate change.
Kobia said in the same way that churches need to be one, the many nations in the different regions of the world, the diverse peoples, women and men, young and old, must learn to overcome oppressive relationships that result in violence and war, working together on behalf of a just and sustainable future for all of humanity.
“In a decade from now, we shall need to see tangible results of a greater commitment to unity,” Kobia stated. “And we should be able to show that churches have helped their societies and the international community of states in building more just and peaceful relationships among people and with nature.”
With this in mind, Kobia stressed that the WCC “is first and foremost the ecumenical space where member churches advance together towards visible unity and support one another in their life and in their witness to the world.”
“More than just an organization, the council is the space in which churches are enabled to live the fellowship as churches call each other to account for the visible unity we seek,” he continued. "The WCC is also the space where member churches and ecumenical partners can meet, share our hopes and concerns, stand alongside each other in solidarity, challenge each other, interpret global trends, discern the tasks we are confronted with together, facilitate common action and find common voice in listening together to the gospel of Christ and to each other’s experiences in our life and faith.”
In closing, Kobia expressed his thanks to the WCC and the ecumenical movement and said there would be other opportunities for him to share about his experiences.
“For now, thank you, and to God be the glory,” he concluded.
As an ecumenical fellowship of churches, the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.
The WCC's main decision-making body, the Central Committee, is meeting from Aug. 26 to Sept. 2 to plan for the next WCC Assembly and to decide who will be its next leader.
Up for election is the Rev. Dr. Park Seong-won of the Presbyterian Church of Korea and the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit of the Church of Norway (Lutheran).