Participants at the World Council of Churches’ Conference on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) have issued a “Call to Discipleship”. The call came in a statement from more than 1,000 people, all of whom are engaged in mission and evangelism in different Christian traditions across the world, who had gathered in Arusha, Tanzania, for the conference. “Despite some glimmers of hope, we had to reckon with death-dealing forces that are shaking the world order and inflicting suffering on many,” the statement reads. “We observed the shocking accumulation of wealth due to one global financial system, which enriches few and impoverishes many.”
The statement said that millions of people are being marginalised and excluded by the “global imperial system” which had “made the financial market one of the idols of our time and has strengthened cultures of domination and discrimination”.
In contrast, the statement says that “discipleship is both a gift and a calling, to be active collaborators with God for the transforming of the world” and lists a number of ways that a call to transforming discipleship may be fulfilled, saying: “we are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ – the fullness of life, the repentance and forgiveness of sin, and the promise of eternal life – in word and deed, in a violent world in which many are sacrificed to the idols of death and many have not yet heard the gospel.”
The statement was issued on the final day of the CWME, which ran from 8-13 March. The World Council of Churches includes many Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant denominations. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member, but Pope Francis sent a message to the conference endorsing its theme “Moving in the Spirit: Called to Transforming Discipleship”, saying that it “powerfully reminds us that the Lord’s mandate to bring the Gospel to all people is not a matter of power and influence in the world. Rather, it is a pressing call to discipleship which manifests itself in unfailing love of neighbour, whoever that may be.
“By transforming people, beginning with each one of us, the Gospel transforms the world. This work of the Holy Spirit within us begins in baptism, that transforming moment which unites all Christians in Christ, a unity that needs to be ever more visible, ‘so that the world may believe’ (John 17:21).
“I pray that the Holy Spirit will fill your hearts with the joy of the Gospel, the Good News of salvation in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” the Pope said. “To evangelise is to offer a convincing witness to this extraordinary truth. I pray that the Conference will remind Christians of the magnificent, unique and challenging responsibility we have to share this transforming message. God’s word is unimaginable in its power. The Gospel speaks of a seed which, once sown, grows by itself, even as the farmer sleeps.”
In a video message to the CWME, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said that there was “no question about the importance of world mission and evangelism.” He continued: “Everybody is talking about transformation. . . And I know in my own life, the biggest transformation is to be born again. That’s the truth. And it is the Holy Spirit who does that. It is not us. We can’t twist people’s arms to it. We can’t make it happen: it is the Holy Spirit moving who does that.”
The Moderator of the WCC’s Central Committee, Dr Agnes Abuom, a member of the Anglican Church of Kenya, invited participants to “arise up to the drum beats of a new moment and frontiers in history as we walk side by side embracing the move of the Holy Spirit; and as we accept to take on the mantle of transforming discipleship.”
In a plenary session, the Bishop of Colombo, Dhiloraj Canagasabey, said that “the Gospel narratives call us unequivocally to a life of discipleship and servanthood. This is made clear not only through the direct words of our Lord Jesus but also through his many parables.
“That Jesus was very serious about the absolute need for self-denial – taking the path of the cross, of humiliation, rejection and death is made clear in his reference in Luke 14:26. This then is the absolute call with which Jesus beckons those who wish to follow him.”
The conference ended with a “sending service” during which participants reflected on their call to discipleship and “the significance of such a call in transforming mission in a world of pain, dislocation and turmoil,” the WCC said.
Dr Colin Cowan
In a sermon, the Revd Dr Collin Cowan of the Council for World Mission said that “context-laden” discipleship will always call us “to a life of contrast, from one pattern of living to another, always going against the grain as a deliberate choice.”
He said: “Jesus pushed boundaries, confronted power, challenged systems of corruption and taught his disciples to go against the grain of cultural norms and practices. Jesus was consistently challenging the disciples to appreciate that if they would be impactful and fruitful in a chaotic world, blemished by conflict, controversies and contempt, they needed to open up themselves to change their way of thinking and behaving in every situation.”
During the conference, the Anglican Communion’s Director for Mission, the Revd Canon John Kafwanka, organised a meeting for Anglican Communion delegates, with the Archbishops of Tanzania and Kenya. “Many people said that they felt a high sense hope especially that many leaders, particularly in the Anglican Communion, had realised the need to take intentional discipleship as central to being church and being Christian,” he told ACNS. “It has been a remarkable experience being here and sensing the moving the world of the Holy Spirit sweeping across the world calling the whole people of God to live a Jesus shaped life that transforms communities, nations and the world, and for continuous equipping of whole people of God.”