PITTSBURGH, May 14, 2011 – The Rev. Robert Welsh, ecumenical officer for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), challenged participants at the 2011 National Workshop on Christian Unity to name and claim unity as essential to the credibility of the church’s witness to the gospel in today’s society and world.
In his keynote address, Welsh offered a description of the current landscape of the ecumenical movement, and then outlined what he saw as three frontiers that offer both challenge and hope to the churches’ work for unity in today’s world: harvesting and making accessible the fruits of the past 50 years of dialogue; engaging in interfaith dialogue and encounter; and, reaching out to Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ.
In quoting Cardinal Walter Kasper, who was for many years the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Welsh pointed out that the significant documents and agreements produced in recent decades on the international level alone total more than 2,300 pages. "Who can read all that stuff? Indeed, who wants to?"
The challenge, Welsh said, "is to make the results of that harvest available and accessible to the people in our churches . . . or those fruits will soon spoil, rot and lose their value."
He pointed to new signs of vitality in the ecumenical movement, including the coming together of mainline churches and Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians on issues of common witness in our society and world. He urged those who have remained aloof from theological conservatives to "seek out evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ."
"We must recapture a sense of the scandal of division among Christians," he said, calling on participants to make a personal and corporate confession of ways in which they have contributed to division. "Ecumenism is not just one more program on the church’s agenda. It relates to the very core of what it means to be the church today."
In reminding the Workshop participants about a foundational scriptural basis for our seeking visible unity within the church, Welsh shared, "Jesus prayed ‘that they may all be one (John 17: 20).” I would ask, ‘What part of ‘all’ don’t we understand?’"
"My friends, it’s personal. Our division within the church is personal. It divides families. It breaks hearts. I believe it breaks the heart of God," Welsh concluded.
In response to this keynote address the Workshop issued a statement, Christian Unity is our Calling, addressed to the leadership in all the churches represented acknowledging that “Christian disunity is a scandal before the world that jeopardizes our shared mission and is a source of confusion to interfaith neighbors and friends. In short, our disunity today is an obstacle both for ourselves and for our emerging interfaith relationships.”
Noting that many of our ministries today have finite resources and increasing needs, and that there are numerous cases where separate ministries no longer make sense, the statement declared that our shared future requires greater discernment about how we will be Christian in this country, where disunity is simply not an option. “We call upon you, our leaders, to name and claim unity as a priority for the church today. . . Let us gather together in the gift of Christian unity, demonstrating our shared commitment and hope.”
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