Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
It is an extraordinary privilege to stand before you today as the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches on this momentous occasion, the 12th General Assembly of the All Africa Conference of Churches, as we also celebrate the 60th anniversary of this remarkable organization. This gathering is a testament to our shared commitment to unity, reconciliation, and justice, echoing the very essence of our global faith community. Your journey, as the vanguard of ecumenical engagement on the African continent, has been marked by these enduring values.
Together, we embark on a theological reflection that intertwines the themes of “Christ’s love moves the world to justice, reconciliation and unity” from the WCC Assembly in Karlsruhe and the AACC’s theme, “The Love of Christ Compels Us”. It is a remarkable testimony to our unity and shared purpose that both themes find their inspiration in the same biblical source—2 Corinthians 5:14. This shared biblical foundation underscores our common goal and the unity that join us together as followers of Christ. The theological synergy between these themes highlights the centrality of Christ’s love in our mission.
There is, however, one notable difference in the theme where you say Christ`s love compels us and the WCC says Christ`s love moves us. The change of just that one word makes a significant difference and, in fact, it was subject to a lot of debate. Some preferred to say Christ`s love urges us or as the Holy Bible version translates controls us. Moves and urges conveys the sense of being inspired, led and motivated by Christ`s love and compels implies a greater sense of obligation and responsibility. It`s as if we have no choice. If you are a follower of Christ then this is what you have to do.
The Apostle Paul on numerous occasions tell us what we were outside of Christ and now what we have become in Christ. The death and resurrection of Jesus has made us alive (Eph.2:5), freed us from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2), brought us out of darkness into God`s marvellous light so that we may live as children of light (1Peter 2:9). Paul introduces a number of passages where he says now that Christ has done these things for us therefore we have died to sin (2 Cor. 5), therefore we are a new creation (v16), and therefore we are ambassadors for Christ (v20). What is therefore there for? To tell us that this new life in Christ is a life compelled, motivated and inspired by what Christ has done. We are called to be salt and light in the world. We are called to love like Jesus and live like Jesus in a world surrounded by pain, suffering, sin and brokenness yet redeemed by the love of Christ.
Gathered in the Karlsruhe Assembly as a global and diverse Christian community, the WCC was strengthen in the profound truth that the sacrificial nature of Christ’s love is the catalyst for the transformation of our world. The theme of your Assembly insists on the inexhaustible theme of the love of Christ, poured out for all. This love is not passive but active, dynamic, and transformative. It is this divine love that allows us not to be at rest, directing every act of every spiritual state to the good of others and restraining us from every self-seeking purpose so that we can become channels of grace, ambassadors of peace and agents of reconciliation and unity in a world marked by division, conflict, and suffering.
Pressing challenges of our time, like poverty, hunger, health crises, corruption, environmental degradation, political turmoil, corruption and violence are not insurmountable when we are fuelled by Christ’s love. This love equips us to advocate for justice, to seek reconciliation in the midst of conflict, and to extend a hand of compassion to the marginalized.
Our world, deeply interconnected and often troubled, looks to us for hope, healing, and inspiration. And in our pursuit of a world of peace and justice, we find ourselves guided by the paradigm of the “Pilgrimage of Justice, Reconciliation, and Unity” set forth at the WCC Assembly in Karlsruhe. This paradigm has become our rallying cry, reminding us that our journey as people of faith is not a solitary one but a pilgrimage, a shared quest to mend the brokenness of our world.
As we reflect on this pilgrimage we are reminded of its profound relevance to the African context. In the continent of Africa, we see both the beauty of unity in diversity and the challenges of division and discord. It is here, on this continent, that we must demonstrate to the world the transformative power of reconciliation, the healing balm of unity, and the unwavering commitment to justice.
The WCC’s Unity Statement, with its call for “ecumenism of the heart,” is an affirmation of our shared purpose, a call to transcend boundaries in the spirit of true Christian unity. As we gather here, we must recommit ourselves to this ecumenism of the heart, recognizing that our unity is not merely a matter of theological agreement but a shared conviction that as we walk hands in hands becoming instruments of God’s transformative love in the world.
Christ`s love compels us to Christian unity, to work together as brothers and sisters in Christ to heal and reconcile a broken and suffering world. It is by no accident that Jesus prayed in John 17:21 “Father, let them be one that the world may believe…” Christian disunity and increasing fragmentations is a stumbling block, disservice, a shameful and feeble witness to a broken and struggling world. While unity is not uniformity, it is a gift from God that must be received, appropriated and preserved with joy and thanksgiving. Yet churches continue to divide because of theological and ethical issues, personalities and material matters. We need to be reminded afresh that Christ`s love ought to bring us together rather than drive us apart. Christ`s love is forgiving, healing and reconciling. Christ`s love compels us to Christian unity and witness in a world so much in need of healing and reconciliation. We cannot be preaching love and yet perpetuate hatred, disunity and discord. We need to practice what we preach rather than send contradictory messages to the world.
The mandate and ecumenical vision from the Assembly in Karlsruhe are our guiding lights. We are called to be agents of change, to challenge the status quo, to confront injustice, and to champion the cause of the marginalized. As the AACC, you are called to be bearers of hope, peace, and reconciliation in a world marred by a crisis of hope, a crisis of human rights, and a crisis of mediation, and sometimes a crisis of faith.
We cannot overlook the local context in which this assembly takes place. Nigeria, a nation of immense beauty and cultural diversity, also grapples with significant challenges on various fronts, be they political, economic, social, or environmental. The pursuit of good governance, transparency, and the equitable distribution of resources remains a significant concern. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has added an extra layer of complexity to these issues, underscoring the urgent need for holistic and compassionate responses.
Like many nations, Nigeria contends with issues related to healthcare, education, and social infrastructure. Access to quality healthcare, especially in rural areas, remains a critical concern. Additionally, the educational landscape, while rich in potential, requires continued investment and reform to ensure that all citizens have equal access to quality education and opportunities for personal growth. All these are not only descriptive of Nigeria but, indeed, the whole of Africa.
Despite these challenges, Nigeria’s vibrant culture, strong sense of community, and unwavering faith have been sources of resilience and hope. It is in this context that the All Africa Conference of Churches’ 60th anniversary and its commitment to unity, reconciliation, and justice hold profound significance. The AACC’s work, with its focus on mediation, advocacy, humanitarian support, and peacemaking, is not just a flame of hope for Africa but also a testament to the transformative power of faith and unity in challenging times.
As we gather here, we are acutely aware of the unique moment in history that we find ourselves in. This assembly takes place amidst a dynamic global landscape marked by unprecedented global shifts which can be summarized in six significant mega-trends:
Pursuit of Justice and Equity: One of the foremost mega-trends shaping our world is the unwavering pursuit of justice and equity. Across the African continent and beyond, voices clamour for an end to systemic injustices, corruption, and the marginalization of vulnerable populations. The call for justice echoes loudly, resonating with our shared commitment to reconciliation and social transformation. Christ`s love compels us to stand up and campaign for justice: economic, gender and ecological justice. Christ`s love compels us to stand where God stands. God stands with the poor, the hungry, needy, and lost.
Climate Crisis and Environmental Stewardship: Christ`s love compels us to care for creation. The pressing issue of climate change and environmental degradation demands our immediate attention. Africa, with its diverse ecosystems and vulnerable communities, faces the profound consequences of environmental challenges. Climate-related events can have devastating effects on communities, particularly those dependent on agriculture and natural resources. The imperative to address these issues aligns closely with our duty to protect God’s creation and ensure a sustainable future for all. We need to be reminded that the earth is the Lord`s and everything in it (Ps. 24:1). Love compels us to be good stewards, responsible citizens, to sustain and preserve the earth for future generations.
Interreligious and Interfaith Dialogue: Christ`s love compels us to embrace and reach out to all people. In an increasingly interconnected world, interreligious and interfaith dialogue has emerged as a mega-trend that underscores the importance of peaceful coexistence and cooperation among diverse religious traditions. Our commitment to reconciliation extends to fostering dialogue and understanding among faith communities, thereby promoting unity and harmony.
Here in the context of Nigeria we have been struck by religious conflicts, well what is often termed as religious but has its roots in other factors. Nevertheless, we see religious persecutions and fundamentalism. The WCC Executive Committee met here in the past week, we heard testimonies of Christians being persecuted by Boko Haram. Christians too are not not completely innocent. Christ`s love calls us to be embracing, to love our enemies and those who persecute and do all things against you. This is, indeed, a tall order and a difficult ask but it is possible. Christ`s love is inclusive, not exclusive, not restricted to the church and Christians, for God so loved the world draws us to the embracing and inclusive love of Christ. Those who love Christ must love their neighbour as God loves them. At the WCC last Assembly Prof Azzar Karam challenged the Assembly with her question: Is Christ love also for me a Muslim women? Christ`s love calls us to break barriers and boundaries to embrace the unlovable, the untouchable, the forsaken and lost.
Youth Engagement and Empowerment: The vibrant energy and potential of Africa’s youth constitute another mega-trend. Young people across the continent are advocating for social change, economic empowerment, and active participation in shaping their communities and nations. Their voices are central to our vision of unity, reconciliation, and justice. Church leaders and churches need to embrace, nurture, include and involve young people. Young people are the church of today not just of the future. Young people are not threats but God`s gift to the church. Let`s love them and invite them into our spaces to express, share and join with the family of God in witness and hope.
Migration and Displacement: Africa grapples with the complex issue of migration and displacement. Political conflicts, economic hardships, environmental changes, and violence force many to leave their homes in search of safety and better opportunities. Migration poses both humanitarian challenges and opportunities for solidarity and compassion. It is closely intertwined with the youth of Africa who, in their pursuit of a brighter future, often find themselves compelled to leave their home countries. And some get caught up unsuspectingly as victims of human trafficking which is described as modern day slavery. Christ`s love compels us to exercise compassion and ministry to and with the migrants and displaced and stateless people.
Digitalization and Technological Advancement: The digital revolution has ushered in a new era of connectivity and innovation. Digitalization is transforming societies, economies, and communication on an unprecedented scale. It presents both opportunities and challenges in our quest for justice, equity, and unity in a rapidly changing world. We have to do more reflections on the relationship between technology and humans. Digital justice is an important conversation in the context of growing unemployment and the need to preserve human dignity and value. While we embrace the new developments in technology we must be careful to ask deeper theological and ethical questions. We must be mindful of fake news, misleading information and perspectives imposed on a gullible society. Christ`s love compels us to proclaim truth without fear or favour. As church we need to speak truth to ourselves first. The prosperity gospel and misleading theologies should have no space or place in the Christian life. Instead we should love and follow Christ rather than mammon.
As we engage in the theological reflection and discussions inspired by the theme “The Love of Christ Compels Us”, let us do so with a keen awareness of these mega-trends. They not only shape the context in which we work but also provide opportunities for us to be catalysts for positive change.
In this pivotal moment in history, the All Africa Conference of Churches, with its rich legacy and unwavering commitment, stands poised to address these mega-trends head-on. Through our collective efforts, rooted in faith, love, and unity, we can bring about transformation and respond with compassion to these challenges, ensuring that the dignity, aspirations, and well-being of all are upheld. Christ’s compassion to all – especially the sick and helpless – led to action and it is in this context when the mission of the twelve disciples was sent out: to proclaim the kingdom of heaven and to minister to the vulnerable. This compassionate love became a provocation for the powerful of his time which lead to confrontation and finally to his death on the cross. The resurrection shows that Christ’s expressions of love, culminating at the cross, was a true sign of God’s love and care for all human beings and the entire created world. The risen Lord sends us as his disciples into our broken world. He mandates us as peacebuilders and we carry this great calling with humbleness and responsibility. It is our shared prophetic vocation to stand firm as signs of faith, justice, hope, and love, proclaiming the kingdom of God, which is made visible in our charitable acts. The kingdom of God has come in the ministry of Jesus on earth, is present here and now, and yet to fully come.
The love of Christ is the source of compulsion, moving us to act, not for our own interests, but for the care of others. It means
- radical transformation: It is not a superficial or sentimental feeling but a radical, selfless, and transformative love. It’s a love that goes beyond human understanding and compels believers to live in a way that reflects this love to others. It leads to a changed heart, mind, and behavior. Only this love can enable us and our communities to become agents of radical transformation and healing at all levels, so that the world might see the presence of God among people.
- identification with Christ: As Christians, we are united with Christ in His death and resurrection. His love becomes our love, and His mission becomes our mission. We are called to emulate His love in our relationships, actions, and service to others.
- living for Others: It challenges us to shift our focus from self-centeredness to other-centeredness. It calls us to live not for our own interests but for the well-being of others. This love motivates us to seek reconciliation, extend grace, and work for justice and peace in our communities and the world. This love calls us to put the interests of others before our own. It calls us to love others who are different from us. It compels us to see Jesus in the Other and the Other through the eyes of Jesus. It means saying no to racism, Xenophobia, ethnic, tribal, cultural and language differences. It means seeing all humans as created in the image of God. How I wish the world will stop and realise this. We are facing conflicts in so many parts of Africa, wars in Ukraine and Russia, and the situation in Israel and Palestine continues while the international community stands and watch. Christ`s love compels us to work for just peace and reconciliation.
- a response to grace: The compulsion of Christ’s love is not burdensome but liberating. It’s a response to the grace we have received through faith in Christ. This love is a gift that propels us to share it with others. It’s a recognition that we are loved and forgiven, and this recognition leads us to love and forgive in return. We love because God loved us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5). We show mercy because we have received God`s mercy. We forgive, difficult as it may be, because we have been forgiven. The verse from 1 Corinthians 5:14 provides a theological foundation for Christian ethics and mission. It reminds us that our actions should flow from a heart filled with Christ's love. It challenges us to examine whether our decisions, attitudes, and behaviours are driven by self-interest or by a genuine desire to express and share Christ’s love with the world.
Dear friends, the journey ahead is long and challenging, but it is a journey filled with promise. Our commitment to the “Pilgrimage of Justice, Reconciliation and Unity” as described by the WCC, and our embrace of the “ecumenism of the heart” provide the compass and the fuel for our shared mission. We look forward with a sense of shared responsibility and accountability, and a joint focus on the common good, so that we together can work in finding principled and constructive strategies to overcome the powers of destruction and death. As we mark this 60th anniversary, let us not only celebrate past achievements but also rekindle the fires of our collective resolve to bring about a world where justice flows like a mighty river and peace embraces all people.
In conclusion, I want to express my deepest gratitude to the All Africa Conference of Churches for your unwavering dedication to the ecumenical movement. Together, as we embark on this pilgrimage, we know that by God’s grace we can transform the world, and our witness will be a testament to the transformative power of Christ’s love. In the context of the current multidimensional challenges and polycrisis, it is vital that we carefully listen to each other to discern God’s will for our times and to find sustainable ways of ecumenical cooperation on vital concerns that contribute to increasing mutual understanding and a shared vision of our common future. It is important that we hold out hope as agents of hope and healing. Let us never allow discouragement and despondency to drive us to resignation and hopelessness and despair. Instead let us live in the power of God`s Holy Spirit.
In the power of God`s Spirit and love, let us transform the world to make it a better place for all people and creation. May God give us the courage to prophetically and pastorally proclaim the all-embracing love of Christ`s so that the world may believe in Jesus.
May God bless our deliberations and guide us in our shared mission to bring about a world that reflects the divine vision of shalom—a world of wholeness, justice, and peace.
Thank you, and may this 12th General Assembly be a source of inspiration and renewal for all of us as we understand and reflect together on the theme: Christ`s love compels us to Justice, Reconciliation and Unity. Thank you and God bless!
Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay
World Council of Churches general secretary