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Message of the Bishop Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm at the WCC 70th anniversary in Amsterdam

Speech of the Bishop Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chairperson of the council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, at the WCC 70th anniversary celebration on August 23 in Amsterdam

23 August 2018

Dear sisters and brothers,

it is wonderful to be here together with Christians from the Netherlands and from all parts of the world and say joyfully: Happy birthday WCC!! It is wonderful to be here and feel what the WCC is all about. Feel the brother and sisterhood around Christ which intimately connects us beyond our various cultural and denominational backgrounds.

I thank God on this day for the blessings which 70 years of WCC have meant for the church and for the world. The WCC has been a living answer to the crucial question which the Apostle Paul has posed to the Christian community in Corinth: „Has Christ been divided?“ (1 Cor 1,13). We all know the answer: There is no catholic Christ, no orthodox Christ and no protestant Christ! There is only the one Jesus Christ who unites us all. If we are satisfied with the division of the churches we betray our Lord Jesus Christ! That is why I was so happy that we celebrated the reformation anniversary 2017 for the first time in the history of the last 500 years not to display protestant identity by degrading others but as an ecumenical call to rediscover Christ just like Martin Luther himself strived to rediscover  Christ. I thank everyone in the global ecumenical movement who has expressed and supported this ecumencial spirit and has given a strong witness that denominational traditions can never be anything else than a pointer towards our one Lord Jesus Christ.

With our witness of unity in Christ we are also giving a witness of unity to the world – a witness our world needs so desperately. In many parts of the world we see a rise of political movements which programmatically propagate division, intolerance and the glorification of their own nation. Decades of stable societal consensus have lost their power. Nationalism, racism and exclusion of groups of people suddenly appear to be legitimate instruments in the political contest – even in the centre of the so-called free world. The WCC was founded 70 years ago exactly to overcome such division which had just resulted in a terrible world war with many million victims. It is therefore part of the DNA of the WCC to overcome the sin of aggressive nationalism and struggle for a world in which every human being created in the image of God can live in dignity.

Brothers and sisters, 70 years later we renew this commitment. We commit ourselves to be servants of Christ and therefore at the same time be servants of a world in peace and justice. As the world mission conference in Arusha has just emphasized: Service to Christ is intrinsically connected with service to the world.

Let me quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer who described the theological reason for this with a clarity stemming from his resistance against Hitler’s criminal regime: “In Christ we are offered the possibility of partaking in the reality of God and in the reality of the world, but not in the one without the other. The reality of God discloses itself only by setting me entirely in the reality of the world…”[i]

That is why being pious is a powerful force for becoming political. If we are truly moved by the suffering of the world and the least of our brothers and sisters we must get involved to overcome this suffering – and if the reasons for this suffering are political we must become a public church taking a stand when it comes to questions of spiritual and ethical guidance in public discussions.

Many of these questions can only be dealt with on a global level. That is why the WCC would have to be urgently invented now if it didn’ already exist. The churches are beautifully connected in a unique worldwide network. They are based in local communities all over the world and at the same time live with the global horizon of a new heaven and a new earth. Inspired by this horizon of hope the churches are called to be powerful agents of a global civil society. My hope for the future is that this global dimension of the church will be much more part of the daily faith live in our parishes worldwide in the future than it is now, and that we all contribute to make the WCC much more visible in the global publics than it is now.

Brothers and sisters, let us rejoice in the gift of the WCC which God has given us to be witnesses of Christ in the world. Let us renew our commitment to this witness. Let us open our hearts for the power of the Holy Spirit and be moved. Be moved to be united as the one church of Jesus Christ. Be moved to be involved in the world. Be moved to be messengers of hope, in a spirit which Dietrich Bonhoeffer has expressed beautifully: “It may be that the day of judgment will dawn tomorrow; in that case we will gladly stop working for a better future. But not before.”[ii]

Thank you all and God bless you!

Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm,
chairperson of the council of the Evangelical Church in Germany

[i] D. Bonhoeffer, Ethics, New York et al. 1995, 193.

[ii] D. Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, New York 1972, 15f.