This week has meant a change of scene for me as I have come to the Chateau de Bossey, overlooking Lac Leman, close to Geneva. It is a beautiful property that was gifted to the World Council of Churches when it was getting started in the years after the Second World War. Since then it has been the venue for countless meetings and consultations about the role of the churches in relation to contemporary challenges, as well as a place for ecumenical formation as generations of young people have come for periods of study.
I am here under the auspices of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, the dimension of the WCC that is concerned with the church’s call to mission. Its work requires a big canvas as it explores the meaning of mission on a global basis.
It is driven by the conviction that faith is not just a matter of private spiritual comfort but is something intended to have transformative effect in the world. Today it is deeply conscious that life itself is at threat – from the ecological perils that threaten our plant as well as the political forces that threaten our people. Witnessing to the God of life and the Christ who promised “abundant life” grips the missionary imagination today.
It is also alert, as never before, to the spiritual dimension of our human life. Western Christians tended to privilege the intellectual and organisational aspects of the faith. Today non-Western Christians are eager to retrieve the spiritual dimension that is all too evident in the New Testament. This is a powerful force of renewal for mission and it may be that a recovery of spiritual authenticity will bring new hope for the future.
This has led the Commission to focus afresh on discipleship, on responding to Jesus’ call to follow him. This has always lain at the heart of Christian faith but carries fresh power as churches and communities look for a compass to navigate confusing and uncertain times. The small country of Switzerland, with its tradition of neutrality, provides a venue where people can come from many challenging contexts to consider how, in our time, the whole church can take the whole gospel to the whole world.
Interesting point of view about Christianity in the West being reduced to private spiritual comfort. When it comes to putting Christian principles into practice in relation to inequality within our own country and across the world we are much better at hearing about it in church and praying than actually taking any action in the rest of our lives that would lead to meaningful change. Seeing the fundamental role church and religion play in the everyday lifes of people in Malawi was a real learning experience when I visited, how it supports and enters the lives of the whole community – it is internal, external and I had a palpable sense of how alive Christianity is in everyday life.