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16 May 2005
"Sending Service" on the Areopagus Embraces Unity amid Diversity
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Following in the footsteps of Saint Paul, WCC general secretary Samuel Kobia proclaimed Christian unity in "a fellowship that exceeds our capacity to define it".
Common prayer and reflection within a historic setting in downtown Athens provided a climax to the spiritual life of the 13th Conference on World Mission and Evangelism. On Sunday evening, May 15, participants joined members of local churches on the Areopagus (sometimes translated as "Mars Hill") where the apostle Paul proclaimed the gospel of Jesus and his resurrection to first-century Athenian philosophers (Acts 17:18-34).
Participants processed up the lower slopes of the Acropolis as Greek actors re-enacted Paul's journey to the same spot. As they arrived at the Areopagus, gathering music was provided by the children's choir of St. Joseph school, the youth choir and mandolins of St Panteleimon church and the modern chamber orchestra of Athens playing with invited soloists. Prayers and biblical readings were offered in five languages by Christians from all points of the compass.
In his sermon, WCC general secretary Samuel Kobia recalled that "Paul was right here at the Areopagus, to confront the clever and the wise with the truth of the gospel of Christ. The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers held Paul in contempt, wondering what 'this babbler' was trying to say. But empowered by the Holy Spirit this babbler not only outdebated them, his message lived on to transform the lives of millions."
For many Christians it was the day of Pentecost, so Kobia also discussed the account of that event in Acts 2: "Among other things, the Holy Spirit represents the gift of understanding. At Pentecost diversity was overcome by a power that transcends it, the power to understand, to hear in one's own language." Kobia found this revelation essential to Christian mission. "The gospel is not our gospel that is to be translated from our language and experience to others for their benefit; rather, the gospel is that good news of Jesus Christ that all are privileged to hear, and the unity of what we hear overcomes the diversity of who we are. As Christians, we are members of a fellowship that exceeds our capacity to define it."
Kobia elaborated on how the universality of the gospel is given expression in particular contexts. Today, he said, those who hear and believe are called to take up such challenges as the false idols of wealth and power, war and violence, oppression of women and minorities, inequities of economic globalization and the stigma against those who live with HIV/AIDS.
Sending forth this congregation from Athens, Kobia exhorted them: "Like the apostle Paul and the disciples of Christ, who heard the good news as they were, where they were, and they were never the same again, let us allow the same Holy Spirit to come upon us, to convict us and transform us in such a way that we shall never be the same again."
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Juan Michel,+41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363
The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran] Church of Norway. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.