Since Christianity began, there has never been a time when mission has not been taking place, and the same is true for ecumenism or the quest for unity, a key Vatican figure has said at a conference to mark the centenary of the first world mission conference in Edinburgh.
Bishop Brian Farrell, who heads the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, was speaking at a 5 June media conference in the Scottish capital, along with the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, and the Rev. Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director of the World Evangelical Alliance.
"There has never been a time in the Church when mission was not taking place, and indeed there has never been a time in the Church when ecumenism was not important, and people gave it great attention," Farell told journalists.
"The unity of the Church has always been a question. Now, today, we in our pontifical council are remembering a very important date because today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the pontifical council," a body with observers from other churches.
The 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh is seen as marking the beginning of the modern ecumenical movement for church unity.
At the same press conference on 5 June, Tveit, a Norwegian Lutheran, who took up his WCC post in January, said, "We have a common concern to preach the gospel in a way in which we have to care for mass creation."
He added that this needed to be done with a concern for, "justice and peace", and that, "We live in different cultures."
Tveit said, "We should not divide our calling … There is no such division in Christ."
Tunnicliffe noted that the WEA brings together some 128 national evangelical alliances, and links churches of many denominations, plus 100 international organizations, along with 13 major global networks and 1000 Bible colleges and seminaries. The WEA represents around 420 million evangelical Christians worldwide.
He alluded to his conference speech the day before in which he said, "In WEA we have had fruitful long-term discussions in recent years with many of the constituencies you represent: the pontifical council of the Roman Catholic Church, the WCC, the Orthodox churches, and others."
Tunnicliffe said people in his grouping want to continue the conversations, "to further mutual understanding, and to find ways of standing alongside one another wherever possible".
He added, "We remain, like our 1910 forebears, passionate about world mission in our broken and hurting world. We recognise with sorrow that the disunity of the Church makes it harder for the world to believe in Christ."
"Today, we are celebrating the centenary of the World Missionary Conference held in Edinburgh in 1910. Many of those who participated in the research for the eight commissions [of the original conference], and many of those who came to this delightful city as delegates were evangelicals."
"They were serving missionaries, or home staff of mission boards, or leaders of churches from which so many went out to take the gospel around the world."
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Photo : Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches. Photo courtesy of oikoumene.org