Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Formation, and Evangelism Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
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It has been an incredibly rich time here in Busan, South Korea, at the Tenth Assembly for the World Council of Churches (WCC), where thousands of delegates and participants and observers have come from all corners of the earth and many streams of Christianity to find partnership in ministry. The days have been full, with plenaries, Bible studies, workshops, ecumenical conversations, and business meetings. I’m exhausted from the time together, and I do not serve on a committee and am not leading any of the conversations. It’s a good thing that God lifts up the exhausted on eagle’s wings.
In an assembly like this, we try to focus as much as we can on our unity in Christ. However, that unity is much easier to embrace in the abstract than it is in the particular. I got a good reminder of this during a conversation with a delegate earlier today.
Yesterday (Sunday) we had the opportunity to visit local churches. I had an amazing experience visiting a small Presbyterian church about an hour outside of Busan. The church had twenty or so attendees, and they went overboard with their hospitality (even by legendary Korean standards). The new pastor, Rev. Cho, had planned a service which included many songs that we would recognize, and he and his wife even sang a duet of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (pictured at left) in honor of the Lutherans attending worship from the WCC. It was easy to give thanks to God for our unity in Christ.
When I talked to my colleague, however, she had been to a church from another tradition even further out in the countryside, and she and the others who visited that congregation were deeply distressed by the sermon they heard, which (in their eyes) disrespected, and even demonized, members of other religious (non-Christian) traditions. She was both angered and saddened by what she heard.
Hearing about her experience has made me wrestle with the challenges of unity in the midst of diversity. Certainly the pastor she heard was doing his best to preach the Gospel. I’m sure that she would say that the pastor is her brother in Christ, and that both hold onto ecumenical statements of faith such as the Apostle’s Creed. And yet, what she heard made it difficult to remember their connection.
This conversation was echoing in my mind as I walked to lunch today, through a group of protesters who come from a more conservative Christian tradition. They held signs warning that WCC members would be going to hell, and that the WCC is from Satan. I tried to make eye contact with them and smile, but could not find someone willing to look at me directly. Again, the protesters and those whom they are against are all brothers and sisters in Christ, yet the divisions run deep.
It reminds me of the times when I am judgmental toward others…particularly toward those who do not seem as gracious to those in other traditions as I would like for them to be. (Perhaps you can detect this lack of graciousness even in this article!) I want to be someone who holds onto my own beliefs and convictions firmly so that I am moving more and more toward becoming the person I understand the Holy Spirit is sanctifying me to be…but I also want to be someone who holds onto my beliefs and convictions loosely enough so that I don’t judge my brothers and sisters whose beliefs and convictions are different from mine.
In this assembly dedicated to Christian unity, my prayer is that we will all grow in grace toward each other.
NOTE: The assembly continues through Friday November 8; click here to follow the proceedings.