“As churches in mission, we belong to each other”

Rev. Tseganesh Ayele of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus welcomes participants to the CMCR. All photos: LWF/Albin Hillert
Rev. Tseganesh Ayele of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus welcomes participants to the CMCR. All photos: LWF/Albin Hillert

LWF General Secretary addresses EECMY Committee of Mutual Christian Responsibility

The Lutheran World Federation General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge addressed the Committee of Mutual Christian Responsibility (CMCR) in Addis Ababa on 6 February.

Gathered in 2019 under the theme “Transformation of Partnership through Mission,” the CMCR brings together local church leaders at national and synodical levels, as well as churches and mission agencies active in Ethiopia, to discern ways towards strengthened mission, fellowship and unity.

EECMY President Rev. Yonas Yigezu Dibisa addresses the more than 100 participants of the CMCR.
EECMY President Rev. Yonas Yigezu Dibisa addresses the more than 100 participants of the CMCR.

The CMCR is convened by the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, an LWF member church since 1963, and one that is well-known for its deep commitment to mission as holistic, emphasizing that preaching the gospel must always come together with serving the neighbor.

“This gathering is an expression of mutual empowerment, which guarantees mutual responsibility and mutual accountability. Christianity is becoming all the more global … and the first thing to recognize is that we need each other more than ever,” said EECMY President Rev. Yonas Yigezu Dibisa, opening the meeting.

"Christianity is becoming all the more global … and the first thing to recognize is that we need each other more than ever." (EECMY President Rev. Yonas Yigezu Dibisa)

The church participates in God’s mission

The CMCR is gathering this year for its 40th annual meeting. But it has not been a simple journey, first coming into being in 1979 at a meeting in Denmark, as Christians in Ethiopia were facing persecution and foreign missionaries were not allowed into the country.

Junge noted how the histories of the LWF and the EECMY have been intricately related since the LWF’s inception, expressing gratitude for the EECMY’s involvement in the more than 70-year journey of the communion.

“‘Here I stand’, said Luther once. ‘Here we journey’ we add today, amazed by the power of the message of justification through faith by grace alone…” Junge said, “We are just coming out of the events and activities to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and we can confidently state: it’s not over. Reformation is ongoing.”

The CMCR brings together local church leaders at national and synodical levels, as well as churches and mission agencies active in Ethiopia.
The CMCR brings together local church leaders at national and synodical levels, as well as churches and mission agencies active in Ethiopia.

“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us,” reads 1 John 1:3-4, which serves as the basis for the CMCR meeting.

Junge urged, “The church does not have a mission on its own; the church does not have to invent its mission either. It is the other way round: the church receives its mission from God, because God is in mission.”

And the witness of the EECMY has been a great example, he added, of how “mission is not the responsibility of some few, of pastors, evangelists, or Sunday school teachers, but is carried by all the people of God.”

Bread and wine is distributed during the opening service of the CMCR.
Bread and wine is distributed during the opening service of the CMCR.

“I believe that we stand here in front of a huge task for Lutheran churches globally: to re-discover and express anew this powerful notion of the early times of Reformation, that we all are included in God’s mission: children, youth, women and men,” Junge said.

The limits of contextuality as Christ remains the same

Rev. Dr Martin Junge speaks at CMCR.
Rev. Dr Martin Junge speaks at CMCR.

Mission is contextual, the general secretary reflected, but it must be “always scriptural and Christ-centered. When it comes to mission, it is always going to be about Jesus Christ, as revealed to us through Scriptures.”

“We in the LWF receive the EECMY’s passion for Scriptures as a great gift. I am always impressed when I hear the number of languages spoken in your church, and how your church is continuously working on improving access to the Bible in vernacular language,” Junge said.

“Diversity is not a problem nor should it be an obstacle to live together,” he added. “Very much to the contrary, this diversity is God-given, because mission is always going to be contextual. This inescapable reality comes with God’s incarnation in Christ.”

“Diversity is God-given, and comes with God’s incarnation in Christ,” Junge said.
“Diversity is God-given, and comes with God’s incarnation in Christ,” Junge said.

“The LWF has been defending for decades the principle of the contextual nature of the church, and the right and necessity of the churches in their contexts to spell out what it means in practical terms to participate in God’s mission,” Junge continued. “This is important to this very day, when the LWF is moving towards a self-understanding that speaks of the many centers of global Lutheranism today.”

At the same time, he said, “there is an important limitation to be made to this statement of the contextual nature of mission.”

“While the context is important, it doesn’t define the core of the gospel message. Would we, for instance, become violent, sectarian and corrosive, just because our context is turning violent, sectarian and corrosive?” Junge asked. “What about the call to be peacemakers then? Would we even want to defend gender-based violence ‘because it is our culture,’ or wouldn’t we rather want to live into the new culture that the gospel is instilling in our hearts, according to which in Christ we are made a new creature, in which there is no difference between slave and free, Jews and Greeks, men and women?”

“Gender-based violence may sadly be prevalent in given cultures. But it is incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he affirmed. “[I]t is theology that helps us not to lose sight of what Christ wants from the church in a given context. At times, this will mean fully embracing culture; at times, it will push the church to stand in opposition to what a given culture may propose as ‘normal’.”

Holistic mission, through all the people of God

“I come to share a concern, which is growing in me, when I observe the witness of churches globally,” Junge reflected, “we seem to be living in times, during which we seem to be slowly moving away from that holistic understanding of mission, placing all emphasis on the spiritual realm….”

Junge referred to his visit to the Symbols of Hope project and the EECMY’s work for returning women migrants. “‘You give them to eat,’ said our Lord Jesus when the disciples thought that listening to the Lord, praying with him and receiving his teachings would be all that is requested of them,” he emphasized.

“I was moved to see how you work with returnees, women who have gone through a lot of suffering as they followed empty promises of a better life abroad,” the LWF general secretary said.

As you approached them, he added, “I truly believe that in that approach you preached the gospel in ways that a thousand words wouldn’t capture as sharply and clearly as your diaconal service does.”

In conclusion, Junge stressed, “The church participates in God’s mission, this is its primary purpose. The mission takes its orientation from Scripture and centers itself in Christ. Mission is always contextual, but this doesn’t mean that the church would therefore fully blend with its context. Mission is holistic, encompassing proclamation, diakonia and advocacy. Mission includes all the people of God.”

Written for LWI by Albin Hillert. Photos: LWF/Albin Hillert

 

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2019 LWF General Secretary Ethiopia visit

LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge visited The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) and the World Service country program, 29 January - 7 February, accompanied by LWF Council member Ms LoeRose Mbise and LWF staff. The visit was to witness EECMY’s holistic ministry in the country through worship life, community development, education and other services. It also focused on LWF’s humanitarian support to internally displaced people and initiatives to mitigate the impact of climate change.