Following in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches proclaimed Christian unity in "a fellowship that exceeds our capacity to define it."
On the evening of May 15, participants of the 13th Conference on World Mission and Evangelism 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 as recorded in Acts 17:18-34.
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," the WCC head stated. "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 globalisation 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."