Today the Mission in Secularised Contexts programme came to a close with a lively debate about what the mission documents Together Towards Life (WCC 2013), The Cape Town Commitment (WCRC 2010) and Evangelii Gaudium (Pope Francis 2013) said to our understanding of mission in secularised contexts
Led by Eva Christina Nielson of the Swedish Missionary Council, the participants considered the common themes that the three documents shared that could inform a faith response to secularisation. The themes were: life; change; joy; and spirit. For Nielson, each document affirms the common understanding that Christ came to bring life and that this life is for all creation. The mission to bring life to all necessitates transformative change, and this calls the church to be on the move and to engage with a mission spirituality. Joy comes from that fullness of life, but Nielson warned that it is easy to lose that joy in a context of decline. Finally, Nielson affirmed that we need to look to see signs of the spirit already apparent and moving in secularised contexts and recognise the inherent value in diverse life-giving cultures. Nielson’s call is for empowered discipleship which lives out its evangelism to the world, “because we love God, we must go forth.”
This discussion was followed by cross-cultural reflection given by colleagues from Asia and Africa that had been participants in the programme. Both groups affirmed the diversity apparent in the European context and reflected that shared reality. For the colleagues from Asia, it was important to view secularised contexts as a safe space for public discourse, a place where one is free to hold faith or none. The encouragement offered to their European friends was to not overlook the fundamental call to “love you neighbour”: ‘if you can’t or won’t or don’t love your neighbour you cannot be a follower or disciple of Christ’. The African colleagues gave an assessment that touched on the increasing marginalisation of churches in Europe, the role of technology in offering answers to all of our problems and the challenge of preaching the gospel to the affluent. Again, they offered encouragement through a sense of hope that even in this experience of increasing secularisation there is a place for faith and that God is still calling.
The seminar finished with a rousing evening of Hungarian traditional food and dancing that was shared in by all. The hospitality shown to us by our Hungarian hosts has been exemplary and has been a source of great blessing to us all.
There will need to be follow up to this conversation, particularly in the deepening of understanding of the relationship between pluralistic societies and secularisation and how this conversation may differ with other international experiences. It has been a great pleasure to work alongside colleagues from the WCC, WCRC and EMW and we hope that this seminar has fed into a shared understanding of the nature and scope of secularisation in our diverse contexts and offered some mutual challenge and support in working towards making God’s kingdom a reality in our places and in our time.
The Council for World Mission European Region