The International Preparatory Group
During the past century, reconciliation between
Christians has taken on very different forms. Spiritual ecumenism
has shown how important prayer is for Christian unity. Great
energy has been put into theological research which has led
to a large number of doctrinal accords. Practical cooperation
between churches in the social field has given birth to fruitful
initiatives. Alongside these major accomplishments, the question
of mission has had a particular place. It is even generally
held that the 1910 World Mission Conference in Edinburgh marked
the beginnings of the modern ecumenical movement.
Mission and Unity
Not everyone naturally makes the link between missionary endeavor
and the desire for Christian Unity. Yet surely the missionary
commitment of the church must go hand in had with its ecumenical
commitment? Because of our baptism we are already one body
and we are called to live in communion. God has made us brothers
and sisters in Christ. Is not this the fundamental witness
that we are called to?
Historically the fact that the question of
Christian unity was often first raised by missionaries was
for practical reasons. This was often simply so as to avoid
unnecessary competition in the face of enormous human and
material need. The territory to be evangelized was shared
out and occasionally attempts were made to go further than
having activities running in parallel to one another and to
favor some common projects. Missionaries from different churches
might for example combine their resources to undertake a new
translation of the Bible and this cooperation in the service
of the Word of God led to reflections on the divisions between
Without denying the rivalries that existed
between missionaries sent by different churches, it should
also be recognized that those who were first in the mission
field were also the first to recognize the tragedy of Christian
division. Europe had got used to divisions between churches
but the scandal of disunity seemed dreadful to missionaries
who were announcing the gospel to people who had known nothing
of Christ until then. Of course the different church divisions
which have marked Christian history did have theological reasons,
but they were also marked by the context (historical, political,
) which gave birth to them. Could it be
justified to export these divisions to peoples who were discovering
In the midst their fresh beginnings the new local churches
could hardly fail to notice the gap between the message of
love which they wanted to live out and the actual separation
between Christ's disciples. How can you make others understand
the reconciliation offered in Jesus Christ if the baptised
themselves ignore or fight one another? How could Christian
groups who lived in mutual hostility preach one Lord, one
faith and one baptism in a credible way?
There was, then no lack of ecumenical questions for the participants
at the Edinburgh Conference of 1910.
The Edinburgh Mission Conference of 1910
The official delegates of Protestant mission societies from
the different branches of Protestantism and Anglicanism, joined
by an Orthodox guest, met during the summer of 1910 in the
Scottish capital. The Conference which was not a decision-making
gathering had no other aim than to help missionaries to forge
a common spirit and coordinate their work.
Only those missionary societies working to announce the gospel
in new places where Christ had not yet been made known were
present. Thus those societies working in Latin America or
the Middle East where the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox
Churches had already been for a long time, were not invited.
In 1910 the Scottish ecclesial landscape was
beginning to diversify and the Roman Catholic and Episcopal
Churches once more enjoyed a more important role. Edinburgh
was chosen as the place for the meeting because of its intellectual
and cultural vitality. The fame of its theologians and church
leaders also encouraged this choice. Scottish Protestant churches
were also particularly active in mission and had a reputation
for paying attention to local cultures.
The Christian Churches in Scotland Today
To honor this important stage in the history of the ecumenical
movement it was natural for the promoters of the Week of Prayer
for Christian Unity - The Faith and Order Commission and the
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity - to invite
the Scottish churches to prepare the 2010 Week of Prayer at
the same time as they were actively involved in preparing
to celebrate the anniversary of the 1910 Conference on the
theme "Witnessing to Christ today". In response
these churches suggested as the theme "You are witnesses
of these things". (Luke 24.48)
The Biblical Theme: You are Witnesses of These Things
In the ecumenical movement we have often meditated on Jesus'
final discourse before his death. In this final testament
the importance of the unity of Christ's disciples is emphasized:
"That all may be one ... so that the world may believe."
This year the churches of Scotland have made the original
choice of inviting us to listen to Christ's final discourse
before his ascension, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah
is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and
that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed
in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You
are witnesses of these things." (Luke 24.46-48). It is
on these final words of Christ that we shall reflect each
During the 2010 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we are
invited to follow the whole of chapter 24 of Luke's gospel.
Whether it be the terrified women at the tomb, the two discouraged
disciples on the road to Emmaus or the eleven disciples overtaken
by doubt and fear, all who together encounter the Risen Christ
are sent on mission: "You are witness of these things".
This mission of the Church is given by Christ and cannot be
appropriated by anyone. It is the community of those who have
been reconciled with God and in God, and who can witness to
the truth of the power of salvation in Jesus Christ.
We sense that Mary Magdalene, Peter or the two Emmaus disciples
will not witness in the same way. Yet it will be the victory
of Jesus over death that all will place at the heart of their
witness. The personal encounter with the risen One has radically
changed their lives and in its uniqueness for each one of
them one thing becomes imperative: "You are witnesses
of these things." Their story will accentuate different
things, sometimes dissent may arise between them about what
faithfulness to Christ requires, and yet all will work to
announce the Good News.
The Eight Days
During the 2010 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we will
reflect each day on chapter 24 of Luke's gospel stopping at
the questions which it asks: Jesus' questions to his disciples;
the questions the apostles ask of Christ.
Each of these questions allows us to highlight a particular
way of witnessing to the Risen One. Each of them invites us
to think about our situation of church division and about
how, concretely, we can remedy that. We are already witnesses
and we need to become better witnesses. How?
By praising the One who gives us the gift of life and resurrection
By knowing how to share the story of our faith with others
By recognizing that God is at work in our lives (Day 3);
By giving thanks for the faith we have received (Day 4);
By confessing Christ's victory over all suffering (Day 5);
By seeking to always be more faithful to the Word of God (Day
By growing in faith, hope and love (Day 7);
By offering hospitality and knowing how to receive it when
it is offered to us (Day 8).
Would our witness not be more faithful to the gospel of Christ
in each of these eight aspects if we witnessed together?