Home > Week of Prayer for Christian Unity > Prayer and Worship: Ecumenical Situation in Indonesia

JANUARY 18–25, 2019


2019 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Indonesia is a pluralistic society, a home for people of many tribes, languages, cultures and religions. Out of 265 million people, around 12% are Catholics and Protestants. Christianity first came to Indonesia as early as 7th century, brought by the Nestorians to North Sumatera; however, it did not survive. The gospel was next brought by Catholic missionaries who followed in the wake of Portuguese merchants in the early 16th century. These included the Jesuit, St Francis Xavier who worked in the Maluku islands from 1546-1547. The first baptism was in in 1534. In 1605 the Dutch expelled the Portuguese from Indonesia. With the arrival of these Dutch merchants, Protestantism was introduced in Indonesia and Catholics were forced to convert to Protestantism.

In the years following the Dutch colonial government introduced the Calvinistic Protestantism practiced by the churches in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century. The Reformed Church became the official state church, and as such had special privileges. Later missionaries who came to Indonesia, mostly from the Netherlands and Germany, confined themselves to working with a particular tribe. As the result, Christian divisions tend to follow tribal boundaries. Most Christian communities used the language of the tribe in worship, but gradually they also adopted the national language. With the coming of Revival Evangelical Christianity and the Charismatic movement to Indonesia in the last century and, more recently, the arrival of Orthodox Christianity, the churches in Indonesia present a wide panoply of Christian traditions, which includes Catholicism, Lutheranism, Reformed, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Charismatic, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, Salvation Army, and Orthodox. In various ways these churches work together to address issues related to the unity of the church as well as common concerns in society, at local, regional and national levels. .

The Communion of Churches in Indonesia

The Communion of Churches in Indonesia, is a fellowship of the Protestant churches in Indonesia. It was founded with the aim of uniting the churches in Indonesia. Even before World War II the idea of having a council of churches had long been dreamt of, especially with the task of coordinating the works of various mission organizations in Indonesia. Inspired by the independence of the nation in 1945, the churches in many parts of the country felt the need to express their unity. The members of the Council came to the point that, after working together for some years, they needed to deepen and strengthen their fellowship and move beyond organizational matters into a common commitment as a communion of churches, working together in concrete ways to promote the unity of the church and to proclaim the gospel in the context of a pluralistic Indonesian society.

During their 1980 Assembly that the members of the Council produced the document, “Five Documents of Church Unity,” which consisted of five topics: (1) Common Calling of the Churches in Indonesia, (2) Common Understanding of Christian Faith, (3) Common Recognition and Acceptance among the Churches in Indonesia, (4) By Laws, (5) Towards Self-Reliance in Theology, Resources and Finance of the Churches in Indonesia. These documents reflect the theological and ecclesiological understanding of the member churches in the light of their common striving towards church unity, manifested in concrete programs for renewing, developing and uniting the churches. In 2000 the document was renamed the “Document of Church Unity.” At this there are 89 member churches, including Pentecostal, Evangelical and charismatic churches. There are also provincial and regionally based church councils but they are much smaller in membership.

Catholicism in Indonesia and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference

Despite early missionary successes in the sixteenth century, Catholicism was suppressed under Dutch rule until 1807, when political events in Europe again allowed Catholics freedom of worship. Roman Catholicism thus existed only in restricted pockets until the second half of the nineteenth century and the twentieth century when new missionary efforts established schools, seminaries and new worshipping communities. The Indonesian Catholic Bishops’ Conference was first formed in the 1920s and then reconstituted in the 1950s to include bishops from all parts of the newly independent country. Since its founding one can see that the Indonesian Catholic bishops were committed to ecumenism and the role of dialogue with the other Indonesian churches.

A Spirit of Cooperation

For many years, these two groups have worked in close cooperation, particularly in addressing issues of common concern in the country. They have issued a joint Christmas message annually, mostly addressing national issues in the light of the Christmas gospels. This message is read in parishes of both Catholic and Protestant churches.

The Churches of Indonesia are aware of the importance of building and strengthening relationships with people of different faiths and are also very much involved in interfaith dialogue and cooperation. Both bodies have actively participated in the joint collaboration of different faith organizations in Indonesia which recognizes six official religions, namely: Islam, Protestant Christianity, Catholic Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism. Faith leaders from these religions meet from time to time to discuss some crucial issues and often release joint statements regarding particular concerns. At the local level, many congregations and parishes are also actively involved in interreligious dialogue and concrete actions in the society.

The Indonesia Christian Forum

The Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI), the Catholic Bishops’ Conference (KWI), the Fellowship of the Evangelical Churches and Institutions in Indonesia (PGLII), the Fellowship of Pentecostal Churches in Indonesia (PGPI), the Fellowship of Baptist Churches in Indonesia, the Salvation Army, the Seventh Day Adventist, and the Orthodox Church, meet regularly every month. Initially meeting solely to build fraternity, over time their discussions have deepened to focus on the place of Christians in Indonesia’s pluralistic and rapidly changing society.