The second international gathering of the Global Christian Forum (GCF) met in Manado, Indonesia, from 4-7 October, 2011. Experiencing joy at being together and aware of the abiding presence of the grace of God, we came from 65 different countries and numerous Christian churches, traditions and expressions.
The 287 participants included 18 young adults from across the globe, representing two international student organisations, who participated fully in the discussions and deliberations. This gathering brought together the great streams of the Christian faith, replicating in this way the first international Global Christian Forum gathering in Limuru, Kenya, in 2007, acclaimed as the most diverse Christian assembly in history. We gathered in Manado around the theme of ‘Life Together in Jesus Christ: Empowered by the Holy Spirit’.
When we met for prayer and worship, which we did regularly, in plenary, at neighbourhood churches and in small groups, a deep hunger for unity in Christ was both experienced and acknowledged. To a large extent this depth of connection was made possible by the commitment to create open space and a relational community. While the fact that Christian churches are divided causes such a gathering no small amount of pain and struggle, we do not doubt it is the will of God in Christ that we be one (John 17).
One of the most poignant moments of the four days was a panel of churches and communities that have experienced healing and reconciliation in Christ. These included the resurrection of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Albania; the Taizé Community; the reconciliation of Lutherans and Mennonites at the international and local levels; and the extraordinary stories of the churches in China and the churches in the Middle East and northern Africa.
The substance of plenary papers and presentations flowed out into conversations where participants met in regional gatherings as well as in tradition-specific groups. Bible studies gathered groups of people across traditions and nationalities, as did the larger discussion groups. All this permitted and encouraged the formation of relationships that transcended differences and also allowed for a deepening understanding of ‘the other’.
The overall focus of the Global Christian Forum gathering in Indonesia was two-fold. First, the GCF began to engage the enormous shifts in world Christianity. Our discussion included the pervasive consequences of resource inequality and the dangers of inadequate terminology such as ‘Global South’ and ‘migrant churches’. All present recognized that these topics will challenge us for years to come. Aware we were meeting in the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, we were addressed by an Islamic scholar and by His Excellency, the Governor of North Sulawesi about the multi-faith character of Indonesia.
Second, the GCF recognized the upsurge of Pentecostal and charismatic movements which celebrate the person and work of the Holy Spirit. In light of these considerations, the GCF asked the questions, ever ancient and ever new: What is the Holy Spirit saying to the Church locally and globally? What is the Spirit’s direction as we seek to be good stewards of God’s creation?
The ‘guiding purpose’ of the Global Christian Forum, approved at the first global gathering in Limuru in 2007, is to create an open space wherein representatives from a broad range of Christian churches and inter-church organizations, which confess the triune God and Jesus Christ as perfect in his divinity and humanity, can gather to foster mutual respect, to explore and address together common challenges.
Participants in Manado offered the following reflection on the gathering:
- We reaffirm the Forum’s guiding purpose. We have heard the Spirit calling us not only to continue to foster respect for one another but now also to move forward together exploring and addressing common challenges.
- We express great appreciation for the extraordinary hospitality offered by our Indonesian hosts, and we promise to pray for them as they live in a complex interreligious situation.
- We give profound thanks for the insightful papers, presentations, group work, and inspiring worship. This meeting of the GCF focused on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. We discovered a great blessing in the sharing of faith stories and the fostering of a relational community. We were indeed humbled by the stories of the reconciliation of communities and individuals. The gathering became a grace-filled moment in the life of the Church.
- We appreciate the leadership of the GCF Committee and are grateful for the exemplary service of Hubert van Beek, GCF Secretary from the Forum’s inception. In particular, we give thanks for the holistic approach that brought together churches and international Christian organizations. The speakers helped deepen our understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit as well as assisting our consideration of the changes and trends in world Christianity. We affirm the centrality of Scripture throughout the meeting. In response to these many blessings, we commit to pray for unity and seek opportunities for common witness.
- We also commit to renewed attention to the relationship between unity and mission. Disparity of resources and imbalance of power must be addressed. We must also address the need for a broader inclusiveness in our own gatherings, considering age, gender, regions, traditions, ethnicities, and abilities.
- We experience the open space in the Global Christian Forum as a gift of God. In a fragmented world and church, this unique expression of unity, embracing the breadth of world Christianity, is a source of inspiration and hope. We believe it is a helpful model for building authentic Christian relationships in every place. We know that God’s Spirit draws the body of Christ into unity for the sake of God’s mission in the world. So we commit ourselves to nurture the Global Christian Forum, as the Spirit leads, as witness to God’s saving and transforming love.