Reconciliation among Nations: The Role of the Church
Udal, Joanna, The Ecumenical Review
In considering "the ministry of reconciliation" as one aspect of the mission of the church in the world, I shall look first at some illustrative examples of five ways in which the churches have been involved in reconciliation among nations and at what they have said regarding their motivation and intentions for this. Then I shall examine some biblical texts that shed light on the meaning and process of reconciliation, noting the contribution made by certain theologians, in particular Karl Barth. In the light of this I shall re-examine the earlier examples and reflect on what may be learned regarding the role of the church in reconciliation among nations.
The church as reconciler
Christians understand themselves to be members together of the Body of Christ and to live in fellowship with one another on account of their belonging to Jesus Christ. While this fellowship may be considered damaged or incomplete due to obstacles of denominational differences or failure of relationships, it has increasingly been understood, particularly through the ecumenical movement, to transcend these.
The first world war set in bold relief the need to recognize the fellowship of the church as transcending national boundaries. This was manifested in joint action within the Life and Work movement. The Universal Christian Conference on Life and Work (Stockholm 1925) affirmed the church as a supranational reality; and with the resurgent nationalism of the 1930s in Europe, the understanding of Christian fellowship as transcending barriers of nation and race became an increasingly prominent article of ecumenical faith, concerning not only the reality of the church's being but also its mission in the world "as the Body of Christ..., the universal church..., an exemplar, a pattern and a leaven of true world community".(1)
That the purpose of the life of fellowship is "for the world" is underscored by Mark Santer in the context of the possibilities for reconciliation between Roman Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland: "Those who belong to Christ are to live together in one communion as a sign that that is what human beings are made for."(2) A similar vocation is found among religious communities who seek to contribute to reconciliation through the communion of their life in community. Both the Community of Grandchamp in Switzerland and Taize in France see reconciliation among Christians, especially of different denominations, as a fundamental element of their raison d'etre, not as an end in itself but rather out of concern for all humanity, so that "the church may be a place of communion for all".(3)
A Grandchamp sister writes of her experience in Jerusalem:
To stay awake and standing up, like the watchers on the walls; to let shalom
passage through us; to live with the constant tension of the peace process
between these two
peoples, Jews and Palestinians; to be pulled back and forth between
hope; what a calling and what a challenge for us!
The presence of our sisters in Algeria and Lebanon gives yet another
dimension to our
experience in the midst of the Jewish people... The communion among these
helps us to stay open to those on both sides, without taking sides or
with the one or the other. This is a great strength in this struggle for
justice and peace.(4)
Brother Roger of Taize speaks of the need for all Christian pilgrims "to struggle with a reconciled heart" while emphasizing the important place of the community:
Alone, you cannot do much for others. Together in community, animated by the
Christ's loving, a way forward opens up leading from aridity to a common