United in mission, together in voice

ON Sunday, I witnessed a historic event at Centenary Church in Suva as leaders of the major Christian churches in Fiji joined together to induct the new leadership team of the Fiji Council of Churches.

In the first ecumenical service of its kind in Fiji, with a special liturgy prepared by the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Methodist churches and with hymns, action songs, prayers and scripture readings by other member churches of the Fiji Council of Churches.

Being inducted were; Reverend Dr Tevita Banivanua of the Methodist Church in Fiji as FCC president, Major Uraia Dravikula of the Salvation Army as vice-president, Reverend Bruce Edwards of the Fiji Community Churches of Christ as treasurer and Reverend Simione Tugi of the Fiji Evangelical Fellowship as general secretary.

Roman Catholic Archbishop of Suva Reverend Dr Peter Loy Chong, who presided over the installation of the leaders, said that as part of the vision of the Fiji Council of Churches was to establish unity among all the Christian churches in Fiji in order to be a prophetic voice in Fiji by embracing the values of the Kingdom of God.

He said the door was open to all Christian communities which confess the faith of the universal church in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

“We acknowledge that the life of faith to which they are called is a gift of the Holy Spirit continually received in word and sacrament and in the common life of God’s people. We acknowledge the word of God in the Old and New testaments, discerned under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as the supreme rule of faith and practice for all God’s people.”

He called on the leaders being inducted to ensure the council offered opportunities for theological reflection, prophetic action, collaborative mission and by fostering mutual understanding and respect among the Christian churches in Fiji, the Pacific and the World.

Reverend Amy Chambers, an Anglican priest of the Diocese of Polynesia and principal of the St John the Baptist Theological College, challenged the council in her message to work together as the body of Christ and speaking with one voice on issues confronting our country such as climate change and gender-based violence.

“For that’s part of our work as Christians as we seek for a just and peaceful society; manifesting the Kingdom here on earth. Working together will combat outside forces that seek to disrupt the spread of the gospel in our nation. Uniting our different gifts for the good of all will be our strength.”

In her reflection, titled, “UNITY – rhetoric or reality,” Reverend Chambers, who is currently the president of the South Pacific Association of Theological Schools, said that although “the journey of the FCC had been fraught with challenges since its’ inception,” the time had come “to shed all the disappointments of the past and move forward with a new vision and vigour”.

Reflecting on the one of the most descriptive passages in the Christian bible of the church in action, Ephesians 4:1-16, Reverend Chambers challenged the leaders to model ethical leadership for the nation with the, “hallmarks of a “life worthy of God’s calling”: humility, gentleness, patience, tolerant love and peacekeeping.

“The focus here is first on ego then on loving relations. An understanding of God’s work is always an attack on the ego, not to obliterate or humiliate the self, but to bring it into relation with God and to redirect its interests. In losing life we find it. “

She added as Christians, we must maintain the unity of the Spirit because everything of significance that we hold, we do so with other people. “Christianity is a shared faith. Not a separate or merely individual faith.

“The idea is not of gifts given to a special group, but of grace giving people to the church. What are God’s people being prepared for, if not to serve and build up the body of Christ?”

Reverend Chambers reminded those present that the failure of a nation and its leadership didn’t mean that God had failed. Reflecting on Isaiah 32:15-18 she said that when the leaders and counsellors had shown a spirit of confusion, self-service and rebellion, it resulted in disaster and profound insecurity.

“Change was needed during this time of confusion to enable God’s blessing to be poured abundantly on the land. And this began with the leadership, the prophet and the king.

“But in the context of the messianic kingdom God had a prescription for that condition. God’s spirit will be poured out from on high. Just as the barren earth springs to life after the rains, so the Spirit will fall on barren hearts, enabling justice and righteousness to spring up.”

Reverend Chambers called on the FCC to raise its voice in order to nurture maturity within the Christian community and Fijian society.

“The voice of FCC has been subdued, almost silent for some time now. It’s as if we were hibernating or relapsing into infancy mode.

“Think about watching our children and grandchildren growing up,” Reverend Chambers said. “We would be disappointed if they didn’t grow up. We expect them to mature, to think, to act and behave in ways that come with training, learning and the experiences of passing years.

“There’s a great danger of Christians in our nation and the world today, being misled and led astray by false doctrines. Becoming unstable and blown here and there by every new idea that false teachers proclaim.

“From today onwards this nation will hear that silent voice again — the voice of God’s people; in unity, speaking the truth in love.

“We will go further. Not only will we speak with one voice, we’ll also work together.

“This year, for the first time, all member churches will observe ‘Break the silence Sunday’, which is the beginning of the 16 days of activism to end gender based violence. That’s a good start.”

Reverend Chambers concluded her message by reflecting on Jesus on prayer for the unity of believers (John 17:20-26).

“We all love rugby? The nation comes to a standstill when a rugby 7s game is on. We are world champions. Olympic 7s gold medalists! That’s a great achievement.

“But more than that we are people of prayer. We live prayer, we depend on prayer, and we love to pray. We pray in private, we also pray publicly. In the arena of sports our 7’s rugby boys continue to bear testimony to this country’s greatest gift to the world — our dependence on prayer.

“Jesus is aware that he’ll soon depart from this world — likewise those who are with him — his immediate circle of followers. This will leave those whom they disciple, the church, to represent the kingdom in the world.

“So Jesus prays for these followers, he hasn’t met yet, men and women who will follow the apostles — the church today — you and me. For we are tasked as followers of the way, to carry forward the mission set down by Jesus during his final week.

“He first prays that they’ll have unity. This unity must be visibly based on love, so that when the world sees them, it’ll know immediately that they represent Jesus.

“This love and unity is not a moral effort powered by human energy. It’s an outgrowth of the union we have with Jesus himself, a union modelled on the oneness of the Father and the Son, a union born when the Father and the Son indwell the believers when they’re given a new birth.

“Jesus prays that someday his followers will see the true glory, the true love that has existed in heaven since the beginning of time. This is where Jesus is headed, where he’s yearning to return to, and all Christians possess an invitation to join him.

“The true church of Christ offers the world a priceless gift, something it seeks desperately. When Christians are one with Christ and one with each other, the growth of the church is inevitable.”

* Reverend James Bhagwan is an ordained Methodist minister and a citizen journalist. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Methodist Church in Fiji or this newspaper.

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