Many mainline denominational churches, such as the Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Methodists, are struggling to survive in North America.
For example, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America began with 5.2 million members in 1987. In 2011, it had 4 million members.
The statistics are glum, revealing that there is a decline in mainline Protestant church membership as congregations are being merged in many parts of the country and seminaries are struggling as they try to cope with lower enrollment.
The irony with the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. is that attendance is increasing but there is an acute shortage of priests.
The future of the church may be glum in North America, but this is not the reality for churches in other parts of the world.
In his book “New Faces of Christianity,” Philip Jenkins outlines the reality of the church growth in Africa, Asia and South America, noting how the church is moving to the global south.
We, in Europe and North America, must learn from the “Global South” to understand how we can revitalize the church life here in North America and Europe.
To this end, it is encouraging to see groups like the World Council of Churches (WCC) working with congregations all over the world to make a difference and positive impact in this world.
The WCC is an ecumenical organization founded in 1948 that is committed to much of the work of the church and various church organizations.
Three of the WCC’s assembly commitments are to Pentecostalism, bringing concern and voice to churches, and working toward economic justice.
First, WCC recognizes that a key ecclesial reality today is Pentecostalism.
Pentecostalism is about self-giving and renewal through personal experience of God. It is an important ecclesial reality.
WCC needs to be more proactive and must read and feel the need of its member churches. The Pentecostal church is an ecumenical movement, and WCC needs to see its role in the international arena.
Second, the WCC brings churches’ concerns and voice to the wider society.
WCC has a greater advantage by being able to work with international organizations. Compared to some churches, it does not have to be burdened with dogmatic affirmations and can work with dynamism and examine human rights issues.
The council’s struggle is to work for human justice, and the WCC is trying to lead in this area.
Third, there is a larger concern for economic justice.
WCC recognizes that there is a growing economic gap between countries, people and classes. It is one of the most serious problems today, and WCC wants to narrow the economic gap and move in solidarity with the poor.
WCC’s 10th assembly is going to be held in Pusan, Korea, from Oct. 30 to Nov. 8. The theme is “God of Life, Lead Us to Justice and Peace.”
To help plan this assembly, I attended a WCC eco-theology and working group on climate change held on May 15-18. At this meeting, I presented a paper titled “Theological Journey of Korean Churches.”
Korea is a unique country as it is the only one in the world still divided into two different governments. In 1945, the Soviet Union and the U.S. agreed on the surrender of Japanese forces in Korea.
This, and the aftermath of World War II, left Korea partitioned along the 38th parallel, with the North under Soviet occupation and the South under U.S. occupation. These circumstances soon became the basis for the division of Korea by the two superpowers.
The Soviet Union and the U.S. established governments centered on their respective ideologies, leading to Korea’s division into two political entities: The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North) and The Republic of Korea (South).
As we think about this divided country, we need to keep Korea in our prayers and to reflect upon what it means to have peace in this world.
As we prepare for the WCC assembly, we need to pray for God’s peace as we think about the churches in Korea. My hope is that the churches can work for justice as the WCC assembly prepares to meet in Pusan.
We need to work for justice and reconciliation between the halves of this divided nation, so that it can be one national country again.
We need to motivate political and religious leaders to work toward illuminating those who can make this happen and create partners with the major players, such as China, Russia, Japan and the U.S.
We need to work toward encouraging our young children and youth to work toward justice and political liberation.
We need to work toward achieving human rights for the people of North Korea.
One person’s injustice is an injustice for all people, just as any benefit achieved for the least of God’s people is done for God.