The first meeting of the GCF took place in November 2007 at Limuru in Nairobi, Kenya, after nine years of preparation. So, why discuss it now? Recently, an account of this first meeting has been published, Revisioning Christian Unity : The Global Christian Forum by Huibert van Beek (editor).
The book reads as if someone has emptied the contents of their filing cabinet into it but amongst the reproduced reports and surveys, there is a wealth of useful information about what amounts to a new approach to ecumenism.
I will examine its distinctive features in more detail in future posts but here I will fill in a few broad brush strokes. Limuru was the most comprehensive gathering of churches and Christian traditions there has ever been. It is likely to have a similar significance for global ecumenism as the Edinburgh 1910 Missionary Conference had, as the start of the modern ecumenical movement.
The meeting brought together representatives from most Christian traditions, including: the member churches of the World Council of Churches (primarily mainstream Protestant and Orthodox) who together form about 25% of the world's Christians, the Roman Catholic Church with one billion members representing half the world's Christians, and the other 25% comprising Pentecostal and evangelical churches.
It is this last group, the fastest growing group of Christians in today's world, who have not been represented at ecumenical gatherings in the past. There are a variety of reasons for this. One is their suspicion of the motives of the member churches of the World Council of Churches. Their agenda is mission and they have not seen unity as a major priority. Also, they tend to be congregationalist in ecclesiology and so there are issues about the extent to which any individual represents these churches.
One priority of the Forum was to ensure the regions (usually continents) were represented at Limuru. The Limuru meeting was preceded by a series of regional meetings, over several years, and this helped to ensure all regions were represented. The choice of Limuru as the venue, was intended to ensure African churches were well represented.
So, the list of churches not represented was very small. Chinese Christians were not permitted to attend by the Chinese authorities and churches in the Middle East seem to have been under-represented. This latter seems to have been an oversight and in future there will be regional meetings in the Middle East. The only tradition that chose not to attend seems to have been some parts of the Assemblies of God.
Overall, the aim of representing all traditions seems to have been achieved. This is a significant development in global ecumenism in itself. In later posts I will explore some other innovations that have accompanied the GCF.