Autor: William D. Taylor, Executive Director
OPENING PLENARY ADDRESS
Standing on this historical hinge, how shall we respond, live, and engage our world?
A. Tonight, as we enter these historical currents of the flow of history:
Never in my life have I experienced the opposition from our arch-enemy and his minions as in preparation for this consultation-particularly the last two weeks. The assault has come on many sides and has affected many of us, including our speakers . It forces us to understand that our united presence here this week in Brazil is a major threat against the kingdom of darkness. The forces of hell are not pleased right now. So let us move through these days with a keen awareness of the reality of our battle. Let us praise God for the scores of prayer networks and thousands of intercessors that are remembering us this week. And that makes me suspect that God truly does want to do something striking this week. What we call in Spanish “el gusanito de la sospecha” (the little worm of suspicion) causes me to discern that God is up to something – constant yet new – for us here, for the people of God worldwide and the Church in mission/missions.
We form part of an unbroken, continuous cord of God’s people who have congregated in strategic times and facing their particular challenges. From the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 through the major councils of the Church; from the landmark Lausanne Congress of 25 years ago through tonight, October 10, 1999, the issues have been tangible; they have dealt with crucial issues of the Christian faith and its engagement with the world. We are part of that holy God-weaving of time and history.
As far as we know, this is the only global consultation of this missiological nature, in this period of two years, prior to the new century and millennium. Why so?
We remember the historic World Missionary Conference of Edinburgh, 1910. It was actually the fourth of its kind in the West, but it had been very carefully conceived and prepared, “.in its character as an assembly for careful and scientific thought and not merely for the edification of the faithful and the expression of Christian enthusiasm; and in the steps which it took to secure the permanence of Christian cooperation in the future.” (Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions, Penguin Books, 1980. p. 331-332.)
The slogan, coined and given currency by John Raleigh Mott (1865-1955) was “The Evangelization of the World in this Generation.” Actually “The slogan was based on unexceptional theological principle-that each generation of Christians bears responsibility for the contemporary generation of non-Christians in the world, and that it is the business of each such generation of Christians to see to it, as far as lies within its power, that the Gospel is clearly preached to every single non-Christian in the same generation.” (ibid., p. 332.)
Mott also understood the continual growth of missionary outreach in the world and the hope that it would increase. Neill goes on to list 12 great achievements in the preceding century. So the Edinburg conference convened serious men and women for a landmark event. However: “There had been little discussion of theology at the Edinburgh Conference of 1910. There had seemed to be little need for it, when all were at one on all the fundamentals. All were agreed that Jesus Christ the Son of God was the final and decisive Word of God to men; that in Him alone is the certainty of salvation given to men; that this Gospel must be preached to every living human soul, to whom God has given the freedom to accept or to reject and who must stand by that acceptance or rejection on the last day. The delegates differed somewhat in their attitude towards the non-Christian religions, but all were agreed that, as the lordship of Christ came to be recognized, these others religions would disappear in their present form-the time would come when Shiva and Vishu would have no more worshipper than Zeus and Apollo have today.
But in these years of rapid missionary expansion, a very different Gospel had been growing up and taking hold of the minds of a great many Christians, especially in America. The liberal was not by any means so sure that Jesus Christ was the last Word of God to man. He was repelled by the exclusive claim to salvation through Christ alone. He tended to take a much more favourable view of the other religions than his more conservative colleagues, and to look forward to some kind of synthesis of religions rather than to the disappearance of any of them. The real enemy is secularism. Adherents of all the great religions should stand together in defence of the spiritual reality of man’s life. There should be no hostility between them, the spirit of proselytism being replaced by the willingness to learn from one another.” (ibid., p. 417-418)
However, brothers and sisters, we have read our history. We do not want to repeat the errors that come from not grappling with theological and Biblical underpinning of our mission. For that reason we are engaged this week in serious and substantive reflection and analysis. This is for our own good as reflective people of God in global mission. We want to be thoughtful and grounded practitioners.
Allow me to review the original proposal for this global consultation. We wrote almost two years ago:
“The 21st Century will be a time of unparalleled challenge and opportunity for the ‘borderless’ Church of Christ. The WEF Missions Commission is positioned uniquely by God to help shape missiological thinking into the future. Global forces are influencing what it means to be ‘Evangelical’ and what it means to do ‘mission and missions’. Our first task is to evaluate the diverse missiological emphases of the last five decades. Secondly, we must articulate and affirm solid missiological foundations-Biblical, contextual, global, functional-for the long-term future.
“Too many expressions of reductionist thinking (over-simplifications of the complex task) have influenced the Evangelical missionary movement for the last fifty years. They include the following: the use of emotive slogans to drive the missions task; a partial understanding of the mission of the church; the application of simplistic thinking and methodologies in the Great Commission; a limited geographic focus; the over-emphasis on research and managerial missiology; the illusion that mass media is the final answer; and the suggestion that ‘we finally have the technology to finish the Great Commission’.
“We urgently need a solidly Biblical and Evangelically contextualized missiology that will serve the next generation, particularly as we project mission and missions into the next Century and Millennium.
“In light of this Kairos moment of history, the WEF Missions Commission convenes an international missiological consultation to be held in Brazil, October 10-16, 1999, for the following purposes:
A call to international reflection that identifies and carefully evaluates the radical global and cultural changes which have shaped our contemporary world history as well as the Church and its mission at the close of this century and millennium.
A ‘moment’ that allows us to evaluate the prime missiological emphases and currents that have influenced the missionary movement in the last 50 years of this century.
An occasion to identify and seek definitions of the key concepts and terminology of globalized (faithfully representing the diverse and Biblical perspectives from “West” and “Non-West”, “North” and “South”) Evangelical missiology.
An exploration to create a mosaic/profile, of this international, Evangelical missiology, and then communicate these outcomes to the international church and mission community.
An opportunity to help shape global missiological foundations which are both Biblical and culturally appropriate and which will guide us into a longer-term future.
Drawing initial thoughts to close:
As we await the return of his Son, we have been convened here by the living, triune God.to glorify Him, to wait on Him, to listen to Him, to ask how He would have us go forward. We do this as we worship, pray, listen to each other, work and envision together as serious globalized Christians.
What does it mean to listen to the Spirit? The program is open for Him to intervene when He desires and take all of us where He so desires.
So let us spend a short season of small-group prayer right now for this week and event.
B. Grounding our reflections tonight in reality
Allow me to sketch a picture of the “360 Bridge” in Austin, a beautiful architectural work of art: 2 huge pillar systems at each end and a graceful, majestic arch over the river.
This picture will serve us for this week:
Pillar system one: Personal, visceral questions, anxieties and issues of the human heart: individual, family, clan, tribe, people group, city, nation, region. This includes al the religious systems and claims to truth. Assaulted by the pressure of the loss of history, the destruction of nature and the environment, machine-gunned by violence, and sensing internally the loss of meaning under the pressures of the modern world, the existential questions intensify:
What is the meaning of life?
Who is behind all of this?
Why so much suffering and pain? Who caused this?
How can we deal with the real sense of having wronged someone, something, guilt?
Who has the right to lay claims to absolute truth?
What is the future?
What happens after death?
Is Christianity only a better way for us, or the Only Way?
IN MY OWN PERSONAL LIFE
My own questions in the pilgrimage of life, at age 59, probing the “why” of life, God, “success”, finishing well. And grappling with personal crises of aging parents now in the twilight zone of existence. And other things.
This consultation is crucial in a personal way for me as I pause to revisit foundational issues that have defined my life and ministry, I go back and ask seriously, “Why am I a Christian and why am I committed to this Story and the proclamation of this Message”? The answers that sustained me in the earlier stages of my journey must evolve into something more robust and resilient to carry me through “the many dangers, toils and snares” that accumulate with the passing of years.
And for you, how are you answering these over-arching existential questions of the human heart?
Pillar system two: the macro, global picture of the huge issues
External to the Church
Globalization: of information, technology, economics, decision-making
“Globalution” (a new form of ‘revolution’) vis a vis the perspective of those on the “underside of history”
Philosophical and religious pluralisms
Postmodernism overlaying modernism and flowing over agricultural societies.
The growing violence against Christians in the world.
The assault on the environment, seen even by most Christians as a thing to exploit, meeting the savage demands of “progress” and the survival of the fittest.
Internal to the Church
Have we believed the press releases that talk about our success?
What is the church? What is church growth?
What about Rwanda with 80% Christian (RC and Protestant)
Mission and missions: do we repeat the same cycles of mistakes, or are there not some NEW mistakes we can discover and make, but at least we tried something different?
The majestic arch over the river: the living, Triune, high God.
Seen in the confessions, such as in the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed
The historic statements of “I believe in God the Father almighty and in Jesus Christ His Son our Lord and in the Holy Spirit.
But at the same time, we desperately need a renewed vision of this marvelous God and the Christian faith. Too many of us have been shaped by a world view that makes us at best theoretical or technical supernaturalists. It is hard thus to sense, believe and move fully in Biblical supernaturalism. Yes, we also want to avoid the other extremes. But we in the “West”, and those from other geographies who have been mis-shaped by Western education need to learn from practicing supernaturalists, and Ask God to open our categories, minds and hearts to the Spirit’s empowering presence in our lives and ministry. There must be something more than being doctrinally “right”.
C. I invite you to visit a great passage of Scripture: Matthew 11:1-12
Mission is carried out in the context of change, crisis, unexpected turns of life.
Then: Jesus in ch 9 with the violent opposition opening up against him, his heart for helpless, shepherd-less people, the selection and commissioning of the 12 to a short-term mission project; John the baptizer back on stage. The strategic preparation for a new age of God’s people.
Today: We stand on the hinge of a new century, a new millennium, globalization and modernity/postmodernity with all of their blessings and curses.
Mission is carried out in the context of questions and doubt
Then: John the Baptiser and his existential crisis, and sending a couple of his last disciples. The question to Christ (Are you Messiah or did I misread history?) and our Lord’s oblique answer. And AFTER they leave, he talks about John the Great Prophet.
Today: Asking dangerous and presuppositional questions: Where is the power of the Gospel and the Church today? What has gone wrong with the harvest? Why Rwanda, Ireland, Bosnia, a post and anti-Christian Europe and increasingly so the USA? Why am I a follower of Jesus the Christ. How have I uncritically allowed my culture to shape and mis-shape my worldview and missiology?
Mission is done in the context of a radically different ministry path: not upward success but the path of downward mobility.
Then: Death to the great Baptiser, who never even heard what Jesus said about him..at that time. Then Jesus would die, and all of the apostles except John would be subsequently martyred.
Today: Few of us have a theology of suffering, much less of persecution and martyrdom. But we better develop one soon! Here we have not convened the powerful, the network controllers, the large-profile people. We are primarily “little powerless people” and if you don’t put yourself in that category, you might want to consider joining us. Beware of grasping for power, clinging to the position and refusing to give up leadership. Move away from the dangerous and seductive geographical centres of Christian power.
Mission is worked out in the bi-polar context of Gospel advance and persecution: Matt 11:12
Then: The advance of the Story through John (Matt 3:5-8) and Jesus (Matt 4:23-25). Yet the enigmatic ambiguity of the text: the Gospel would advance forcefully, and some would forcefully want to get in and others would forcefully attack it. (Luke 16:16 will emphasize one option here).So in the time of Jesus, some people were pushing their way in, even tearing up patio roof-tops. But at the same time the plot thickened with others wanting to eliminate him. They would kill the Baptiser and then Jesus.
Population growth (1999 Data Sheet): 6 billion today, 2 billion growth in this century and only 12 years for the 6th billion!!!
Revival and expansion of “missionary” religions and missionary vision of some that were not thought of as such-Buddhism, Hinduism. The New Age melange.
Secularism, modernity, post-modernity
Growing violence against Christians-and for a variety of reasons.
Globalization of the church and of missions. Good news and challenging news. What kind of a Gospel have we exported? Be wary of the Christian numbers game: “More than 100,000 people a day are choosing to follow Christ in Asia, Africa, Latin America, East Europe and the former Soviet Union.” Says who?
Problems with our missions metaphors that lean so heavily on military language: crusades, capture the city for Christ, spiritual warfare, targeting, etc.
Tonight, on this particular occasion, we must re-visit some of the existing missions paradigms that have shaped or mis-shaped us. Jim Engel’s analysis: “The Peril of Outmoded Paradigms for World Evangelization”. What has gone wrong with the harvest?
A crippling omission in the Great Commission. “In our opinion, we have ourselves to blame when the Christianity becomes the thin veneer as it has in so much of the ‘reached’ world. What else would we expect? Unless spiritual formation leading to holy living is fully embraced at the heart of all that we undertake, we will continue to create a world of spiritual infants who cannot and will not propagate the gospel through their life and actions.”
The reduction of world evangelization to a manageable enterprise. “In so doing, a major leap was taken onto the secular stage of strategic planning. The field of marketing proved to be especially tantalizing because of its demonstrated prowess in ‘reaching the unreached’ and converting them into customers.
Sacrifice at the altar of success: “Sweeping plans surfaced to complete the task by AD2000 which some have interpreted to have eschatological significance. For whatever reason, optimism reigned supreme that we now have the technological resources and the know how to defeat the powers of darkness and usher in a new era. The darker side, however, is that quantifiable results soon became a virtual obsession. Organizational public relations machinery geared up to fever pitch reporting the numbers allegedly reached through crusades, the electronic and print media, and intensified personal evangelism initiatives. Unless we can provide definite evidence that the Kingdom of God is being exemplified and proclaimed in this manner, we can never declare any people group to be reached.”
The entry of Compromise and Syncretism: “To the extent to which we can adapt all that we say and do without compromise of the heart of the gospel message we are on safe ground. The problem enters when it is discovered that the gospel often is ignored unless ways are found to show its relevance in terms of meeting human desires for happiness, fulfillment, and success. If we stress the cost of Christianity in the context of Christ’s Kingdom, we may not earn a hearing.”
The incestuous relationship between success and fund raising: “.what happens when ministry needs do not match donor priorities? Legitimate causes may need to be down scaled or even abandoned in favor of other more ‘successful’ options because of the necessity to keep operating funds flowing through the door. Few ministries today, church or agency, are free from this dilemma.”
A defective ecclesiology: “Our present concentration on church planting is entirely consistent with the Lord’s purposes, but we must ask this question: what kind of church are we planting? Something is radically wrong in today’s institutionalized church. It seems, to quote Bishop Lesslie Newbegin, to have abrogated its intended role as the hermeneutic of the gospel and become just one of the many collectives which concentrate on private and domestic affairs of life”.
Engel then calls for a paradigm for world evangelization based on the kingdom of God.
D. Finally, as we enter this crucial and strategic week, some observations
Let us remember that this is a working consultation, and all of us are engaged, with some 60 of us with designated assignments-whether visible or behind the scenes.
Let us listen to God, and to each other
Personal, small group and corporate worship and intercession
Quietness and rest
What does God want to teach me from my sisters and brothers here?
How can we serve each other?
Let us be open to the surprising work of the present Spirit.
Let us recognize that we are a very diverse group.
We come with diverse expectations
We come from diverse geographies, cultures and languages, ages and ministry experience.
We do not all find English to be an easy language
Some are veterans of international gatherings, and you either get bored easily, or you contribute with greater sensitivity and wisdom.
There are two major groups here: the practitioners and the reflective ones. But all must do both in life and in this week. Reflect for practice. Ponder and then move to praxis.
Let us examine the program for the week and understand its flow:
A working consultation
Plenaries moving in a direction: from broader to more concrete
Process dynamics: a plenary followed by interaction, then personal and small group work, macro areas and think tanks. Jon Lewis the coordinator.
No hidden agenda or prescribed outcome to surprise you for your approval.
Changes to the program-Samuel Escobar and God’s alternatives.
The place of the “Iguassu Covenant” and team. Jim Stamoolis, David Tai-Woong Lee, Rose Dowsett, Kang San Tan, Abel N’djerareou, Tonica van der Meer.
The move to some kind of outcomes:
God having met us
Radical sense that the Spirit is up to something and we may be a part of it.
We all understand the role we play as we return to cascade the implications of this week into our circles of ministry and influence.
The shaping of the Covenant of Iguassu
The outline of the publication, primarily written by those who were here/
Let us wait upon God. Right now. And engage with Him.
Let us also yearn for the culmination of history and the return of the King, but work wisely meanwhile.
Let us ask the Spirit of God for the gift of serious self-criticism of our formative cultures, our worldviews, our ministry priorities, our personal family life, our addiction to travel and work, our driving slogans.
Let us also ask the Three in One and One in Three for a new and greater level of faith as we look to the future, as practicing supernaturalists who also can live with the painful enigma of human history, but who also invite the Spirit’s empowering presence.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me;
therefore he has anointed me to preach
good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”.
A Prayer for Renewal and Restoration
our Lord and giver of life,
forgive us for the extent to which
we have naively succumbed
to the spirit of the age,
for our preoccupation with false measures of success,
for a sense of triumphalism
which replaces humble dependence on you,
and for our blindness in avoiding
those parts of your word
which do not fit neatly into our theology.
We humbly confess our total dependence on you
as the Lord of life.
Let us see a lost world afresh through your eyes
and give us discernment through your spirit.
Share with us your priorities
and give us the courage to be
responsible stewards of our obligation
to take the whole gospel to the whole world.
Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening.
To you we give all glory, honor, and praise.