The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, noted at Edinburgh 2010 that the prayer of those who gathered in 1910—the prayer of Jesus in John 17 “that the church may be one”—was the same prayer for leaders that gathered in Edinburgh in June. Tveit added in his opening remarks at the Edinburgh event:
One hundred years after the Edinburgh conference in 1910 we are challenged to launch together a new beginning for common mission in the 21st century. We need to discern together what the call to carry the cross of Christ means for us today, as we witness together and find different ways to make it visible that we are called to be one.
In an earlier post I quoted from the address given by Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe. You can read his entire address online, plus see video and read other reports from this event, thus I will provide only a few of his insightful observations from Edinburgh:
Today we are celebrating the centenary of the World Missionary Conference held in Edinburgh in 1910. Many of those who participated in the research for the eight commissions, and many of those who came to this delightful city as delegates, were evangelicals. They were serving missionaries, or home staff of mission boards, or leaders of churches from which so many went out to take the gospel around the world. They gathered around the conference theme, “The evangelization of the world in this generation,” because this was their prayer, their action and their passionate commitment.
They did not do everything right, and with hindsight we can see many things that perhaps should have been done differently. They were flawed human beings, and children of their age and culture, just as we are. But their commitment and devotion is beyond question. And as today we rejoice that the church is now global in a way that they saw only by faith and not by sight, we notice that many of those churches in Asia and Africa and Latin America, unrepresented by national believers in 1910, but now so wonderfully vibrant and growing, are the fruit of their labors and lives. That is God's gracious doing, and we praise him.
There is no corner of the world where the mission of the church is complete. God's calling to the whole church is to take the whole gospel to the whole world, and that call comes anew to us in every generation. There are still communities and people groups who have never yet had anyone bear witness to Christ among them. There are others, especially here in Europe, where a fresh re-evangelization is desperately needed. I hope that in these few days we will ponder that, with humility and repentance, and with renewed commitment to bear witness to Christ, with the love of the Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit, in every corner of our globe.
Historically, there have been many things that have divided the different streams of the church. We would be foolish to think that in these few days all those often deeply-held and painfully fought over differences could be resolved. But I hope that we can listen to one another with love and respect, build bridges rather than create chasms, pray together, learn together, establish new friendships. In WEA we have had fruitful long-term discussions in recent years with many of the constituencies you represent: the Pontifical Council of the Roman Catholic Church, the WCC, the Orthodox Churches, and others. We are committed to continue these conversations, to further mutual understanding, and to find ways of standing alongside one another wherever possible. We will look for ways to continue the theological discussions begun through the study themes. We remain, like our 1910 forebears, passionate about world mission in our broken and hurting world. We recognize with sorrow that the disunity of the church makes it harder for the world to believe in Christ.
My heart-beat is one with Dr. Tunnicliffe’s. I am prepared to scale any wall, to enter any discussion, to embrace any brother or sister who loves Jesus Christ, so long as our common goal is to promote the mission of Jesus to every tribe, nation and tongue. This is my “evangelicalism,” meaning that this an expression of the depth of my love for Christ and his gospel as of first importance. If this is misunderstood, or if this lands me in fresh controversy, I am happy to be there so long as Christ is honored and I am decreased by his increase.
With the Canadian evangelical leader Geoff Tunnicliffe I believe it is “foolish” to expect that every stream of the Christian church can be reconciled easily or through dialog in places like Edinburgh 2010. After all, there were only a few representative voices of the global church gathered there and they clearly did not speak for you and me in any “real” sense. But I do believe we can “listen to one another with love and respect” and “build bridges rather than create chasms.” Is that too much to ask whether or not you are as thrilled with Edinburgh 2010 as I am? I can do that much and so can you. My life, and this mission, is solely dedicated to this end.
For some, on the far left, and even more so for some on the far right, this is more than their understanding of the love of Christ and the gospel can bear. But for most followers of Jesus Christ this is a reasonable and long overdue movement of the Spirit that we can happily embrace. We are missional-ecumenists thus we openly ask all who love Christ to join us in pursuing the missional aims of Christ’s kingdom.