Since 1982 there has been only one official statement of the World Council of Churches (WCC) on mission and evangelism. Evangelicals have written their own statements and produced their own efforts at unity in mission. Now, in 2012, the WCC's Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) is preparing another statement to invoke a new understanding of mission and evangelism amidst our changing world and divided ecclesial contexts. This new statement comes at a unique time in Christian history. For nearly sixty years evangelicals and historic churches have been enmeshed in deep opposition to one another, especially when it came to defining and understanding Christian mission in the world. In the past five years there has been a growing thaw in this impasse. I welcome it for the good of all Christ's people.
The statement, titled “Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes”, will be presented at the WCC 10th Assembly in Busan, South Korea, in 2013 once it is approved by the WCC Central Committee. This potentially landmark document draws on insights gleaned from Protestant, Evangelical, Orthodox and Roman Catholic mission theologies. What is at work here, I believe, is missional thinking, thinking that is now permeating the whole global church.
The draft of the statement was recently shared at the CWME pre-assembly event taking place in Manila, the Philippines from 22 to 27 March. An extremely helpful video was posted by the WCC last week that explains what the purpose of this effort is all about.
“The statement aims to bring new issues and convictions to the upcoming WCC assembly, since the concepts of mission and evangelism have changed significantly during the last three decades,” explained Rev. Dr Jooseop Keum, CWME secretary, at the event in Manila.
The International Missionary Conference (IMC) was integrated into the WCC in New Delhi, India in 1961. Subsequently, the WCC developed a statement on its role in mission titled “Mission and Evangelism: An Ecumenical Affirmation.” The new statement will succeed that document, first issued in 1982. The late Lesslie Newbigin, who lived as a bridge between the WCC and the evangelical world, remains a powerful influence in this dialogue.
Jooseop Keum said, “The statement will not replace the 1982 affirmation on mission and evangelism. It would be another statement, which will seek a broad appeal, even wider than WCC member churches and affiliated mission bodies, so that we can commit ourselves to fullness of life for all."
Some of the themes from the statement discussed at the conference included a theological framework describing the mission of the Holy Spirit (missio Spiritus), embracing dynamism, transformation and diversity in mission. There were reflections on the salvation of humanity and creation together, bringing ecological and environmental concerns into the mission statement. Themes related to health and healing, migration and economic globalization were also addressed. Again, evangelicals have engaged in this kind of theology for several decades now and their voices are blending with others from the global church.
The participants in Manila discussed the concept of renewed commitment to evangelism with humility and respect, examining how to communicate the gospel in today's world. Revisiting the relationship between mission and church remains one of the major themes from the statement being discussed at the event. One can only pray that the result of this will be something that fosters further cooperation and deeper commitment to Christ's mission. I believe this is exactly what is happening thus I welcome this present dialogue while I watch carefully to encourage everyone involved to never surrender the proclamation of the good news to all people everywhere.