Edinburgh 2010 was an event of the World Council of Churches (WCC). This fact alone makes many evangelicals nervous. There is good reason to be weary of the WCC if you know the events that followed its formation in 1948. The WCC has often lost its way over the last sixty years as it pursued a myriad of ideological issues that were interpreted in ways that rightly troubled evangelicals who were principally concerned about the spread of the gospel and the unity of Christian churches in that missionary effort.
The conveners of Edinburgh 2010 stated that there were important ways in which this new celebration, and the process leading towards it and what would then follow it, were very different from the Edinburgh 1910 Conference. Here are three specific ways noted, in advance of the gathering, by the leaders of Edinburgh 2010:
1. Rather than being centered in Edinburgh, a polycentric approach is being taken, both for the study process and for 2010 events which will take place in many locations around the world including Edinburgh.
2. Whereas 1910 was confined to mainline Protestantism, the participants in 2010 are drawn from the whole range of Christian traditions and confessions, including Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal, and Independent Churches, and show a better gender and age balance.
3. Instead of being confined to the North Atlantic, there is an intentional bias to the South, recognizing that Christianity's centre of gravity has moved markedly southwards during the past century. The process aims to be truly worldwide in its scope.
What did actually happen in Edinburgh was a new beginning rooted in a historical moment when men and women of faith sought God for the church and its mission for this new century. Leaders of the ecumenical and evangelical movements stood side-by-side at the opening of the historic Edinburgh 2010 conference and reaffirmed their commitment to witness to Christ as one.
The international director of the World Evangelical Alliance, Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, spoke at the opening session of Edinburgh 2010. Tunnicliffe said that it would be “foolish” to think that all the issues that have traditionally divided the different streams of the church would be resolved during the four-day conference. He appealed to delegates, however, to listen to one another with “love and respect” and to “build bridges rather than create chasms” during the conference. These are precisely the words I employ in every context where I present my thesis of missional-ecumenism.
This conference’s theme is “Witnessing to Christ” today. We are not talking about some vaguely theistic or humanist agenda, but bearing glad witness to Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity. There is no authentic Christian mission that does not bear witness to him in word and deed and character, both individually and corporately. And there is no authentic church that does not have a passionate commitment to mission, reflecting the heart of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit (photo left), said 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 gathered in Edinburgh in 2010.
"Mission and unity belong together," Tveit rightly added. Again, this is my concern and obvious burden for ACT 3. Tveit added, "To be one in Christ is to witness together to Christ. We have a foundation going deeper than ourselves, our institutions or our traditions. We have a call which goes wider than our plans." He then reminded Christians that they were called to carry the cross together and bear one another’s failures and shortcomings.
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.
I believe Edinburgh 2010 represents the obvious coming together of leaders from the whole church (at least every major part of it) in a setting where dialog and interaction, situated in a context of mutual respect and love, can only help us to further the prospects of missional-ecumenism. My life is totally dedicated to “equipping leaders for unity in Christ’s mission” as the ACT 3 Website says, thus I believe Edinburgh 2010 was a significant moment for this vision and I prayerfully rejoice in what will come from this historic moment just as I will rejoice in the forthcoming Lausanne gathering in August. When these streams are united in a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit we will likely see a fresh outpouring of the Spirit of God on all our churches. This has been my singular passion since I was touched by a series of campus awakenings in 1969-70.