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Edinburgh to Salvador: Twentieth Century Ecumenical Missiology by T.V. Philip


T. V. Philip, born in India and a lay member of the Mar Thoma Church, has worked and taught in India, Europe, USA and Australia. He is a church historian, and a former Professor at the United Theological College, Bangalore, India. This book was published jointly by CSS and ISPCK, 1999, Kashmere Gate, Delhi, India. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Chapter 3: Mission and Unity


The necessary relationship between the unity of the church and the mission of church has not always been apparent, or recognised, in the history of the Christian church. It was by no means present as a major factor at the beginning of the protestant missionary movement. Yet, the nineteenth century missionary movement, though not in aim, was ecumenical in result. Though there was a separation of church and mission in nineteenth century missionary thinking and practice, they moved steadily closer in the twentieth century, and by the Willingen Conference in 1952, the missionary movement had come to realize the inseparable relationship between church and mission.

As a result of this theological discovery, there grew within the missionary movement a greater recognition that the mission of the church and the unity of the church belong together. As the church and mission began to encounter each other and move closer, there developed within the missionary movement, the convictions and impulses for Christian unity. The Willingen Conference, which adopted a statement on the missionary calling of the church, also adopted a statement on the calling of the church to mission and unity. Several factors contributed to this development, including developments in the mission field and the pressure from the younger churches for unity, experiences of the churches in Europe during the two world wars, the political situation in the West, the theological developments in Europe, and the ecumenical discussions on church unity in the Life and Work and Faith and Order movements and their influence on the missionary movement. This chapter briefly traces the history of the recognition of the inseparability of unity and mission within the ecumenical movement.

At Edinburgh, all questions of an ecclesiastical character were ruled out of the agenda of the conference. The Conference Commission on Co-operation and Unity was more concerned with the co-operation of missionary societies in the mission field and in the ‘home base’. Yet a survey of the mission field highlighted the various efforts for Christian unity occurring in different parts of the world. At the conference itself, participants from the younger churches voiced their concerns for the unity of the church. However, on the whole, the concern of the conference was not about the church and its unity, but about carrying the Gospel to non-Christian lands. When the conference considered the possibility of establishing an International Committee, it was specifically stated that such a committee, when organized, should be, from the very beginning, precluded from handling matters concerned with the doctrinal or ecclesiastical differences of various denominations.1

Edinburgh thought of the ‘younger churches’ as belonging to the domain of the mission and not in the region of general church history. By Jerusalem in 1928, there was a greater appreciation of the place ‘of the churches in the discharge of worldwide missionary responsibility. There was also greater recognition of the younger churches as the ‘Body of Christ’ in their respective places and to which, all Christian activities in that place, were to be ultimately related. This was the result of the theological emphasis which gradually emerged within the missionary movement that mission belongs to the church. This theological discovery was much more strongly and clearly stated at the Madras Conference.

One important consequence of such a theological affirmation was the growing conviction in the missionary movement that mission could not avoid the question of the unity of the church. The representatives of the younger churches at Madras pointed out that disunity was a stumbling block to the faithful and a mockery to those without. For them, spiritual unity was not enough and they argued for a visible and organic union. The conference itself expressed the need for a visible and organic union thus:

While we are profoundly thankful for the growth in brotherly love and understanding that has come with increased co-operation, and while we are convinced of the need for its yet further extension, there are certain parts of the Christian obligation which in our judgement demand more than a co-operative basis. In particular it has been found that in most cases co-operation in the great evangelistic task stops at the point where pastoral care is needed for the building up of the Church. We can act together in the presentation of the Gospel to men and in winning of them to the Christian faith; but there is evidence that in the next necessary stage co-operation breaks down owing to divided church loyalty. From this stand point therefore, as well as from the growing spirit of unity that has resulted from common working at a common task, has come in many fields a deep and growing conviction that the spirit of God is guiding the various branches of His Church to seek for the realization of a visible and organic union.2

At the Willingen conference in 1952. F.W. Dillistone spoke of the work of the Holy Spirit in communicating and in creating community. The story of Pentecost records that it was through the Spirit that the apostles were able to communicate to people of all nations the wonderful works of God. The story ends with the description of a community knit together by the Spirit into a common life in which natural divisions and barriers were transcended. 3 Mission and unity came from the same source and so are intimately related. It is the Spirit which guides the church in its missions, exposing new emptiness, new brokenness which awaits the fulfilling and reconciling ministration of the Word of God in Christ. "The Gospel cannot be preserved in amber", Dillistone said; "it must be communicated in the power of the spirit. Again through the spirit the community is being built up. The church is the community of the spirit and the spirit enables the church to become increasingly conformed to the pattern of the Son whose Body the Church is and whose representative it is in the world". The community cannot be enclosed within an institutional framework of this world; it must stretch ever upwards in the power of the Spirit, in order that it may be conformed to the image of the Son and filled with all the fullness of God.

As a warning to the churches, Dillistone pointed out that churches often lose sight of the true pattern of their existence. They avail themselves of energies which are not those of the Holy Spirit. They are continually beset by temptations which assailed the Messiah - to live by material things rather than by the Word of God, to seek the cheap success of the market place rather than the "well-done" of the heavenly king, to establish an empire by force and fear rather than to win the nations by sacrificial love. They are always in danger of narrowing the pattern of the church’s vocation until it is conceived in terms of an exaggerated asceticism or of a mechanical sacramentalism or of an inflexible clericalism. At the same time, they are also in danger of limiting the Spirit’s energies within the channels of a particular emotional experiences stereotyped pattern of behavior, or a specific intellectual formulation. "A very Imperfect knowledge of church history is sufficient to teach us how real these dangers have been in the life of the on going Church. Time and again, prophets and reformers have arisen to recall the Church to its true pattern as the Body of the Messiah and to its true energy in the dunamis of the spirit, but as often as not the prophet has been either rejected or ignored".

At Willingen, speaking on the Great Commission, John A. Mackay brought to the attention of the Conference two concerns of the Christian church. "The whole church", he said, "corporately and individually must be concerned about world-wide Christianity, and, at the same time be committed to missionary action on a world front". He warned the church of those who were simply missionary enthusiasts without a concern for the community or of those who, enamoured of order, made orderliness an end in itself. For Mackay, unity is for mission and the whole church should become mission.

The Church simply cannot be the Church in any worthy sense if it is not loyal to its apostolate. A truly apostolic Church can never be satisfied with merely sponsoring missionary interest or in giving birth to ‘missions’. It must itself become the mission. Let the Church be the Mission. The whole Church must be girded for action.6

According to him, when the Christian church as a whole recovers a sense of missionary responsibility, certain things happen. Christian thought becomes concerned not merely with a theology of missions, but with a theology of mission. The role of the missionary society and the meaning of missionary vocation will be re-thought. The spontaneous expansion of the church will be regarded as the natural thing to hope for and to promote. The risks attending such expansion will be calculated and accepted. Missionary ardor will not be curbed until perfect ecclesiastical order has been established or assured. Witness to the Gospel will not be made to wait upon a fully trained ministry.7

The Willingen Conference adopted a statement on the calling of the Church to mission and unity. The conference acknowledged that the calling of the church to mission and unity arises out of the nature of God Himself made known to us in Christ. In Christ we see God’s redemptive action; in Christ God is still at work reconciling all things to Himself in one restored humanity. Christ called the apostles to share with Him His mission for the redemption of the world. The calling of the church is to be in them and make known to the whole world, in word and deed, His Gospel of the Kingdom. Then the statement said:

The love of God in Christ calls for the three-fold response of worship, unity and mission. These three aspects of the Church’s response are interdependent; they become corrupted when isolated from each other. Division in the Church distorts its witness, frustrates its mission, and contradicts its own nature. If the Church is to demonstrate the Gospel in its life as well as in its preaching, it must manifest to the world the power of God to break down all barriers and to establish Church’s unity in Christ. Christ is not divided.8

When the World Council of Churches (WCC) was formed (by the coming together of the Life and Work and Faith and Order movements in 1948), the International Missionary Council (TMC) did not join it. But by the time of Willingen, the International Missionary Council was becoming aware of its role and place in the ecumenical movement as a whole, as well as its responsibility to it. The statement on mission and unity acknowledged that through the ecumenical movement, God draws His people together in order to overcome the barriers of division which are a hindrance to effective Christian witness. The statement called on the member councils of the International Missionary Council to further the cause of Christian unity and to consider fresh ways of relating their experience and concern for unity to the deliberations and actions of the churches within their membership, and to the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches.

At the time when the missionary movement was discovering the church and its unity in relation to mission, a similar movement was taking place in the Life and Work Movement. The Life and Work Movement, whose aim was to unite the churches in Christian social responsibility, became increasingly aware of the need for the church to be true to itself. It was the conviction at the World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh that the goal of carrying the Gospel to the world could best be achieved by concentrating on this common purpose and excluding doctrinal and ecclesiastical differences from considerations. Similarly, at the first meeting of the Life and Work Movement in Stockholm 1925, it was assumed that the way to get ahead in discharging Christian responsibility in social matters was to work together without worrying about the faith and order issues which separated the churches. The slogan at that time was, ‘doctrine divides but service unites’. However, the 1930s saw the emergence of the totalitarian states in Europe, particularly in Germany and Italy. This situation gave the main direction to the activities of the Life and Work Movement. The totalitarian governments were exercising, over the wills of the people, an absolute authority that denied any prior responsibility to God. In Germany, attempts were made to make religious institutions and doctrines subservient to a concept of life which was essentially pagan and secular. Hence the theme of the second Conference of Life and Work at Oxford in 1937 was Church, Community and State.9 The one fact, which stands out so prominently in the report of the Conference, is the central place given to the church. While the message of the first Conference at Stockholm emphasised the personal responsibility of the individual Christian in doing God’s will in society, the Oxford Conference emphasised the function of the church as an organized body. It said, "The first duty of the Church, and its greatest service to the world is that it be in very deed the Church-confessing true faith, committed to the fulfillment of the will of Christ ... and united in Him in a fellowship of love and service". 10 Speaking of the rediscovery of the church at Oxford, Samuel M. Cavert, the then secretary of the Federal Council of Churches in the United States said

It was the Oxford Conference on Life and Work in 1937, however, focussed on Church, Community and State, which was most important in giving American Christians a deepened appreciation of the church. After Oxford, the social Gospel began to have a new orientation. The church now came to be viewed not as an instrument of social welfare and the reform of secular society, but as a God-given community, transcending divisions of nation, race and class and providing visible evidence of what God means society as a whole to be. Probably the strongest influence of Oxford upon American society was to make it more Church-centred.11

The key phrase at Oxford was, ‘Let the Church be the Church’. It was this appreciation of the church, as a God-given community and therefore a central aspect of the Christian Gospel, which caused the Oxford Conference to appoint a committee to explore, with the Faith and Order Movement, the possibility of forming a World Council of Churches. The Faith and Order Movement, which had its second conference in 1937 at Edinburgh, 12 made a similar decision, which finally led to the formation of the World Council of Churches in 1948. As mentioned earlier, a factor which was prominent in the 1930s, and which influenced both the movements in forming the World Council of Churches, was a conviction about the universal church as against the national church. The new situation, which arose for the church as a result of the emergence of totalitarian doctrines in Europe, reinforced the conviction that the challenge must be answered by a total response of the whole church and that the ecumenical task must be conceived as a single whole. The new and violent nationalism, with its demand for a nationalized church wholly subservient to the state, brought out more clearly than before the great spiritual dangers inherent in the idea of a purely national church without any sense of solidarity with each other.13 The only remedy in such a situation was a new affirmation and manifestation of universality as an essential character of the church. Such considerations led to a theological discovery of the church and its unity in many circles at the same time. It became increasingly clear that the chief objective in the ecumenical movement should not be simply to create a sense of spiritual unity between the Christians, or to facilitate co-operation between churches; rather, it was to demonstrate the true nature of the church in its oneness, and in its apostolic and prophetic witness. In 1936, J.H. Oldham wrote, "The more deeply the present situation in the world is studied, the clearer becomes the necessity for a deeper understanding of the ecumenical nature of the church".14 It was this theological conviction, among other reasons, that the universal nature of the church needed to be manifested, that led to the formation of the World Council of Churches.

At the Amsterdam meeting in 1948, two of the three great streams of the ecumenical movement merged to form the World Council of Churches. The third, the missionary movement as represented by the International Missionary Council did not join World Council of Churches at that time. The International Missionary Council was eventually integrated with the World Council of Churches at the New Delhi Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1961, after a prolonged period of discussion. The main ecumenical discussion on the relationship between mission and unity took place within the context of the integration of the two bodies.

International Missionary Council - World Council of Churches Relationship

Although the International Missionary Council did not join the World Council of Churches in 1948, the relationship between the two bodies was uppermost in the minds of those within the ecumenical movement. The International Missionary Council was very closely related to the work of the Faith and Order, and Life and Work Movements. John R. Mott, J.H. Oldham and William Paton, who were the leaders of the International Missionary Council, were also involved in the work of the other two movements. William Temple, John R. Mott, William Adams Brown, J.H. Oldham, William Paton, Visser’t Hooft, and several others who were instrumental in the formation of the World Council of Churches, were deeply committed to the world mission of the church and their ecumenical vision was quickened, if not created, through it. These leaders of the ecumenical movement were seriously concerned about the World Council of Churches - International Missionary Council relationship.15 Accordingly, from the very beginning, measures were devised to assure the fullest possible co-operation of the two bodies. Even before the formation of the World Council of Churches, a joint committee of the International Missionary Council and the Provisional Committee of the World Council of Churches was established in 1938 with John R. Mott as chairman. The appointment of the Joint Committee proved to be of considerable significance for the future relationship of the two bodies. After the war, at its meeting in 1946, the Joint Committee recommended several common projects between the International Missionary Council and the Provisional Committee of the World Council of Churches. The Committee also pleaded for steps to be taken to quicken the mission-consciousness of the churches, and the church-consciousness of missions, and to make clear the complementary character of the two Councils in the ecumenical movement.16 This was the background against which successive steps in closer collaboration were taken.

At the first Assembly of the World Council of Churches at Amsterdam (1948). the two bodies voted formal association and modified their official titles to read : The World Council of Churches in association with the International Missionary Council, and conversely. 17 A number of joint activities followed. At the Bangkok Conference sponsored by the two bodies in 1949, a joint East Asia Secretariat was created to represent the two Councils in East Asia. As time passed, the two organizations took every opportunity to integrate their work at every point they could.

In 1956, the Joint Committee presented, to both organizations, a statement tracing the history of the association of the two bodies and offering the Committee’ s conviction that the time had come for the World Council of Churches and International Missionary Council to consider afresh the possibility of integrating the two Councils.18 In the same year, the Joint Committee prepared a draft plan of integration, with a booklet entitled : Why Integration 2, to be presented to the World Council of Churches Central Committee Meeting in 1957 and the Ghana Assembly of the International Missionary Council in 1957-58. 19 The plan sought to ensure that the missionary conviction and commitment that were the very being of the International Missionary Council should permeate the entire life of the World Council of Churches and that the life and programme of the International Missionary Council should continue in its full scope and strength in the integrated Council. 20 At the Central Committee Meeting of the World Council of Churches in Yale in 1957, W.A. Visser’t Hooft in his General Secretary’s Report, dealing with the question of integration of the two Councils, stressed the fact that unity and mission were the central issues of the ecumenical movement. He said:

It has been asked from where the pressure comes for the integration of the two world bodies. The main answer must be from the heart of the ecumenical movement itself. As a leader of a younger church in Asia said the other day, ‘if the World Council of Churches does not take mission seriously, it is not worthy of its name’. We owe it to the Younger Churches, which join the Council, to provide for them an ecumenical milieu in which the missionary calling pervades the whole atmosphere. We owe it to the Older Churches to maintain in our whole life the pressure of the greatest of all callings. And the World Council of Churches as a whole needs the experience and insight of the historic missionary movement. 21

The question of the integration of the International Missionary Council and the World Council of Churches was the main consideration of the Ghana Assembly of the International Missionary Council which met from December 28, 1957 to January 8, 1958. At the Assembly, voices were raised both for and against integration. Some feared that integration would identify the missionary movement with a single conception of unity and a rigid ecclesiasticism. Others feared that the mission of the International Missionary Council would be lost in the World Council of Churches. Several speakers expressed concern about the possible divisive effect on the member councils of the International Missionary Council. It was pointed out that this danger existed especially in Africa and Latin America where the membership of certain councils had prevented their joining the International Missionary Council because of its association with World-Council of Churches. For different reasons, the Orthodox churches viewed with apprehension the closer relationship between the International Missionary Council and the World Council of Churches. They feared that the integration might, lead to the proselytizing activities of the evangelical missionaries among the Orthodox, and also lead to the alteration of the basis of the World Council of Churches. At the Ghana Assembly, the Metropolitan James of Melita (the then representative of the ecumenical Patriarch at the World Council of Churches office in Geneva) read a statement on the Orthodox view of the integration, pointing out that the Orthodox churches would not support any move to change the constitution of the World Council of Churches. However, for the majority of the delegates, the integration was the only appropriate outcome of the past development. There was very strong support for integration from the Councils of Asia and North America. Asian Councils had long looked for integration and felt that the International Missionary Council and the movement it represented belonged to a pattern of international relationship which was quickly disappearing. After long deliberations, the Ghana Assembly resolved that:

The Ghana Assembly of the International Missionary Council, having reviewed the steady growth of the relationship of association between the International Missionary Council and the World Council of Churches and having considered with care the opinions of delegates and those of the Christian Councils whose views have been presented, accepts in principle the integration of the two Councils, and desires further steps to be taken towards this goal. 22

The Assembly authorized the Administrative Committee of the International Missionary Council to take steps to implement the resolution. As a result, the two Councils became one at the Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches at New Delhi in 1961.

The fundamental reason behind the integration was not merely historical accident but the growth of certain theological convictions in the life of the two movements. Franklin Fry, chairman of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches emphasized this at the Ghana Assembly when he said that ‘the union of the two groups is not only natural but is called for by theological consistency’.

Ecumenical Discussions on Unity and Mission

The problems dealt with by early missionary conferences were problems of co-operation, comity, collaboration and consultation. These were the main burdens of the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference. This initial stage was followed by the problem of the dichotomy between church and mission. When mission was understood as the mission of the church, the question of the relationship between mission and unity of the church arose. The formation of the World Council of Churches in 1948, with its emphasis on the unity of the church and its mission, had awakened both the churches and the missionary movement to the realization that the whole church with the whole Gospel was responsible to the whole world. Serious discussion on the unity and mission was started in the ecumenical movement with the declaration drawn up by the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches at its meeting in Rolle, Switzerland in 1951.23 One of the main subjects on the agenda of the Committee was : The Missionary and Ecumenical Calling of the Church. At the meeting, both John A. Mackay and Norman Goodall from the International Missionary Council made a critical observation that the title given to the discussion theme was a missionary misnomer since "missionary and ecumenical belong together and are complementary and that it is not legitimate to appropriate the term ‘ecumenical’ for those efforts which are working primarily for unity". Accordingly, the report which came out of the discussions at Rolle was entitled. "The Calling of the Church to Mission and Unity". 24

The report was divided into five sections. In the first section it pointed out that though church and mission could not be separated, they denoted, in the minds of many Christians, two different kinds of institutions. The problem had taken on a new shape with the separate development of the International Missionary Council and the World Council of Churches as two distinct organizations. Further, it was not possible to say that the International Missionary Council simply represented the calling of the church to evangelism and the World Council of Churches its calling to unity. The situation was much more complex.

On the one hand the missionary movement had been, from the beginning, imbued with a deep sense of calling for unity. On the other hand, the movement for unity had been, from the beginning, concerned with the church’s witness to the world. There was a danger that the World Council of Churches, after leaving the missionary concern to another body, might become an affair for ecclesiastics concerned with the church itself. For the same reason the World Council of Churches was already rejected by considerable bodies of Christians who, in the name of missionary concerns, refused to be bound up with a Council of Churches.25

In the second section, the document drew attention to the confusion that existed in the use of the word, ‘ecumenical’, and insisted that this word, which comes from the Greek word for the whole earth, was previously used to describe everything that related to the whole task of the whole church to bring the Gospel to the whole world. It covered equally the missionary movement and the movement towards unity. The third section dealt with the Biblical basis for the church’s unity and apostolicity. According to the Rolle declaration the true relation between the church’s mission and the obligation to be one, can be found only as we return to Christ Himself. It said:

The division in our thought and practice between ‘Church’ and ‘Mission’ can be overcome only as we return to Christ Himself, in whom the Church has its being and its task, and to a fresh understanding of what He has done, is doing and will do. God’s eternal purpose is to sum up all things in Christ’. According to this purpose He has reconciled us to Himself and to one another through the Cross and has built us together into a habitation of God in the spirit. In reconciling us to Himself in Christ, He has at the same time made us His ambassadors beseeching others to be reconciled to Him. He has made us members in the Body of Christ, and that means we are both members of one another and also committed thereby to partnership in His redeeming mission.26

The church’s unity and apostolicity rest upon the whole redemptive work of Christ - past, present and future; upon His finished work on the cross, His continuing work as the risen Lord, and upon His promise that He will come again. The document related the unity and mission of the church thus:

Thus the obligation to take the Gospel to the world, and the obligation to draw all Christ’s people together both rest upon Christ’s work and are indissolubly connected. Every attempt to separate those tasks violates the wholeness of Christ’s ministry to the world. Both of them are, in the strict sense of the word, essential to the being of the Church and the fulfillment of its function as the Body of Christ. 27

The rest of the document dealt with the implications of the recognition of the relation between unity and mission for the life of the church, for the world missionary task and the relationship between the International Missionary Council and the World Council of Churches.

The statement of Rolle was of great historical significance as it influenced the subsequent ecumenical discussions on unity and mission which finally led to the integration of the International Missionary Council and the World Council of Churches. Rolle made it clear that mission and unity were interrelated as both had their source in the work of Christ, however, it did not say how they were related. Many questions were left unanswered. In July 1952, the Joint Committee of the International Missionary Council and World Council of Churches circulated a letter to the members of the International Missionary Council and the member churches and commissions of the World Council of Churches raising further questions and asking for advice:

The problem on which we need more light is this: It is clear in the New Testament that the Church is called at the same time to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world and manifest in and to that world the fellowship and unity which is in Christ. These two aspects of the calling of the church are interdependent. But in our theological thinking and in the life of our Churches these two callings have often been separated, so that some tend to emphasize the first and some the second. In our time through the growth of the younger churches, through a discovery of our evangelistic task in many countries, the Spirit makes us aware of the great need to grasp and clarify the essential connection between the missionary function of the Church (its apostolate) and its obligation to be one (its catholicity). Can we articulate clearly how these two are related to each other; and can we express in the life of our own congregations. our Churches and our ecumenical movement this fundamental unity ?

Some questions which arise in this connection are: How far is the Una Sancta of the creed instrumental; how far an end in itself ? Are the Churches, means or ends ? Should the centre of the theology of missions be the Kingdom of God, or the Church or both ? In how far is unity a condition for the effective witness of the Church ? And what form should unity take in order to strengthen the Christian witness ? What does the Christian hope in the victory of Christ mean for our attitude to and expectation concerning the missionary task of the Church? And what does that hope imply for our attitude to and expectation concerning the realization of the Christian unity in

history ?28

The Joint Committee’s letter raised a number of important theological issues concerning the relationship between unity and mission. Subsequent ecumenical meetings tried to answer some of the questions noted in the letter. The Willingen meeting of the International Missionary Council in 1952 considered the question of mission and unity and issued a statement under the title, Calling of the Church to Mission and Unity (the same title as that of Rolle) more or less ratifying the statement of Rolle. Shortly afterwards the same theme was considered at the Lund Conference (1952) of the Faith and Order Movement. There is little evidence to show that previous Faith and Order conferences had attempted to link the nature of the church to the mission of the church. J.H.Nichols wrote, "The faith and order movement has sometimes tended to proceed as if one could deal with the abstract essence of the one Church, could argue about and perhaps determine the true nature, without what it does".29 However, the Lund conference gave consideration to the world mission of the church and its relation to unity. In his address to the conference, Henry Smith Leiper said, "And because of what we have seen of the dependence of the world mission on the Church, we who have had active service in the mission field know that as truly as a world mission without an urge to unity is unthinkable, a Christian Church without a consciousness of world mission ought to be also unthinkable".30 He then added, "am ecumenical movement without a sense of world mission to spread that community is a complete anomaly. Today it would be an anachronism".21

The Lund conference emphasized that unity was sought for the sake of mission. In its statement, the conference said, "the nature of the unity towards which we are striving is that of a visible fellowship in which all members, acknowledging Jesus Christ as living Lord and Savior, shall recognize each other as belonging fully to His Body, to the end that the world may believe". 32 More important than the statement was the decision at Lund to include in the Constitution of the Faith and Order Commission the responsibility of the Commission to keep before the World Council of Churches and the member churches the urgency for evangelism. The first function of the Faith and Order Commission was stated as being, "to proclaim the essential oneness of the Church of Christ and to keep prominently before the World Council and the Churches, the obligation to manifest that unity and its urgency for the work of evangelism".33

Half a year later, the subject of mission and unity was discussed at the East Asia Study Conference held in Lucknow (India) in 1952. At the conference, D.G. Moses, an ecumenical leader from India, pointed out that the mission and unity, the apostolicity and catholicity of the church were two aspects of one single entity, like the two sides of a coin. He said, "The mission of the church without unity can never be the full and obedient fulfillment of the mission which Lord of the Church entrusted to it. And the unity of the Church apart from a more vigorous, bold and adventurous witnessing to the truth of the Gospel, is a dead unity, something that is splendidly null and beautifully void".34 At the same conference, D.T. Niles observed that unity was never a strategy for mission but was a part of the mission itself.

Further thought was given to the subject at the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Evanston, 1954. The Report of the section on ‘Our Oneness in Christ and Our Disunity as Christians’ states:

But all this [unity in the one Lord of the Church] cannot be asserted without understanding that the unity given to the Church in Christ, and gifts given to the Church to help and enable it to manifest its given unity, are not for the sake of the Church as an historical society, but for the sake of the world. The Church has its being and its unity in the ‘Son of Man’, who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many. The being and the unity of the Church belong to Christ and therefore to His mission, and to His enduring the cross for the joy that was set before Him. Christ wrought ‘one new man’ for us all by His death, and it is by entering into His passion for the redemption of a sinful and divided world that the Church finds its unity in its crucified and risen Lord 35

In what way are unity and mission related ? Evanston pointed out that both mission and unity have a common source in Christ. The unity and the being of the church belong to Christ and therefore to His mission. It is by participating in Christ’s redemptive mission to the world that the church find its unity in Christ.

This issue was discussed further at the Ghana Assembly of the International Missionary Council in 1957/58. Discussion of Mission and Unity at the Ghana Assembly was specifically in the context of the integration of the two Councils. The Joint Committee of the International Missionary Council and World Council of Churches recommended the integration for the theological reason that mission and unity belonged together and theological consistency required that the two world bodies become one.36 There were oppositions to the integration at the meeting. The critics pointed out that, mission and unity belonging together said something about the relationship between church and mission and not about the relationship of the World Council of Churches (which was not a church) and the International Missionary Council (which was not a mission). It did not necessarily involve the administrative unity of the two organizations. They further pointed out that the integration would lead to a dangerous concentration of power in the World Council of Churches. Max Warren said that many were suspicious of the World Council of Churches on the grounds that it was on the way to becoming a ‘super church’. He concluded his statement by saying, "I think, I shall give my vote for integration with sadness of heart and the deepest misgivings because I cannot see clearly that it is the leading of the Holy Spirit".37 F. Berkeli (formerly the mission secretary of the Lutheran World Federation) of Norway agreed with Max Warren and voiced the same apprehension about the administrative unity of the two councils. For him too, the fact that the church is mission, did not translate to administrative union in Geneva.38 Still others pointed out that the World Council of Churches stood for a monolithic conception of unity and that it had a weak theological basis.39

For some of the participants of evangelical persuasion, though mission and unity belonged together, unity was not an essential condition for mission. Again it was Max Warren who brought this fact to the attention of the Assembly. He pointed out that church history and contemporary society provided evidence that mission could be fulfilled without unity. He said that the most active groups in mission at that time were the Pentecostals and the Roman Catholics, neither of whom were notable in their concern for unity.

Those are two groups who never ask about mission but get on with it. But we spend conference after conference asking what it is, and setting up committees to tell us, while they are spreading forth. This is one of the tragedies of the present situation to which we ought to address ourselves. We are paralyzed while they go from strength to strength. Is God saying something to his Church which is disturbing to its very foundation ?40

He said that it is a non sequitur in the light of the whole history of the church to say that mission cannot be promoted without unity. According to Max Warren, it is only in mission that we shall begin to understand the kind of unity that God wants for His church, since unity is an eschatological concept. Only in the pursuit of mission are we going to be led into the meaning of unity," he said. "The promise of unity which is given in mission stimulates the churches to the task of co-operative ventures in mission and to manifest that unity which they already have in Christ, for mission achieves its full strength in mission

John Mackay, the chairman of the International Missionary Council, in his address to the Assembly also raised these concerns expressed by Max Warren.41 According to Mackay, men and women of Christian vision and zeal have often found it difficult to fulfil their ideals of mission under the official sponsorship of the ecclesiastical organization to which they belonged.

Some of the most famous of missionary societies in the Protestant tradition, and some that have been most loyal to the International Missionary Council, and at the same time most creative in facing human needs on the great frontiers of the Kingdom, have been, and continue to be, independent of the Churches to which their members belong. The reasons for such a development are complex, . . . In some instances, the organizations have quite unfortunately lacked a sense of the Church; in others they have lacked a confidence in the dedication of the Church to mission. There has also been a fear that ecclesiastical control might stifle Christian initiative. On the other hand, there are examples of organized denominations in which the church is literally the mission. In many parts of the world today every member of the several churches that make up the Pentecostal World Fellowship are not only committed Christians, but ardent missionaries.... In the Roman Catholic Communion, the many religious orders which carry on missionary activity in different parts of the world do so with full autonomy, and do not function under the direction or direct control of the Vatican or the Roman Catholic authorities in any given country.42

Referring to mission and unity, Mackay said that the church had a unitive mission to fulfil. It should seek and express unity which would help the fulfillment of its mission in the world. The true pattern of the church’s unity is the oneness which exists between the Father and the Son, the unity that marks the life of the Holy Trinity. The unity that exists in the Godhead is a missionary unity. Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are together dedicated to a missionary task and the unity of the church becomes effective in the measure in which the world believes that the Father sent the Son to be its Savior. For Mackay, as for Max Warren it was on the road of missionary obedience that the unity of the church of Christ could be achieved and prove most effective. He said:

It is on this road, and only on this road, that a pilgrim, missionary Church, which subordinates everything in its heritage to the fulfillment of its mission, will discover the structural form and appropriate organ which will best express its oneness in Christ and contribute most of its missionary service for Christ. On the road of the Church’s missionary obedience, the Holy Spirit will reveal the form of ecumenical organization which is most in harmony with the reality of the Church as a world community which seeks to be loyal to its mission and unity.43

The World Council of Churches, at different times, had tried to answer some of the criticisms raised against it, especially the criticism that it was on the way to become a super church. The statement of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches in Toronto in 1950, under the title, ‘The Church, the Churches and the World Council of Churches’, tried to clarify the nature of the World Council 44. Writing in the Ecumenical Review on ‘The Super Church and the Ecumenical Movement’, Visser’t Hooft, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, denied that the World Council of Churches was a super church or that it was on the way towards creating a centralized, authoritarian, monopolistic and politically minded ecclesiastical system. His contention was that the ecumenical movement attempted to foster unity by purely spiritual means and with full recognition of the autonomy and specific characteristic of member churches.45

At the Ghana Assembly, the opposition to the integration of the two Councils came not only from the evangelicals, but also from the Eastern Orthodox churches. For the Orthodox churches the oneness of the church was an absolute pre-requisite for the proper discharge of mission. For them, unity constituted the principal characteristic of the church of Christ, while mission was the outward expression of the task that Christ Himself delegated to it.46 The Metropolitan James of Melita, (the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the World Council of Churches), told the Assembly that the Orthodox church gives preponderance to unity, for it believes that unity in faith, aim and scope should form the substance for any missionary activity. The Orthodox believe that only a united church, sanctified through truth, can effectively proclaim Christ and bring nations to Him. He said:

The Orthodox Church will therefore continue to believe that unity belongs to mission but it will also continue to question the opinion of some that mission can eventually lead to unity. Missions can probably lead to mergers or limited schemes of unity, but it would be more than audacious to think that they can lead to unity.47

A second objection of the Orthodox to the integration of the two Councils was the fear of the proselytizing of some of the Protestant missions. The Metropolitan James of Melita in his statement said:

To summarize what I have so far said: the question of integration is envisaged by the Ecumenical Patriarchate as a rather technical or organizational question, and as such it is given all necessary attention. I like in any case to stress and repeat that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is guided in the discussions and study of the subject by its concern for the World Council of Churches. It would never vote for any radical amendment of the World Council of Churches Constitution nor would it be prepared to accept any change in the World Council of Churches ecclesiology as declared in the well-known Toronto Statement. Finally, the Ecumenical Patriarchate will insist on the two principles, (a) that the sole aim of mission’ should be to reach peoples yet unconverted to Christ and never to proselytize among the members of other Christian Churches, and (b) that missions should be ‘Church missions’ and should work for the upbuilding of the Church.48

Thus, both the evangelical Protestants and the Orthodox churches viewed with apprehension the integration of the International Missionary Council and World Council of Churches, though for different reasons. For the evangelicals, unity did not guarantee mission and was not a pre-requisite for mission. The concern for unity very often distracted the attention of the church away from its primary task of evangelism. They saw church history as a tide of missionary expansion whose advance was often checked by the organized church. For them it was only in mission that the nature of Christian unity could be discovered. For the Orthodox, mission did not guarantee unity and unity was a pre-condition for mission. They often complained that there was a failure on the part of the ecumenical movement to recognize that unity was an integral part of the Gospel itself. For the Orthodox, mission was church’s mission and should work for the building up of the church. The church was first of all, and before everything else, a God-created and God-given reality, the Presence of Christ’s life, the manifestation of the age of the Holy Spirit. The church was the manifestation of the fullness of Christ and the church shared this fullness of Christ with the world in mission. Mission was the fruit of the total being of the church and not a specialty for those who received a particular missionary calling. Not surprisingly, both groups found enough evidence in church history to support their case.

The ecumenical discussion on mission and unity was very inconclusive. Many questions remained unanswered. The most important question raised by the Joint Committee as to the exact relationship between mission and unity did not receive proper consideration. What was said at the time of the integration of the two Councils in the New Delhi Assembly in 1961 was that they exist together as the two sides of the same reality.49 With the integration, the ecumenical discussion on the subject lost much of its momentum.

The question of the relationship between unity and mission was a serious issue even in the New Testament itself. This was evident in the Jerusalem Council recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (ch.15). The effort of the Council was to maintain Christian unity in the face of pressures for missionary expansion. Keith R. Bridston, a former secretary of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches points out that the apostolic missionary outreach not only strained the territorial lines of unity identified with the original Jerusalem fellowship, but the success of the apostolic preaching among non-Jewish people meant that the unity of the church based on the ethnic homogeneity of the primitive fellowship of the Jewish disciples, had to be radically questioned and re-examined. The achievement of the Jerusalem Council, according to Bridston, was that through it the church moved beyond a static conception of unity.50 The Jerusalem Council also showed the struggle of the early church to understand mission in such a way that unity was maintained. Commenting on the Jerusalem Council, John Knox. a New Testament scholar, observes that Paul was fighting not only for the freedom of the Gentiles from the Law but also for the unity of the church. He said that Paul’s statement that he went to consult the Jerusalem leaders, "lest somehow [he] should be running or had run in vain", (Galatians 2.2) meant more than that he feared his opponents might seriously interfere with his work unless they were checked. "What can be expressed here if not Paul’s deep concern that the Church shall be one"51 For Paul, his work would have been in vain if it had to be considered as a special or separatist Gospel. For him, as for the Orthodox church later, the oneness of the church belonged to the content of the Gospel and to contradict that oneness by separate existence would be to deny the Gospel itself.

As to the relationship between unity and mission, Bridston suggests that they exist in polar tension. The tension between unity and mission has been evident in every period and in all types of Christian communities. The existence of this unresolved tension, according to Bridston, is the clue to the creativity and liveliness of the church through the ages. When the tension is relaxed, vitality diminishes. Unity realized at the expense of mission results in fragmentary dissolution. To exist in dialectical tension means that unity is understood in such a way that it becomes dynamic for expansion, and mission is defined in such a way that it realizes and maintains unity.52 The failure to maintain the dual demand in polar tension is the distortion or denial in some sense of both and a negation of the purpose of the ecumenical movement. The question for the integrated World Council of Churches is whether this purpose has been realized in the ecumenical movement or not.

The questions of unity and mission were not problems for the early church as long as early Christians were confined to Jerusalem and to the Jews. But as soon as the church crossed the Palestinian Jewish border and entered into the wider world of Greco-Roman religions, races and cultures, the questions of the church’s catholicity and the universality of its message became serious issues for the church. The early church understood the catholicity of its nature and the universality of its message only when it was engaged in mission among the Gentiles in the world of pagan religions and cultures . It understood the nature of its catholicity in demarcation from the ethnic homogeneity of Palestinian Judaism, and it understood the meaning of the universality of its message in confrontation with other religions, philosophies and cultures. Both Max Warren and John Mackay were right when they said at the International Missionary Council Assembly of Ghana that only in mission will we understand the nature of the unity we need and discover the structural form and appropriate organ which will best express the church’s oneness in Christ.

 

ENDNOTES

1. World Missionary Conference 1910, Report of Commission VIII. p. 147.

2. The World Mission of the Church: Findings and Recommendations of the Meeting of the International Missionary Council Meeting at Tambaram 1958, p. 154.

3. Norman Goodall, Missions Under the Cross, pp. 86-87.

4. Ibid., pp. 85-86.

5. Ibid., p. 140.

6. Ibid., p. 141.

7. Ibid..

8. Ibid., p. 193.

9. J.H. Oldham, The Oxford Conference, Chicago, Willett, Clark & Company, 1937, pp. 1-2.

10. Ibid., p. 45.

11. Samuel M. Cavert, On the Road to Christian Unity, New York, Harper & Brothers, 1961, p. 19.

12. Leonard Hodgson (ed.), The Second World Conference on Faith and Order, Edinburgh 1937, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1938, p. 275.

13. Visser’t Hooft. ‘The Genesis of the World Council of Churches’, Rouse & Neill (eds.) Op.cit., p. 698.

14. Rouse & Neill (eds.), Op.cit., p. 574.

15. Henry P Vandusen, One Great Ground of Hope, Philadelphia. Westminster Press, 1961, p. 138.

16. Evanston to New Delhi 1954-1961, Report of the Central Committee to the Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Geneva, World Council of Churches 1961.

17. Vissert Hooft (ed.) The First Assembly of the World Council of Churches, p. 130.

18. Minutes and Reports of the Ninth Meeting of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, Hungary July 28-August 5, 1956, p. 111.

19. For details of the plan, see Ernest A. Payne & David O. Moses, Why Integration ?, London, Edinburgh House Press, 1957 or the Minutes and Report of the Central Committee, Rhodes, 1959, pp. 117-143.

20. Van Dusen, Op cit., p. 143.

21. Minutes and Reports of the Tenth Meeting of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, Yale, 1957, p. 84.

22. R. K. Orchard (ed.). The Ghana Assembly of the International Missionary Council, London, Edinburgh House Press, 1958, p. 166.

23. Minutes and Reports of the Fourth Meeting of the Central Committee, Rolle, 1951.

24. The First Six Years 1948-1954. A Report of the Central Committee of the World Council of.

25. Ibid., p. 125.

26. Ibid., p. 126.

27. Ibid., p. 127.

28. Minutes and Reports of the Fifth Meeting of the Central Committee, Lucknow (India), December 31, 1952 - Jan 8,1953, p. 123.

29. James Hastings Nichols, Evanston: An Interpretation, New York, Harper & Brothers, 1954, p. 108.

30. Oliver Tomkins (ed.), The Third World Conference in Faith and Order, Lund, 1952, p. 205.

31. Ibid., p. 206.

32. Ibid., p. 16.

33. Ibid., p. 37

34. Christ - The Hope of Asia: Ecumenical Study Conference for East Asia, Lucknow, India, 1952, CLS Madras, 1953, p. 9.

35. WA. Visser’t Hooft (ed.), The Evanston Report, New York, Harper & Brothers, 1955, p. 85.

36. Payne & Moses, Why Integration ?, p. 29.

37. Minutes of the Assembly of the International Missionary Council, Ghana, p.132.

38. Ibid., 133.

39. Orchard, Op.cit., p. 162.

40. Minutes of the Assembly of the International Missionary Council, Ghana, p.131.

41. Orchard, Op.cit., pp. 100-124.

42. Ibid., pp. 115-116.

43. Ibid., pp. 123-124.

44. Minutes and Reports of the third Meeting of the Central Committee, Toronto, 1950, pp. 84-90.

45. WA. Visser’t Hooft, ‘The Super Church and the Ecumenical Movement’, Ecumenical Review, Vol. X (July 1958), pp. 366-383.

46. Minutes of the Assembly of the International Missionary Council, Ghana, p.140.

47. Jan Hermelink & H.J. Margull (ed.), Basileia, Stuttgart, Mission Verlag, 1959, p. 79.

48. Orchard (ed), Op. cit., p. 163.

49. Visser’t Hooft(ed.), The New Delhi Report, p. 4.

50. Keith A. Bridston, Mission, Myth and Reality, New York, Friendship Press, pp. 110-111.

51. John Knox, The Early Church and the Coming Great Church, New York, Abingdon Press, 1955, p. 40.

52. Bridston, Op. cit., pp. 109-110.

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