Chapter 4: World, Mission, and Church
If the period between 1910 and 1960 saw mission discovering the church, the next twenty years saw the church discovering the world as the locus of its life and mission. The chief characteristics of the theological developments of the sixties was a series of attempts to take the secular world seriously. About this Roger Hazelton wrote:
... the present theological movement may be seen in terms of an exciting consensus which appears to be forming on the nature of the church vis-à-vis the world. ‘The church against the world’ emphasis of twenty or thirty years back is now being radically questioned and superseded by a far more positive appreciation of the secular and the cultural, and on explicitly Christian grounds.1
This changed conception of the world had its counterpart in a changed understanding of the church and its mission. Theologians began to ask if there was something profoundly secular, and by no means simply ‘religious’, about the Gospel itself. Dietrich Bonhoffer once described his theological task as "giving a non-religious interpretation to Biblical ideas". Since 1960, a radical shift in ecclesiological thinking has taken place. The church as an institution promoting ‘religion’ and ‘human religiousness’ had come under criticism. The new emphasis on the world challenged the hitherto church-centric view of mission that had been developing in the International Missionary Council and the ecumenical movement in general. According to Johannes Aagaard, a Danish missiologist, "Churchism in missiology disappeared in the sixties like dew before the sun".2 For such a development, the influence of Dietrich Bonhoffer and S.C. Hoekendijk in Europe, and of M.M. Thomas and some others in Asia, was decisive.
Bonhoffer (1906-1945) executed by the Nazis in 1945 for his resistance to Hitler, was a gifted Protestant theologian. His letters and papers from prison had a great influence on theological thinking in the western world. He spoke of the world as having come of age. "The world that has come of age is more godless, and perhaps for that very reason nearer to God than the world before its coming of age". For Bonhoffer, to live in Christ meant to be a church which existed, not for the pious faithful, but for others. M.M. Thomas (1916-1996) was the most well known Indian Christian thinker in this century. He was the moderator of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches from 1968-1975. In his writings and speeches, he stressed the importance of the secular for the wholeness of the church’s life and mission. According to him, the church is not a sphere of existence distinct and separate from the natural world and history. The church is none other than the secular, which knows its true reality in the new age inaugurated by Christ. The church is the world, which knows itself to be in Christ, under the judgement and the grace of the crucified and risen Christ. In contrast to those who would build the community of faith as a heaven in the midst of secular society, Thomas spoke of the church consisting primarily of lay persons doing their secular jobs and witnessing to the true life of the secular. He spoke of the lay vocation as the basis for the vocation of the ordained ministry, and the theologian as the articulator of the theological insights of lay people as they seek to relate themselves as believers to the lay world.3
Reflecting on the meaning of the revolutionary events that were taking place in Asia after the Second World War, Thomas and his colleagues in Asia, brought into the ecumenical thinking their conviction that God, somehow, is at work in the secular events of our time beyond the boundaries of the church. In his address to the New Delhi Assembly of the WCC in 1961, Thomas spoke of Christ being present in the world of today engaged in a continuous dialogue with the peoples and nations. "It is a foolish and mad idea", he said, "to think that Christ works only through the Church or Christian people. In fact the Church and the world have the same center, Jesus Christ, it is therefore impossible to confine the work of Christ in or through the Church".
Johannes C. Hoekendijk (1912-1975) from Holland was a missionary in Indonesia and later a mission board secretary and theological professor. He was Secretary for Evangelism of the WCC from 1949-52. While with the World Council of Churches, he was closely involved in theological discussions in the ecumenical movement and contributed much to its thinking. Hoekendijk was a vehement critic of the church centric view of mission. In his thinking, the world and the Kingdom of God (Gospel) are correlated. The Kingdom of God is destined for the world. The world is the field in which the seeds of the Kingdom are sown - the scene of the proclamation of the Kingdom. The kerygma of the early Christians did not know of a redemptive act of God which was not directed to the whole world. In the New Testament, the world as a unity is confronted with the. Kingdom.4 In his scheme, it is God-World-Church and not God-Church-World. He wrote:
As soon as we speak of God, we are also bringing into speech the world as God’s theatre stage for his action, and it is foremost the Church who knows it and who will respect it. As soon as the Church acknowledges God, she also admits her own implicitly eccentric position, hoping that at some point in time it may come true that she can serve as an instrument to honor the world’s worth and destiny. The eccentric Church cannot insist on protecting its own structures. She does not possess a private sociology; rather she uses - purely functionally - all available worldly structures in so far as they are useable.5
Hoekendijk advocated that, instead of thinking of apostolate as a function of the church, we should think of the church as a function of the apostolate.
The missionary movement was very slow in recognizing the importance of the secular world in its thinking. By Willingen (1952) there were signs of a change. The Willingen Conference in its report on ‘The Missionary Calling of the Church’ called the churches to be in solidarity with the world. It said that the church’s words and works, its whole life of mission, are to be a witness to what God has done, is doing, and will do in Christ.
But this word ‘witness’ cannot possibly mean that the Church stands over against the world, detached from it and regarding it from a position of superior righteousness or security. The Church is in the world, as the Lord of the Church identified Himself wholly with mankind, so must the Church also do. The nearer the Church draws to its Lord the nearer it draws to the world. Christians do not live in an enclave separated from the world, they are God’s people in the world.6
The Conference went on to say:
There the Church is required to identify itself with the world, not only in its perplexity and distress, its guilt and its sorrow, but also in its real acts of love and justice - acts by which it often puts the Churches to shame. The Church must confess that they have often passed on by the other side while the unbeliever, moved by compassion, did what the Churches ought to have done. Whenever the Church denies its solidarity with the world, or divorces its deeds from its word, it destroys the possibility of communicating the Gospel and presents to the world an offence which is not the genuine offence of the cross.7
Willingen stressed the need to discern the signs of the times, the need to sec the hand of God in the great events of our day, "in the vast enlargement of human knowledge and the power which this age is witnessing, in the mighty political and social movements of our time, and in the countless personal experiences of which the inner history cannot be revealed until the last day"8
The 1960s was a decade of upheaval. It was marked by revolts of young people against accepted values and traditions. There were protests against the Vietnam War. The Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King along with the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations created social upheaval in America. The struggle of the Blacks in South Africa against apartheid took a serious turn during the decade. In China it was a period of cultural revolution. It was also a period of cold war between the USA and USSR. The dissatisfaction of the students with the WSCF Conference on the World Mission of the Church in Strasburg in 1960 was an indication of the mood among young Christian people. "In the Christian Student World, the WSCF meeting in Strasburg of 1960 has been interpreted as a sign of the times: hence according to recent interpreters, the voice of Karl Barth, Visser’t Hooft, Leslie Newbigin and D.T. Niles ... were unable to hold their hearers with neo-orthodox presentations; rather, the missiologically radical views of J.C.(Hans) Hoekendijk, showing a certain impatience with the Church and its institutional forms, while pointing to the missio Dei, God’s activity in the world and its structures independently of the Church, caught the student mood".9
This emphasis on the secular world became the central thrust of the World Council of Churches study on ‘The Missionary Structure of the Congregations’. The report of the study published in 1967 under the title, ‘Church for Others’, points out:
The Church exists for the world. It is called to the service of mankind. this is not an election to privilege but to serving engagement. The Church lives in order that the world may know its true being. It is pars pro toto, it is the first fruits of the new creation. But its center lies outside itself; it must live ex-centrally. It must seek out those institutions in the world that call for living responsibly and there it must announce and point to shalom, this ex-centric position of the Church implies that we must stop thinking front the inside towards the outside. 10
The report also made it clear that the church’s nature and function need to be re-thought in relation to God’s concern for the world, when it said:
The Church is part of the world where God’s concern is recognized and celebrated. The Church must be understood in its world-relation as an expression of God’s will that all men be saved (1 Tim. 2:3). This affirms its existence for all men (pro-existence). In terms of God’s concern for the world, the Church is a segment of the World, a postscript, that is, added to the world for the purpose of pointing to and celebrating both Christ’s presence and God’s ultimate redemption of the whole world. 11
This re-discovery of the world in the missionary movement had repercussions in the ecumenical movement as a whole. Colin W. Williams speaks of a radical shift in focus in the ecumenical movement.12 He pointed out that in the period between Amsterdam (1948) and Evanston (1954) Assemblies of the World Council of Churches, there was, in the ecumenical movement, a search for a common ecclesiology in terms of the continuities that were behind the divisions. In the period between the Evanston and New Delhi (1961) Assemblies, it was felt that the search for a common tradition behind the various traditions was rather inward looking, and hence, one must not only look for visible continuities (such as Word and Sacrament) but also for the event of obedience to the mission of Christ. Unity is given not just in historical continuities; it is a gift that is received only as the call to mission is obeyed. It was hoped that by adding mission to the marks of the church, the true position of ecclesiology could be restored. During the period between the New Delhi and Uppsala (1968) Assemblies, a shift began to appear in a more radical form. In this period it was realized that it is not enough to attempt to solve the problems of ecclesiology by adding ‘mission’ to the classical mark of the church. What is required is to move ecclesiology out of the center of theological concern, for as soon as ecclesiology becomes central, it is falsified. The way to a true ecclesiology must be indirect, for the church is meant to be not an end in itself but the servant of God’s mission to the world.13
By the end of the 1960s, there emerged in the ecumenical movement a general consensus that the ecclesiological issues could only be resolved by first going beyond the church and asking the question about God’s mission to the world. Theologians spoke of the church in functional terms, as a project - a way of obedience that must be continually fashioned within the particular situation in history in the light of the ultimate purpose of God for history. They pointed out that the role of the church was not to draw the world into the order of the church. We must cease thinking of the ultimate salvation of the world as a process by which Christ’s Lordship over the Body is expanded until at last it draws the whole world into its realm. The church is the servant of Christ’s struggle to bring new life to the communities of the world, to His creation as a whole. The struggle to reveal Christ’s Lordship over His creation must be related to the actual struggles of the people in the social and political structures of our time. The church can be the church only as it is the community of obedience to Christ within the structures of life where human existence is already played out. "The House of God is not the Church but the world, wherein the Church dwells and labors as its servant".14
Colin Williams asks the question, "where are we to look for the Church?".15 He says that the Church is an event; it is where the people of God are taking servant shape around the needs and hopes of the world - as servants of Christ and therefore servants of humanity. This means the church is called to move into the world as Christ still moves in the world. Christ did not come as one dispensing pre-established answers, the bringer of a changeless eternal order into our changing temporal order. He came as a full participant in history. He came as the one whose freedom was His complete freedom for the needs of the world, moving out from behind the barricades of assumed safety and order to reach for the excluded with the community-creating power of servant love. Beyond its apparent defeat, he revealed thc power of this love to create in his disciples the faith and courage to become participants in the servant way. And those participants are the church - the followers of the way. 16
Colin William points Out that the direction of ecclesiology in the sixties was a movement away from yesterday’s question of where the true church is to be found within the established order of Christendom, to today’s question of where the living church must occur as witness to Christ’s presence in the secular world. This new direction was very much seen in the deliberations of the Church and Society Conference in Geneva in 1966 and the Uppsala Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1968.
Geneva Conference 1966
In his opening address to the World Conference on Church and Society, Visser’t Hooft, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, said, "We do not speak because we want to have a say in the affairs of the world, but because we cannot live with God, with other fellowmen, with ourselves, if we keep silent". The main theme of the Conference was, ‘Christians in Technical and Social Revolutions of Our Time’, and its purpose was to look at the problems of the modern world in technological revolutions as it affects the economic, political and cultural life of the peoples, communities and states and to consider the challenge and relevance of theology to the social revolutions of our time. M.M. Thomas, the moderator of the Conference observed, "it is one thing to be a community of faith in isolation from the tensions of social and international life. It is another for a community of faith to become also a community of social thought at a revolutionary time." 17
The whole emphasis of the Conference was on ‘newness’ both for the Church and the World. Prof. Dumas said, "God is God because he incessantly creates anew whereas man holds fast to what is old in both his comfort and distress.... The new does not strike fear in God, as if he were the jealous keeper of the source of life or the implacable trustee of eternal truth.... He does not preserve and maintain; he breaks through..." Dumas explained that God wills creation to be continually renewed. Jesus Christ embodies the highest movement of God’s renewal. He still comes in the midst of time to renew human beings and their communities, which are the objects of his love.18 Similarly, Bola Ige of Nigeria, after saying that there are people who want change to remain within the constitutional limits, said, "We do not need the past; we have got to throw it away - including, if necessary, those who held political power in the past". He argued for global revolutionary change which would knock at all existing suffocating constitutions, systems and powers that keep them going.19 The Conference was critical of the negative attitude of the churches to revolutionary changes and called the churches to develop an ethos of revolutionary humanism. It was said that the task of the church was not to set up any Christian orders, systems, or societies, but to humanize the secular orders. The Conference message to the churches reads:
As Christians we are committed to working for the transformation of society. In the past, we have usually done this through quiet efforts at social renewal, working in and through established institutions according to their rules. Today, a significant number of those who are dedicated to the service of Christ and their neighbor assume a more radical or revolutionary position. They do not deny the value of tradition or social order, but they are searching for a new strategy by which to bring about basic changes in society without too much delay. In many parts of the world today, the Church represents a relatively small minority, participating in the struggle for the future of man alongside of other religious and secular movements. Moreover, it can hope to contribute to the transformation of the world only as it is itself transformed in contact with the world.20
The Geneva Conference influenced the thinking of the Uppsala Assembly of the World Council of Churches. According to the Geneva Conference, Christian witness in a revolutionary world means effective and vigorous action for the transformation of the world. Mission as humanization was the dominant note in Uppsala.
The fourth Assembly of the World Council of Churches met in Uppsala, Sweden in 1968. The main theme of the Assembly was, ‘Behold I Make All Things New’. In its message to the churches, the Assembly said that ‘man’ was lost because he did not know who he was. But in Christ a ‘new man’ appears and God can transform us in to Christ’s new humanity.
In the discussions in the Assembly, the nature of the church and its mission were very clearly linked. Introducing the section report on: The Holy Spirit and the Catholicity of the Church, Bishop Karekin Sarkissian made this clear. He pointed out that catholicity was not a mark of the church but rather, a vocation to be accomplished. He said:
The Church’s catholicity, therefore, is closely linked with her apostolicity. Any conception of catholicity is void of validity and value if it does not take seriously what Christ said to His disciples ... "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age".
The catholicity of the Church is taken up and carried into her apostolicity, her mission. Without such a dynamic understanding, the term becomes almost an empty word, or, in the best instance, a holy relic to be preserved and cherished in the most treasured data of the Christian creed.21
Sarkissian emphasized that ,"the catholic understanding of apostolicity, or, to put it in another way: the apostolic understanding of catholicity makes both these qualities inter-related, inseparable, complementary forms of existence and ways of witness".22
In the final report of the section it reads:
Since Christ lived, died and rose again for all mankind, catholicity is the opposite of all kinds of egoism and particularism. It is the quality by which the Church expresses the fullness, the integrity and the totality of life in Christ. The Church is Catholic, and should be catholic in all her elements and in all aspects of her life, especially in her worship. Members of the Church should reflect the integrity and wholeness which is the essential character of the Church. One measure of her internal unity is that it is said of believers that they have but one heart and one soul (Acts 4:32. Phil. 2:1-12). There are two factors in it the unifying grace of the Spirit and the humble efforts of believers, who do not seek their own, but are united in faith, in adoration, and in love and service of Christ for the sake of the world. Catholicity is a gift of the Spirit, but it is also a task, a call and an engagement. 23
In its report on Renewal in Mission. the Assembly stressed that ‘Jesus Christ the new Man’ is the answer to human longing for renewal. The report said:
We belong to a humanity that cries passionately and articulately for a fully human life. Yet the very humanity of man and of his societies is threatened by a greater variety of destructive forces than ever. And the acutest moral problems all hinge upon the question: What is man? We Christians know that we are in this worldwide struggle for meaning, dignity, freedom and love, and we cannot stand aloof. We have been charged with a message and ministry that have to do with more than material needs, but we can never be content to treat our concern for physical and social needs as merely secondary to our responsibility for the needs of the spirit. There is a burning relevance today in describing the mission of God, in which we participate, as the gift of a new creation which is a radical renewal of the old and the invitation to men to grow up into their full humanity in the new man, Jesus Christ.24
Men and women can see their true nature only if they see themselves in Christ. It is in Jesus Christ we see what man is meant to be. The report said:
Jesus Christ, incarnate, crucified and risen, is the new man. In him was revealed the image of God as he glorified his Father in a perfect obedience. In his total availability for others, his absolute involvement and absolute freedom, his penetrating truth and his triumphant acceptance of suffering and death, we see what man is meant to be. Through that death on the cross, man’s alienation is overcome by the forgiveness of God and the way is opened for the restoration of all men to their sonship. In the resurrection of Jesus a new creation was born, and the final goal of history was assured, when Christ as head of that new humanity will sum up all things.25
The new manhood is a gift and is to be appropriated by faith. "Our part in evangelism might be described as bringing about the occasions for men’s response to Jesus Christ". Mission bears fruit as people find their true life in the Body of Christ.
The report also speaks of dialogue with people of other faiths. In dialogue we share our common humanity, its dignity and fallen-ness, and express our common concern for that humanity. It opens the possibility of sharing in new forms of community and common service. Each meets and challenges the other; witnessing from the depth of his existence to the ultimate concerns that come to expressions in word and deed. As Christians we believe that Christ speaks in this dialogue, revealing himself to those who do not know him and correcting the limited and distorted knowledge of those who do. Dialogue and proclamation are not the same. The one complements the other in a total witness. It implies neither a denial of uniqueness of Christ or any loss of his own commitment to Christ.26
Speaking of the Uppsala Report. M.M. Thomas points out that Uppsala seems to describe the mission of salvation as the invitation to men and women to put on the New Humanity offered to all by God in the ‘New Man’ Jesus Christ, incarnate, crucified and risen.
Thus Jesus Christ and the New Humanity offered in this are presented as the spiritual foundation, the source of judgement, renewal and ultimate fulfillment of the struggles of mankind today for its humanity. And the implication of this theological approach would be that the Mission of the Church must be fulfilled in integral relation to, even within the setting of a dialogue with, the revolutionary ferment in contemporary religious and secular movements which express men’s search for the spiritual foundations for a fuller and richer human life. It is within the context of such a dialogue that proclamation of Christ becomes meaningful.27
The Assembly declared that mobilizing the people of God for mission today necessitated a continuing re-examination of the structures of Christian life at all levels. The question is not: Have we the right structures for mission? But are we totally structured for mission?
The Assembly also proposed the following criteria for evaluating priorities for mission.: Do they place the Church alongside the poor, the defenseless, the abused, the forgotten and the bound?; Do they allow the Christians to enter into the concerns of others, to accept their issues as vehicles of involvement? Are they the best structures for discerning with others the signs of the times and for moving with history towards the coming of the new humanity?28
The new developments in the ecumenical thinking on mission in the 1960s have raised other serious issues for the missionary movement. If the Christian church is the community serving the secular world, then the question has been asked : What is the form and the content of salvation which Christ offers in the secular world? As Leslie Newbigin pointed out, the problems posed for missions by the rise of the younger churches, the end of colonialism, and the development of inter-church aid on a massive scale were questions about the forms and patterns of missionary action. The Mexico Conference of 1963, when it spoke of missions to six continents, raised questions concerning the form and structure of missions. The shift from the ‘three continents’ to ‘six continents’ perspective was a matter of structure. But the questions that face the ecumenical movement now are different ones. They are questions about the substance of the Gospel itself. Newbigin wrote:
The questions that have now to be answered concern the content of that proclamation itself. What is the relation of this proclamation to the action of. God in the secular world, to the service rendered by Christians to their fellowmen. and to the life of the Church? There is a crisis of faith in the Church, and upon its outcome will depend the possibility of faithful proclamation. During the years in which drastic changes of structure were being made, those involved largely took the content of the gospel for granted. Today that can no longer be done. The course of the next stage in the worldwide mission of the Church will depend upon the recovery by the Church of clarity regarding the gospel which it has to proclaim.29
In 1968, the World Council of Church’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) initiated a three-year study project on ‘Salvation Today’. It culminated in the World Mission Conference in Bangkok, Thailand in December 1972. The theme of the Conference was : Salvation Today. Philip Potter, the then Director of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches (who in 1972 became its General Secretary), wrote in the International Review of Missions explaining the reason why that particular theme had been chosen. Even though the word ‘salvation’ and the allied words smack of aggressive posture and were not popular in Christian circles, he pointed out that "... to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and savior so that the world may believe and be saved is the aim of the CWME. The concept of salvation impinges on many issues which are discussed in the ecumenical movement, for example, the dialogue with the people of other faiths and with humanists and Marxists. Moreover, there is no agreement with regard to the meaning of salvation within the Christian church itself".30
Bangkok 1972 : Salvation Today
The Conference was organized by the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches and was attended by three hundred and thirty participants from sixty-nine countries. Speaking on the main theme,, MM. Thomas pointed out that human spirituality undergirds all human strivings for health and sex, for development and justice. He spoke of the meaning of salvation today as human spirituality committed to structures of ultimate meaning and sacredness - not in any pietistic or individualistic isolation, but related to and expressed within the material, social and cultural revolution of our time. Human spirituality can be either true or false - either related to the ultimate meaning and fulfillment of life revealed in Christ or simply created by people in their self-centeredness and rejection of God, and therefore idolatrous. All secular strivings for fuller human life should be placed and interpreted in their relation to the ultimate meaning and fulfillment of human life revealed in the divine humanity of the crucified and risen Christ. The primary concern of Christian mission is with the salvation of human spirituality, with the human being’s right choice of structures of ultimate meaning and sacredness.31
The Bangkok conference affirmed two important characteristics of salvation. In the first place it affirmed the comprehensive nature of salvation. Secondly, it affirmed that when salvation is expressed in concrete terms, in relation to realities daily expressed, it presents a variety of faces. About these two characteristics, Emilio Castro, a Latin American theologian, who became the Director of the Division of World Mission and Evangelism (DWME) after the Bangkok meeting and later the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches wrote:
We found that the concern for the growth of the Church is related to the concern for social justice and cultural authenticity; that Christian participation in struggles for social justice, especially in actions favoring the powerless of the world is not a deviation from the main concern of the Christian faith but precisely the relevant manifestation of it in today’s world. We discovered that in situations like Vietnam, the priority for salvation was peace and that the only way for Christians to act credibly was to fight for peace. In other situations we discovered that salvation was present in the search for independence, or for reconciliation. In no case did this or that particular priority exhaust the possibilities or the content of the Christian message of salvation, but without that priority the Gospel would be destroyed.32
In its affirmation on salvation today, the Conference said:
With gratitude and joy we affirm again our confidence in the suffering of our crucified and risen Lord. ... To the individual he comes with power to liberate him from every evil and sin, from every power in heaven and earth, from every threat of life or death. To the world he comes as the Lord of the universe, with deep compassion for the poor and the hungry, to liberate the powerless and the, oppressed. To the powerful and the oppressors he comes in judgement and mercy.33
According to the Conference, salvation expresses God’s concern and love for all humanity. Therefore nothing human is foreign to the Christian community and the task of Christian mission. Within this comprehensive notion of salvation, the Conference saw the saving work of Christ in four social dimensions. Salvation works in the struggle for economic justice against the exploitation of people by people; in the struggle for human dignity against the political oppression of human beings; in the struggle for solidarity against the alienation of person from person; and in the struggle of hope against despair in personal life. In the process of salvation we must relate the four dimensions to each other. There is no economic justice without political freedom, no political freedom without economic justice. There is no justice, no human dignity, no solidarity without hope, no hope without justice, dignity and solidarity. But there are historical priorities according to which salvation is anticipated in one dimension first, be it in the personal, the political or the economic. The point of entry may differ from situation to situation. But we need to realize that such anticipations are not the whole of salvation, and must keep in mind the other dimensions. Forgetting this will deny the wholeness of salvation.34
The main theme was divided into three sections for Conference discussion: Salvation and Social Justice; Salvation and Cultural Identity; and Renewal of the Churches in Relation to Salvation.
The section on Salvation and Social Justice points out that as evil works both in personal life and in exploitative social structures which humiliate humankind, so God’s justice manifests itself both in the justification of the sinner and in social and political justice. The struggles for economic justice, political freedom and cultural renewal are elements in the total liberation of the world through the mission of Christ. After pointing out that the problem of personal identity. is closely related to the problem of cultural identity, the section on Cultural Identity said, "Culture shapes the human voice that answers the voice of Christ". Many Christians who have received the Gospel through western agents ask the question : Is it really I who have answered Christ ? Is it not another person instead of me ? The problem is, how can we ourselves be fully responsible when receiving the salvation of Christ. How can we. responsibly answer the voice of Christ instead of copying foreign models of conversion - imposed, not truly accepted ? We refuse to be merely raw materials to be used by other people to achieve their own salvation. The universality of the Christian message does not contradict its particularity. Christ has to be responded to in particular situations. Many people try to give universal validity to their own particular responses instead of acknowledging that the diversity of responses to Christ is essential because they are related to particular situations and are thus relevant and complementary.35
The third section on Renewal in Mission puts great emphasis on local mission of the local church. It also raised the relationship between the western missions and the churches in the third world. In this context, Bangkok raised the question of moratorium on mission and said that such a moratorium would enable the receiving church to find its own identity, to set its own priorities and discover within its own fellowship the resources to carry out its own authentic mission.
Without salvation of Churches in their captivity in the interests of the dominating classes, races, and nations, there can be no saving Church. Without the liberation of Churches and Christians from their complicity with structural injustice and violence, there can be no liberating Church for mankind. All Churches, all Christians face the question whether they serve Christ and His saving work alone or at the same time as also the powers of inhumanity. "No man can serve two masters, God and mammon" (Matt. 6. 24). We must confess our misuse of the name of Christ by the accommodation of the Churches to the oppressive powers, by our own self-interested apathy, lovelessness and fear. We are seeking the true community of Christ which works and suffers for his kingdom. We seek the charismatic Church which activates energy for salvation (I. Cor. 12). We seek the Church which initiates actions for liberation and support the work of other liberating groups without calculating self-interest. We seek a Church which is the catalyst of God’s saving work in the world, a Church which is not merely the refuge of the saved but a community serving the world in the love of Christ.36
The statement of Bangkok that we seek a church which is not merely the refuge of the saved but a church which is the catalyst of God’s savings work in the world, summarizes, in a sense, the ecumenical thinking on church and mission during the two decades after the New Delhi assembly of the World Council of Churches. For such as development, the conferences in Geneva, Uppsala and Bangkok made significant contributions. Henceforth, the ecumenical perspective is not merely confined to inter-church relations and attitudes, the aim of which is to overcome divisions among Christians. It calls for a wider understanding of the church than is usually held in the context of its mission in the contemporary world. It calls for dialogue with other religions and spiritual traditions, and incorporates the perspective of the poor, of women and the oppressed into its own. A new understanding of catholicity of the church and the universality of the Gospel has emerged from the discussions during this period. Both catholicity and universality are not static qualities that can be expressed in institutional structures of theology. They are dynamic qualities that can be expressed or manifested only in the church’s mission as it lives in constant dialogue with the world.
1. Ralph C. Raughley Jr. (ed.), New Frontiers of Christianity, New York, Association Press. 1962, p. 248.
2. Johannes Aagaard, ‘Trends in Missiological Thinking During the Sixties", International Review of Mission (hereafter IRM), July 1993.
3. M.M. Thomas, My Ecumenical Journey, Trivandrum, Ecumenical Publishing Centre, 1990, p. 126.
4. J.C. Hoekendijk, "The Church in Missionary Thinking’. IRM, Vol. XLI, p.333.
5. Hoekendijk quoted in Norman E. Thomas (ed.), Classic Texts in Mission and World Community, Orbis Books, 1993, pp. 125-192.
6. Goodall, Mission Under the Cross, pp. 188-192.
7. Ibid., p. 191.
9. R.C. Bassham quoted in Timothy Yates, Christian Missions in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 164-165.
10. Church for Others, World Council of Churches, 1967, p. 18.
11. Ibid., pp. 69-70.
12. Colin Williams, New Directions in Theology Today, Vol. IV: The Church, London, Lutterworth Press, 1969.
13. Ibid., p. 16.
14. Ibid., pp. 22-24.
16. Ibid., p. 30.
17. World Conference on Church and Society, 1966 (official report), Geneva, WCC, 1967.
18. Ibid., p. 20.
19. Ibid. p. 18
20. Ibid., p. 49.
21. Norman Goodall (ed.), The Uppsala Report, Geneva, WCC, 1968, p. 7.
22. Ibid., p. 7.
23. Ibid., p. 13.
24. Ibid., p. 27-28.
25. Ibid., p. 28.
26. Ibid. p. 29.
27. M.M. Thomas, Salvation and Humanization, Madras, CLS, 1971. p. 4.
28. Uppsala Report. p.36.
29. Harold E. Fay (ed), The Ecumenical Advance, London, SPCK, 1970, p. 197.
30. IRM. no. 228, October 1968 (editorial).
31. M.M. Thomas, IRM, no. 246, April 1973, pp. 158-169.
32. Emilio Castro, IRM, April 1973, p. 139.
33. Ibid., p. 183.
34. Bangkok Assembly 1973: Minutes and Report of the Assembly of Commissions on World Mission and Evangelism, Geneva, WCC, 1973, pp. 88 - 90.
35. Ibid., p 75 - 78.
36 Ibid.. pp. 88 - 90. See also IRM April 1973, p200.