Several of my colleagues are attending the Lausanne Conference on World Evangelism in Cape Town at the moment. One is John Baxter Brown who's blogging about it in his occasional spare moments over on his blog Evangelism is in you Comfort Zone. JBB (as he is affectionately known) was fortunate enough to be able to visit Robben Island as part of his travels.
John writes about how the WCC helped to sponsor learning and teaching for some of the prisoners on Robben Island once restrictions were lifted in 1967. Although this knowledge makes him proud he also reflects while attending the evangelism conference:
But it was also the time that the perception changed of the WCC’s understanding of mission and evangelism, particularly within some evangelical circles. In ’68, at the WCC Assembly in Uppsala, controversial things were said which led some evangelical missiologists to question the WCC’s understanding of evangelism. Mutual mistrust set in, the echoes of which can still be heard today by those with ears to hear. In recent years, however, relationships have started to grow again and there is the potential, in my view at least, for there to be a renewed engagement between the ecumenical and evangelical wings of the Christian community. This engagement must be established primarily by working together in mission for the sake of a loving God and to serve a desperately needy world.His post has triggered an interesting comment by Ian Chisnall which includes this:
However evangelicalism based on my understanding is intended to enrich and strengthen the whole church, even the parts which do not do things like evangelicals. So to the parts of the church which are not evangelical in definition. It is fantastic that the WCC today has many evangelicals at its heart (although some evangelicals today would not be aware of this).Meanwhile the WCC's general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit has also been in Cape Town - in itself quite historic, the first time a WCC GS has been invited. In bringing greetings, Tveit made his evengelical and ecumenical background clear, and spoke clearly about the need for reconciliation as part of our unity and mission:
Ever since I read the Lausanne covenant for the first time when I was 15 years old, I was struck by the clarity of its vision: We are called to share the gospel of reconciliation with all. I have seen how this is exactly what happens in all our member churches every Sunday.No regular reader of this blog needs to be told that I'm not an evangelical. Yet I do believe essentially in the power of the story of Jesus to change people's lives and to continually change and challenge my life. And of course the word "évangélique" has several tones of meaning in French - it can simply mean gospel-like but it can also mean evangelical. I've been thinking about this very much today after speaking with a fellow interpreter currently working in Guatemala. As I was interviewing her Karla Koll kept on saying that her theological work with pastors and lay people in the church was how to respond to being followers of Jesus in the continuing atmosphere of violence in that country.
One of the liberations and transformations the whole church needs to experience is surely to learn to follow Jesus more surely and not to suspect and accuse our fellow Christian brothers and sisters of doing it so much more imperfectly than we are. There is a not very Christian knee-jerk reaction against the "other" on the so-called liberal and the so-called evangelical "wings". We all need to really rediscover that ministry of reconciliation for ourselves, part of which will be to confess that we have not always loved our Christian neighbours as ourselves. The way forwards calls for some humility and some real translation and interpretation skills.
"That they may all be one."
With Christ we continue to pray ...
You can read Karla's letters from Guatemala here. And you can follow the Cape Town conference on their great twitter feed here.