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Dr Mercy Amba Oduyoye

New WCC statement on mission and evangelism

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01 December 2011

The first draft of a new mission statement for the World Council of Churches (WCC) was at the centre of a 5-day meeting recently held by the 25-member Commission for World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) on the campus of the University of Ghana near Accra.

The draft statement will find its way to a larger mission and evangelism pre-assembly gathering in Manila in March 2012 and ultimately be placed before the next WCC Assembly in Busan, Korea in 2013.

During its Ghana meeting, 22-26 November, the commission also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the integration of the former International Missionary Council (IMC) into the WCC and the subsequent formation of the CWME, a development which started in Achimota, Ghana in 1958 and was completed in 1961 at the 3rd Assembly of the WCC in New Delhi.

The formation of the CWME was marked by a process that continues today attempting to bring greater unity between autonomous mission agencies and the church as a whole. This is necessary “because mission is the very nature of the church,” said Rev. Dr Jooseop Keum, CWME secretary.

Presently the CWME meets every 18 months and represents all of the WCC member churches as well as affiliated members from the Roman Catholic Church, Evangelicals and Pentecostals.

In their preparation of the draft statement the commissioners recognized that the process of unity in mission between mission bodies and the church is still unfinished business.  The group also saw that there remains work to be done on the articulation of mission and evangelism.

Last time the WCC issued a definitive statement on mission and evangelism was in 1982, according to Keum.  “After three decades the context of mission and evangelism has changed,” he said. In fact, mission and evangelism have received relatively little attention in the last two WCC Assemblies, in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1998 and Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2006.

But with a new statement on the way and plans for mission workshops at the upcoming WCC Assembly in Busan, Keum has been assured that mission and evangelism will be an integral part of the next WCC gathering.

While the CWME statement remains in draft form until the March meeting in Manila, Keum pointed out that the statement will recognize this and other shifts in mission and evangelism emerging during the past five decades.

He said that the statement will have five pivotal points including acknowledgment that the thrust of mission in the future will no longer be moved from the centre of privileged societies outward to the margins and marginalized, but now mission will be coming from the marginalized.

Mission begins with God’s creation

As a starting point of mission, the statement will say that mission begins with the whole of God’s creation rather than a more narrowly focused, anthropocentric approach.

Evangelism will find solid recognition in the statement, particularly in the context of inter-religious dialogue and the content of the recently released “Christian Witness in a Multi-religious World: Recommendations for Conduct” which was jointly issued last June by the WCC, Roman Catholic Church and World Evangelical Alliance.

In an attempt to continue working at the issue of unity between mission bodies and the church, the statement will call for broadening the circle of the CWME to include more representatives of mission bodies along with national councils of churches and other partners.

Finally, the statement will say that economic and ecological concerns are equally part of the mission of the church, as the church attempts to fulfil its mission within God’s creation.

All of this will be placed before some 200 CWME members and affiliates, mission leaders and missiologists in Manila in March 2012, then handed over to the WCC Assembly in 2013.

In a celebration of the IMC and WCC integration on Sunday 27 November, former WCC deputy general secretary, Dr Mercy Amba Oduyoye, a theologian from Ghana, described changes in the mission landscape.  At the same time she kept to the core of what mission is and is becoming.

“Jesus is sending us out as God had sent him out,” she said.

“According to Luke, God sent Jesus to preach the good news to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim release for prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to let the broken victims go free, preach deliverance, release the captives, set those at liberty who are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord or to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour,” she continued.

However you want to translate it, she said, “God sent Jesus to take human beings out of conditions that do not portray the love of God and bring them into the glory of being children of God, made in God’s own image."

If a new WCC statement on mission and evangelism might make mission by the church sound easy, Oduyoye made certain that this idea was quickly squelched.

“Jesus did not have it easy being in God’s mission,” she said.

“It was not easy for Moses, it was not easy for the true prophet, it was not easy for the biblical prophet, it was not easy for Jesus, it was not easy for the first disciples and it will not be easy for us if we obey the point of the mission and speak truth to the powers that be,” Oduyoye concluded.

The next meeting of the CWME after the Manila pre-assembly meeting will be in March 2013 in the Cook Islands.