Saturday, May 20, 2006

Historical Documents: Baptist-Evangelical Cooperation in World Missions, Part 10

As previously noted on this blog, in the year 1806, William Carey had written: "Would it not be possible to have a general association of all denominations of Christians, from the four quarters of the world, held there once in about Ten Years? I earnestly recommend this plan ... I have no doubt but it would be attended with many important effects; we could understand each other better, and more entirely enter into one another's views by two hours' conversation than by two or three years' epistolary correspondence."

Down through the years, there have been various attempts to follow through, in one way or another, with Carey’s recommendation. Arthur P. Johnston writes, in his important book, The Battle for World Evangelism, published in 1978:

"For well over a hundred years the missionary conference has made a great contribution to world evangelism. Christian missionaries have crossed denominational and national lines in every continent to seek inspiration and instruction, in order to better accomplish the task the Lord of the Harvest committed to them. Whether at home or abroad, Christians have gathered together in local churches, as denominations or as individuals concerned with the advance of the Gospel. These conferences have not only provided missionary manpower and financial support on the home front, but missionaries and national leaders of evangelism have also acquired deeper insights into the will and continuing work of the resurrected Lord (Acts 1:1)."
Conferences such as those recommended by Carey, and commented on by Johnston, have occurred, for example, in 1825 in Bombay, 1877 and 1890 in Shanghai, 1888 in London, and 1900 in New York. The World Missionary Council held in 1910 in Edinburgh launched what was to become an increasing ecumenical emphasis, culminating in the formation of the World Council of Churches. In an effort to return to the evangelical roots of the world mission enterprise, two important conferences were held, one in Berlin in 1966, and another in Lausanne in 1974. At the latter conference, the well-known Lausanne Covenant on World Evangelization was adopted, and there was somewhat limited Southern Baptist participation, most signficantly, a strategy paper presented by Keith Parks, on “The Great Commission”.

However, at the Global Consultation on World Evangelization by AD 2000 and Beyond (GCOWE), held in Singapore January 5-8, 1989, Southern Baptist participation came more to the forefront. Keith Parks, by then president of the Foreign Mission Board, addressing the participation of himself and then FMB-vice president, Bill O’Brien, made the following comment, in front of the entire assembly …

There have been one or two references to the Southern Baptist participation here. We Southern Baptists are all delighted to be here. Actually, I do not feel that our coming has been such a dramatic shift from the usual for us, but some may think so.
The following are some significant quotes representing the general spirit of GCOWE…

Luis Bush, President of Partners International, and member of the GCOWE Program Planning Task Force, from Preface: “Working Together Towards 2000”

Let the barriers between organizations and denominations not keep us from cooperating in the task of world evangelization. The task of world evangelization by the year 2000 is too great for any single organization or denomination to adopt on its own.
From the Great Commission Manifesto, Jan. 8, 1989, Singapore …

…We humbly confess our pride, prejudice, competition and disobedience that have hindered our generation from effectively working at the task of world evangelisation. These sins have impeded God’s desire to spread abroad His gracious provision of eternal salvation through the precious blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. We turn from these sins and failures to express our belief that God has graciously opened to us a window of opportunity for completing the magnificent task He has given us. We boldly seize this crucial moment, more impressed with God’s great power than any force arrayed against us…We see afresh that cooperation and partnership are absolute necessities if the Great Commission is going to be fulfilled by the Year 2000. For the sake of those who are lost and eternally separated from God, we have dared to pray and dream of what might happen if appropriate autonomy of churches and ministries could be balanced with signficant partnership…
Thomas Wang, International Director Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, from “The Call: Cleansing for the Countdown”

Sometimes when I am asleep, I seem to hear God ringing a bell up in heaven telling the churches of the world, “Gentlemen, time is up pretty soon. It’s time to get serious, to renounce your petty arrogance, pride and prejudice. It’s time to get together, to have open, bigger hearts. It’s time to shift into high gear. You have been delaying for two thousand years. Most of that time you have spent fighting among yourselves—fighting for turn, fighting over ownership, fighting for boundary, fighting for self-exaltation. Gentlemen, it’s time for you to become a little more serious.
From A Kaleidoscopic Global Plan, 3rd edition, November 28, 1988, put together by a Working Group composed of 15 interdenomi- nationally representative members, including David Barrett, an Anglican missions researcher, who in 1985, upon the invitation of Keith Parks, had moved his World Christian Encyclopedia research center to the Foreign Mission Board headquarters; and David Garrison, later to become the author of Church Planting Movements, and a leading strategist at the IMB under Jerry Rankin.

From the section on “GREAT COMMISSION CHRISTIANS” (from what I have been able to gather, and I’m open to correction, the term “Great Commission Christians” first came into widespread use at this conference) …

Accept all Great Commission Christians as co-laborers. We are not going to get anywhere fresh until we realize that we in the churches and agencies do not link up with, and are in fact all out of touch with millions of others who are clearly also Great Commission Christians. We should accept those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, in accordance with the Scriptures, and who desire to bring others to faith in him as well, in obedience to Christ’s Great Commission. We don’t have to judge their discipleship, nor to agree with them on lesser matters. Concentrating on the central matter of obedience to Christ the Lord, with hundreds of millions of others so confessing, we form a mighty “force for evangelism”, one single force of Great Commission Christians dedicated to obeying that Commission.

Seek out new relationships with other Great Commission agencies and networks. Today’s agencies should deliberately seek to relate to other Christian agencies that work to fulfill the Great Commission, especially to those in other countries or in distant parts of the world. We are not talking about harmonizing or coming to terms with other doctrines, dogmas, modes of baptism, theologies, methodologies, missiologies, eschatologies, ecclesiologies, nor mergers nor organic church union. We are not talking about structural mergers or pan-Christian unity. We are talking about Great Commission solidarity in all its forms. We are talking only about cooperating in obedience to the Great Commission and its 7 mandates.
I am thrilled that Southern Baptists were able to play an integral part in GCOWE and the entire AD 2000 movement. As the largest evangelical denomination in the world, with the largest international missions agency, we ought to be represented at these types of events. I also believe very much in the general thrust of this movement, as evidenced by the above-mentioned quotes. However, certain things that transpired at Singapore were not quite to the liking of all Southern Baptists, myself included.

For one, Roman Catholic representatives were given a significant platform, and were to some degree embraced as partners in the task of world evangelization. Read, for example, the personal reflections of conference participant David Kitonga

One issue was whether consultation participant—including such widely diverse groups as the Catholic AD 2000 Movement and evangelicals working in Latin America—could resolve to work together. The differences in opinion suggested that some evangelicals are sensitive to this issue and prefer to move more cautiously as they consider cooperation with the traditionally non-evangelical groups, such as the Catholics;
and, Luke Heng Sze Chhoa

During the consultation, a Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Gino Henriques from India, expressed his personal experience of renewal through the power of the Holy Spirit and Bible study. He now is actively involved in the promotion of a new-life-in-Christ movement and of Bible studies for the Roman Catholic churches in East Asia. I recall vividly Fr. Henriques’ testimony, which touched many hearts, especially that of the president of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board, who was so moved that he instantaneously embraced Fr. Henriques.
Perhaps even more vexing to many Southern Baptists was the “jab” Keith Parks made in relation to what was later to become known as the Conservative Resurgence, in his message entitled “Bold Mission Thrust”
In 1976 we launched this “Bold New Thrust,” renewing our commitment to share the gospel in our nation and in our world—just at the time when as a nation we were celebrating our 200th anniversary. The thing started off so well that I personally believe Satan decided he ought to do something about that. Starting in 1979, there developed in our denomination a controversy that has diverted our attention from the main task of sharing the gospel with the world. All of us regret this development and are praying that somehow, in some way, we can have the spiritual maturity to move past arguing and fighting among ourselves in a greater concentration of effort toward winning the world for Christ. Part of our problem has been that our denomination functions in such a fluid way that those who led in shaping the “Bold Mission Thrust” have now moved off the scene. Those who have taken their places were not a part of the original ownership and are not, perhaps, as committed to the concept. The result is spiritual apathy, prayerlessness, and self-centeredness—things we’ve talked about here, which are a real part of our problem in trying to do what we committed ourselves to in terms of the “Bold Mission Thrust.”
I believe it was due in great part to these unfortunate events that Southern Baptist participation in the AD 2000 movement, and cooperation with other evangelical groups for world missions, got somewhat of a “bad rap” with some significant Southern Baptist conservative leaders. Shortly thereafter, Keith Parks would no longer be president of the FMB, and the FMB would become known as the IMB. I, for one, am glad that new leadership, under new president Jerry Rankin, had the vision and presence of mind to not “throw out the baby with the bath water” regarding all of this, so to speak. But I’ll leave that for another post…

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