8th assembly/50th anniversary

Together on the Way
8.7a. A Jubilee Call:
A Letter to the WCC by Evangelical Participants at Harare

History of evangelicals and the ecumenical movement

The WCC owes its origins in large part to mission and evangelism by member churches and their agencies and is based on confession of "Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the scriptures". Since Nairobi in 1975 there has been sustained discussion by evangelicals inside and outside the WCC regarding its vision and work. In Vancouver in 1983 the WCC committed itself to increased dialogue with and participation by evangelicals. At Canberra in 1991, in "Evangelical Perspectives from Canberra", evangelicals asked the WCC to monitor the progress of evangelical participation and representation in the Council. This traditional letter of response asks what progress has been made, as reflected in the Harare assembly. We recognize that the WCC might have similar questions about evangelical intentions in the journey with them.

The WCC has been a chief instrument of global ecumenism, although it recognizes itself as only one such instrument. Evangelicals both inside and outside WCC member churches have also been active in local ecumenism. Within the last decade their participation has grown in national ecumenical organizations and programmes. A growing number of evangelicals are also committed to the global ecumenical vision and seek further involvement on that level. We thank the WCC for its continuing commitment, first expressed at Vancouver to "seek new forms of relationships with evangelicals" and affirmed again here at Harare. We appreciate the formation of the WCC-Pentecostal joint working group. Depending on their context and history, however, some evangelicals still experience a sense of frustration and even crisis about the future of their WCC participation because of uncertainty over the nature of the WCC commitment to mission and evangelism, and biblical theology. Others are more hopeful of closer relationships. It is not clear how evangelical involvement in global ecumenism is to be related in other ways to WCC programmes and structures. We pledge our support to join with you in other ways of working together.

An evaluation of Harare

We affirm the following contributions of this assembly to the ecumenical movement:

We fear that the following features of the assembly contradict some earlier WCC achievements and hinder attainment of the global ecumenical vision.
  1. We appreciated worshipping daily in the presence of the symbol of the cross of Christ covering the African continent. However, theological input into the African plenary did not represent the theology and vision of many African churches which are committed to scripture's centrality along with cultural renewal and social, political and economic change. The final commitment at this plenary did not mention Jesus once. Platform presentations by representative African leaders from member churches were lacking. Though we are in Africa, many of its Christian voices were not heard.
  2. Many African churches, amid much poverty, suffering and persecution, have extensive ministries to HIV/AIDS patients based on a Christian sexual ethic and understanding of family. The family, as well as community participation in all moral, spiritual and daily activities, are central to the African worldview. We regret that the importance of the family and of biblical sexual morality were little featured in the plenary, Padare or hearings.
  3. Serious theological reflection was largely absent. This is inconsistent with the call at Canberra for a "vital and coherent theology". Some major speakers and presentations fell outside the boundaries of the credal bases of all member churches and the Council's own faith basis.
  4. While the theme, "Turn to God -- Rejoice in Hope", should have led to a strong emphasis on mission, evangelism and the church, this was largely missing. Work in these areas by member churches and the WCC (such as by the CWME in Salvador) was not drawn in. We urge a renewed emphasis on mission and evangelism which will empower the churches to communicate the gospel through the world. Christ's transforming gospel both affirms and critiques cultures and societies, and requires humility, sensitivity and prophetic engagement with oppression. We would like to express our own commitments and make the following proposals.
    • The gospel of Jesus Christ speaks on behalf of those who have no voice in confronting social and economic injustice, for these affront the love and justice of God. For this reason, we affirm the WCC emphasis on solidarity as an expression of mission. The gospel, which focuses on the Lordship of Jesus, crucified through injustice and risen in triumph over evil and death, is at its heart a call to personal "turning to God", to obedience to the risen Lord and to fellowship in his body. Evangelism, as this call to personal turning to God, must be at the heart of the church's mission of social transformation. We would like to be involved with you in a study of how personal transformation through Christ relates to such programmes as the Theology of Life study.
    • Since personal transformation is at the heart of mission, personal change must be stressed in efforts to alter global systems. For example, in dealing with the indebtedness of poor nations, the greed and corruption that affects all people and nations must be addressed. The gospel requires us, in response to God's initiating love, to take responsibility for one's life and one's sins. Consequently, personal transformation makes people subjects in addressing their own issues rather than objects of other peoples' endeavours. We invite you to join us in a study of how evangelism and mission relate to structural transformation.
    • Mission, then, has personal and social dimensions. On the social level the WCC has often seemed to favour sweeping structural changes which do not adequately take personal responsibility into account. The perspective of scripture and much non-Western culture views the person as inseparably involved in families and communities, and responsible to them in all individual choices, and as deserving respect from them in all corporate decisions. We welcome the sense of personal responsibility shown in the assemblies' decisions on debt and other issues.
    • Strengthening the family which is disintegrating under the pressures of moral relativism, individualism, materialism and harsh economic need, is an important mission imperative. The reluctance to affirm biblical norms, including sexual ones, for all persons, or to insist on personal repentance as a fruit of granting the autonomous individual an inordinately large role in society. It seems to underlie a permissive Western approach to homosexuality which denies biblical norms and absolutizes autonomous individual preferences. We recommend cultural sensitivity to this issue which respects the pastoral approaches operative in the two-thirds world. We invite you to join us in a study on the meaning and nature of personhood in which we trust there will be a significant Orthodox participation.
    • Evangelicals will continue to devote energy to local, regional and national expressions of the ecumenical vision. We will participate in grassroots ecumenism, build up the evangelical oikoumene and strengthen local and national councils of churches.
    • Since the WCC recognizes itself as but one instrument of global ecumenism, some of us question how much energy to invest on this one path to the global vision. Others of us are more hopeful of being heard and involved in various WCC activities. Some of us would like to initiate discussion among Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals and evangelicals on worldwide unity, either through new structures or reformation of the WCC. All of us insist that for evangelicals to be involved in the WCC in increasingly meaningful ways, the WCC must operate more in accord with the biblical, christocentric, missionary emphasis of its original vision. Jubilee is also a time to return to the beginning for we can all affirm the original Amsterdam message.

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