No. 1 July 2001

Dear friends,

It gives me great pleasure to introduce the first Ecumenical Letter on Evangelism (ELE) in 2001. My name is Carlos Emilio Ham and I am a pastor of the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba. For the past nine years I served this Church as General Secretary. I was also one of the Presidents of the Caribbean Conference of Churches. This year, I was appointed as Programme Executive for Evangelism, based in the Team on Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches. I am married to Tania and we have three children, Frida, Emil and Patricia.

The ELE, has been and will continue to be a useful and powerful instrument in promoting reflection on authentic evangelism. Following the rich tradition and heritage of this endeavour, we are committed to collecting and disseminating stories and reflections on this vital component of our ministry. This has been developed over the years by churches, evangelistic ministries and concerned persons, and carries a personal and informal flavour in its style and format which, we hope will enhance commitment to its practice. In this way we can share with the world-wide community, reflections, practical experiences, stories and dialogue on evangelism in various contexts and using diverse methods, as a humble contribution to support this important ministry.

We will continue to deal with many and diverse concepts and expressions of evangelism, as the proclamation and joyful sharing of the good news of the gospel ('euangelion'), of the sovereign love of God, calling people to repentance, to personal faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, inviting to personal conversion, to a new life in Christ and to discipleship, in the church and in obedient service in the current world in which we are living.

We will be focusing on the relationship between mission and evangelism, as it involves our witness of what the Lord is doing in creation, as an invitation to militancy for embracing the fullness of life. How does it relate to salvation and conversion? Does it mean proselytism? Is it limited to church growth, membership recruitment or extension? What does it mean when, as Christians, we relate to other religions? How is it determined by the social context and the biblical text? Does it include the preaching and practice of justice? These are just some of the questions that we will be raising in the ELE.

So, we hope that we can continue sharing constructive-critical reflections on evangelism through our Ecumenical Letter, and therefore we want to encourage you to send us your reflections, dreams, visions, comments and experiences. If we can accomplish this, and it continues to be a space or a platform for dialogue on evangelism, we can all feel blessed.

The ELE is a quarterly printed publication. Up to now, it has been published in English, French and German. We appreciate the willingness of CLAI (Latin American Council of Churches) to publish it in Spanish and to help with the distribution.

Finally, we want to dedicate this current issue of the ELE to CLADE IV (Latin American Congress of Evangelism), which took place in Quito, Ecuador, during September 2-8, 2000. We want to thank all the contributors and strongly feel that this material with be both interesting and beneficial in our efforts to "go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you." (Mat. 28: 19-20a).


Carlos Emilio Ham (Rev. Dr.)
Programme Executive for Evangelism.


In my mind's eye, I can still vividly see the images, faces and colours of our multifaceted America, gathered in Ecuador for CLADE IV. I can still recall the voices, messages and exclamations of this representative sector of the Latin American Church that met for a week last September, clearly expressing our hope in the Risen Lord. I feel, therefore, that the proposals and conclusions that came out of CLADE constitute the bulk of the agenda we have to work on in the immediate future. With this in mind, I set out the following ideas.

Taking into account some of the conclusions of the Consultations at CLADE IV and the final declaration, I think we need to deal with the following issues:

1. The Bible

CLADE IV's final declaration begins with the well-known reference to Acts 4:31-34, which describes the disposition of the first generation of Jesus' disciples. Word, Spirit and Mission, the three central foci we wanted to emphasise at CLADE, appear clearly in this text. The incontestable presence of the Spirit of the Lord, the richness of his Word to put events in perspective and his missionary purpose of building community as depicted by Jesus Christ himself years earlier in Nazareth, became intertwined in the fabric of history.

In a similar way, we now face challenges that could enrich our missionary calling. The final declaration of CLADE IV offers a panorama of the situation in Latin American today: the onslaught of globalization and deepening poverty; the modernization of the state and the increase in the number of the excluded; spiritual renewal and religious plurality; the growth of the church and "theological" proposals that promise immediate paradise; yet greater concentration of wealth and degradation of the environment and the quality of life. It is a situation that calls for prayer, the manifestation of the Spirit of the Lord, the bold articulation of his Word and the building of community.

This means that in grounding our mission in the Bible, we need to remember that this testimony is the revelation of God. It is a testimony that we accept as true. As it is in the hands of the people, it is a testimony that invites interpretation (exegesis) and the ever fallible attempts of application (hermeneutics). As it is the testimony of a meeting (revelation presupposes a meeting), the biblical work proposed by CLADE IV is distinguished by three other features:

2. Theology

Let us remember that the first theologian was a missionary: Saul of Tarsus. A generation later, ministers were the theologians. By the Middle Ages, monks were the theologians. In modern times, the role has been passed to university professors and does not require any commitment from them to a community of believers. We can see that, as history progresses, there is a growing gap between theology and the people.

In the Latin American Theological Fraternity, we try to close this gap. It is not only our Fraternity that is trying to do this. Many popular churches, both Protestant and Catholic, have been fighting the same battle. It is up to believers to establish a relationship between God's revelation and their missionary journey. This is how theology emerges. That powerful metaphor ("the theology of the way") to which John A. Mackay in Peru accustomed us at the beginning of the last century, is still valid today. When the Lord reveals the treasures of his wisdom, his interlocutors are the people and not the elites. Let us, then, bring theological reflection closer to the grassroots. Let us turn theology into a pedagogy of transformation. Let us avoid elitism and cliques.

3. Organization

It is of great concern that the spread of the free market ideology makes it seem like the only valid approach to life, as though there were no alternative and the people's fate is to sacrifice their lives on the altar of the free market. We have heard these monolithic voices before telling us there is no alternative. During the years of orthodox Communist euphoria, for example, we were told that the only alternative was armed struggle and class hatred and the value of life was reduced to economic terms. Or, to give another example, throughout history, we have been told that there is no alternative for our nations but to faithfully reproduce the development model of the North. The concept of "development" itself is charged with monolithic semantics. This happens every time that human beings exalt a particular aspect of creation and elevate it above everything else in God's Creation. The result is that life is dictated by the monolithic demands of whoever is in power.

In this context, the strategy that we have learned from our own history - that is, to capitalise on the organizational power and mobilization of the grassroots - acquires greater significance. CLADE IV wanted to be a grassroots meeting and we continue to dream that our meetings in the future really will be so. The interlocutors of the FTL in other latitudes find it strange, not to say laughable, that we talk about "theological production" without the help of academic degrees conferred by renowned universities, or the endorsement of high-profile theologians. However, the important thing is that we are working on our theology from the grassroots without neglecting the necessary academic rigour. It could not be any other way, because we are seeking to propose an alternative: the creation of a network of base community movements focusing on biblical, theological and missionary work at the very roots of the Latin American sociological landscape.

It is for us to approach organizations where people are developing theology using few resources and cultivating the disciplines needed to systematise their reflections. Let us hope that Spirit will surprise us as he surprised Elias. The prophet had thought he was alone and in the midst of his depression be complained, fearing that not a single person had survived out of all those who had refused to kneel before Baal. The Lord surprised him with news of the existence of a secret network of prophets several thousand in number. Like us in the FTL and in the Evangelical church, there are others, not only in Latin America but also in other corners of the planet, including some sectors of the industrialited countries, who are fighting to establish the Kingdom of God, who yearn to see it arrive and who, therefore, are allies of God's justice.

Lilia Solano,
FTL, President.

"Evangelical Witness for the Third Millennium: Word, Spirit and Mission".

The Fourth Latin American Congress on Evangelism (CLADE IV), was held in Quito, Ecuador from 2 to 8 September 2000, on the theme of "Evangelical Witness for the Third Millennium: Word, Spirit and Mission", with the aim of updating the church's agenda.

Without any shadow of a doubt, it offered more than 1200 representatives of churches and evangelical organizations from every country in Latin America, and some delegates from other continents, a forum in which to rethink the way we fulfil our mission.

The conference's final declaration affirms that, "... during the last decade, the religious map of Latin America has changed substantially... there is a much greater evangelical presence in civil society and politics"2. However, "... there is still a lack of theological reflection, leaving us exposed to the influence of totally alien theologies such as the so-called gospel of prosperity, which presents the gospel as a consumer product, has ecclesiastical structures in which ambition for power predominates, which lacks spirituality and suffers from activism, mysticism and dogmatism..." 3. We are confronted with errors such as "... the adoption of a business model of pastoral leadership, the fostering of division, and discrimination against women, indigenous and black peoples, immigrants, children and other groups...".4 The experience of CLADE IV has made us see that the Latin American Evangelical Church needs to be reborn if it wants to be relevant to society in the third millennium. We have a profound need for innovators, people who will risk trying new ways of doing things; the church must think about how it can fulfil its mission in a more effective way. Our communities are seeking successful alternative micro-models. Church communities must become models of a dignified life worthy of imitation: communities which are in solidarity with others, and are sensitive to pain and to peoples' needs.

Something needs to happen to us as a Christian community to allow us to be seen as an alternative community. If the Word represents the Historical and Evangelical churches, and the Spirit represents the Pentecostal – Charismatic churches, now is the time to unite them so that the power generated by the union of the Word and the Spirit of God can bring new life to the church and enable it to be a model capable of transforming people's lives and societies.

We need to become a community of worship, truth, love, service, and above all, we must become a community of hope. If our intention is to preach and achieve a new social order for our nation, it is imperative, essential, urgent, necessary and vital that we develop a new social order within our community of faith in the power of the Word and the Spirit. "We affirm that the Word of God calls us to be prophetic communities which identify with the pain and suffering that diminish the life and dignity of our nations... we understand that a key component of our mission is to attain justice for all through the power of the Holy Spirit".5

Let us use forums such as CLADE IV to generate an agenda deliberately aimed at unity that will promote a new social order in the life of the church, one which is based on the Word and the Spirit. Unity will only be possible if we accept that we have differences, and if we reaffirm the essentials and commit ourselves to a holistic mission.

May Almighty God lighten our path with his Word and give us strength and the power of his Holy Spirit to be faithful witnesses to the gospel in the present century. Amen!

The Rev. David E. Ramírez,

CLADE IV - Fourth Latin American Congress on Evangelization

Quito, Ecuador, 2 - 8 September 2000

From 2-6 September I attended the 4th Latin American Congress on Evangelization, organized by the 'Fraternidad Teológica Latinoamericana' (FTL - Theological Fellowship of Latin America). The first of these congresses took place in 1969 in Bogota and resulted in the creation of the FTL, which became the organizing body of the subsequent events (the second in Lima in 1979, the third in Quito in 1992). The CLADE congresses bring together individual persons, not representatives of churches or institutions.

This 4th Congress was attended by some 1200 people from all over Latin America. A few days before the meeting started there were 'only' 800 inscriptions; in spite of the pressure caused by this late affluence the organization was excellent. The plenary sessions and other main events were held in the premises (some still under construction) of the South American Ministerial Seminary, a 30 minutes drive from Quito. The participants were accommodated in various centres in the surroundings where also the group meetings took place.

This CLADE IV Congress was described as the most representative gathering of the Evangelical and Pentecostal presence in the continent, which it probably was. It brought together the members of the FTL and many others from evangelical and Pentecostal churches and organizations (e.g. World Vision, the International Commission of Evangelical Students, etc.). As far as I could see there were very few participants from the 'historic' protestant churches of Latin America - but with some notable exceptions. CLAI, the Latin American Council of Churches, was very much involved. On earlier occasions CLAI had only participated as part of a panel. This time it was part of the organizing committee.

Women were numerous but still a minority, among the speakers also. Same for young people. Many indigenous people were present, some of them representing evangelical indigenous peoples and organizations. I had the impression that between 'evangelicals' and 'Pentecostals' the latter were outnumbered by the former, in other words that in this regard the gathering was not fully reflecting the statistical reality (in countries like Peru and Brazil the Pentecostals make up 70-80% of the evangelical [= non Roman Catholic] population). There was no official Roman Catholic representation.

Each day began with an hour of "Praise" followed by an hour-long biblical presentation, and two hours of presentations on the subject of the day. In the afternoons issue-groups met, and in the evenings panels were held, again in plenary. These plenary sessions left little time for questions, let alone debate. The morning "Praise" was each time a lively mixture of music, testimonies, scripture reading, prayer and singing - especially singing, and one could feel - and see - how intensely people participated with their heart and body. This type of evangelical/ Pentecostal celebration is spontaneous. It follows no set pattern or theme or woven thread, neither during the hour nor from one day to the other.

If the flow of the programme was rather traditional and little participatory, the importance of it was in the subjects and issues that were dealt with, and in what was said about these. To mention the topics of the morning lectures:

  • Socio-economic, Political and Religious Utopias and their Challenges to the Evangelical Faith;
  • The Ecclesial and the Societal Structures in Latin America;
  • Objectivity and Subjectivity in the Christian Experience;
  • Christian Spirituality and Contemporary Spiritualities;
  • The Church as an Alternative Community in the Society; Evangelization and Religious Pluralism.

Evening panels were on subjects like gender in a Christian perspective (Elsa Tamez), consumer society and stewardship of creation, spiritual war (now a very hot and controversial issue in evangelical and Pentecostal circles), and, more informative, on the faces of Protestantism in Latin America (e.g. the most recent wave of neo-Pentecostalism with its prosperity gospel). What came through most in the presentations was the determination to wrestle critically and seriously with the issues facing the peoples and the churches of Latin America today, and the rejection of the old paradigm of evangelical 'not-being-of-this-world' and 'salvation-of-the-soul-only'. A few examples:

  • Lillie Góngora (a Roman Catholic woman evangelical from Colombia) who spoke on Utopias suggested active resistance and empowerment of the people as answers to the 'non-utopia' of neo-liberalism and Francis Fukuyama's theory that capitalism is the ultimate fulfilment of all dreams. She warned that Christians could become allies of repressive power if their dream was the conversion of souls rather than of 'a new heaven and a new earth'.

  • Victor Arollo, speaking on social and ecclesial structures said the basic question was to know at the service of which social forces religion was.

  • Ricardo Barbosa de Sousa spoke about the need for a more theologically informed spirituality, and a more spiritual informed theology. He called for a spirituality which should be Trinitarian, centred in Christ, communitarian and rooted in the Word of God.

On questions touching more directly the life of the churches e.g. the prosperity gospel and spiritual warfare, firm positions were taken against the theology of prosperity and religious mercantilism (the 'religious supermarket') and against the message of 'God at War'. This is a theory that sees every aspect of the Christian experience as a confrontation with the demonic forces of evil spirits, which must be overcome by the prayer battle of spiritual war. It also affirms the existence of 'territorial spirits' holding a city or a place captive and which must be fought in order for evangelization to succeed. These distortions of the biblical message coming from North America are having a strong impact in Latin America. In regard to these influences from outside, the presentation on objectivity and subjectivity of the Christian experience was particularly pertinent. In the evangelical experience of the faith, the strong personal and intimate relationship with God in the life of the individual believer can fall prey to the highly subjective (and aggressive) spiritual war teaching of fighting Satan the enemy. Esteban Voth, the main speaker on this issue said: the 'war' should rather be in terms of an ethical, integer witness of the struggle for justice, peace, human rights and reconciliation.

Biblical presentations were on:

  • The Power of the Holy Spirit and the Powers;
  • New Wine in Old Wine-skins;
  • Word and Spirit in the Life of the Church;
  • Spirituality in the Life and Mission of the Church;
  • The Community of the Spirit as the New Humanity;
  • Witnesses to the Power of the Holy Spirit to the End of the Earth.

Using the metaphor of 'new-old' Angelita Guzmán, a woman theologian from the Evangelical Church in Perú questioned the weight of traditions in the churches and pointed to transformation as a necessary process to discern the changes which are of the Spirit. She took as an example the difficulty of Evangelicals to accept Pentecostalism. David Ramírez, the president of the South American Ministerial Seminary, in his reflection on Word and Spirit said the time had come for the 'churches of the Word' (historic protestants and evangelicals) and the 'churches of the Spirit' (Pentecostals) to unite, to bring the message of hope, not only of new heavens but of a new earth which could kindle the vision of a time of justice, love and peace in Latin America. René Padilla, from the Kairos community in Argentina exposed the "abysmal biblical illiteracy" in Evangelical and Pentecostal circles which is the cause of deficient theological reflection and poor spirituality. No wonder, he said, that the gospel of prosperity and the love of power flourish so well in our midst.

There were no less than 17 Issue-groups in the afternoons. Some were on topics as one could expect in a Congress on Evangelization (e.g. Transcultural Mission, Family, Bible, Literature etc.), others were less obvious: Faith and Economy, Unity of the Church, Politics and Human Rights, Indigenous Peoples, Theological Education. I attended the one on Unity of the Church where both Prof. Miguez-Bonino and Juan Sepúlveda contributed. Miguez-Bonino said that what was going on in this IVth event of CLADE would have been simply unthinkable fifteen years ago.

Hubert van Beek
WCC Programme Executive for Relations with
Member churches, NCCs, REOs,
Pentecostal, Evangelical and African Instituted churches.

1 This article appeared as an editorial in Enlace Teologico, the newsletter of the Latin American Theological Fraternity (FTL).
  This second version has been slightly edited but not in a way that alters the substance of the text.
2 Final Declaration, CLADE IV, Quito, Ecuador, September 2000.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
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