by Glasser, Kirby, Morris, Blocher and Lores
The Congress on the Church’s worldwide mission was convened in Wheaton, Ill., April 9-16, 1966. It represented the response of evangelicals to the tension and crisis precipitated throughout the world chiefly by theologians and ecclesiastics within the Ecumenical Movement.
I. NORTH AMERICAN
Arthur M. Glasser
The Congress on the Church’s worldwide mission was convened in Wheaton, Ill., April 9-16, 1966. It represented the response of evangelicals to the tension and crisis precipitated throughout the world chiefly by theologians and ecclesiastics within the Ecumenical Movement. When false teaching and doubtful practice threaten to overwhelm the truth of Holy Scripture, the only response the believing church can give is to redefine those elements under attack, with the prayer that in so doing it will expose and counteract error, as well as provide an integrating focus for Christian fellowship and evangelistic outreach. In effect, this is what the Wheaton Congress sought to do. Delegates took a clear stand on issues bristling with contemporary controversy. They expressed thereby their obedience to Christ, and called on all those of like precious faith to cooperative service. They said, in effect: "If you love Him too, join with us, and together we will put heart, strength, and resources into His mission to evangelize the peoples of this generation."
Those of us who were involved in the intense intellectual ferment of those days at Wheaton will not soon forget the serious questions that arose in our minds, as we grappled with controversial issues and sought to draft a consensus of evangelical convictions. We were not particularly troubled over the fact that at least one-third of the delegates were of Arminian persuasion. They meshed gears happily with their Calvinistic brethren. Furthermore, we did not sense any tension between evangelicals representing American non-conformist independency, and those from societies and churches whose constituencies were blended with the ecclesiastical viewpoints of evangelicals from Britain or Europe.
Rather, we found ourselves asking questions about the false dichotomy and tragic polarization existing between evangelicals involved in the worldwide mission of the church, and those whose interests are particularly focused on service in the West. As we struggled with issue after issue, we found ourselves beyond our depth, in desperate need of help in depth. This brought to the surface of our consciousness such questions as the following:
1. Why do our theologians appear to be putting their strength and tame into answering questions that are only peripheral to the worldwide task of the church? Why have they yet to produce definite evangelical studies on the contemporary peril of syncretism, the lostness of the heathen world, the new universalism, evangelism vs. proselytism, mission and unity, church and mission, mission and social concern, and so on. The list is too long. Books galore are being written on being delivered from the tribulation, but nothing significant on the relation between Christ’s return and the church’s worldwide mission. At Wheaton, we keenly felt our isolation from our theologians. We appear to be living and serving in different worlds. We kept wishing our theologians were better oriented to the crucial problems Christians are facing around the world.
2. Why do our training schools seem unaware of the fact that they are preparing young people for service in a world that no longer actually exists? In these days of intellectual explosion, tremendous insight is being gained by experts in such disciplines as psychology, anthropology, sociology, management, personnel, and communication. Truth is truth wherever it is found, and regardless of who discovers it. At Wheaton, we began to wonder why these insights and procedures were not being brought to the service of the church in its worldwide mission? Why are they not being included in the general orientation of young people for overseas service?
One delegate, a professor of missions, nudged me and said, "This Congress has been an eye-opener to me. I’ll have to revise my whole curriculum and do some more study myself. I’m not really training missionaries to serve in today’s world."
3. Why must missionaries go through the agony o f tackling problems they do not fully understand? It was strange and unsettling to realize that the issue at Wheaton ors which there seemed to be the greatest difference of opinion was whether or not there was a biblical distinction between local church and missionary society. There, was no dearth of pragmatically conceived suggestions for minimizing overseas tension between national churches and foreign missions. Too many lead experienced this tension not to have an idea or two. And yet, when it came to basic definitions, one was surprised that so few appeared to have worked through the biblical data. Can the missionary society of today and the full-time missionary calling be traced to apostolic precedent? Or are missions merely a religious concomitant of the era of Western political expansion? My final impression of the Congress was of two mien debating in the empty lobby of Fisher Dormitory-a seminary professor and a missionary-going back and forth on this issue.
One also detected no little uncertainty over the best ways to communicate the Gospel across cultural frontiers. Why are missionaries still uncertain as to how to preach to Buddhists or Muslims? How shall the church in Africa and Asia go about divesting itself of its Western accretions? Everyone appeared to be asking questions; few were attempting confident answers. Missionary activity is a complicated, demanding business. Has it been too long oversimplified by its friends?
4. Why are missionary societies only dimly aware o f the future they face? Business firms and educational institutions are continually seeking to anticipate future changes by devoting no little capital to research. In order to profit from the new information thereby gathered, they strive to maintain organizational fluidity, and a pattern of constantly upgrading all operations and administrative procedures. But are the children of this world wiser than the children of light? We fear they are. At Wheaton, we began to gain a heightened concern for the structure and inter-relatedness of both churches and missions. We saw more clearly than ever before the importance of fellowship, the need of dialogue, and the poverty and peril of living and working in isolation from one another. We began to perceive, however dimly, that within ten years all societies will be greatly transformed. I hoisted a trial balloon. "Should not a society hold itself back from organizational involvement with other societies, because of its concern to maintain a clear witness to a particular method of finance, signally blessed of God in the past?" The response was prompt. It even had overtones of amazement. "Why, doesn’t tae society exist solely to evangelize the world Everything else about it, especially its pattern of operation, must be subservient to this one task!" Such was the mood of the Wheaton Congress.
Did the worldwide evangelical movement really turn a comer at Wheaton? All who were there would unequivocally affirm so. What thin can one expect to eventuate from the deliberations and the declaration? Certainly, a new sense of oneness and a new desire for togetherness in the common task. Arbitrary distinctions such as "evangelicals," "fundamentalists," "neo-evangelicals," "militant conservatives"- all of these were shown to be but divisive distinctions, devoid of essential difference. The fact remains that at Wheaton men from every segment of the evangelical spectrum came to unanimous agreement on a host of controversial matters. This was particularly due to God’s grace. One prays for a continuation of His grace in our midst, that the melancholy penchant for dividing evangelicals into artificial categories stays buried after being slain at Wheaton.
We can also expect that in the days ahead evangelical missions will be indoctrinating their candidates with the positions taken in the declaration. Also, that missions within the IF MA and EFMA will begin to consider positively the pooling of their resources to conduct joint candidate training programs -evangelical "Stony Points"-in key centers throughout the world. Mergers will also begin to take place between larger as well as smaller societies to reduce overhead, avoid duplication, and increase recruitment. As things now stand, the smaller the society the greater its difficulty in financing its operation and in recruiting new workers.
When the declaration repudiated the tendency of Western missionaries to discourage the alignment of national churches with evangelical fellowships on national, regional and international levels, it was responding to the very manifest pressure of the Holy Spirit, and the growing impatience of national Christians with Western patterns of withdrawal and isolationism. This position will particularly affect those Westernoriented societies whose constituencies come from both sides of the Atlantic. On the matter of inter-church relationships, one feels that evangelicals are truly seeking to seize the initiative from the organizationally minded World Council of Churches. Best of all, there will be a steady increase in cooperative evangelistic efforts by evangelicals in all parts of the world.
Speaking frankly, I could now wish that many more than fifty evangelical societies outside the IFMA and EFMA had participated in this Congress. We were incomplete without their presence and contribution. Had they attended, both we and they would have been immeasurably enriched. I firmly believe God blesses His people in proportion to their willingness to accept one another and work together for His glory and the blessing of mankind. We can only trust that when these societies read our declaration they too will "rejoice for the exhortation" (Acts 15: 31) . We also hope they will pray for us. Having committed ourselves to such a declaration, we are under terrible pressure to live up to its standards and insights.
Gilbert W. Kirby
To be included among the nearly 1,000 delegates who attended the Congress on the Church’s Worldwide Mission was a privilege indeed. One found oneself among Christian nationals and missionary leaders from five continents, representing nearly 150 different mission boards, and some eighty different countries. This in itself was an inspiration. Here was a company of men and women, many of whom had come, as it were, from the front line of battle in order to take counsel together, that further advances might be possible in the various mission fields of the world.
It was a pleasure to know that this Congress had been jointly sponsored by both the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association and the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association. In Britain, we have always hoped these two splendid groups might come closer together. The Congress at Wheaton proved that our hopes are being abundantly fulfilled. There was every evidence of close harmony on the sponsoring committee, and this was also felt at all levels of the conference. One was tremendously impressed by the splendid organization that had gone into the planning of the Congress. It was clear to all that particular credit in this connection must be given to the coordinator, Rev. Vergil Gerber. Although little of stature, we soon discovered him to be a man with a great heart, and one who endeared himself to every delegate.
The declared purpose of the Congress was to bring together evangelical leaders for an intensive study of some of the problems currently confronting the church, both at home and overseas. One felt that in planning the program this purpose had been carefully kept in mind. During the course of the week, we grappled with some of the big questions of the day, such as syncretism, neo-universalism, ecumenicity, and missionchurch relationships.
Both the Bible expositions, as well as the main study papers, were of high quality and had obviously been most carefully prepared. Those who spoke showed themselves to be masters of their subjects. Many delegates, however, felt the most stimulating meetings were those of the study groups that were held every morning and afternoon to consider questions raised in the major study papers. There were in all twenty-five such groups, each with its own chairman and recorder. The draft declaration with which each delegate had been furnished beforehand proved to be invaluable as a basis for discussion at these groups. In spite of obvious differences, which led to spirited discussion from time to time, an amazing sense of unity prevailed. The groups themselves had been very carefully drawn up, so that they represented a cross-section of missionary interest. They were also sufficiently small to give everyone an opportunity to participate. A great sense of freedom, as well as of delightful Christian fellowship, prevailed throughout.
If one wanted to be critical, I suppose it might be said that the program was almost too tightly packed, but we had work to do and there was a limited time in which to do it. Some spoke of this Congress as being the modern counterpart to that historic missionary gathering which met in Edinburgh in 1910. I am not sure, strictly speaking, this is a fair comparison. The Wheaton Congress was probably not so fully representative of the so-called sending countries. In point of fact, there were less than half a dozen of us directly from the British Isles. I hasten to add that this was not due to the fact that others had not been invited. Those missions with both British and American offices tended to leave it to their American office to provide representation at Wheaton. While one appreciates that this policy was largely dictated on the grounds of economy, some of these missions might have benefited greatly had it been possible for more British representatives to be present. We were certainly blessed through the ministry of the Christian nationals who came to Wheaton. To meet such men of God as Timothy Kaman of Kenya, Philip Teng of Hong Kong, R. P. Chavan of India, and Ruben Lores of Latin America, to mention but a few, was a real privilege.
Special tribute is due to those who worked behind the scenes so tirelessly in committee. How it was possible to produce the final draft of the Wheaton Declaration from the many and varied contributions submitted by the different study groups remains a mystery. Indeed, only the gift of God’s grace and wisdom can account for it. The last warning of the Congress will remain an unforgettable memory. We all entered Pierce Memorial Chapel with certain tensions in our minds, wondering if it could be remotely possible for such a large and representative company to agree on the wording of a declaration that would embody the findings of the Congress. When paragraph by paragraph of this declaration was read, unanimous approval was given. The climax of the gathering was the spontaneous singing by this great congregation of "A Mighty Fortress is our God." Fittingly, the Congress concluded as we met together at the Lord’s Table for a united service of holy communion.
It is obviously too early to talk about the success of the Congress. As far as the meetings themselves were concerned, there is no question but that they were highly successful. Ultimate success, however, must be measured by the effect the Congress has on missionary thinking in the next decade. We addressed ourselves to big themes, we made certain specific pronouncements. Inevitably we left a few loose ends. Probably on the subject of mission-church relationships, for example, we might have been a little more explicit. The Congress did not profess to have an answer for every problem, but we did face up to the problems. As far as the future is concerned, one would hope not only that there will be a continuing liaison between IFMA and EFMA, but also that individual missionary societies wall work together more effectively. One looks hopefully to the future to see the development of evangelical fellowships across the world enjoying the wholehearted support of nationals and missionaries alike. It would seem that evangelical Christians, perhaps due partly to the pressures of the Ecumenical Movement, but one would hope mainly through the constraint of the Spirit, are developing a world strategy. One trusts that the days of excessive individualism, leading to the unnecessary fragmentation of evangelical witness, as well as to wasteful duplication, are over. One dares to believe that with the Wheaton Congress a new day has dawned for evangelical work and witness across the world.
III. THE STUDENT WORLD
David R. Morris
The leaders of IFMA and EFMA sensed a need for the Congress on the Church’s Worldwide Mission. These men recognized the necessity of defining the evangelical position in contrast to the organizational ecumenism that demands wide adherence, and they saw the need to refocus the biblical mandate to disciple all men, initiating and teaching them in the Word. In light of changing modes of thought, we need to reaffirm biblical principles and reexamine current attitudes and practices of those participating in the fulfilment of the above mandate. These leaders desired a working expression of the unity of evangelicals, who recognize the full authority o£ our Lord Jesus Christ in His giving us the Great Commission.
Students attended the study Congress, even though it was not geared to us like the Urbana Convention. Perhaps most important to the student point of view, the leaders of the Congress with great willingness and humility honestly reappraised the evangelical position, and penetratingly grappled with central issues. The integrity of the Congress shined through the clear, open structure leading into the final declaration. It became truly representative of evangelicalism’s position on present problems. Prayer and the Scriptures characterized the Congress, not as ornaments, but as the basic fiber. The discussion groups, the actual focus of the Congress itself, were clear examples of Christian love, the spirit by which we are to be known in the world. There was straightforward equality: my voice carried as easily as the opinion of a missionary executive. 1 was limited only by my lack of facility at expression. With great humility, these men and women brought many years of experience to bear on the issues.
The delegates were, in large, real people; a smile was a true smile, not a paste on. The healthy sense of optimism springs, I believe, from the Holy Spirit’s willingness to clothe Himself with true disciples to accomplish His work. These individuals were human, whole persons, the least bounded of all I have met-people who thrive on the constraining love of Christ unleashed in their lives. This gathering was a graphic example of true unity in love.
In my thinking, the Congress clarified what missions is doing today, and reinstated this conventional channel made up of unconventional men and women. Do I have a vision? Then probably there is a board to suit me, or else pray, look around, pray, and start my own, like the group of Wheaton College students who envisioned radio station ELWA.
The issues of universalism, mission and church growth, mission and foreign missions plague me-a student in a Christian liberal arts college, and a sensitive member of an American middle class church-above the rest of the valid areas of concern. Universalism, casting doubt on "the heathen are lost," is most critical to me and my campus. Unless we regain sight of the lost world, Christianity will become unrecognizable. All of us are affected, or else we could be nothing but true disciples, missionaries. "We dace an insurmountable task. How can we keep God both loving and holy?" Some form of universalism is one answer, but the world is reachable, if we face up to the vision of lostness and the sufficiency of Christ. "What would I do if I believed that Christ actually rose from the dead?"
In the area of home churches, is missions guilty of seeking to perpetuate the artificial barrier between the "official" Christians-the paid workers, pastors, missionaries-and the regular, unresponsible church member? I believe that this is a source of great impotency in the church. To a large measure, the answer is the practice of Evangelism in Depth, where every member of the local church is a (rained witness, having been moved by the authority and compassion of Christ, so that the churches may match their abilities and resources to the needs of those around them. An equating of missions and discipleship is what middle class churches, what Student Missions Fellowship at Wheaton College, and what I personally need.
Discipling does not rest until the individual matures into the image of Christ. Under the topic of mission and foreign missions, I was deeply relieved at the recognition that the present structure of missions is dispensable. True, at one time the church did not respond to the urges of the Holy Spirit, so God raised up mission societies to fill the gap, but we err if we venerate our institutions. Quite truly, "Missions is God’s business, and He takes care of it," as Ruben Lores put it.
My personal perspective widened to see vividly people all over the world who have nothing but a shattered image of God incarcerated in so many ways. Also, I believe that I am beginning to toddle out in faith, in trust, in obedience to God. The "big me" has been reduced. I have come to see more clearly a lost world and my own petty selfishness-contrasted to the love of our strong God.
It has been my privilege to attend the Congress on the Church’s Worldwide Mission at Wheaton. I shall never forget the blessed experience it was for me.
The Congress was wonderfully organized, and a gracious hospitality was received by the thousand delegates on the beautiful campus of Wheaton College. Everything was going so smoothly, that no one could imagine the amount of work done by the coordinator, Rev. Vergil Gerber, and the several hundreds of persons who labored with him. The program had been carefully prepared by the Full Congress Committee, and every meeting was meaningful, providing substantial spiritual and intellectual food.
The final declaration was the result of a very careful synthesis of the findings of twenty-five discussion groups, gathering the totality of the delegates, and was unanimously adopted on the last morning session. As Dr. Eugene L. Smith has stated, "This declaration will be among the more widely welcomed and read missionary documents of this decade."
Must I confess that I came to Wheaton with a certain fear? I was afraid that the Congress would fall into the temptation of self-satisfaction. We evangelicals are standing on the solid rock of Scripture, and it is easy for us to think that we cannot be wrong, because we know the revealed truth. Some of us have been guilty of spiritual pride, and I wondered if the declaration of the Congress would reflect such a spirit, criticizing the others and praising ourselves. I thank God for the spirit of humiliation and self-criticism that prevailed at Wheaton. Every delegate felt that we had to reconsider before God, in the light of His Word, our methods, our aim, our very life. I personally was deeply touched by the confession enclosed in the preamble of the declaration.
As a representative of Europe, I am, as it were, on both sides of the coin: I am a national receiving foreign missionaries in my country, and I am also on the board of a French evangelical mission sending missionaries to West Africa. I am aware of the feelings of a native as he witnesses the strange actions of a missionary coming from overseas, and bringing with him his ideas, his foreign culture, and his way ‘of life so different from my own. And I did appreciate, on that point, the declaration on syncretism: ". . . in the communication of our faith we must avoid unbiblical cultural accretions and emphases that may tend to obscure Christian truth," and that on foreign missions: ". . . the proper relationship between churches and missions can only be realized in a cooperative partnership." I am also aware of the problems met by a foreign missionary coming to preach the Gospel to an unknown country, and to men and women living very strangely, in his eyes. This note was also struck at the Congress.
I think that the unanimous vote, on the last day, was a miracle, proving that the Holy Spirit was at work in our hearts. I will always remember the fellowship and the marvelous unity we felt during this Congress, in spite of the fact that we did belong to so many countries and races.
The only point I would have liked to have emphasized more strongly by the Congress is the problem of youth. I do believe that in our present circumstances the most urgent task of the church is to reach the young people, who make up the majority of the population of many countries, and who are becoming more and more the prey of so many evils.
My earnest prayer is that the Wheaton Declaration will not remain words on a printed page, just words, but that this unanimous consensus of the delegates gathered at Wheaton will become action everywhere in the world to the glory of God. And I do believe if the evangelical missionaries of the world will take seriously the findings of this Congress, we shall see great things happen, and the whole population of our planet reached for Christ in our generation. So God help us!
V. LATIN AMERICAN
Undoubtedly the Congress on the Church’s Worldwide Mission will be a landmark in the history of Protestant missions. From the standpoint of numerical strength and theological homogeneity, the missionary societies represented in IFMA and EFMA here established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the battle for spheres of influence and outreach in today’s mission fields. In a day when some are giving the lie that the era of the missionary is coming to an end, this Congress has given a demonstration of the vitality of the missionary enterprise. The greatest opportunities and challenge lay ahead.
One of the most significant facts about the Congress was the attitude of humble recognition of shortcomings, as expressed in the preamble of the Wheaton Declaration. To the degree that this attitude may become a rule of conduct, it may prove to be one of the most fruitful developments from this event. Otherwise, the question of sincerity raised by some delegates will be validated. The Lord and the world will be watching to see what happens!
The study papers were excellent. Of special interest was the one on "Church Growth," because it reflects the healthy influence that church growth theses are exerting on missionary policy. I hope that part of the declaration that has to do with this subject array provide guidelines for missionary societies in their responsibilities, not only to determine church growth objectives, but also in adopting evaluating methods.
The paper on "Social Action" confronted the delegates with the responsibility of making the Gospel relevant to the many social problems o£ our day. The contribution of evangelicals in this field has been significant. However, the rapid social changes that characterize our age require greater vision and demand more involvement. This paper should help to dispel the false fears and correct the wrong perspective that makes many evangelicals equate social action with liberal theology. This negative attitude prevents missionary leaders from giving leadership in an area where national churches need it most.
As a member of one of the national churches, I feel that the implied attempt to speak for evangelicals on issues o£ relationships must be viewed within its limited perspective. There are millions of evangelicals, especially in the national churches around the world, who do not share these convictions. The historical and doctrinal reasons that are valid and normative for a missionary society in its homeland setting, do not automatically apply to the corresponding church or institution on the mission field. The pressures that bear on missionary societies in the homelands are for the most part irrelevant to the national church. It is as unevangelical to issue orders of relationship from Rome or Geneva, as it is to issue them from Washington, Chicago, or anywhere else.
The effort made to give non-Americans participation in the Congress was highly commendable. The number of representatives and the nature of their contribution should be a matter of reflection. There is no question about the excellency of the papers and reports presented by nationals. But in a Congress that was worldwide in scope, one could have expected more representation from the national churches, not only in tile number of representatives, but especially in the expression of autochthonous views on the issues dealt with.
In this respect, it may be said that this was a North American Congress. In a way this is a tribute to the strong missionary vision of the North American churches. However, it raises a question about the principles of our operations, and the kind of results we get in our missionary endeavors. I imagine someone saying that there are not many nationals who can speak at this level. This may be true. But, more than a statement of fact, this admission is an indictment against the way in which the issue of leadership training is handled; and in turn, it may be an indictment against the kind of leadership that missionary societies are providing. One must not be pessimistic, however. This was a great step forward.
My heart was thrilled as I heard the reports of what the Lord is doing around the world. This mood of victory and conquest resounded in the final words of the declaration: "We hereby dedicate ourselves to the mobilization of the Church . . . for the evangelization of the world in our generation!"
Copyright © 1966 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.