by Wade T. Coggins
Spending 10 days in worship, prayer, study and fellowship with some 900 believers from 87 countries was a moving experience that had a significant impact on those who participated.
Spending 10 days in worship, prayer, study and fellowship with some 900 believers from 87 countries was a moving experience that had a significant impact on those who participated. It provided a heightened sense of the universality of the church, the significance of its leadership around the world, and a warm feeling about being a part of the body of Christ. It brought rejoicing to see in flesh and blood the results of God’s working around the world. Being together facilitated all kinds of contacts that will enhance many types of cooperation in the world-wide outreach of missions.
These goals, among others, had been expressed in COWE literature:
"COWE is a working consultation with the main objective of developing realistic, evangelistic strategies to reach for Christ hitherto unreached peoples of the world," according to the program of the consultation.
"The Thailand consultation has been called to specifically review what has happened since Lausanne and to help us to understand what God would have us to do in the future" (COWE Newsletter, Vol. 1, Nov., 1979).
"…to assess the state of world evangelization, its progress and hindrances" (official COWE brochure).
The consultation is over. The participants, having been blessed and stimulated, are back at their places of work and ministry. What will be the difference now? What are the long-range results?
This assessment will seek to identify outcomes that may be expected to have an impact on world evangelization during the coming months and years. The end results, of course, will be seen in the lives and ministries of people: participants, the people they will influence, and the wider public influenced by reports, publications, findings, and follow-up meetings. The planners envisioned the consultation as part of an ongoing process and not as an end in itself. Many study groups and working groups had done extensive work before coming to Pattaya. Having consulted together in the forum provided at COWE, the process will go on through follow-up meetings and publications.
Twenty-hour deliberations about strategy were undertaken by 17 mini -consultations dealing with as many topics: Reaching Nominal Christians among: Protestant; Reaching Nominal Christians among: Orthodox; Reaching Nominal Christians among: Roman Catholics; Reaching City-Dwellers: Large City (Conurbations); Reaching City-Dwellers: Inner City; Reaching Secularists; Reaching Traditional Religionists: Africa; Reaching Traditional Religionists: Asia, Oceana; Reaching Traditional Religionists: Latin America and Caribbean; Reaching Buddhists; Reaching Mystics and Cultists; Reaching Hindus; Reaching Jews; Reaching Marxists; Reaching Muslims; Reaching Chinese, Reaching Refugees.
Since the reports of the mini- consultations are not yet available, this assessment will have to be drawn in broader strokes, without attempting to evaluate the work of the groups. Significant insights should come from the mini -consultations and find their way to the front-line people who are doing the things the participants were talking about.
The consultation clearly restated a solid commitment to important basic truths that are fundamental to active, aggressive evangelization. A declaration of such commitment is vitally important and especially significant in the face of spreading universalism and the blurring of the lines between the Kingdom of God and human politics.
The Thailand Statement affirmed a series of crucial issues concerning world evangelization and missionary outreach.
1. Primacy of Evangelism. COWE reaffirmed the whole Lausanne Covenant, including its commitment to the primacy of evangelism. It is important to keep in mind that the Thailand Statement reaffirms the whole Lausanne Covenant. The new statement assumes the statements of the Lausanne Convenant and builds upon it. The Thailand Statement is shorter and was drawn up with the clear understanding that it was not covering all the subjects already clearly established in the Lausanne Covenant.
There was pressure by a small number of participants to undermine the primacy of evangelism in the mission of the church. When unsuccessful in their effort, they circulated a "Statement of Concerns" supporting their position, but it did not become an official document.
The Lausanne Covenant (item 6) states: "In the church’s mission of sacrificial service evangelism is primary. World evangelization requires the whole Church to take the whole Gospel to the whole world. "
The Thailand Statement enlarged on this, saying of the Lausanne statement: "This is not to deny that evangelism and social action are integrally related, but rather to acknowledge that of all the tragic needs of human beings none is greater than their alienation from their Creator and the terrible reality of eternal death for those who refuse to repent and believe."
It thus recognized the importance of social concern as a part of the mission, but retained evangelism in its proper perspective.
2. Urgency of the task. "If therefore we do not commit ourselves with urgency to the task of evangelization, we are guilty of an inexcusable lack of human compassion…"This mandate is urgent, for there is no other Saviour but Jesus Christ."
3. The lostness of man. "We have become freshly burdened by the vast numbers who have never heard the good news of Christ and are lost without Him. "
4. The coming of Christ. "We pledge ourselves to wait with eagerness for Christ’s return, and to be busy in his service until he comes.
5. Prayer and spiritual power. "Strategy and organization are not enough; we need to pray earnestly for the power of the Holy Spirit. God has not given us a spirit of fear but of boldness."
6. Cooperation. "We pledge ourselves to cooperate with all who share with us the true Gospel of Christ, in order to reach the unreached peoples of the world."
If widely circulated and regularly reinforced by committed evangelicals, this new consensus statement on basic issues can help restrain the tendency in today’s world to reject the lostness of man and the uniqueness of Christ.
COWE planners in preparation for the consultation had distributed a great deal of material about the strategy concept that has come to be commonly known as the "people approach to world evangelization, " or reaching the world "a people at a time."
A special edition of the book entitled, That Everyone May Hear, by Edward R. Dayton had been distributed to participants. The book meticulously outlined the "people" approach. Audiovisuals on the subject had been distributed to some regions.
On the first morning of the consultation, in a plenary session, Peter Wagner and others presented the "people approach" to evangelization. It was also referred to in those presentations as the "homogenous unit principle. "
The speakers assumed that this concept was widely understood and accepted by the participants. However, this did not seem to be the case, as participants seemed taken by surprise when they presented it. Some negative reactions led to lively discussion, which eventually had to be cut off because of time limitations.
A special interest meeting was arranged following the night session for those who wanted to continue the discussion. Critics perceived the concept to be too heavily based in the social sciences and in western technology. Others perceived it as encouraging segregation and bias, thus contradicting the unity of the body of Christ.
Proponents denied both perceptions and insisted that the unity of the body can be maintained. They held that the technology involved is only a tool and in no way interferes with the spiritual dynamics of evangelization.
Peter Wagner observed afterward in a personal assessment of COWE: "Most of the mini-consultations took the more traditional approaches of countries, geographical regions, religions or individuals as the target of evangelistic strategy planning."
The subject matter of the mini- consultations was arranged in a variety of ways. They dealt with religions (Muslim, Nominal Christian, etc.); racial groupings (Chinese); philosophical views (secularists, etc.); special groups (refugees, city dwellers, etc.).
This diversity may have mitigated the proper understanding of the theme, "reaching a people at a time. " The reality is that each of the topics embraced scores, and in some cases, hundreds of peoples" within its scope. This made it difficult to come to grips with a strategy for a "people" in the current usage of the word.
Still, the concept of reaching the world "a people at a time" did receive considerable international exposure, giving many leaders a new perspective of the remaining task.
Whatever strategies emerge from the mini- consultations and the consultation as a whole still have to be implemented by people. This development of plans for day-to-day implementation of world evangelization was not among the goals of the consultation. Consequently, it was not surprising to see the meeting end without any clear indication about who will provide the thousands of trained personnel to carry out this work of entering unreached people groups and planting churches.
If there are 20,000 unreached people (as some suggested at the conference), and if just one family were assigned to each people, that would involve 40,000 people (counting husbands and wives) who would need to be trained, supported and placed. Starting from scratch, it would take a number of years to learn the language, win converts and form a church. Obviously, many other types of ministries would be immediately needed, multiplying the number of personnel needed.
This matter came up at the closing news conference. A participant quoted from the document on cooperation, which states: "The Commission reaffirms that the purpose of LCWE is to challenge Christians to world evangelization by exercising a catalytic function in providing leadership in recruiting, training and financing a task force adequate to reach the hidden peoples of the world in this century."
The participants inquired whether this means that LCWE will recruit and send personnel to complete the task. Bishop Jack Dain, chairman of the Commission on Cooperation, which prepared the report, ‘replied that the commission’s emphasis is on the word "catalyst. " LCWE hopes to stimulate these actions by others. LCWE does not plan to undertake these activities, he said.
While COWE acknowledged that hundreds of millions are outside the reach of existing churches, the practical realization of the magnitude of the task of recruiting, training, supporting and sending thousands of cross-cultural missionaries did not surface clearly.
Sparse recognition was given to the fact that some 55 to 60 thousand Protestant missionaries are on the job doing the tedious work of learning languages, translating Scriptures, and other significant ministries. These spend lifetimes perfecting languages, absorbing cultures, ministering to needs in the arduous task of penetrating a "people" for Christ.
For example, reference was made to evangelistic efforts in Kampuchea (Cambodia) in the 1970’s, which gained several hundred believers. No acknowledgement was made of 50 years of untiring labor by missionaries who saw meager results. They learned the language, translated the Bible and Christian literature, and ministered in many other ways. Their long and courageous work produced a tiny church, which provided the basis for work in the seventies that left a witness when Kampuchea was sealed off. The seed has surfaced again as more than 10,000 (some estimates run as high as 20,000) have turned to Christ in refugee camps in Thailand.
In some mini-consultations, if missionaries were mentioned, it tended to be in a negative way (dealing with power struggles between missions and national churches, etc.), while ignoring the fact that their ministry was the basis for churches being planted in many regions of the world.
Both missions and churches need to make a great effort to get Past disputes behind them and view the world task as the responsibility of the whole church.
The development of missionary efforts by churches around the world will do much to alleviate church/ mission tensions. Working together in a common task can create increased mutuality and overcome dependency that plagues many relationships.
If reports from Thailand succeed in challenging the world-wide church to see the enormity of the task and to take missions seriously, the results will be significant for many years to come.
It is my hope that missionaries presently trained and on the job will be stimulated and helped by the insights from Pattaya. I urge readers to get the COWE documents (especially those related to their type of ministry) and seek help from the insights of the miniconsultations.
It is my further hope that churches around the world not significantly involved in missions will be challenged to new commitment to prayer and action.
What may we expect from the Lausanne Committee itself? The answer is not immediately clear. Some indications may be gleaned from documents approved by the participants in COWE who acted as a Consultative Council. All findings went to the LCWE.
The new "mandate" of LOWE was contained in the paper proposed by the Commission on Cooperation in World Evangelization which stated: "This Commission reviewed the programs and emphases of the LCWE and because of their value, strongly recommends that LOWE be given a fresh mandate to continue its ministry."
In the Commission on Cooperation there were lengthy discussions about the relationship of LCWE to the World Evangelical Fellowship. It acknowledged the WEF overture, but recommended that LCWE continue as an autonomous body. A new commission was to be appointed to continue to study matters of relationships, including those with WEF.
Recommendations were made for combining the work of the Theological Committee with similar functions of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Fellowship.
Efforts to come up with a new name for LCWE floundered. Thirty-six alternate names were suggested by participants who had been invited to offer suggestions. No consensus was reached, leaving the matter in the hands of the existing LCWE.
Acute differences, that characterized the discussion regarding tensions between churches and parachurch organizations were not very visible in the statement that was hammered out by the Commission on Cooperation. In the final report, the section was entitled, "local churches and other Christian ministries, " suggesting that even the term "parachurch" was called into question by the final drafters.
The statement on Cooperation acknowledged the role of "parachurch" organizations when it said: "We affirm the ‘diversity of being’ of church and other Christian ministries and hold that in most cases unity in diversity and cooperation will serve the work of Christ and especially the cause of world evangelization."
Among a list of "hindrances" to cooperation was included this one: "Financial pressure from well-funded international agencies which acutely embarrass existing staff and ministries by their aggressive recruitment of local staff, lavish distribution of resources and free literature. "
Much work remains to be done in building good relations between churches and parachurch organizations. The tensions were deep and went largely resolved. History will probably give COWE a place among other congresses that helped the churches in a new awakening to their missionary responsibility.
The Thailand Statement
Our Commitment to Christ
In the light of his clear command to go and make disciples of all nations, his universal authority and his love for all humanity, we solemnly make the following commitment to Christ, which we shall seek his grace to fulfill.
1. We pledge ourselves to live under the lordship of Christ, and to be concerned for his will and his glory, not our own.
2. We pledge ourselves to work for the evangelization of the world, and to bear witness by word and deed to Christ and his salvation.
3. We pledge ourselves to serve the needy and the oppressed, and in the name of Christ to seek for them relief and justice.
4. We pledge ourselves to love all those we are called to serve even as Christ loved us, and to identify with them in their needs.
5. We pledge ourselves to pray for the church and for the world, that Christ will renew his church in order to reach his world.
6. We pledge ourselves to study God’s Word, to seek Christ in it, and to relate it to ourselves and our contemporaries.
7. We pledge ourselves to go wherever Christ may send us, and never to settle down so comfortably that we cannot contemplate a move.
9. We pledge ourselves to labour to mobilize Christ’s people, so that the whole church may take the whole gospel to the whole world.
10. We pledge ourselves to cooperate with all who share with us the true Gospel of Christ, in order to reach the unreached peoples of the world.
11. We pledge ourselves to seek the power of the Spirit of Christ, that he may fill us and flow through us.
12. We pledge ourselves to wait with eagerness for Christ’s return, and to be busy in his service until he comes.
We believe that God, who has uniquely exalted his Son Jesus Christ, has led us to make these pledges to him. With hope and prayer we invite all Christ’s followers to join us in our commitment, so that we may work together for the evangelization of the world.
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