by Sharon Mumper
Special section on the World Evangelical Fellowship’s General Assembly.
Time to "Rise and Shine"
The alarm has been ringing for some time and a sleepy church has hit the doze button. So declared World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF) Chairman Tokunboh Adeyemo, as he the Ninth WEF General Assembly in Manila in June with a .call to "Arise, for the night is far spent and the day is at hand,"
What better place to administer a vigorous wake-up shake than at a gathering of 300 delegates, observers, and staff representing 600,000 evangelical churches and some 100 million evangelicals in 68 countries?
"Our world today faces more dangers and devastations than at any other time in human history." Adeyemo told conferees. More lives are being destroyed in civil wars than in the two world wars combined, he said. He went on to list the threat of AIDS, cults and false religions, the proliferation of refugees, and increasing crime and violence.
"From Croatia to Khartoum, from Rio to Rabat, thousands are dying from man-made causes and going to a Christless eternity," he said, "It is time to declare a state of emergency for world discipleship."
WEF may never have been better poised to respond to such a challenge. An international alliance of autonomous national and regional evangelical bodies, WEF traces its roots to the evangelical alliance founded in Britain in 1846.
Much of the international organization’s long history has been characterized by lack of vision and financial crisis. Several times it has gone into eclipse, to emerge later pale and drawn. As recently as the last general assembly six years ago, Adeyemo described the movement’s history to date as one of "struggle and survival".
But things have changed. After six years of growth and consolidation under former International Director David Howard, WEF faces a brighter future. A glimpse of that more hopeful future was in evidence at the Manila gathering.
A Historic First
In a conference of "firsts," the most notable was the installation of the first non-Western international director in WEF’s 146-year history.
Agustin B. (Jun) Vencer Jr., former general secretary of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC), was selected at the end of a yearlong process during which the organization’s entire membership as polled. Citing Vencer’s experience in building PCEC from "almost nothing into one of the strongest national fellowships anywhere in the world," outgoing International Director David Howard said Vencer had been ideally prepared to assume leadership at the world level.
Vencer plans to establish or strengthen at least three national fellowships a year, beginning in 1993. and , he will encourage the development of partnerships among member WEF bodies "for more effective delivers of services".
A "classis example" of what can be done through partnership, he said, is the PCEC, which 14 years ago had no office and budget of $5,000. "Today, we have a three story building and a budget of $1.52 million a year." Before, no one in the Philippines knew who the evangelicals were, he said. "Now we are a force to be reckoned with in society. From a weak organization, we have grown to become useful-largely through partnerships we have forged with other members of the body of Christ with WEF."
Noting that WEF is often perceived as "poor," he said, "I come from a poverty-stricken background myself. I have always believed that poverty is no excuse for failure.
"If we can coordinate resources with WEF to build national fellowships that mobilize and strengthen local churches to disciple their nations systematically, to be holistic in their approach to ministry, then I think we can turn this world upside down again."
Balancing the Scales
In WEF’s nearly century and a half of history no woman has ever served on the organization’s executive council (now renamed international council). That, decided WEF executives at the Ninth General Assembly in June, constitutes an "imbalance."
After some discussion, delegates agreed, and voted to accept two women nominated to newly formed "at large" positions designed to correct imbalances in the makeup of the international council, hose membership is comprised of regional representatives.
The move was welcomed by members of WEF’s Commission on Women’s Concerns, who had met the previous eek to discuss the biblical role of women in the church, home, and society. At the end of a week of meetings, the commission had issued a declaration calling on the church "to mobilize the under-utilized resources of its women to build up and strengthen the church and to facilitate in involvement of Christian women in the church’s efforts to be salt and light in society."
The commission noted that women are affected disproportionately by social problems, but that both their needs and potential resources are often ignored. "in addition," they declared, "women often face opposition, gender-discrimination, and outright oppression from society and sometimes even the church."
The commission called on the church to work to improve the legal and economic status of women and to insist on the protection of women and children by society and to protest their exploitation or abuse.
Churches and national and regional alliances were asked to seek ways to creatively harness the potential of women for ministry in the church and through church programs.
The commission’s long-range plans include publishing a book on the biblical role of women in the church, home, and society, and developing literacy programs, micro-enterprise projects, and teaching resources on the biblical roles of omen and biblical family values.
Persecution Takes Center Stage
The harsher realities of the real world "out there" captured the attention of delegates when WEF presented its first biannual Religious Liberty Award to Quechua Indian Christian leader Romulo Saune.
Presenting the award, John Langlois, chairman of the newly launched Religious Liberty Commission, noted that more Christians have been killed for their faith in the 20th century than in all previous 19 centuries combined.
In honoring Saune, who recently completed the first translations of the entire Bible in a major Quechua dialect, Langlois cited the "persecution which he, his family, his town of Ayachucho, his Quechua people, and his country have suffered."
Quechua Christians in Peru have been caught in the crossfire between a violent Maoist revolutionary movement known as the Shining Path and military forces which vie killing Indian peoples as a partial solution to the country’s problems.
It is to bring to the world’s attention the plight of peoples like these that the Religious Liberty Commissions was instituted. The commission will work to protect the liberty of evangelical Christians by monitoring and responding to infringements of religious liberty, and promoting the need for constant vigilance in maintaining religious liberty.
The commission hopes to develop an advocacy network to collect information and respond to issues, to found an international legal network to provide legal counsel and services to those who are persecuted for their faith, to publish religious liberty publications, and to establish a governmental relations task force. It also hopes to encourage regional and national fellowships to organize their own religious liberty commissions, to strengthen governmental relations, and to hold regional consultations on religious liberty.
Turning to Teens
Teenagers-target of the consumer society, new ideologies, and cults-yet in many countries unreached by the church. Doing something about this is the challenge of a new Youth Commission launched in June by WEF.
Nothing that over half of the world will soon be under the age of 20, the commission hopes to help national and regional fellowships minister more effectively to youth and youth workers by identifying and sharing resources, raising awareness of the need for youth evangelization, highlighting the issues and trends affecting youth work on a global scale, and developing networks to facilitate information sharing, interpersonal contacts, and cooperative action.
Partners in Missions
What is the key to successful partnerships for world missions? It is time-tested personal relationships rather than mere acceptance of strategies, resources, and programs, concluded WEF Missions Commission Executive Secretary William Taylor at the end of a weeklong consultation which brought together some 95 participants from 35 countries.
Meeting the week before the general assembly, mission and church leaders grappled with the sensitive issues of developing interdependent partnerships. There were some surprises-like the discovery that the ministries represented at the consultation already were engaged in more that 1,000 ministry partnerships.
Although it was not the intention of the consultation to provide "instant" partnerships, at least one did emerge, as two mission groups from the same country made plans to build a new team combining the strengths of both missions to target an unreached group comprising some 300,000 people.
The Missions Commission will produce a book compiling the primary papers of the consultations and listing partnership resources.
The Cure for Pluralism
How is the uniqueness of Christ an antidote to religious pluralism? Nearly 100 theologians from around the world met prior to the general assembly at a consultation of WEF’s Theological Commission to discuss the challenges to the church presented by pluralism and to affirm the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.
In a declaration to be honed and released this fall, the theologians affirmed the diversity of the church of Christ, but rejected religious pluralism on the grounds that salvation is on the basis of Christ alone.
They examined the uniqueness of Christ in the context of modernity, political ideologies, peace and justice, judgment and hope, and diversity and unity of the church.
Religious pluralism has been identified by WEF as an important theological issue to which the organization must speak.
To the Least of These…
As the church grows in the Third World nine out of 10 converts are the poorest of the poor. In the light of this fact, how can the church be relevant-and faithful to the Bible’s command to love not merely in words, but in deeds?
WEF-related relief and development agencies have found a way to provide millions of dollars of emergency and long-term help in association with the Interchurch Relief and Development Alliance (IRDA), an affiliate member of WEF.
Some 45 representatives of relief and development ministries gathered in Manila prior to the Ninth General Assembly to explore ways physical ministries can be infused with spirituality and linked to prayer, and to compare notes on dealing with the debt crisis and coping with massive political upheaval.
Answering the Wake Up Call
Could 1992 herald a fresh beginning for WEF, its member bodies throughout the world-any by extension the thousands, of churches that constitute it associations? Could this year indeed signal a wake-up call to the World Evangelical Fellowship-if not the church at large?
Time will tell. The signs are promising. New and old commissions tackle cutting-edge issues with vigor. New leadership promises and aggressive program to build national alliances.
A freshly honed statement of mission makes the case more clearly and pungently than ever before: WEF and its member organizations "enable local churches to fulfill their scriptural mandate to disciple the nations by providing them with a global identity and presence, a structure for fellowship and cooperation, and international forum and a representative voice, and a network of information and resources for holistic ministries."
A long-range planning team completes work in January, producing a 120-page document and 21 recommendations for future directions based on careful analysis of world trends. A newly constituted international council is in place.
"Christ is saying to WEF today: ‘Arise and build!’", declared WEF Chairman Tokunboh Adeyemo in his opening address to the general assembly. WEF may never have been in a better position to do just that.
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