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Leaders to Pursue Cooperative Efforts

“We believe that it is possible to bring the gospel to all people by the year 2000.” This was among the declarations in a “Great Commission Manifesto” adopted by more than 300 Christian leaders from some 50 countries, during the Jan. 5-8, 1989 “Global Consultation on World Evangelization by AD 2000 and Beyond” in Singapore.

by Art Toalston, Baptist Press, GCOWE 2000 Final News Release:

SINGAPORE “We believe that it is possible to bring the gospel to all people by the year 2000.”

“We humbly confess our pride, prejudice, competition and disobedience that have hindered our generation from effectively working at the task of world evangelization.”

These are among the declarations in a “Great Commission Manifesto” adopted by more than 300 Christian leaders from some 50 countries. Their unanimous vote, in a unison shout of “Amen!” came during the Jan. 5-8 “Global Consultation on World Evangelization by AD 2000 and Beyond” in Singapore.

“The AD 2000 movement has now laid a foundation,” said Thomas Wang, chairman of the consultation’s steering committee, after the meeting. Wang also is international director of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.

The consultation reflects a new era when Christians are expanding their efforts beyond institutional structures “to a task, a common task,” said Bill O’Brien, the consultation’s program chairman and executive vice president of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board.

Through an openness to missions leaders from a wide range of Christian traditions and a focus on world evangelization by the year 2000, the consultation enabled “a much broader scope of the body of Christ to come to a plateau where we can meet without other encumbrances,” O’Brien said.

More than half of the 300-plus participants were missions leaders from the Third World.

“We see afresh,” the consultation’s manifesto states, “that cooperation and partnership are absolute necessities if the Great Commission (Christ’s command to share the gospel will all peoples) is going to be fulfilled by the year 2000.”

Four basic aims are listed in the manifesto:

  1. “Focus particularly on those who have not yet heard the gospel.”
  2. “Provide every people and population on earth with a valid opportunity to hear the gospel in a language they can understand. It is our fervent prayer that at least half of humanity will profess allegiance to the Lord Jesus.”
  3. “Establish a mission-minded church planting movement within every unreached people group so that the gospel is accessible to all people.”
  4. “Establish a Christian community of worship, instruction in the word, healing, fellowship, prayer, disciple making, evangelism and missionary concern in every human community.”

The manifesto notes that Christian compassion must extend to “those who live under the bondage of sin and … victims of poverty and injustice.”

And it acknowledges that “only in the power of the Holy Spirit” can the world be evangelized. Christians “must be more impressed with God’s great power than any force arrayed against us.”

Expectations were high during the final session until Wang unexpectedly announced that the Consultation’s Steering Committee would not seek to form an implementing task force. The action left unclear whether any continuity for the movement would be establi shed.

However, just before the dismissal, Ralph Winter, general director of the U.S. Center for World Mission, rose to ask for a meeting with participants wanting a means of follow-up, a “meek and mild information office” to allow participants to maintain contact with each other.

About 100 participants who stayed for the meeting adopted Winter’s proposal. Several Christian organizations and 85 individuals expressed interest in covering start-up expenses.

It will be a one-person office that could be accountable to a “board of reference” of members of the former steering committee who agree to assist.

The steering committee decided to disband, Wang explained, to give consultation participants “total freedom to decide what they want to do for the future.”

Said O’Brien, “I was convinced that the AD 2000 movement is of God” and that appropriate persons would come forth to move it forward, whether at the end of the meeting or a later date.

Winter said he appreciated the steering committee’s efforts and its humility in placing the movement’s future in the hands of consultation participants. At the same time, he said it would have been a disaster had no one initiated a method for consultation participants, who hail from each continent, to keep in touch.

Winter, several months before the consultation, had said it could be “the meeting of the century” and, moreover, “the most important meeting Christian leaders have ever proposed” if it ultimately results in the evangelization of the world’s peoples for the first time in history. Some 1.3 billion of the world’s 5 billion people are untouched by Christian evangelistic efforts, according to missions researchers.

After the meeting, Winter said his assessments of the consultation’s potential significance had not changed.

Beyond the steering committee’s decision to disband, the consultation was filled with tense moments that, somehow, never dampened “an uncanny relaxedness and mutual trust,” as Winter put it, among the participants, despite their wide range of cultural and religious backgrounds.

Latin American participants, in a “statement of concern” about Roman Catholic participation in the consultation, said “the religious-political force of the Roman Catholic Church is using all means available and is in fact the most fierce opponent to all ev angelistic efforts on our part.”

Only a half dozen Catholics were present, but one of several “case study” segments of the program focused on Evangelization 2000, a Catholic plan for world evangelization.

The Latin American evangelicals said cooperating with Catholics “goes beyond our historical and biblical commitment.” One church leader said being known as “ecumenicals” in their home countries would “destroy” their ministries.

Apart from their concerns regarding Catholicism, the Latin Americans said they intend to have “the broadest cooperation” with fellow evangelicals’ efforts to carry the gospel worldwide.

Gino Henriques, a Catholic priest from India who heads Evangelization 2000 in Asia, responded to the Latin Americans’ concerns by saying, “For whatever hurts they have received from Catholics, I’m not only grieved but I would beg pardon for those hurts, and I love them in the Lord.

“I was not aware of this undercurrent that was going on,” Henriques said, “because of all the kindness and fellowship I’ve experienced here.”

Stephanie Culhane, a Franciscan missionary working to start prayer networks throughout the world, said, “There needs to be a lot of repentance . . . a lot of forgiveness and healing in the body of Christ.”

Another point of tension during the consultation involved a 50-page, 104-point “kaleidoscopic global plan” for evangelization prepared by a team of 15 missiologists, headed by David Barrett, an Anglican missionary from Wales noted for missions research.

A key proposal in the plan entailed the creation of an AD 2000 Global Task Force to spread a vision for world evangelization and to strengthen and increase cooperation among groups with specific goals and plans. It also would help foster or enhance local and national evangelistic movements throughout the world.

In the first of several small-group working sessions, numerous participants affirmed the global plan, but among a minority, concerns and questions were voiced. Among them: that the plan could be perceived as top-down, ignoring grass roots input; that an additional structure should not be formed that might duplicate the roles of the Lausanne movement or the World Evangelical Fellowship; that the plan’s theological base and spiritual emphasis needed strengthening; that it is too detailed to be effectively communicated to their constituencies.

Still other participants wanted more opportunities than were scheduled for building relationships with missions leaders they were meeting for the first time.

The consultation’s steering committee subsequently decided to devote more time to developing in small group settings that also allowed for networking.

The kaleidoscopic global plan, the steering committee said in a written statement, “would become part of our ongoing ‘tool boxes,'” and it will be revised to include key points from more than 300 pages of suggestions submitted by the participants or their working groups.

The plan includes an array of declarations and steps toward world evangelization, such as the creation of “a Christian equivalent to Worldwatch” to monitor social, political and religious conditions and trends throughout the world; cataloging all Christian resources that can aid world evangelization; and translating key materials into the six languages used at the United Nations and, ultimately, into some 100 languages spoken by 1 million or more Christians throughout the world.

The plan also calls for efforts to redeploy Christian missionaries to the unevangelized. Currently, 92 percent of all foreign missionaries “work with heavily christianized populations in predominantly Christian lands,” the plan states.

“We had differences of opinion, methodology and procedure,” Wang said, “but in the areas of world evangelization, missions and a burden for fulfilling the Great Commission, we are in total harmony.”

The AD 2000 movement will gain additional exposure when some 4,000 Christians gather in Manila, July 11-20, 1989 for Lausanne II, the Lausanne movement’s second international congress. AD 2000 plans will be featured during one of the evening sessions, and it will be one of 20 afternoon “tracks.”

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