Council for World Mission: A Case Study and Critical Appraisal of the Journey of Partnership in Mission

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Abstract

When the Council for World Mission was founded in 1977, the organization held up partnership in mission as the key constituting factor of its identity as a new mission organization. This paper critically appraises the organization's missional journey over three decades, with particular reference to its vocation as a partnership in mission.

Introduction

Historically, within the context of the global ecumenical community, the term "partnership" was first coined at the 1928 World Mission Conference in Jerusalem, organized by the International Missionary Council (IMC). The adoption of a principle of partnership at the time was motivated to a great extent by the desire amongst delegates from the global South to reject all forms of "religious imperialism". (1) The phrase "partnership in mission" was, however, not formally used until after the 1947 IMC meeting in Whitby, England, adopted the phrase "partnership in obedience" to speak about relationships between churches. (2) Preman Niles (3) points out that V.Z. Azariah of India and C.Y. Cheng of China had already raised questions about being partners in mission, together with such issues as "autonomy in government" and "unity in life", in much earlier times at the Edinburgh 1910 missionary conference. (4)

It was, however, at a 1987 meeting in El Escorial, Spain, sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC), that the understanding of ecumenical partnership was comprehensively and clearly articulated. One of the important outcomes of the El Escorial consultation was the adoption of a set of "Guidelines for the Ecumenical Sharing of Resources" by the ecumenical organizations and churches who participated in the event. These guidelines have assisted the Council for World Mission (hereinafter referred to as "CWM", "council" or "organization") in its self-understanding and development as a partnership in mission.

A different concept in mission

The London Missionary Society (LMS), CWM's main predecessor, was a pioneering and ground-breaking 19th and 20th century Christian missionary organization. The LMS's approach, understanding and practice of partnership were, however, not free from the influences of colonialism, cultural imperialism and paternalism. With the decline in activity and enthusiasm in the modern missionary era, particularly after the second world war, LMS missionaries began to withdraw from "mission fields", particularly in the light of the call for a missionary moratorium from Africa and Asia in the early 1970s.

As one era in Christian mission declined, a new era of world mission emerged. (5) The growing selfhood of the churches in the two-thirds World, and their desire to engage in mission locally and globally as full partners with their Western European and North American counterparts, marked the significance of the new era. The development of the modern ecumenical movement, commencing with the establishment of the IMC in 1921, also played a significant role in bringing about a paradigm shift in the understanding, agenda and structure of world mission. Fundamentally, world mission no longer meant West European and North American Christian missionary movement to the rest of the world but the participation of churches across the world in mission, with all six continents being the "mission field".

It is within the above global context that the seeds were sown for a reoriented and reconfigured mission organization to be known as CWM and with the concept of partnership in mission as its structural, relational and organizational principle. A consultation held in Singapore in January 1975 proved to be the turning point in this journey of change and transformation and led to the formal constituting of the council two years later. (6) With the formation of CWM, the old missionary society ceased to exist and a new arrangement characterizing itself as a partnership in mission came into being. …