Missiology in the World Council of Churches: Update (*); Presentation, History, Theological Background and Emphases of the Most Recent Mission Statement of the World Council of Churches (WCC)

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JACQUES MATTHEY (**)

In 1982, the central committee of the WCC adopted the document Mission and Evangelism -- An Ecumenical Affirmation (in short: Ecumenical Affirmation, EA) which is and remains the main official reference text of the WCC on the matter. In March 2000, the newly elected Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (in short: Commission) adopted another statement entitled Mission and Evangelism in Unity Today (in short: Statement) as a study document. (1) The purpose of this article is to present the Statement's main missiological emphases in the context of recent ecumenical debates on Christian witness.

I. Origins of the process towards a new mission statement

In 1994, discussions within the Executive Group of the Unit II Commission of the WCC led to the decisions to start a process for a revision of the 1982 EA. (2) On August 15, 1994, Rev. Ana Langerak, director of Unit II, sent a letter to a selected group of people linked to the Unit's constituency, saying: "Many people in our constituency are urging us to bring (the Ecumenical Affirmation, ed.) to the attention of the churches in a fresh way. We feel that a revised document could speak pertinently in our situation today." A new draft of such a revised document was to be presented to the forthcoming world mission conference in Salvador, foreseen for 1996. Attached to the letter was a copy of the EA with space for comments and modifications.

The enquiry resulted in the following three options:

a) revise, update the 1982 EA (the original proposal)

b) write a new one

c) produce a study guide for the 1982 EA.

At a meeting in Hamburg in October that year, the decision was taken to prepare a new statement. (3)

In December 1996, the Salvador world mission conference dedicated a special hearing session to the framework for a new mission statement. The introduction presented by Rev. John Brown from Australia clearly affirmed the validity of the 1982 EA for the WCC, responding thus to voices who feared that it might be replaced and to persons who so wished: "Both the Commission and the CWME constituency were very clear that the (1982) document is still valid today and should not be revised or replaced. It should remain and be affirmed as the basic document that reflects our mutual understanding of and commitment to mission". (4)

Considering the reactions received during and after the Salvador conference, Unit II called a meeting of missiologists in Morges, May 8-12, 1997 to work on a draft for a mission statement. The consultation entitled "Visions and challenges" dealt with the following new contexts and questions for mission and evangelism:

* globalization and fragmentation;

* postmodernism, meaninglessness and search for fulfilment;

* multi-faith realities;

* relationships in mission and the search for common witness. (5)

That consultation gave the major input for the new Statement. Further work on it was however postponed, so that staff could give priority to a document on common witness which was also in preparation. (6)

This meant that the Statement would not be presented officially to the Harare assembly of the WCC. A revised version was sent on July 3, 1998 to missiologists, mission bodies, commissioners and other members of the constituency for comments and reactions to be sent in by September. Many important reactions were received, mainly from Northern bodies and partners. Staff included as many as possible into revised versions of the text. (7)

In December, 1998, a draft of the Statement was debated in one of the Padare sessions of the WCC eighth assembly and then submitted together with the comments from the assembly workshop to the new Commission on World Mission and Evangelism. (8)

II. Missiological emphases of the Mission Statement

1. Definition of mission and evangelism

The 1982 EA was neither very clear nor consistent with its use of "mission" and "evangelism" or proclamation. …