Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Salvador, Bahia 1996: What Will It Mean?

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Salvador, Bahia 1996: What Will It Mean?

Article excerpt

Authorization was given by the World Council of Churches' (WCC) Central Committee (Johannesburg, January 1994) to hold another in the long series of CWME(**) world conferences on mission and evangelism at Salvador, Bahia, Brazil from 28 November to 3 December 1996. The mandate is now in place and awaits implementation. Given the ecumenical climate of our time and the world's political changes, the holding of still another CWME meeting -- the last was in San Antonio, Texas in 1989 -- is not something to be taken for granted. Some speculated that San Antonio 1989 would be the last of such meetings; fortunately this is not to be the case. Each past CWME meeting has been a significant ecumenical occasion. This coming one offers a fresh opportunity to renew and update the missionary challenge both within and beyond the WCC constituency -- assuming that "world mission and evangelism" are understood in their most inclusive sense.

Salvador, the oldest capital of Brazil, is itself a cultural crossroads of European, African and new world cultures, and should provide a challenging venue. A conference scenario has been scripted on the basis of unresolved issues originally raised at the 1983 WCC Vancouver assembly, and subsequently sharpened by Prof. Chung Hyun-Kyun's presentation at the 1991 WCC Canberra assembly. Unit II has spelled out the context, general focus and study process in detail. While "gospel and cultures" is hardly a new or ground-breaking topic -- it has been central to missiological discussions on "contextualilization" and "inculturation" for over twenty years -- it is nevertheless unique in not having been examined as a topic in its own right at earlier CWME conferences. It touches on several central concerns of the WCC and of its Faith and Order unit: local cultures can become a divisive factor in promoting universal koinonia, and may constitute an obstacle to authentic Christian life and mission.

Realistically, the Central Committee called only for a fresh exploration of deeper theological issues in the relationship between gospel and cultures in their context. It noted the fact that "the gospel both challenges and is challenged by the cultures in which it finds itself." The conference aim is to help churches and Christians to live and witness authentically, and to better equip them for mission and evangelism in diverse cultural contexts. To succeed, the conference must go beyond uncritical acceptance of current buzzwords such as "contextualization" and "inculturation" -- themselves replacements for earlier missionary terms such as "indigenization" and "accommodation" -- and probe the ambiguities and fresh possibilities inherent in the gospel-culture relationship.

This will require making use of theological understandings already reached on many issues.

The relationship between the gospel, the cultures, and the teaching and

worshipping tradition of the churches in many contexts should be given

more attention, including how the gospel is received, experienced and

proclaimed within the diversity of cultures . . . . An emphasis on local and

contextual exploration will be essential to understand how the gospel is

received, experienced and proclaimed within the diversity of cultures, and

how the proclamation of gospel interacts with cultures through critique,

affirmation and transformation (Central Committee mandate).

Gospel and cultures is admirably suited as an "umbrella topic" for what world mission and evangelism conferences typically do under various section headings: deal with perennial topics such as gospel witness, equipping of local congregations, social and ethical challenges, and ecumenical relationships. Preparation for Salvador 1996 will be through a series of local, national, regional and sub-regional study groups meeting in many places. Publication of a series of preparatory pamphlets, and of eight special issues of the International Review of Mission, is envisaged. …

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