Academic journal article International Review of Mission

The Significance of the Salvador Conference Theme

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

The Significance of the Salvador Conference Theme

Article excerpt

Choice of theme: Three considerations

When a theme is chosen for a World Council of Churches (WCC) conference on world mission and evangelism, careful attention is given to at least three considerations. The conference themes should capture a concern or perspective that arises as "vital" in the mission engagement and reflection of the churches. In their witness to the salvation offered by the Triune God, what understanding, question or issue comes to the fore with force or sharpness? A world conference theme cannot be arbitrary or capricious. It must not be imposed from above. A world mission conference theme must genuinely emerge from the engagement of the churches in mission. A mission conference theme should describe a particular perspective on mission or a search for a better understanding of the same.

The Salvador conference themes distinctively capture two concerns that are vital for our common life at the threshold of a new millennium. By evoking the classical reminder of unity-in-Christ issued to the Ephesians ("Called to One Hope"), the theme captures our deep longing for unity in the midst of today's tragic fragmentations. And by pointing to the incarnational reality of the gospel of Christ ("The Gospel in Diverse Cultures"), it gives expression to our desire to enter into a deeper understanding of the dynamic inter-relationship between the gospel and cultures.

The conference theme should also bear some continuity with themes and issues that were considered in previous world mission conferences or other major gatherings of the World Council of Churches. Global ecumenical gatherings are unique occasions for taking stock of the self-understanding of Christian communities around the world. Conference and assembly papers express the thinking of the "churches in council" on the life and renewal of the church and the wholeness and renewal of the human community. In the deliberations and reports, theological and ecclesiological profiles are always discernible. Sometimes issues and themes show a clear line of development. At other times, questions that seemed vital are modified, re-interpreted, or brushed aside altogether. Continuity and discontinuity are the hallmark of ecumenical gatherings, and the theme and issues of the 1996 conference on world mission and evangelism will need to pick up discussions that took place in earlier settings. Though the issue of gospel and culture has been on the ecumenical agenda for decades, it was the Vancouver assembly (1983) that formulated it more precisely, relating it to evangelism and calling for a theological understanding of the relation between the gospel and cultures. It was the Canberra assembly (1991) that has given this concern new urgency. The Canberra assembly pointed to some of the key inter-related issues to be addressed by the churches in view of this concern (theological method, authority, "criteria," the normativeness of history, etc.). The theme of the 1996 Salvador conference echoes this and suggests that we are interested in taking counsel together on at least some of the issues, with a view to contemporary faithfulness in mission.

An additional consideration for choosing a theme for a world mission conference is that the theme itself should also set some directions for the church's mission in the period beyond the conference. Even in the best of circumstances, when all is said and done; after the reports go out and the conference message is received by the churches; after the participants have returned to their local settings and translated the conference findings into their day-to-day involvements; after the meeting is analyzed and discussed, what is likely to remain is the conference theme as such. Communicators would argue that it is a matter of succinct, "catchy" formulation. Be that as it may, it is desirable that a theme for a WCC conference on world mission and evangelism -- in itself -- encapsule the impulses that encourage new attitudes and fresh engagement in mission in the period ahead. …

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