Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Salvador among the World Mission Conferences of This Century

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Salvador among the World Mission Conferences of This Century

Article excerpt

The World Council of Churches' (WCC) Conference on World Mission and Evangelism held in December 1996 in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, may not appear as important for this century's mission movement as were the Edinburgh meeting (1910) or the New Delhi assembly (1961), when the International Missionary Council (IMC) merged with the WCC. Nevertheless, some significant results have emerged from the Brazil conference. We may even have reached consensus points on mission that could become points of no-return for the ecumenical missionary movement.(1)

Unlike former mission conferences, Salvador dealt with one main subject, the same in all sections, thereby avoiding the impression given by earlier meetings that there were as many conferences as there were sections. This, of course, led to overlapping affirmations in the various section reports of Salvador, but gave the feeling of some unity.

The conference operated with a wide understanding of culture, including all aspects of human activity and belief (I,1).(2) What is especially remarkable is the inclusion of religion in the understandings of culture that were used. Religion is part of every culture, and often even at its core, with the exception perhaps of the so-called "postmodern" situations. Earlier WCC conferences on mission and evangelism had not consciously included religion in their understanding of culture, due to the still prevailing influence of the west in the theological thinking of the sixties.(3) The same can be said of the whole "inculturation" debate: many theologians, particularly in the north, operated with a definition of culture that did not include the religious aspect.(4) In the earlier missionary movement, however, the interdependence of culture and religion had been one of the reasons for the rejection of a positive approach to (non-western) cultures.(5)

In Salvador, while religion was clearly seen as an important if not essential part of each culture,(6) this did not prevent the conference from affirming a necessary positive approach to culture, being so in the line of ecumenical mission theology as developed at least since the sixties. The theological undergirding of that positive approach lies in the missio Dei concept, which came to the forefront following the IMC 1952 conference in Willingen.

There is no gospel if not inculturated. The gospel is always communicated through language, human actions, community life, celebrations and customs. Although there was no unanimity on this question, many participants in Salvador would agree on this. In addition, they accepted an "Act of Commitment," (AoQ)(7) which very clearly puts all cultures on the same level: "We affirm that the Spirit poured out on the day of Pentecost makes all cultures worthy vehicles of the love of God and that no culture is the exclusive norm for God's relationship with humans" (AoC 4).

Nearly twenty-five years after the Bangkok conference, this is widely accepted in theory, but not necessarily practised, as plenary speakers emphasized: Father K.M. George from India challenged western-influenced theological training as totally unadapted to his culture, but still imposed by "Euro-American cultural presuppositions in biblical study" and the "power of mind and money" (doc. 3a, p. 3).

The Rev. Robinson Cavalcanti from Brazil challenged European-influenced conservative as well as liberation (!) theologians as showing an impressive "lack of understanding of the mystical dimension" of Brazilian culture. "Would it be possible ... to acknowledge that Anglo-Saxon asceticism is only Anglo-Saxon and not necessarily Christian, and that the Latin, African and Amerindian life of the senses can (and should?) be compatible with Christian belief ... ?"(doc.4c, p. 2).

The real consequences of inculturation still have to be drawn. It might well appear that some of the traditions not forcefully present at Salvador, such as the Pentecostal and African Independant Churches, prove to be much more inculturated than many WCC member churches. …

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