Academic journal article International Review of Mission

The First Decade

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

The First Decade

Article excerpt

THE AMSTERDAM ASSEMBLY 1948

The Church

Prior to the formal installation of a Department of Evangelism in the World Council of Churches (WCC), the church was understood to be the primary instrument of evangelism. In a report on the 1947 Conference on Evangelism convened by the Department of Reconstruction and Inter-Church Aid, this position was clearly stated: "It is the Church which evangelizes, and if the Church is not evangelizing it is not doing its business."(1)

The preparatory literature for Amsterdam, and the assembly documents themselves, took this assumption a step further by adding the adjective "whole" to characterize the church that was to evangelize: the whole church was to be seen as the primary instrument of evangelism. What these documents mean by "the whole church" can be understood in two complementary respects: first, referring to all its members who have the duty to evangelize. The whole church is an instrument of evangelism "when the apostolic nature and obligations of the Church are grasped realistically and effectively understood and loved as the given privilege and task of every member of the Church..."(2) The second and more frequent use of "the whole church" refers to every church together in partnership - a world-wide church as an instrument of evangelism. In this sense, evangelism was to be done by every church everywhere, whether in so-called Christian lands or elsewhere.(3)

However, Section II at Amsterdam also recognized that the whole church is not a perfect instrument of evangelism; it manifests many weaknesses which tend to diminish its efforts at evangelism. Words and phrases such as complacent, out of touch with the modem world, ineffective in its prophetic stance, etc. were used to characterize the church. Therefore, the Amsterdam document called the church to repent of its failures and to renew its unity and vitality in order to fulfil its calling as the instrument of evangelism.

The World

In the report of Section II at Amsterdam, the world was recognized as being distrustful of the church and of Christianity; it was finding Christianity irrelevant because it "belongs definitely to a historical phase now past."(4) There was the stated recognition of the disintegration of Christendom, defined as "that particular relation between the church and society which once was directed and dominated by the Church."(5) In a phrase, the post-Christian world was portrayed as suspicious of the church and its motives.

Church and World

Despite these not so favourable recognitions about the church and its reception in the world, evangelism remained the God-given task of the church for the sake of the world: it was God's will that the church evangelize the world. In the words of the Amsterdam document, "The evident demand of God in this situation is that the whole Church should set itself to the total task of winning the whole world for Christ."(6) This relationship can be abbreviated as God-Church-World.

The church can fulfil its divine evangelistic responsibility because God continues to reveal Godself to the church in particular. That the church is a particular place of God's revelation is affirmed at Amsterdam. "Yet the Church is still the Church of God, in which, and in which alone He is pleased to reveal Himself and His redemptive purpose in Jesus Christ ..."(7) God's revelation comes to the church so that the church can, in turn, share it with the world.

Because of the church's divine calling, the Amsterdam document exhorted the church to go into the world to "find its way to the places where men really live ... to discern the signs of the times, to see the purpose of God working in the immense movements and revolutions of the present age, and again to speak to the nations the word of God with authority."(8) This is why the church must find entry points in the world, despite the world's suspicions and criticisms, in order to fulfil its divine obligation of evangelism. …

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