What is the mission of the Church? William Carey faced that question in his day. An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen was his written answer. It prefaced another volume, a Living Book opened in India and read of all men. This fall, more than a century and a half later, the question will be put again in India as the Third General Assembly of the World Council of Churches meets at Delhi. Resurgent Hinduism will ask it. Is the mission of the Church alien proselytism or even subversive colonialism? The agenda of the Assembly will also ask it.

The integration of the International Missionary Council into the structure of the WCC is the major business of the joint meeting. The IMC is an organization of missionary societies as well as of church mission boards; the WCC is a “fellowship of churches.” If the church council is to absorb the mission council, then the mission of the Church should be plainly set forth.

There will be no lack of material on the question. Many a delegate to Delhi has a stack of books and pamphlets documenting the 50 years of ecumenical discussion that began in the Edinburgh missionary conference of 1910. Somewhere in that stack, you might think, there must be an explanation of what the Church has been doing through the centuries. Are we only now asking what the mission of the Church is?

Christians may confess Christ without being prepared to give a full theology of evangelism. Yet what men think determines what they do. The Church had to be taught by Carey and others that the work of missions is not limited to the time of the apostles; until that misunderstanding was removed, the “Great Century of Missions” could not begin. Sometimes real progress can only ...

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