Four years ago in the May, 1968, issue, Church Growth Bulletin asked: “Will Uppsala Betray the Two Billion?” The circumstances were as follows. The World Council of Churches was about to convene its Fourth Assembly at Uppsala, Sweden. Early that year the WCC’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism had published a document on mission, titled Renewal in Mission, which, at the Uppsala meeting was to be discussed, possibly revised, and issued as the council’s plan for mission and evangelism in the seventies. The faculty at Fuller Seminary’s School of Mission studied Renewal in Mission with care and were alarmed to see that it contained no plans for evangelism and interpreted “mission” solely as horizontal reconciliation of man with man.
The document called for a radical diversion of mission away from the Great Commission, away from the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, and particularly away from church-planting evangelism. Renewal in Mission was not calling Christians to renewed zeal in making the Saviour known and persuading men to believe in him, repent of their sins, be baptized and incorporated in his church, and then venture forth in the power of the Holy Spirit as salt and light in the world, full of righteousness, justice, and brotherhood, thus bringing about substantial changes for good in the social order. Renewal in Mission, while freely using the great words of mission, was using them in radically new ways. For example, changing the social order through revolution (apparently regardless of what the revolutionaries believed about Jesus Christ) was called reconciling men to God. Instead of affirming that mission takes place at points of unbelief, the document says that “mission takes place at the points of tension.” Mission’s “places of opportunity” are “the unresolved religious, social and political problems, the situations which deprive men of the hope of renewal and cry out for the good news of the new humanity.”
At the very time that great movements toward Christ were developing in scores of countries the basic mission concept of inviting men to become Christ’s followers in his church was notable by its absence. Instead of calling on men to believe on Jesus Christ and persuading them to become responsible members of his church, the Fourth Assembly of the World Council of Churches was, it seemed, about to place its sole emphasis on exhorting Christians to act justly toward their fellow men.
Since at least two billion have not heard of Christ, the proposed action would condemn these multitudes to live without the power of Christ in their lives and die without even hearing of the way of salvation. This, the Fuller mission faculty believed, would leave the two billion without hope. It would deprive them of that radical renewal which comes through justification by faith and being “in Christ.” It would withhold from nations that Power they need above all powers, that Wisdom they need above all wisdoms, if they are to develop as God wishes them to develop. It would focus their hopes on man instead of on God. It would leave them without the Bible, without the Church, and without the means of grace. It would, in short, betray the two billion.
The School of Mission faculty devoted the May, 1968, issue of Church Growth Bulletin to an extended plea to the Fourth Assembly to see the fatal error of the preparatory document and revise it radically.
That issue created a storm (recounted in The Eye of the Storm, Word, 1972). World Council leaders wrongly considered it an attack on them. Actually it was a plea for them to turn from excessive concern with humanization and to lay at least equal stress on proclaiming Christ as divine and only Saviour and persuading men to become his disciples and responsible members of his church.
At the Fourth Assembly of the World Council, the two-page theological section of Renewal in Mission was, through the efforts of John Stott, David Hubbard, Paul Rees, and a few other evangelical leaders, considerably revised. Unfortunately the outcome was a patchwork in which opposite opinions were written side by side. In the practical section, Douglas Webster, an Anglican, on the third attempt, backed up by Norwegian churchmen and by a resolution passed in the plenary session of the World Council, got inserted mention of the hundreds of millions who have not heard the Gospel and of the duty of the Church to take it to them.
Some took great comfort in these small concessions. But the great question remained: Would the World Council of Churches regard the document as revised and passed at Uppsala its marching orders in mission, or would it disregard the few words on Great Commission mission and divert mission to horizontal reconciliation?
Four years have passed, and that question has been answered. The articles, pamphlets, and books pouring forth from Geneva and the conciliar mission boards are directed very largely (and in many cases exclusively) to carrying on mission conceived as humanization. Some denominations abroad have ceased evangelizing—and growing. Some boards recall missionaries who are active in evangelism. Funds are readily available to establish agricultural centers for distributing new strains of rice or wheat; but for carrying on nation-wide campaigns of evangelism there is nothing. The result of the convenient doctrine that evangelism is the task of the younger church has often been that little evangelism occurs. Publicity, personnel, and cash are given to development, not discipling. The focus remains unswervingly on man.
One scans WCC publications in vain for an expression of concern that men know Jesus Christ, be baptized as he has commanded, and be added to the Lord in the Church of Christ. Conciliar leaders plead constantly that mission must be to “the whole man.” What they mean is that mission must be to bodies, minds, and social organizations. Concern for the immortal souls of men is not only neglected: it is scorned.
The immensity of the change frequently escapes Christians. Two factors camouflage this huge revolution in mission.
First, while the theory, theology, and methodology of missions emanating from the World Council and its subsidiaries are remarkably consistent in their hostility to evangelism, conciliar denominations and missionary societies have many evangelicals in their ranks. These evangelicals go on preaching Christ, actively seeking members, baptizing converts, starting new churches, and obeying all those commands of Christ that the Official Line seldom if ever mentions. The younger churches on the whole are conservative. Although some of their leaders have been taken to Europe and America and “educated” in the new fashion in missions, most of their ministers, bishops, and elders are biblical Christians. The new line does not affect them much—yet. They may even use the “in” words while continuing vigorously to evangelize. If they really understood the heresy they would refuse to go along with it; but in a permissive age, when heresy is no longer recognized, they are inclined to say, “Let them do their thing. The fringe is always doing something peculiar. We shall simply do the right as God gives us to see the right.”
Thus the seriousness of the deviation is masked. It appears as if the conciliar denominations were doing considerable evangelism and church planting. What is being done should not conceal the fact that their evangelistic effort is commensurate neither with their strength nor with the amazing opportunities of the day.
The second aspect of the camouflage is deliberate concealment of the magnitude of the change in theory and theology of mission. The present leaders have learned from the experience in 1933 of William Hocking, who was head of the Laymen’s Commission on Mission. Hocking proposed that the age of church-planting missions was over, and that the age of coexistence with the great religions, each reconceiving itself in the light of the others, had begun. Hocking was an honest man and made his recommendation quite openly. It was rejected unanimously by churches, mission boards, missionary leaders, and churchmen all around the world.
In contrast, the present change has been most carefully camouflaged. Nowhere, for example, do the Uppsala documents say that there should be no more conversion evangelism and church multiplication. Indeed, some escape hatches have been built in. But J. C. Hoekendijk, who is the source from which much of the Geneva Line on missions has sprung, writes openly: “It is impossible to think of the plantatio ecclesiae as the end of evangelism. It is too poor a conception and betrays too clearly a lack of expectant hope” (quoted in Eye of the Storm, p. 49).
The writings on mission that emanate from conciliar sources are full of the old sacred, emotion-laden words—God, salvation, conversion, evangelism, mission, priorities for mission, mobilizing the people of God for mission, proclaiming the Gospel by word and deed, and the like. But these words have been systematically humanized. The biblical meanings held by generations of scholars of all the various branches of the Church have been jettisoned in favor of new meanings, suddenly discovered after 1955 to be the real ones! Thus “conversion” is no longer the turning of individuals and groups from idols to serve the true and living God, but is rather turning to new and better forms of social structure, to new and more just forms of labor-capital relationships, and to forms of land owning that give the masses a fair deal. Thus in a WCC book called Salvation Today, one article is entitled “Saved by Mao.” “Mission” has become, not proclaiming Christ and persuading men to become his disciples and responsible members of his church, but rather “everything God wants done.” For instance, cooperating with a revolution in Brazil or Chile is called mission. There is no end to the reinterpretation.
The plane of missions winging its way to Jerusalem has been hijacked. Most of the passengers are unaware of the event. It is the same plane, the same stewardesses, the same flight crew, but the destination is different. The multi-million dollar income, the headquarters buildings, the property around the world amounting to hundreds of millions, the good will that keeps the dollars and pounds, marks and yen rolling in—all this, given for and dedicated to propagating the Gospel, is now being devoted to mission considered solely as social action.
The plane is heading to Havana, not Jerusalem. The “gospel” being advocated is that of a fair deal in this world—not eternal salvation, good both in this world and the next. Mission is working toward the “new humanity,” not by reconciling sinners to God through Jesus Christ his Son, but by bringing about just and humane structures of society.
All this continues in the face of earnest pleas by evangelicals that Christians emphasize both vertical and horizontal reconciliation. The Frankfurt Declaration says:
We affirm the determined advocacy of justice and peace by all churches, and we affirm that “assistance in development” is a timely realization of the divine demand for mercy and justice as well as of the command of Jesus: “Love thy neighbor.”
We see therein an important accompaniment and verification of mission. We also affirm the humanizing results of conversion as signs of the coming Messianic peace.
We stress, however, that unlike the eternally valid reconciliation with God through faith in the Gospel, all of our social achievements and partial successes in politics are bound by the eschatological “not yet” of the coming kingdom and the not yet annihilated power of sin, death, and the devil, who still is “prince of this world” (quoted in Eye of the Storm, p. 292).
While many conciliar leaders have—as individuals—commended and even taken part in Evangelism in Depth, New Life For All, Billy Graham’s crusades, and the like, the councils as councils have stayed aloof. The only comment on Evangelism in Depth was an attack on it in the WCC’s International Review of Mission. And to combat the concept of church growth, the International Review assembled eight writers from all over the world—Orthodox Syrian, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and others—who on many counts found unacceptable the idea that the growth and multiplication of Christian churches should be a chief determinant of the policies of missionary societies.
The conciliar forces seem unable to diminish polarization by declaring that, of course, salvation of men through belief in Jesus Christ, reconciliation with God in the Church of Jesus Christ, always has been, is now, and ever will be a major end of Christian mission in which all Christians should engage, while at the same time they work steadily forward “doing good to all men” and changing the structures of society as they are able so that the structures themselves add to humanization. The net result is that the powerful direction from Geneva and offices of the great “missionary” societies veers farther and farther away from the propagation of the Gospel.
Yes, Uppsala has betrayed the two billion at their point of greatest need. We can only pray that leaders of the conciliar churches will reverse Uppsala, and return the hijacked plane of missions to its proper course. In the meantime, may God raise up men and women from every nation who as missionaries of the Good News, in true missionary societies, will liberate these hundreds of millions into the glorious liberty of Christ.
Donald McGavran is dean emeritus of Fuller Seminary’s School of World Mission and Institute of Church Growth. He served as a missionary of the Disciples of Christ for thirty-five years. He holds the B.D. from Yale Divinity School and the Ph.D. from Columbia University.
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