One of the most hotly debated topics at the International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne last summer was a “moratorium on missions.” The concept means, generally, the withdrawal of missionaries and mission money from a place that has been the object of missionary work.

The concept (but not the name) was expressed in 1971 when eleven anthropologists, sponsored by a committee of the World Council of Churches, published a document (the “Declaration of Barbados”) calling for the withdrawal of missionaries working among Indian populations in Latin America. The purpose, according to the anthropologists, was to encourage the survival of Indian cultures. The thesis was rejected by many other anthropologists. A year after its release the Barbados report was evaluated by another WCC-sponsored group, meeting in Asunción, Paraguay. This group, too, rejected the implications of the Barbados document.

Among evangelicals, the moratorium concept was something of a “sleeper” coming out of the World Council of Churches’ “Salvation Today” conference at Bangkok two years ago. A resolution advocating a moratorium was issued there, but most books and articles giving an evangelical response to Bangkok did not take up moratorium as a big issue growing out of that world meeting. Now it is becoming a major debate.

At first glance there seem to be plausible arguments for a moratorium. The Lausanne Congress itself demonstrated dramatically that the Church has been established in the major nations of the world. The roster of speakers from around the globe provided convincing evidence of mature and capable leadership. Reports at Lausanne showed that the Church is growing more rapidly in other parts of the world than in North America and Europe.

The moratorium discussion reached Lausanne primarily because of the presence there of its principal proponent, the Reverend John Gatu, general secretary of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa. He brought up the concept in the East Africa Strategy Group, arguing that a moratorium was needed because the presence of missionaries and mission money was hindering the national churches. The churches have been unable to assert themselves for their mission in Africa because they are controlled by missionaries and their money, he said. The resulting tension between missions and the national churches debilitates energies and reduces vision. With resources coming from outside, Gatu argued, there is inadequate stimulus to develop local resources of leadership and money. This hinders the development of a national church’s identity and “selfhood.”

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The question of how to engage in world evangelization brought the moratorium debate into sharp focus at Lausanne. Would the churches that have been formed around the world become (as Gatu argued) more aggressive in evangelism and outreach if they were divorced from the missions that have nurtured them? Would their new sense of “selfhood” thrust them into a wider outreach?

It was in this context that the Lausanne Covenant gave what some considered a nod of approval to the moratorium concept. Within a paragraph making a strong appeal to the whole Church to exert every effort to reach the unevangelized people of the world, the covenant says:

A reduction of foreign missionaries and money in an evangelized country may sometimes be necessary to facilitate the national church’s growth in self-reliance and to release resources for unevangelized areas. Missionaries should flow ever more freely from and to all six continents in a spirit of humble service [italics added].

But in no sense can this be called an endorsement of the call for moratorium, nor can it be compared with the shrill voices clamoring for the withdrawal of all missionaries and money. On the contrary, it is speaking of ways to make the existing resources go further in an ever more aggressive missionary work by the whole Church. In reality, the statement as it is worded is an academic one, for who can ever say that a country has been “evangelized” (which is the condition of the statement)? Has the United States, for example, been evangelized? If not, it is a candidate, not for moratorium, but for missionary efforts by churches from other countries. Evangelization is a continuous process in which every generation in every country has to be confronted with the claims of Jesus Christ. The covenant confirms that evangelization is the task of the whole Church in the whole world until Jesus comes.

Mission strategists differ, as did the congress participants, on how the churches can achieve self-identity and involvement. Many strategists believe that most of the desirable goals expressed by Gatu in his call for a moratorium can better be reached more effectively in other ways.

One way to develop self-identity and enter into full brotherhood with the church bodies of the world is to become involved in missions. A number of national churches, with the quiet encouragement of the missions that nurtured them and still work alongside them, have formed missionary societies and are sending out missionaries to other nations and to other cultural and linguistic groups within their own nations. There is strong evidence that this move has done more to provide the churches with “selfhood” and a sense of being a vital part of the universal church than a moratorium could possibly accomplish. Mission leaders in the West are acknowledging that their concept of establishing autonomous, self-supporting churches fell short at one very critical point: the churches need also to be missionary-minded.

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The very nature of the Church is missionary. The churches in Africa, Asia, and Latin America that have sensed the call and have become missionary in a very direct way are showing vigor and growth locally as well as in their missionary activities. This doubtless accounts for the fact that a recent study found a surprisingly large and growing involvement in missions from the Asian, African, and Latin American countries. Three thousand missionaries from those areas of the world are already serving as missionaries, according to the book Mission From the Third World (edited by James Wong, Singapore: Church Growth Study Center, 1973). Japan reported thirty-two sending agencies that support missionaries to some twenty-five countries, mostly in Asia, but also in North America, South America, and Europe. These agencies have formed an association known as the Japan Overseas Missions Association. Korea reported seven missionary agencies and also has a cooperative organization called Korea Foreign Missions Association. A total of forty-six countries reported having missionary agencies.

Many leaders of this emerging missionary thrust from the Third World were at Lausanne. Their principles and philosophies are being formulated and their goals established. They will be a major force in the evangelization of the world in the coming decade. The moratorium debate did not dampen their enthusiasm for the work of missions. On the contrary, their enthusiasm for missionary work was contagious in the congress, stimulating many participants to determine to return to their nations to develop missionary programs.

The call for a moratorium has slowly gained world prominence since it was formalized at Bangkok in 1972 as a resolution calling on Western churches to withdraw missionary personnel and support for a period of time. The All Africa Conference of Churches, meeting in Zambia last May, adopted this resolution:

To enable the African Church to achieve the power of becoming a true instrument of liberating and reconciling the African people, as well as finding solutions to economic and social dependency, our option as a matter of policy has to be a moratorium on external assistance in money and personnel.
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The concept was debated at the June, 1974, meeting of the American Society of Missiology. Opponents argued that while serious problems do exist in relations between missions and the national churches that they have planted and nurtured, there are other ways of attacking the problem. Many leaders from the national churches have indicated that they want change, but change through realignments that will enable the churches to establish their identity while retaining the maximum evangelistic strength in order to reach the multitudes who have not yet been reached with the Gospel. The rebuttal by some missiologists present was that such church leaders are not to be taken seriously because they cannot see the problem objectively while being recipients of aid. The missiologists contended that missions should proceed with a moratorium even when requested not to do so by their churches.

Definitions of moratorium vary. In its more extreme form the concept calls for the withdrawal of all missionaries and all financial support for a specified period of time, or even for an indefinite time. This call has proved very attractive to some large denominational missions that are already in trouble because a lay revolt against their radical political adventures has dried up a large part of their missionary resources.

For those who do not have an acute conviction of the lostness of man, and of the uniqueness of Christ, it seems to be no problem to ignore the vast unevangelized multitudes.

At the June, 1974, meeting of the Association of Professors of Missions, missions professors related to the movements sympathetic to the moratorium idea spent considerable time talking about what they ought to do when they do not have missionaries to train and do not have missionary work to present to ministerial students. Some felt they should now work to open up a world perspective in students. They should teach U. S. Christians how to influence public opinion concerning American industry’s overseas involvement and other political, social, and economic issues.

The need for improved relations between missions and the national churches was acknowledged at Lausanne, but the idea of a broad moratorium appeared to be rejected by most leaders from the Third World and from the Western nations.

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Retired Archbishop Erica Sabiti (Anglican of Uganda) expressed his opinion at a news conference shared with John Gatu and others. Sabiti expressed doubt about the practicality and the spirituality of a moratorium. He pointed out that the Uganda revival had created both leadership and resources in the church there: a thousand pastors are serving self-supporting churches, he said, and fifteen out of sixteen bishops are Africans. This development of “selfhood” came not through a moratorium but through revival.

At a gathering of Latin American evangelicals there was general opposition to moratorium as a solution to the problems. The Mexican delegation specifically asked missionaries to continue their work in Mexico.

Samuel Odunaike, president of a denomination in Nigeria, president of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar, and a businessman, departed from his message on the role of laymen to present a strong call for continued missionary work.

Dr. Byang Kato, general secretary of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar, who attended the All Africa Conference of Churches, later commented on the moratorium issue as it was handled at Lusaka. “One disturbing thing in the discussion was the type of attitude manifested,” Kato said. “It was obviously vindictive. Every expatriate missionary was branded a neo-colonialist, out to exploit the African.” Kato found that while the ACCC was talking of withdrawal of external money, 97 per cent of its own budget comes from outside Africa. “While ecumenical leaders are pleading for a moratorium, they inconsistently hop from one country to the other” (traveling on foreign money). Kato feels that “their thesis apparently amounts to the position that if the support comes from Geneva, it is justified, but if it comes from elsewhere, it is servitude money.”

As to a more reasonable and spiritual approach, Kato commented:

Gradual transfer to African leadership is our objective. The leading of the Spirit of God and the universality of the church are factors to be considered. A Kenyan may be called by the Spirit to serve in England and a Scot may be called to serve in Latin America. A call for moratorium seems to be merely an emotional appeal without adequate consideration of the ramifications involved.

Taken as a whole, the Lausanne Covenant did not assume a nation to be evangelized when a small national church has been established and become self-governing. The covenant calls for the evangelization of 2.7 billion; obviously some of these people live in countries that have established churches. The “unevangelized” remainder in a country where Christians form a small minority continues to be a matter of grave concern to those who are serious about sharing the Gospel with all people. The covenant supports the idea that instead of discussing moratorium it is much more appropriate to talk about harnessing all the resources of the Church worldwide to witness to the unreached within every country. To remove thousands of missionaries who have language proficiency, cultural acumen, and well developed skills that are being effectively used would be a reckless waste of resources. Unquestionably each resource should be carefully evaluated and plans made to reassign unproductive resources (both workers and money) to better use. Many missions are doing this while at the same time they are seeking to improve relations with the national churches. Tensions can be developed into creative tensions that improve the capabilities of both mission and church.

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With this view it does not seem incongruous for missionaries from other nations to be working in Japan (where fewer than 1 per cent of the people are Protestant Christians) while Japanese churches send missionaries to other nations. It is in order for Korea to send missionaries to the United States to help evangelize those who do not know Christ while at the same time Americans are serving in Korea.

The awakened interest in missionary outreach in Asia, Africa, and Latin America is a remarkable moving of the Holy Spirit. It is creating an awareness of mission and a calling that stimulates the Church and calls for sacrificial commitment of leaders and resources.

It is an interesting sidelight that minorities in the United States are also being awakened to the missionary challenge that is being dropped by so many under the influence of the moratorium debate and the loss of a financial base. The North American Congress of Chinese Evangelicals, meeting at Wheaton, Illinois, last August, gave attention to its potential role in worldwide evangelization. Some black evangelical leaders in the United States have been consulting with missions leaders with a view to finding greater involvement in missionary outreach. At Lausanne some 100 blacks from the United States, Africa, and the Caribbean met together with the idea of mobilizing Christians of African descent to reach out in evangelization.

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This concurrent awakening of missionary zeal in the Third World and in minority churches in the United States could very well serve two very important functions. It undoubtedly helps meet the need for identity; there is no greater source of self-awareness for a church than to know it is involved in a divine mission that requires all the resources and leadership it can muster. Furthermore, it helps take up the slack for the traditional sending missions that for either lack of finances, lack of vision, or other reasons are sending fewer witnesses. God has outlined a missionary effort that is to continue until the return of Christ. He is demonstrating that he will find witnesses to carry it out.

The leaders of a great part of the newly awakened missionary thrust were present at Lausanne. The debates on missionary themes and the resulting strong missionary consensus will have a deep and lasting effect upon the direction of the great new missionary thrust.

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