What’s behind the Idea of a Missionary Moratorium?

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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. ...

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