Following is the third in a series of roundup articles on developments at denominational meetings.

At the forty-third biennial general council of the Assemblies of God (AG), the leaders of AG churches in 85 nations were on hand to celebrate the denomination’s diamond anniversary. Assemblies of God youth carried a torch 800 miles from Hot Springs, Arkansas, where the church was started in 1914, to the Indianapolis Hoosier Dome, where the final runner presented it to AG general superintendent G. Raymond Carlson.

The convention also launched its “Decade of Harvest,” an evangelistic program that will seek four goals: to enlist one million prayer partners to pray for the church daily throughout the next decade, to win five million people in the U.S. to Christ, to launch 5,000 AG churches nationally, and to train 20,000 new AG ministers in this country.

Delegates to the meeting approved a resolution calling on churches “both corporately and individually to minister to those with AIDS.” The resolution states that “[c]ompassion for those in need” does not constitute approval “of the sin that caused many to contract the disease.” It recognizes that many have contracted AIDS “through no sin of their own” and states that the disease “reminds us of the tragic consequences of sin and the need for a merciful heavenly Father.”

Delegates also adopted an abortion-related resolution, which “leaves to the discretion of individual ministers the extent to which they may participate in non-violent and peaceful acts of intervention to prevent the killing of the unborn.”

The Assemblies of God has 2.5 million U.S. members in 11,123 churches, and a worldwide membership of 18 million in 120 countries.

Wrestling With Issues

In other developments at this summer’s denominational meetings:

• Delegates to the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC) overturned a position the church has held for most of its history by approving a recommendation allowing divorced and remarried persons to be eligible for ministerial ordination and for service as elders and deacons.

The denomination, which has been divided on this issue since 1913, at its 1985 quadrennial general conference authorized a committee to study the issue. The measure eventually approved by delegates, however, specifies that the new eligibility applies only to those divorced and remarried prior to adult Christian conversion.

IPHC delegates also elected West Virginia native B. E. Underwood as the church’s general superintendent. Underwood has served for 16 years as the church’s director of world missions.

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• The 420,000-member Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod decided, after considerable debate, to keep “Wisconsin” in its name even though the church, which began in Wisconsin 139 years ago, now has congregations in all 50 states and three Canadian provinces.

Delegates to the church’s fiftieth biennial convention also adopted a statement intended to direct the denomination’s growth into the next century. It emphasizes the church’s belief in the inerrancy of Scripture and expresses, among other things, a desire to develop more mission congregations in the U.S. and abroad.

• Some 2,500 Churches of Christ members met in Nashville for the national evangelistic convention “Nashville Jubilee.” This fellowship of churches, which includes 13,000 congregations and about 1.6 million members, shuns the use of the term “denomination.” Though many churches work together to support missions and schools, congregations are fiercely autonomous and divide over such issues as worship style, use of church funds for social-service projects, and policies concerning divorced and remarried believers.

In Nashville, keynote speaker Mike Cope, an Arkansas minister, called for spiritual unity despite the doctrinal differences. He urged listeners to behave like “porcupines in November,” to warm up to each other even if it hurts.

By Randy Frame, with Religious News Service reports.



Religious Freedoms Return

Religious liberty is now being granted in the Marxist nation of Mozambique, according to U.S relief agencies and officials of the East African nation. Churches are full and operating without government interference, new churches are being built, confiscated property is being returned, and church groups—including Western religious groups—are being allowed to do social and relief work.

“Within the last two years, the government has opened the doors for the church and sees that the church has a role to play in building the moral and spiritual foundation of the country again,” said World Relief’s African director, Dick Anderson. “I’ve never seen a church that is more alive than I’m seeing in Mozambique.”

The recent climate is a sharp contrast to the brutal policies after FRELIMO, a Marxist rebel group, took over in 1975 and tried to eradicate religion. “We were making a lot of mistakes … in our relations between state and church,” Job Chambal, Mozambique’s director of religious affairs, said during a recent trip to Washington, D.C., sponsored by World Relief. “But now our relationship is much better.” Chambal, the grandson of a Presbyterian minister, acknowledged that “not all problems are solved yet,” but he asserted they are working on “peaceful solutions.”

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Skeptics charge that the move toward freedom is a pragmatic step prompted by the desperate needs in the war-torn nation. Chambal, however, denied the changes are “cosmetic.”


Campaign Targets Continent

“Love Europe,” a major effort to “re-evangelize” Europe, was officially launched this summer at a training conference in Offenberg, West Germany. For five days, nearly 7,000 young men and women from 73 countries received information on practical evangelism, then headed off across the continent to lead others to Christ.

Traveling as 437 teams, the volunteer missionaries used a variety of nontraditional methods to communicate the gospel. A team in Belgium operated a pancake house and a bookmobile, while a team in England presented performances of actor Roger Nelson’s portrayal of John Wesley.

Sponsored by Operation Mobilization, “Love Europe” will continue through the 1990s with the goal of giving every European a chance to hear the gospel by the year 2000. Several hundred of this summer’s volunteers opted to continue campaigning for another one or two years.


Here Come the Missionaries

The concept of the Western world sending missionaries to the Third World is outdated, according to Larry Pate, coordinator of emerging missions for O.C. Ministries. “The emerging missions have emerged,” Pate says.

Today, for example, there are an estimated 15,000 African missionaries, 42 percent of the total Third World force. Asian churches send 17,300 missionaries. Pate says the missions movement in Third World nations has been something of a secret in the Western world. “Some of these [Third World missions] leaders have a track record now of leading significant missions agencies for 20 or 25 years.”

The number of missionaries sent from Latin America is smaller, but since COMIBAM, a missionary congress held in South America two years ago, missionary-sending agencies have begun appearing. According to Jonathan Santos, director of the Association of Cross-Cultural Brazilian Missions, there are an estimated 40 sending agencies in Brazil, and another 10 or 15 in other Latin American countries.

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Bible Deals Struck

The continuing policy of glasnost has apparently opened several doors for Bible distribution in the Soviet Union. In separate developments, U.S. agencies reported agreements with Soviet officials to print and distribute Scriptures.

The Slavic Gospel Association (SGA) will provide 25,000 Bibles by the end of this month, with an additional 25,000 per month through the end of the year, according to Peter Deyneka, president of SGA. He noted that the Bibles will be distributed for the first time through nonchurch channels such as factories and clubs, and at prices affordable to the average worker.

The American Bible Society reported that the United Bible Societies (UBS) recently signed in Moscow a “memorandum of understanding” with the Russian Orthodox Church, which UBS officials hope will lead to printing Bibles in the Soviet Union. Following that announcement, Russian Orthodox leaders challenged the societies to provide 20 million Bibles for the Soviet Union. According to the UBS, there are an estimated four million copies of the Bible and 60 to 100 million Christians in the Soviet Union.


Largest Church Completed

The tallest church in the world, the Ivory Coast’s Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, was scheduled to be completed and dedicated this month in Yamoussoukro, the capital of the West African country. Modeled after Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the church rises from the surrounding bush to more than 500 feet.

Completed in just three years, the basilica was the pet project of Roman Catholic President Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who envisions the church as a center for the continent’s 73 million Catholics. Its cost of about $200 million—reportedly paid by private donations—has drawn criticism in the developing country. And the surrounding controversy has caused the Vatican to keep a distance from the church. Pope John Paul II did not plan to attend the dedication, and Vatican officials said they have no responsibility to provide the estimated $1.5 million yearly maintenance because they were not consulted on the building.

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