The Reformation of the 16th century was a revolution of mythic proportions. Scholars and pastors with fresh scriptural insights took advantage of revolutionary changes in the arts, science, humanities, politics, travel, and commerce to turn the Western world upside down. It marked both a return to biblical roots and a leap into the future. In the 21st century, what major changes in the church should Christians be hoping and working for? In the final installment of the Global Conversation, four key leaders from four continents reveal their hopes.
During my most recent visit to Ethiopia, I joined students at Addis Ababa University for a meeting of the Evangelical Students' and Graduates' Union of Ethiopia. The students are part of a remarkably courageous Ethiopian church that survived the repressive regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam. Believers had to go underground between 1974 and 1991 while the regime tortured and murdered tens of thousands. But afterward, the church emerged irrepressible and vibrant in witness.
At the meeting I attended, worship alone lasted an hour. Then came a time of prayer followed by biblical preaching, lasting about two-and-a-half hours. I could tell from the students' singing, dancing, and praying that most of them combined elements of their Orthodox Church background with their evangelical identity. Most could recite long portions of Scripture by heart, a habit they had learned under Communist rule. Some 700 students were present, and I was told that another 50 had gone to a village for rural evangelism. Later that night we sat and ate injera, the traditional Ethiopian flatbread, with bare hands from deep bowls.
The Ethiopian students could not have been more different in culture, experience, tradition, and appearance from their counterparts in Oxford and Cambridge who, 64 years ago, pioneered InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (which later became the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students). Yet they are just as much a part of the future identity of global evangelicalism.
There is a deep bowl of evangelical identity and heritage from which we all need to eat. This bowl is filled with diverse gifts contributed from the ends of the earth. Some of the best and most interesting foods on the menu come from newcomers in the evangelical family.
The future of evangelical reform must take our global diversity seriously. We cannot be all that God wants if we are not attending to the global mosaic God is constructing. Beyond clinging to the values of our past Reformation, which was rooted in particular contexts, we must take seriously the values emerging from new centers of Christian expansion.
In the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16), the landowner hired workers at different times but paid them the same wage. The first-come workers had accepted the terms of payment and would have gone home content if other workers had not been introduced. Instead, they resented the later-come workers. Sometimes evangelicals stand in danger of being like them, expecting higher honor or greater wages because they came first.
We have seen wonderful things. The founding fathers of the evangelical tradition now stand surrounded by beneficiaries who do all they can to defend and preserve the fathers' heritage. This is certainly true of the Ethiopian students I worshiped with.
However, as the Lord of the harvest hires later-come workers, they may produce fresh ideas to enrich the heritage. We cannot remain prisoners of the historical and cultural framework of the first-come workers. Our greater concern must be to learn from what the Lord of history is doing globally. Can anything good come from the previously unimaginable, diverse ends of the earth? Only in being open to learning shall we know.
Femi B. Adeleye is a John Stott Ministries/Langham scholar who serves as associate general secretary for partnership and collaboration with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. He also serves on the Pan-African Host Team for the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, Cape Town 2010.
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