WCC leader calls for peaceful, non-aggressive evangelism

By staff writers
1 May 2007
Dr Samuel Kobia

The head of one of the world's largest inter-church bodies has called on Christians to ensure that their evangelism (announcing of the Gospel) is Christlike rather than domineering in its form and content. In particular it must promote peace not division.

On the threshold of the 100th anniversary celebration of the 1910 Edinburgh World Mission Conference, widely regarded as the symbolic starting point of the modern ecumenical movement, World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia offered a sober analysis of the past century's achievements and failures, and called for an "ecumenically responsible evangelism".

Speaking in Edinburgh, Scotland, at a meeting to prepare the 100th anniversary celebration of the landmark event, Kobia affirmed: "We need a new Edinburgh and can only hope that the celebration we foresee for 2010 will be a step in that direction."

The remarks came halfway through a 24 April - 4 May WCC team visit to Britain and Ireland.

Such a reformulation of the earlier dynamic depends on involving today's newer and most dynamic mission movements, Dr Kobia said. These "are to be found among Christian traditions not represented in any of the formal fora that exist as a consequence of the structures of last century".

Only after acknowledging Christianity's new face, the result of the "spiritual revolution brought by the Pentecostal and charismatic movements and churches," can a "fruitful theological dialogue on priorities and disciplines in mission" be envisaged, he suggested.

In that sense, it is particularly urgent that mission "be understood and practised in a way that does not lead to an increase of hatred and violence". New forms of "non-aggressive evangelism" must keep "the bold witness to Christ and God's kingdom in creative tension with respect for men, women and children of all convictions".

For Dr Kobia, "ecumenically responsible evangelism" means "a proclamation which, while critical of human pride and sin, makes it clear that God wants peace and not war, life and not death, unity and not division, forgiveness and not vengeance".

Reflecting on the famous Edinburgh motto "the evangelization of the world in this generation," the WCC general secretary acknowledged that 100 years later, the number of Christians in the world is proportionally the same: roughly a third of the world population.

"Realistically speaking, it doesn't make sense to just repeat the Edinburgh watchword," Dr Kobia argued. Instead, and in view of the extent to which both the world and the landscape of Christianity have profoundly changed since 1910, he proposed to focus on "this generation's mission in a globalized world".

According to Dr Kobia, a Kenyan Methodist, this course should include "the healing of Christian divisions, building communities of healing and reconciliation, challenging all justifications of violence, striving for peace as God's gift, and sharing the gospel in Christ's way".

Among the wounded memories in need of healing is the rift between "Christians of the evangelical mission family and Christians of the conciliar or ecumenical mission family".

"We should find a way to confess mutual exaggerations and disrespect" so as to favour "an authentic reconciliation process" if any progress in co-operation around 2010 and beyond is to be achieved, the WCC chief declared.

Dr Kobia is visiting the churches and agencies gathered under the umbrella of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI).

Full text of Dr Kobia's keynote speech at the planning meeting for the 2010 centennial conference in Edinburgh.

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