Written by Sherry
Thursday, 21 June 2007 08:36
The evangelical missionary equivalent of an ecumenical council will be held in 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa: Lausanne III: the International Congress on World Evangelization.
This is significant for Catholics in so many ways.
It was the first Lausanne Conference, convened by Billy Graham in 1974, which was a major catalyst of the extraordinary growth of evangelical/Pentecostal Christianity around the world. The irony is that, at that very moment in time, the Catholic missionary movement was abandoning the proclamation of Christ as futile.
As Peter Phan wrote in his article: “Proclamation of the Reign of God as Mission of the Church: What for, to Whom, by Whom, with Whom, and How?”
But now things have changed, and changed utterly. The change from the enthusiasm and optimism of the World Missionary Conference that met in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1910—whose catchy slogan was "The evangelization of the world in this generation"—to the discouragement and even pessimism in today’s missionary circles, Catholic and Protestant alike, is visible and palpable. . . .To the consternation of Western missionaries, the shout "Missionary, go home" was raised in the 1960s, to be followed a decade later by the demand for a moratorium on Christian missions from the West.
In addition to the political factors, the collapse of mission as we knew it was also caused by the unexpected resurgence of the so-called non-Christian religions, in particular Hinduism and Islam. The missionaries’ rosy predictions of their early demise were vastly premature. Concomitant with this phenomenon is an intense awareness of religious pluralism which advocates several distinct, independent, and equally valid ways to reach the Divine and therefore makes conversion from one religion to another, which was considered as the goal of mission, unnecessary. [emphasis mine]
Ironies heaped upon ironies. Phan talks of the 1910 Congress as a discredited relic of the past while evangelicals are planning their next Congress in 2010 because it is the anniversary of the 1910 Congress which they regard as prophetic of the spectacular expansion of Christianity in the global south during the 20th century.
Truly, the contrast between Catholic and evangelical interpretations of mission history since 1960 is that of night and day, winter and summer. Catholic missions “as we knew it” has indeed collapsed but the evangelical missions movement swept past us and around the world without missing a beat.
In the 37 years since 1970, Christians in Africa grew from 117 million to 417 million and in Asia from 96 million to 353 million. But the lion’s share of that growth was non-Catholic and non-Orthodox.
The 2010 Congress on World Evangelization won’t be led by western Christians but by evangelical leaders from Uganda, Latin America, Malaysia, Egypt and Hong Kong. They are expecting 4,000 missionary leaders from 200 countries to attend Lausanne III.
And Catholic missionary leaders and scholars should be there – not just a few but in significant numbers to grasp what is happening and to be part of the conversation at strategic levels. Because hundreds of millions of baptized Catholics around the world are part of or are being formed by and heavily influenced by this evangelistic juggernaut. If we don’t evangelize our own, the evangelicals will do it for us.
But do we have the leaders committed to the proclamation of Christ as the center (but not the only aspect) of missions who are capable of doing so? As far as I can tell, we don’t in the US, but then we’ve never been a Catholic missionary powerhouse. Europe was the traditional center of Catholic missions but the current state of the Church there makes it unlikely that the next generation of missionary leaders will be European.
Perhaps the future of Catholic missions lies with the movements instead of the historic religious orders?
For more on the subject in general, take a look at my 11 part article on Independent Christianity.