The greatest challenge of Christian witness – how evangelism could best relate the good news to people in pluralistically diverse contexts in Asia – was the question propounded by the participants of the WCC-CCA Consultation on ‘Evangelism and Missional Witness in a Multi-religious Asia’.
In a communique adopted towards the end of the week-long consultation, the participants affirmed, “The ways in which the gospel is preached and reaches people in diverse contexts reminds us of the need for diverse approaches to evangelism and mission. Evangelism and Missional witness of the Church should be a means of reciprocation to the gift of shalom and liberation received from God.”
The participants opined, “Churches in Asia should make deliberate attempts to ensure ample time for deepening reflections on specific areas and priorities within the work of evangelization.” They acknowledged that ‘the quality of discipleship should be the primary focus of evangelization rather than concern about increasing membership in congregations’.
Jointly organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), and held at the CCA Headquarters in Chiang Mai, the consultation was attended by 40 participants from across Asia.
In a presentation on ‘New Christian Missionary Evangelical Movements: Challenges to Christian Witness in Asia’, Dr Mathews George Chunakara, General Secretary of CCA, describing the emerging trends in Asia said, “New forms of evangelical, charismatic, and individual-centered mission, with their assertive expansions, pose challenges to the Church in Asia to be authentic witnesses of Christ.”
“The failure of Christian mission to indigenize and contextualize, the inability to envision the parameters of mission and evangelism through the lenses of our fragilities, and the insistence on viewing mission only from a position of power has resulted in the creation of fertile ground for the rise of new aggressive evangelical movements,” stated Dr Mathews George.
Rev Ebenezer Joseph of the Methodist Church in Sri Lanka observed that our response to the issues that could hinder united Christian witness could be strengthened if we did not adopt an ‘us vs. them’ approach, and recognized the trends both within our own church demographics and outside it.
Raising a sharp self-critique of our failings as Asian churches, Ms Kanthamanee Ladaphongphatthana from the Asia Evangelical Alliance (AEA), in her thematic presentation on ‘Our Common Evangelistic Task in Asia’ confessed, “We as a church are inward-looking and ignore what happens right outside the walls of our churches; we are no longer even close to the word of God and its power. As a result, we as a church have become irrelevant and have failed to discern the complexity of the changing world. We must stay relevant in terms of our attitudes and approaches.”
Fr Gilbert Aranha of the Federation of Asian Bishop’s Conferences (FABC), in a thematic presentation on ‘Our Common Evangelistic Task in Asia’ emphasized the need for engaging and recognizing the role of the laity in mission and evangelism. “The importance of prayer in the common task of evangelization should be a priority,” added Fr Aranha.
“A Christianity that is ‘superior’, ‘oppressive’, and ‘exclusive’, and is one that rejects or demonizes local Asian cultures founded on the concept of harmony and unity cannot be tolerated,” asserted Dr Sun Qi of the China Christian Council. She urged churches not to follow an exclusionary form of Christianity, but to instead ‘take Jesus as an example to be light and salt, to serve society, and benefit the people’.
Rev Prince Devanandan of the Methodist Church in New Zealand pertinently shared, “Our inherited mission and theology needs to be reconstructed so that our belief can be indigenized and contextualized within our Asian lands, cultures, and realities.”
Rev Tan Tek-in of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan pointed out the danger of prosperity theology or ‘success theology’ coupled with fast-moving marketing, business and money model of evangelization that emphasizes material progress.
“Modernized and capitalistic society has damaged relationships between people, and the Christian mission needs to focus on re-evaluating the value of community living and on strengthening ways of building and supporting relationships within and in the neighbourhood of local congregations,” added Rev TanTek.
Juxtaposed amidst an older generation that sees the young people as destroying their own future and a younger generation that perceives themselves as changing or creating their own future, Rev Judy Chan of the Hong Kong Christian Council urged the participants to reflect on what the church could do in such a context of civil unrest.
The consultation was held from 29 November to 5 December 2019 at the CCA headquarters
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