From Lausanne Occasional Paper 24 (1980)
(i) Church leader to para-church leader
(a) I know you are my brother in Christ, but often I do not feel it. At worst, I feel judged, criticised and ignored; at best, patronised. In short, you do not take me seriously.
(b) I can accept that you and your organisation have a specific calling and a limited purpose whose fulfilment is needed by the Body of Christ as a whole. But your emergence, when it does not happen in fellowship and dialogue, often seems a threat to me, because it appears a judgment on me and on the weakness or ineffectiveness of the church.
(c) Often I do not know what your basic goals are, or how they will help the church. Yet you want my support and you ask my people for their money. Note also that dozens of other organisations are doing the same, and this is breeding confusion both in me and my people.
(d) Your organisation also seems to overlap in aim and purpose with certain others; so that an impression of duplication, if not rivalry, is often created. This does not seem to me healthy.
(e) Sometimes you actually seem to be opposing or contradicting what we are doing in the church. You seem constantly to minimise what we are doing while exalting your own programme. You also set up rival calls, claims and programmes run by churches. Or else you win converts, related to our church fellowship, but redirect them to other local fellowships because you do not see some of our churches as “Bible-believing” or sufficiently “evangelical.” You say we are not sound; perhaps before you make such presumptuous judgments, you should sit with us:
(i) to discover what we do or do not, in fact, believe about the Bible;
(ii) to discover what “being sound” means; and
(iii) to examine the long-term not the short-term consequences of directing our members, nominal though some of them may have been, to other fellowship
(f) You say you are serving the churches, but who gave you that mandate? I do not feel you are, in fact, always sensitive to what the church is, or where we are in terms of our needs, even in terms of assistance with evangelization. Should not true service to us involve setting this right?
(g) As I read my New Testament, I see only two basic concepts of the Church. One is the Church universal (the whole company of believers) and the other the local church (e.g., at Ephesus or Corinth). Now I accept you as part of the Church universal. But you and your like often have little or no real involvement in a local church, and this weakens both you and the local church. You need to learn, give and receive more fully and holistically, and the local church needs your gifts, insights and energy. To miss out here is to land not only in a distorted ecclesiology but in truncated and impoverished spiritual growth for all of us.
(h) You speak of having a specific mission which the church cannot or will not fulfil. Please do not force a disjunction between church and mission, because we feel the church which is true to itself is the church in mission. So you weaken the mission of the local church when you do “your thing” outside it, or with no reference to it. You contribute to the local church’s losing its missionary vision and dimension. Thus, even when—or if—you say you only want to cooperate in local, regional or world evangelization, I find this hard to receive unless I have first experienced your cooperation at other levels and especially in fellowship and in comprehension of my view of all this.
(i) Truthfully, I also admit there are times when I envy the freedom, success or effectiveness of the para-church agency and I must rid myself of feelings of jealousy, rivalry or self-condemnation. Your fellowship and love would help me in this.
I must also share an ambivalence. On the one hand, I can and do understand that there are tasks and assignments which we who are caught up in the church structures cannot fulfil. And I recognise that God can and does raise up specialist agencies to tackle these. And we need to look at these in Christian togetherness so that we are clear as to who is doing what, and why. On the other hand, I confess to a lingering feeling that there is something anomalous, something slightly theologically eccentric, in the para-church agency. I can’t help feeling that the existence of para-church agencies says somehow that we in the church structures have failed. The church has failed in some way to be what it exists to become. Perhaps you know that even the great missionary-minded Hendrik Kraemer argued that the maintenance and extension of missionary societies amounted to the perpetuation of a deformity of the Church. There is also the fact that local churches everywhere are catching renewed glimpses of the task of evangelising which we need to undertake. Whether this feeling of anomaly or ambivalence can be resolved, I am not sure, but we need to discuss it.
(k) Another point. Para-church agencies often do excellent evangelistic work, but because you do not thoroughly integrate both the endeavour and its fruit within the local church(es) the effects are short-term and of passing value.
In conclusion, I recognise the need for us to meet and talk and theologise and plan and pray. We need to do it at four levels—local, regional, national and world.
Maybe this Lausanne network of which you speak could be the catalyst for this. I know of it, but many of my colleagues do not. So you may need to do a bit of public relations to get this going. At the local level you could simply encourage Lausanne individuals, wearing whatever hat is most appropriate, to take the initiative. I suspect it may have to begin from the para-church side of the fence. Anyway, I am ready. Are you?
(ii) Para-church leader to church leader
Thank you, my Lord Bishop, Mr. Moderator, Mr. President, brother, Archbishop, or whatever label you like (you know I’m not much into the church scene myself). Let me respond.
(a) More seriously, I think I do come from a model No. 2 type parachurch agency which seeks to be pretty responsible about relating to the church leadership. And most in LCWE would profess the same sort of thing. But even so, I have probably not taken you seriously enough. For this I apologise.
(b) I like your idea of the need for communication at four levels and am willing to cooperate.
(c) I agree LCWE could be the catalyst.
(d) However, I want in response to say a word about the history of my type of structure. I recognise that there is no talk of a “missionary society” in the New Testament, though some have interpreted the actions of the congregation in Antioch (Acts 13) as more or less those of a missionary society. I admit that in the first centuries there is very little which points to a missionising structure alongside the church. However, it has been suggested that the position began altering with Constantine, when the church became the state church; and the consequent superficialisation resulted in the protest out of which the monastic movement was born. Numbers of these communities and cloisters in due time engaged actively in mission, as archbishops, bishops and even priests disengaged. Missionary initiative shifted to the Orders, and this process continued throughout the Middle Ages. In fact, by the end of the Middle Ages, it was secular and often colonial powers (e.g., Portugal and Spain) which sent out missionaries under patronage. In the 19th century, the situation improved and successive popes took an interest in missions. Yet even today there are more Order missionaries in Roman Catholicism than those, directly sent forth by bishops which are relatively few. What does this say?
(e) Turning now to Protestantism, we note the extraordinary fact that the Reformation churches had a very poor missionary record for almost three centuries. The reason, believes missiologist David Bosch of South Africa, is that “it had no Orders at its disposal,” Luther and the other reformers having almost tossed out the baby of missionary outreach with the bath water of monasticism. Those Protestant efforts which did develop in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had, according to Bosch, one thing in common—”in not one of these instances was the official church involved”… The initiative lay with individuals, or kings, or colonial powers, or with some few emerging societies once we get into the 18th century (e.g., The Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts – 1701). Then came the Moravian “brotherhood” (first half of the l8th century) with its powerful missionary push. But still the official church stood aloof.
Missionary-minded believers were thus compelled, in the late 18th century and early 19th century to form “Missionary Societies.” This process accelerated in the 20th century, especially in the U.S.A. In the entire period up to 1900, 75 mission agencies were formed. But in the 80 years since then, six new societies—on average—per year have been formed, a total of between four and five hundred. And almost half of all North American Protestant missionaries are in service with organisations having no formal connection with churches.
So you see, it seems that the development of sodality* structures has, in fact, often happened historically because the official churches were inward looking and doing very little about mission.
(f) Now, brother, what do you say to that? It still seems to many of us in sodality*structures that you modality* chaps rarely actually get into effective missionary evangelistic undertakings, in spite of pious talk. Your energies are occupied with keeping your structure going. And often you are also too involved with internal theologising, ecumenics, or oiling creaking machinery to get on with the task of world evangelization. Sorry if I offend you, but this is often how it seems. Please show me if I am wrong.
*See Appendix A for explanation of sodality and modality.
(g) While on this, I must also quote the view of some mission specialists that even in a number of Third World situations, the national churches are actually hindering mission societies (sodalities) from getting to people who cannot be reached by the usual near-neighbour evangelism from the churches. By doing a “thumbs down” on missionaries, they are frustrating the fulfilment of the Great Commission. May we add this problem to our agenda for discussion?
(h) In that connection, you may know that the late Max Warren argued that it has frequently happened in history that church leaders have been slow to grasp the missionary need, and have shown a frustrated response to it by embracing the view that modality leadership is the Church. Says he: “Official leadership does not by itself constitute the Church. Nor is the central administration of a denomination the Church. The Church is far bigger than either.
(i) In any event, I recognise that we have not sought adequate feedback and comment from you. And perhaps we are, therefore, in the dark as to what you are not only thinking, but feeling, and why.
(j) Basically, as I see it, we sodality people should be your shock troops, your commando units and your sub-contractors tackling those specialist tasks and functions which have “seemed good to (all of) us and to the Spirit” (Acts 15:38). This will help both parties to come to a clear description and understanding of the specific aims of the sodality concerned. Perhaps where you see different sodalities having confusing or counter-productive overlap, you should say so and help the respective bodies to eliminate this, both with each other and with you. Or else again, we could encourage LCWE to help in this.
(k) Perhaps this brings us to the warp and woof* idea. Modality and sodality, church and para-church, must function as members, one of another, and partners together in the gospel.
*See Appendix A for explanation of warp and woof concept.
We sodality people must discourage the proliferation of agencies unrelated in fellowship to churches. Conceivably we should go further, and say with Prof. David Bosch that the missionary society has a right to exist only if it keeps ties with the Church. But you modality leaders must cooperate from your side, alter some of your perceptions and make room in your thinking, relating and planning for sodality endeavours genuinely spawned and led by the Holy Spirit.
Cassidy concludes: “It seems to me that this type of encounter and dialogue is long overdue—even when it may not initially have a direct and immediate bearing on world evangelization. My point is that without this type of initial and more basic encounter, it is impossible to move on to the agenda of mutual co-operation in world evangelization. A lot of relational debris and misunderstanding must be resolved first. This is a basic prerequisite to getting on to our priority concern.”
We must not forget that part of the Commission’s mandate was also to suggest ways of furthering co-operation between the different para-church groups themselves. While some specific areas of conflict will be discussed in the next section, we repeat that dialogue is again the first priority. It may well be that lack of communication and understanding is an even more serious problem here; because as Cassidy says, “While para-church agencies occasionally tip their caps in the direction of seeking church blessing, they do it even more rarely with each other. The need therefore is for contact and togetherness both formally and informally.