A STATEMENT OF MISSIONARY CONCERN

As a result of the spread of a new theory of missions known as Contextualization among many Evangelicals, a Caucus on Biblically informed Missions was held at Four Brooks Conference Center, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, between July 9 and 11, 1985. The following Statement was issued at the end of the assembly:

BECAUSE the uniqueness of the Christian Faith is being compromised by the movement called 'Contextualization,' as advocated by many, which increasingly places cultural considerations above Biblical norms; and

BECAUSE the integrity of the Christian Gospel is being nullified by contextualized attempts to ‘build bridges' to non-Christian religions and to find common salvation-ground with them; and

BECAUSE the well being of the Christian Mission to earth's billions is being jeopardized by the development of 'ethno-theologies' that would avoid the reproach of Christ and the offence of the Cross.

IT IS IMPERATIVE that an alarm be sounded and a standard raised for the rallying of those concerned with the fulfilling of the Great Commission in a truly Biblical context.

ACCORDINGLY,

1. WE AFFIRM the sovereignty of the Living Triune God in world evangelization and Gospel response, REJECTING any ultimate dependence on human means and methods of communication;

2. WE AFFIRM the sufficiency of the Biblical revelation, carried home by the Holy Spirit, to bring lost men and women to saving faith in Christ, REJECTING cultural accommodations which obscure, alter or relativize the Gospel, God's power unto salvation to everyone who believes;

3. WE AFFIRM the plain sense of Holy Scripture as normative for Christian discipleship and duty, REJECTING sophisticated reinterpretations by self-styled experts which falsely stimulate missionary activity and deflect from true Gospel obedience;

4. WE AFFIRM that for historic Christianity, love for the lost and the unity of believers are always based on Scriptural truth, REJECTING concepts of love which are contrary to truth and righteousness;

5. WE AFFIRM that faithfulness to God's revealed Word is the key to lasting God-honoring results in homelands and on mission fields, REJECTING concepts of love which are contrary to truth and righteousness;

6. WE AFFIRM the primacy of Gospel proclamation over all other forms of Christian service, REJECTING theologies of mission which would reduce evangelism to a parity with social action;

7. WE AFFIRM the believing Church to be God's appointed means for the accomplishing of His purposes, REJECTING approaches that would bypass faithful, albeit imperfect, congregations in lands where the Church has already been planted;

8. WE AFFIRM the importance of Christian workers identifying themselves as fully as possible with those to whom they would go with the Gospel, REJECTING, however any identification which violates or obscures both the letter and spirit of Scripture;

9. WE AFFIRM as those with a particular concern for the Islamic world, the long history of Christian missions to Muslims and rejoice in the many accomplishments, REJECTING the charge of general failure due to a lack of 'proper contextualization';

10. WE AFFIRM the responsibility of Christ's servants to declare to Muslims and all others the Christian message with precision and consistency; REJECTING appeals that would minimize, or seek to obliterate, the essential differences between Christianity and any other religion;

11. WE AFFIRM the unique Person, final authority and transcendent glory of Jesus Christ, our Great God and Savior, apart from Whom there is no salvation; REJECTING all comparisons between Him and the founders of other religious systems; and

12. WE AFFIRM the completeness of the redemptive work of Christ and the utter graciousness of His redemption, REJECTING any confusion of the Biblical revelation with so-called 'redemption analogies' in other religions/cultures of the world.

IN SUPPORT OF THESE AFFIRMATIONS, we would declare:

OUR COMMITMENT to further the Gospel of the grace of God by all means that are consistent with Biblical principles and Biblical ethics, this with a view to fulfilling Christ's supreme will for His Church in this age; and

OUR COOPERATION with all who would advance God's work in God's way for God's glory, whom we invite to join hands and hearts with us that together we might reach out ever more effectively to the peoples of the earth with the Gospel of Christ; and

OUR CONFIDENCE that the victory of the gospel in the hearts and lives of a vast multitude out of all nations and kindreds and people and tongues is assured by the Resurrection triumph of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the convicting and converting power of the Holy Spirit, and by the good will of God the Father.

IN TESTIMONY TO WHICH, and in the fervent hope that like-minded believers will stand with us in our affirmations, we herewith subscribe our names.


AN EXPLANATION of "A Statement of Missionary Concern"

As stated above, a number of men -- most of them missionaries and missions executives, representing several nationalities -- shared their concern for the integrity of the Christian Faith and the Gospel in an informal setting at Four Brooks Conference Center in Eastern Pennsylvania. Out of the Caucus, as it was called, came "A Statement of Missionary Concern" which was released publicly to certain periodicals and has been shared privately by the signers. Because the Statement was necessarily concise, it has been suggested that there should be a fuller explanation of its purpose and interpretation of its contents.

UNDERSTANDING THE BACKGROUND

The years since World War II have been marked by ferment and change in the Christian Church as in other spheres of human involvement. Recognizing the revolutionary nature of our time, we should not have expected the movement for world evangelization to escape the pressure for change. Christian Missions have not only been widely impacted by forces from without; they have been deeply influenced by voices from within. Themselves influenced by developments -- religious and political, social and economic -- in the larger world, these missionary voices have often called for radical changes in the carrying forward of the missionary task. In particular, they would bring to bear upon the Scriptures such modern disciplines as cultural anthropology and linguistic analysis, supposedly freeing the missionaries and the nationals from Western thought-forms and behavior-patterns and thus expediting the advance of the Gospel.

The signers of "A Statement of Missionary Concern" recognize the inevitability of change. The desirability of any particular change, however, depends on its relationship to the one constant in time and eternity, the inerrant Word of God. It is our belief that, if the Scriptures have too often been read through Western eyes and applied in Western ways, it is equally perilous, if not more so, to adjust them to the cultural milieu of peoples whose thinking and folkways have been almost totally shaped by non-Christian and even militantly anti-Christian influences. We believe that, while it is by no means to be equated with Westernization, there is an underlying Christian culture implicit in the Scriptures, a culture, which is the fruit of their faithful proclamation. It is because we fear for both the doctrinal root and practical fruit of Gospel proclamation at the hands of the advocates of radical change, that we have sounded an alarm.

How did this dominant stress on the cultural adaptation of the Gospel come about in some evangelical circles? One may find its source in a 1954 watershed volume, Customs and Cultures, by Eugene A. Nida. As Secretary of Translations for the American Bible Society, Nida offered an apologetic for his view that Bible translations should offer a 'dynamic equivalence' of the Biblical text, in keeping with the culture of the particular language group rather than approximating a literal rendering. Behind this was his personal belief, not only in the importance of cultural forms, but in the errancy of the Bible. For Nida only God was absolute. The Bible was relative because of the human and cultural factors involved and could, therefore, be rendered freely without bondage to words.

Many missions and missionaries in the post-World War II period shared Nida's interest in linguistics and anthropology, especially those working among tribal groups with unwritten languages. Journals, such as Practical Anthropology (later merged with Missiology), focused on the problems of communicating the Gospel across cultural barriers. Increasingly the missionary task was described in technical terms. Fuller Seminary's School of World Mission popularized the word 'missiology', and in the early 1970's, a Fuller professor, Charles Kraft, called for an integrating of Christian theology and anthropology in what he named 'ethnotheology' which would vary from culture to culture. In time, Kraft would also seize upon Nida's expression, 'dynamic equivalence', and apply it, to church planting. 'Dynamic equivalence' churches, like 'dynamic equivalence' translations, could also reflect great cultural variations, even to incorporating aspects of the prevailing non-Christian religions.

While these developments were taking place in broadly evangelical circles, liberal Christendom was articulating its own agenda. Throughout the 1960s the World Council of Churches was in process of redefining evangelism and missions in cultural terms. For WCC spokesmen, evangelism and missions were to be carried on in the political, social and economic arenas and consisted in the changing or (if need be,) the overthrow of existing unjust structures. As for salvation, that had a primary reference to physical wellbeing, material abundance, peace and justice, all in this world. Significantly, influential elements within the Roman Catholic Church were to adopt the same agenda, giving rise in Latin America to a 'Theology of Liberation.'

While largely resisting Liberation Theology and the equating of salvation with societal change, the evangelical mainstream was to be influenced by a closely related concept put forward by the Conciliar Movement. In 1972, the World Council's Theological Education Fund released a report, Ministry in Context, which called for the replacing of the time-honored missions term 'indigenization' with 'contextualization'. In the minds of its coiners, contextualization relates, not only to the cultural aspects of church life and worship, but also to the adapting of the Gospel to the total cultural situation. This could simply mean adapting the presentation to different cultures, or it could mean accommodating the message as well. Soon many evangelicals were employing the new term, usually giving it much the same meaning as they had to indigenization.

Over the course of the next few years, however, it became apparent that some very articulate mission experts, now known as 'missiologists', were reading into contextualization a broader meaning. The Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974 concerned itself with the cultural issue more than any other previous evangelical missions gathering, coming up with a statement in its Covenant which could be taken in either a conservative or radical way. By 1978, any ambivalence was ended. The Lausanne Continuation Committee sponsored a Consultation at Willowbank, Bermuda, which openly called for the contextualization of the Gospel. Some, although not all of the papers (published in Down to Earth: Studies in Christianity and Culture), proposed a more radical approach which would affect Gospel content. In the fall of the same year, the Lausanne Committee co-sponsored with World Vision a Conference on Muslim Evangelization at Colorado Springs, which included many of the Willowbank participants. Their papers (published in The Gospel and Islam: A 1978 Compendium) explicitly applied the contextualization concept to the Christian approach to Islam. The major thrust was on avoiding cultural offence and thus increasing the likelihood of highly resistant Muslims coming to Christ.

In the years since 1978, this theme has been developed in such books as C. George Fry and James R. King's Islam: A Survey of the Muslim Faith and especially Phil Parshall's New Paths in Muslim Evangelism and Bridges to Islam. Fry and King go on record against Gospel broadcasting and tract distribution to Muslims, regarding them as "a denial of the incarnation" with its call to personal contact and loving involvement. Among other things they also question "the determination to extend the Church at all costs" in Muslim lands and to turn non-Christians into Christians. For them the incarnational model virtually becomes the message. As for Parshall, on the strength of his Bangladesh experience, he advocates the building of bridges to Muslims. For example, the use of the Quran in witnessing and the identifying of Allah and 'Isa with the God of the Bible and Jesus are advocated. The offering of concessions to Muslim converts, such as permitting them to observe the fast month of Ramadan, and the sheep feast, to pray in the Muslim manner and to go through some initiatory rites other than baptism, are also suggested.

Because these proposals have been widely circulated and have proved especially captivating to young missionaries and missionary candidates, we have felt it essential that the other side is presented and the dangers to the Gospel are exposed. Not only are the integrity of Missions to Muslims at stake but the well being of the entire evangelical missionary enterprise. We do not question change within the parameters of Scripture, but we reject 'new paths' and 'bridges' which pass beyond Biblical bounds and which, however well-meaning, do violence to the God of the Bible, and to the Christ of the Cross and Throne.


INTERPRETING THE STATEMENT

I. Preamble

BECAUSE the uniqueness of the Christian Faith is being compromised by the movement called 'Contextualization,' as advocated by many, which increasingly places cultural considerations above Biblical norms; and

BECAUSE the integrity of the Christian Gospel is being nullified by contextualized attempts to 'build bridges' to non-Christian religions and to find common salvation-ground with them; and

BECAUSE the well-being of the Christian Mission to earth's billions is being jeopardized by the development of 'ethno-theologies' which would avoid the reproach of Christ and the offence of the Cross--

IT IS IMPERATIVE that an alarm be sounded and a standard raised for the rallying of those concerned with the fulfilling of the Great Commission in a truly Biblical context.

Comments:
1. The signers are not condemning out of hand everyone who makes use of the term 'contextualization.' Our concern is directed at the contextualizing concept as formulated by the World Council of Churches and as embraced by avant-garde evangelicals who, for all intents and purposes, place culture above Scripture.
2. Nor are the signers opposed to 'bridge-building' to non-Christian peoples. Effective witnessing always involves the finding of some points of contact in our common humanity. However, we reject any idea that common ground can be found with non-Christian faiths on the great issues of God and man, of sin and salvation. The God of the Bible is not to be confused with the Allah of the Quran or the deities of other world religions.
3. It is the signers' conviction that the strength and long-range effectiveness of the witness of the believing Church is conditioned upon not soft-pedaling the finality of Jesus Christ and the stumbling-block of the Cross. These are supra cultural because eternal, and we must take care that they not be compromised by Western culture or any other cultural milieu. Let it be understood that we are not defenders of Western civilization. Rather we do see the blessings of the Western world as flowing from a reception of the Gospel, and its curses as stemming from a rejection of the Biblical message.

II. The Affirmations

1. WE AFFIRM the sovereignty of the Living Triune God in world evangelization and Gospel response, REJECTING any ultimate dependence on human means and methods of communication.

Comment: While we appreciate the contemporary emphasis on proper cross-cultural communication, the most finely tuned communication techniques are incapable of producing truly spiritual results. All genuine conversions are God-given, not man-induced. With Jonah we hold that "salvation is of the Lord" and with Paul that it is all of grace, even the faith which claims it, being God's free gift.

2. WE AFFIRM the sufficiency of the Biblical revelation, carried home by the Holy Spirit, to bring lost men and women to saving faith in Christ, REJECTING cultural accommodations which obscure, alter or relativize the Gospel, God's power unto salvation to everyone who believes.

Comment: Our sole hope for success in world evangelization lies in the Holy Spirit and His wielding of His sword, the Word of God. Attempts to make the Gospel more palatable not only emasculate the Gospel but completely short-sell its power to work conviction and effect conversion. The God-breathed Scriptures have not lost their ancient power, and Spirit-applied; the Gospel is still God's dynamite unto salvation.

3. WE AFFIRM the plain sense of Holy Scripture as normative for Christian discipleship and duty, REJECTING sophisticated reinterpretations by self-styled experts which falsely stimulate missionary activity and deflect from true Gospel obedience;

Comment: Not only do the Scriptures authenticate themselves, but they rightly interpret themselves to those who, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, are willing to obey. The Biblical message is clear to faith and obedience. Trusting and obedient Christians understand the logic of the Great Commission -- the going forth, the preaching of the Gospel, the making of disciples, the planting of churches. They do not need new twists of interpretation to impel them to action.

4. WE AFFIRM that for historic Christianity, love for the lost and the unity of believers are always based on Scriptural truth, REJECTING concepts of love, which are contrary to truth and righteousness.

Comment: While the insistent call to Christians to love each other and to love non-Christians to Christ, is always right and especially so in today's world, we must not confuse true caring with sentimentality. All expressions of human love are to be tested by the holy love of God. The truth is to be spoken in love, but love is never to do violence to truth. Unconditional love is not indiscriminate love.

5. WE AFFIRM that faithfulness to God's revealed Word is the key to lasting, God-honoring results in homelands and on mission fields, rejecting the assumption that success hinges on new and exotic strategies.

Comment: Because we live in an increasingly tumultuous and threatening age, missions experts are driven to devise strategies to meet new situations. We do not despise tactics and strategies, which take seriously the missionary principles, and practices marked out in the New Testament. However, when strategists have had their input, it is still the Word of God that is the appointed means that is used by the Holy Spirit in accomplishing His work.

6. WE AFFIRM the primacy of Gospel proclamation over all other forms of Christian service, REJECTING theologies of mission, which would reduce evangelism to parity with social action.

Comment: Widely accepted in present-day evangelical circles is the equation that "Mission equals Proclamation plus Service," with service understood as referring to social and even political action. This, we are convinced, is already leading to a repetition of the 'Social Gospel' error. In theory, the new missiologists would meet the needs of the whole man, but in practice concern for the body often outweighs concern for the soul.

7. WE AFFIRM the believing Church to be God's appointed means for the accomplishing of His purposes, REJECTING approaches that would bypass faithful, albeit imperfect, congregations in lands where the Church has already been planted.

Comment: In their impatience with the past performance of others and their zeal to implement their own grand strategies, some missiologists have tended to regard existing national churches as obstacles to Gospel progress. This strikes us as ingratitude to earlier missionaries, as insensitiveness to faithful brothers and sisters in those churches, and as insult to the Holy Spirit who has called those churches into being.

8. WE AFFIRM the importance of Christian workers identifying themselves as fully as possible with those whom they would go with the Gospel, REJECTING, however any identification which violates or obscures both the letter and spirit of Scripture.

Comment: Honest missionary attempts at cultural identification with nationals go back at least to the middle of the last century. The call of the contextualizers to incarnate the Gospel comes, therefore, very late indeed. Moreover, some of their own reported experiments in identification have passed beyond Biblical bounds into theological compromise. The uniqueness of the Incarnation of our Lord must be maintained and models for mission work must be sought in the apostles' lives and teachings.

9. WE AFFIRM, as those with a particular concern for the Islamic world, the long history of Christian mission to Muslims and rejoice in the many accomplishments, REJECTING the charge of general failure due to lack of 'proper contextualization.'

Comment: Much of the current dissatisfaction with traditional missionary work is focused on the relatively small response of Muslims to the Gospel. Yet the Christian approach to Islam has a glorious history which can be despised only at our peril. Those who suggest that "our failure to communicate is a failure of contextualization" are hardly familiar with that history. Against great odds and constant persecution, the Church of Jesus Christ has been planted in Islamic lands.

10. WE AFFIRM the responsibility of Christ's servants to declare to Muslims and all others the Christian message with precision and consistency; REJECTING appeals that would minimize, or seek to obliterate, the essential differences between Christianity and any other religion.

Comment: In sincere but misguided attempts to influence Muslims in particular, certain advocates of radical change have given the impression that there are considerable points of contact and areas of agreement between Christianity and Islam. This we regard as contrary to the facts and unfair to Muslim people who deserve an accurate presentation of the Christian faith. No obscuring of the true issues will accomplish any good in the long run.

11. WE AFFIRM the unique Person, final authority and transcendent glory of Jesus Christ, our Great God and Savior, apart from whom there is no salvation, REJECTING all comparisons between Him and the founders of other religious systems.

Comment: At the heart of all the issues that we raise is the uniqueness and exclusive claim of the Lord Jesus Christ. We see this as being compromised by the penchant of some, over-eager to impress Muslims, to compare the Risen Lord and Islam's dead Prophet in the same breath. If Christ cannot be compared with angels or men in the Bible, then he can only be contrasted with the founders of other religions.

12. WE AFFIRM the completeness of the redemptive work of Christ and the utter graciousness of His redemption, REJECTING any confusion of the Biblical revelation with so-called 'redemption analogies' in other religions/cultures of the world.

Comment: Not only is the Person of Christ unique, but the Work of Christ cannot be duplicated. In contrast with every other religious system, only the Bible offers men salvation through the Work of Another. Some have sought to find 'redemption analogies' in Islam and other religions of works. This necessarily downplays the perfect redemption of Christ and the utter graciousness of His salvation. (Romans 3:21ff)

III. The Declarations

IN SUPPORT OF THESE AFFIRMATIONS, we would declare -

OUR COMMITMENT to further the Gospel of the grace of God by all means that are consistent with Biblical principles and Biblical ethics, this with a view to fulfilling Christ's supreme will for His Church in this age; and

OUR COOPERATION with all who would advance God's work in God's way for God's glory, whom we invite to join hands and hearts with us that together we might reach out ever more effectively to the people of the earth with the Gospel of Christ; and

OUR CONFIDENCE that the victory of the Gospel in the hearts and lives of a vast multitude out of all nations and kindreds and people and tongues is assured by the Resurrection triumph of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the convincing and converting power of the Holy Spirit, and by the good will of God the Father.

Comment:
1. In committing ourselves afresh to fulfilling the Great Commission in our time, we are convinced that the Biblical message must be furthered by Biblical methods. The ways of God are not the ways of fallen men, and redeemed men must constantly search the Scriptures to bring their ways into conformity with God's. In missionary activity, as in all things, spiritual things are spiritually discerned.
2. Although we have felt impelled to challenge the contextualization movement, we do not fence ourselves off from anyone who would seek to advance the Gospel through Scriptural means. We gladly acknowledge our bonds with all such and urge them to stand with us as we would hold fast the faithful Word and hold forth the Word of Truth.
3. It has been characteristic of those who advocate the new missiological approaches to confess the failures of the past and present. While we are only too willing to confess our personal faults, we rejoice in past victories and anticipate the final victory of Jesus Christ. If some would accuse us of 'triumphalism', it is not our triumph but His that we proclaim. It is in His triumph that Gospel workers the world around are more than conquerors.


CONCLUSION

In "A Statement of Missionary Concern" and in the Commentary on it, we have sought to reflect glory on the Triune God. Our desire has been that God the Father is magnified by a theology of missions that is consistent with His Word and His will. We have also been motivated, as far as we know our own hearts, by a genuine jealousy for the 'Crown Rights of the Redeemer'. We must protest when we feel God the Son is being dishonored, however unwittingly. Again, we have wanted to be constrained by God the Holy Spirit, not just to give Him lip service. It is our hope that this effort will recommend itself to those who share our concerns and that it will alert others to what we see as a very present danger.

September 30, 1985

Frederick W. Evans, Jr.Written on behalf of the signers of A Statement of Missionary Concern


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