William Carey, missionary to India, and the “father of modern day missions” first had the idea of coordinating and hosting a World Missionary Conference. He had this idea in 1810. 100 years later, this idea was realized as many Protestant denominations and missionary societies sent 1,200 delegates to the “1910 World Missionary Conference” in Edinburgh, the first world missions conference of its kind.
This conference was driven by the goal of “evangelizing the world in this generation”, a noble and stretching cause for the world of missions in that day. This goal, indeed, is as noble and stretching for our day as well. Christianity Today states, “Edinburgh 1910 marked the culmination of a century of missionary passion, drew attention to Christians outside Europe and North America, and gave birth to the ecumenical movement and the World Council of Churches.”
In 1974, the First International Congress on World Evangelization was held in Lausanne, Switzerland. 2,700 Evangelical leaders participated in that conference with the theme of “Let the earth hear His voice”. This conference is most known for producing the “Lausanne Covenant”, one of the most influential documents in modern Evangelical history. This Covenant included many aspects of what is regarded as Evangelical doctrine, and also included specific statements concerning holistic mission, specifically through social justice/action (section 5). Initially, before the formation of this particular document, the proponents of this understanding of integrated mission were marginalized and branded “liberals” by their more conservative counterparts. They paid a severe cost. At Urbana 2009, the largest North American Missions Conference, 17,000+ people got to hear the stories of Escobar and Padilla (the main spearheads of holistic mission who were marginalized). The point was driven home – we were the fruit of their toil and labor, as the entire 5-day Conference revolved around issues of incarnation and social justice/action in mission.
It’s hard to believe that just 30-40 years ago, Evangelical leaders were being marginalized for their commitment to social justice/action in mission. But now “God is doing a new work” as one Urbana speaker stated.
This past June, in Edinburgh, Christian leaders gathered to discuss world missions once again…100 years removed from the first World Conference in 1910. The future of mission described by this conference - “deconstructing boundaries” in the church, including ecclesiological, political, economic, and so on. “Disturbed by the asymmetries and imbalances of power that divide and trouble us in church and world, we are called to repentance, to critical reflections on systems of power, and to accountable use of power structures.” (from “Common Call”).
In Cape Town in October of this year will be the next Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization. 4,500 Evangelical leaders, from various backgrounds (i.e. 10% had to be under the age of 30, 35% had to be women, etc.) will gather to discuss missions. The future of mission – mobilizing Christians for “global solutions” to HIV/AIDS, poverty, globalization, and other global issues.
Not all that long ago my brothers and sisters in Christ were taking a stand (and getting buried) against the notion that mission was only about “vertical” relationship with God (with limited horizontal implications) and that evangelism and social concern were “mutually exclusive” endeavors. Now, in 2010, the leaders, yes indeed the followers, of the current missions movement are integrating mission with social justice/action. I, for one, am thankful and feel blessed that God has called and convicted myself and my family to serve in this time, for “such a time as this”.