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The new Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) mission document has received widespread attention in Norway. Two mini-conferences were arranged last fall, with the CWME-secretary Jooseop Keum taking part in both. The conferences offered a platform for responses and comments from church and mission leaders. They were widely covered by the two Christian dailies in Norway (Dagen and Vårt Land), which also opened their columns for the ensuing debate between ecumenicals and evangelicals. The backdrop to this debate goes back to New Delhi 1961 and the merger of the International Mission Council (IMC) with the WCC, resulting in the establishment of the CWME. The Norwegian Mission Council (NMC), as probably the only council, decided not to join the CWME. This decision has since then coloured the view of the conciliar movement among mission organizations, free churches, and evangelicals. At the same time, some of the Norwegian churches, and particularly the Church of Norway, have been active members of WCC and CWME while most of the organizations and churches have formed a Norwegian Council for Mission and Evangelism (NORME) with the Lausanne Covenant (1974) as their basis. This issue and the divergent views on the conciliar and evangelical movements have again come to the fore in the debate about the new mission document, and particularly so because Dr Keum in his lectures in Oslo and Stavanger called for a review of the 1961 decision: “Dear sisters and brothers in the Norwegian Council for Mission and Evangelism, shall we journey together again?”

We shall in the following summarize and analyze the Norwegian reflections on Together Towards Life. Secondly, we shall look at the Norwegian context and situation in regard to engagement in the CWME. In the conclusion we shall run the risk of giving our response to Dr Keum's invitation.

Even though this article aims at describing Norwegian reflections on the document, it is important to note that the authors and their views do not officially represent any of the Norwegian agencies or churches.

Summary and analysis of reflections

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary and analysis of reflections
  3. The Norwegian context and situation
  4. Conclusion
  5. Footnotes
  6. Biographies

Here are some of the views expressed in the Norwegian conversation:

Ecumenism and mission belong together

The heartbeat of the church is mission. The church exists by mission, and if the church does not engage in mission, it ceases to be church. Mission must be ecumenical since the focus of both mission and ecumenism is to cross borders. Both of them are about meeting people with respect and tolerance. Ecumenism does not aim at making churches alike, but at making them belong together in diversity and respect. Both ecumenism and mission are about people meeting each other and about the church encountering people of different faiths, different ideologies, and different convictions. As we share the good news of Jesus Christ and invite people of other faiths to discipleship, we are challenged to learn dialogue and respect from ecumenism. Both ecumenism and mission are about listening to others and being challenged by others.

The Holy Spirit and mission

The emphasis on the Holy Spirit is what makes the new document exciting. This is a novel perspective among Protestants and Lutherans. But this emphasis implies by the same token a major challenge: How do we discern what the work of the Spirit is? The document says that the Spirit is at work in mysterious ways that we cannot comprehend or grasp. This opens the door for the Spirit being at work in other living faiths, in politics, and in economics; and also nature and creation,which await God's redemption and release, become arenas for the Spirit at work. What is God doing right now? Is the Spirit at work in our hospitals and our families? These questions are new in our context. Could the document play a role in two ways: first, by paving the way for impulses from charismatic congregations and Orthodox theology to churches that have an anaemic theology of the Holy Spirit; and, second, by connecting the Spirit with the wide cosmos and thus making individualism a false option. “Spiritual” in the document does not mean pie in the sky, as it often does in our context, but points also to the material and political life.

Mission in pursuit of justice and healing

God's purpose is to re-create what God once created in his love and wisdom. God will change and not destroy. Therefore it makes sense to take part in the pursuit for a better world and in that way become part of God's work for a new world. If all we believe is that the world will be destroyed, it does not make sense to work for peace and life. This calls for justice and not only charity. Justice involves social structures and political systems that sustain poverty, discrimination, and dehumanization. Our usual division between personal holiness and social holiness is no longer an option. “Joining in with the Spirit” calls us to a holy dissatisfaction with unjust structures contrary to God's holiness.

Pentecost: Evangelization and dialogue

The document uses a different language compared to the “secular” language some WCC documents have used in the past (since Uppsala 1968). It also expresses a clear connection between the salvific acts of Jesus and the mission that God has given to his people – a mission that is to be done in “Christ's way.” But beyond the missional “how” lies the missional “why”: Why did God send his Son and the Spirit and why are we in turn sent to the world with the gospel? The fundamental question for all missiology and for mission is the uniqueness of Christ.

The answer from ecumenism is still vague, as vague as it was in San Antonio (1989) when it was stated that “we cannot point to any other way of salvation than Jesus Christ,” rather than the biblical focus: There is no other salvation. The Spirit of Pentecost sends us into our world – a world where the Spirit already is active in “diverse life-giving spiritualties” and in other religions. How do these two activities of the Spirit relate to one another? And does this come to terms with the biblical testimony?

The evangelical focus on unreached generations and people groups has been foundational for Norwegian mission. Does ecumenism link the unreached focus to the Western paradigm of the West going to the rest and replace it with the idea of mission from the margins? The one big mission challenge today comes from the 86 percent of Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists who do not know any follower of Christ – not to forget that Europe is well underway to become an unreached continent. We are looking in the new document for a clear expression about the ultimate goal of God's mission: eternal salvation, viewed against a background of the lostness of human beings. Out of this grows the priority of evangelism. The ultimate goal is not to establish the kingdom, but to witness about the kingdom in words and deeds and to point to the only one who can save us from God's righteous judgment.

The Norwegian context and situation

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary and analysis of reflections
  3. The Norwegian context and situation
  4. Conclusion
  5. Footnotes
  6. Biographies

As already mentioned, the question of NORME's membership in the CWME and the divergent views on the conciliar and evangelical movements have again come to the fore in the debate about the new mission document, and particularly so because Dr Keum has called for a review of the 1961 decision: “Dear sisters and brothers in the Norwegian Council for Mission and Evangelism, shall we journey together again?” We shall therefore give a brief review of this development.

New Delhi 1961: The NMC leaves the IMC while Church of Norway remains a member of WCC and CWME

When IMC merged with WCC in 1961, the NMC decided to leave, a decision based on a deep scepticism of the WCC's understanding of central themes in theology and mission. This scepticism was not only directed towards the ecumenical dialogue on mission methods, but towards the understanding of the very purpose of mission. For the NMC the purpose of mission was the proclamation of the gospel through preaching the word of God. It is the word of God that creates faith in Jesus Christ, a faith through which the human person receives salvation. The Lutheran notion of sola fide, faith alone, has had a strong influence on Norwegian Christendom, particularly in the history of the revival movements, within which the large majority of missionaries was recruited. This Lutheran and pietistic influence on Norwegian mission organizations led to a focus on conversion of non-believers to Christian faith as the primary purpose of mission. The most important method of mission must therefore be evangelization through proclamation. In this perspective, the WCC focus on social and ethical issues was seen as secondary to proclamation, even dangerous, as it could divert mission from its primary purpose.

The understanding of evangelization as the primary purpose of mission is closely connected to the understanding of salvation in many Norwegian mission organizations. Conversion to the Christian faith is a personal conversion to faith in Jesus Christ as saviour. Salvation is salvation from death to resurrection and to eternal life in Jesus Christ. Thus, fulfilment of God's salvation is connected to eternal life now and in the future. The doctrine of the two outcomes of life is central to this understanding. There is salvation and there is damnation, two possibilities that cannot be escaped on the day of God's judgment. As salvation can only be obtained by faith in Christ, conversion to Christianity is the central goal of mission. The possibility of damnation does not only make personal conversion important for each individual, but also gives urgency to mission. The soteriological understanding that has dominated Norwegian mission organizations is therefore one of the main reasons why the NMC chose not to join the CWME.

This issue was dealt with at the New Delhi assembly itself. In his keynote address to the assembly, American Lutheran theologian Joseph A. Sittler gave an account of “the split between Grace and Nature in Western thought.”[1] His speech was about unity and the call to unity among churches, but his perspective was the connection to grace. The grace of God is the gospel. To split grace and nature is to divorce creation and Christ. Sittler went on to claim nature (back) for Christ, and herein lies a call to unity of the churches:

The grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ, and which was celebrated in the Colossian hymn (Col. 1: 15–20) because “… it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell …” is alone a source and power and interpretive principle for a meaning adequate to the longings and needs of this cloven and embittered world.[2]

God's grace was also at the heart of the understanding of salvation for Norwegian mission organizations, but Sittler's focus on the connection between Christ and creation was at that time outside this understanding. Salvation was closely linked to a literal interpretation of the coming kingdom of God as a new heaven and a new earth.

There were – and still are – close links between some of the major mission organizations and the Church of Norway. The Church of Norway decided, however, to remain a member of WCC and also of the CWME. The close connection to many of the mission organizations is apparent. To some extent one could say that the church and the mission organizations collaborated through a division of labour, wherefore the church at that time left the missionary task outside Norway to the organizations. However, as an institution encompassing the majority of believers in the country, the Church of Norway has had to provide space for several theological interpretations. Although the quest for Christian unity in Norway in 1961 did not represent a major challenge for the Church of Norway, simply because the church alone almost entirely represented Christianity in the country, the ecclesiological questions arising in its encounter with the many churches worldwide was of interest. Even so, a confessional loyalty is evident in the Church of Norway's engagement in the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). This was an ecumenical involvement that the church shared with some of the mission organizations, as well as with the other Nordic Lutheran churches.

The implications for Norwegian mission: Building relations with the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and the Lausanne Covenant

In the years following 1961 the discussion continued in numerous meetings and articles. In 1969 the School of Mission and Theology in Stavanger, Norway,[3] organized a Nordic consultation on missiology. The mission document from the WCC assembly in Uppsala, Sweden, 1968, was discussed. So was Ad gentes, the mission document from the Second Vatican Council in 1965, the Wheaton Declaration from the American “Congress on the Church's Worldwide Mission” in 1966, and the communiqué from the World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin, also in 1966. Keynote addresses from the consultation were published in 1969.[4] In addition to unsolved questions around creation and soteriology, new mission thinking and methods, as well as the understanding and challenge of secularization, were main focus areas.

The principal of the School of Mission and Theology, Professor Håkon Haus, gave a keynote speech on the Uppsala mission document. He pointed out two main areas where he agreed with the document, namely that mission includes: a) salvation from the coming judgement for the individual human being and for groups by receiving the Lord as a personal saviour, and b) a relevant witness today, manifesting the new humanity that has already begun in Christ. However, his disagreement was about how these two interrelate. The criticism was mainly directed against the WCC accentuating so strongly the social and ethical dimensions of the gospel while the church's calling first and foremost is preaching how God reveals his nature and will through Jesus Christ. In addition to his own critical view of the document, Haus cites some of the main Norwegian critics at the time: “The salvation-historical aspect of mission has disappeared and salvation of the human being has not received the full Biblical eschatological eternity-dimension, but is too intra-worldly oriented, and the meaning of Christ's suffering and death is unclear.” [5]

At the same consultation Professor Gunnar Stålsett gave a keynote speech on conservative evangelical missiology,[6] in which he reviewed the outcome of the two evangelical mission congresses in Wheaton and Berlin. The critical question was whether the missiology of these two congresses could be seen as a supplement or an alternative to the missiology of WCC. Stålsett underlined the importance of the clarity with which the two documents speak of proclamation, conversion, and the reconciling act of Jesus Christ. However, in contrast to Haus' criticism of the WCC's over-accentuation of social and ethical issues, Stålsett criticized the Wheaton and Berlin documents for failing to speak of the social responsibility of the church (which was a legacy of the evangelical movement in the 19th century) and for lack of analysis of the actual situation of the world. He paints a picture of an important discussion taking place in the conservative evangelical mission movement, namely the role of social action and diakonia in the church's witness to Christ. Criticizing the two congresses for being weak in their understanding of creation and of the church, Stålsett still concludes that evangelical Lutheran missiology, deeply rooted in evangelical theology, is closely connected to the missiology of Wheaton and Berlin.

This account of missiological discussions in Norway in the years following New Delhi serves to explain the division of labour between the Church of Norway and the mission organizations. While Church of Norway remained in CWME, the mission organizations chose to leave church ecumenism and eventually orient themselves towards the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and the Lausanne movement.

Divergent views today

Following the two seminars last fall on the new CWME document, the debate over some of these issues was continued in the pages of a Christian daily (Dagen). The chairman of the Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International Relations, Kjetil Aano, held up the growing convergence between ecumenicals and evangelicals, suggesting that we should therefore contribute to building bridges. It is true that WCC is a movement with many and sometimes conflicting voices, but to claim that nothing has happened since 1961 (when the NMC left the WCC) is an oversimplification and a wrong strategy. The call from the Lord is still to work together and respect one another so that the world may believe. Here is the aim of mission – that the world may believe. To seek fellowship only with those with whom we can agree about everything is to side-track this aim. Theological tensions and disagreements must not be allowed to become insurmountable roadblocks. We cannot and should not deny the inspiration, impulses, and challenges all of us have received from the ecumenical movement – mission Dei, holistic mission, mission on six continents, mission and power/money, and the contextual nature of all theology. Also the widespread agreement on confronting the socio-ethical challenges and the struggle for creation is a challenge taken up by the ecumenical movement. At the same time the ecumenical movement has been influenced by the courageous and bold eagerness among evangelicals to evangelize and to share the faith also on the personal level. These impulses are evident in the new CWME document. In short: we are witnessing an exciting convergence between the conciliar-ecumenical and the alliance-ecumenical movements. There is definitely room for Norwegian voices in this process.

Leaders (particularly Rolf Kjøde, Normisjon, and Øyvind Åsland, Norwegian Lutheran Mission) from the evangelical/alliance-ecumenical sector of Norwegian mission have questioned how real this convergence is in view of some of the decisive questions – such as the lack of emphasis on the eternal perspective of mission and the concern for those who do not yet have access to the gospel about salvation in Jesus Christ – not to speak about the understanding of truth in the new mission document. The stronger ecumenical focus on evangelization has come from churches in the global South and in the East over against more liberal churches in the North and West. Dialogue between the two ecumenical branches is therefore essential, but there is no desire for Norwegian mission to re-join the CWME since most of the questions from New Delhi 1961 remain unresolved. A dynamic understanding of mission is best served by evangelical networks like the Lausanne movement. We welcome diversity, but this diversity must be grounded in a mutual view of truth and a common message of salvation through faith in Jesus alone. Our mission must agree to a common task with a focus on the coming kingdom and salvation in the judgment. Such unity cannot be organized. Rather organizations and churches pursuing unity should find common ground in such foci, exemplified in the Lausanne Covenant (1974) and the Cape Town Commitment (2010).

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary and analysis of reflections
  3. The Norwegian context and situation
  4. Conclusion
  5. Footnotes
  6. Biographies

To a certain extent the “division of labour” between the Church of Norway and the mission organizations still applies today. However, changes have happened that in a way run parallel to the developments in WCC and its closer relations to WEA and the Lausanne movement. On the one hand, the Church of Norway has undergone major changes since the 1960s. As the church's close ties to the state of Norway are loosening, the nature of the church's organization and its role in society are changing. In addition, a secularized Norway has long called for mission engagement in Norway, involving closer collaboration between the church and the mission organizations “at home.” Both the church and the mission organizations are facing an increasingly post-secular, multi-confessional, and multi-religious society that calls for ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue on our own door-step and that creates new opportunities for collaboration. The active church involvement of members of the mission organizations has also brought the call to mission into the church corridors. These are some of the factors behind a growing understanding of mission as the calling of the whole church. As a result, mission has become an issue increasingly treated by the Synod of the Church of Norway. Dealing with the latest document from CWME, Together Towards Life, while preparing for the WCC's 10th Assembly, the Church of Norway Synod in 2013 urged the mission organizations to consider closer cooperation with the CWME.

We agree that unity cannot be organized, but being part of a forum for joint reflection and mutual dialogue is, in our view, an obligation for the sake of mission. Part of this obligation is evidenced in the so-called “Global Christian Forum.” But the key missiological dialogue today takes place within the CWME. An example was the broad participation in the CWME conference in Manila in 2012, in which Together Towards Life was reviewed by representatives from the global church, including evangelicals, Pentecostals, Orthodox, and Roman Catholics. Why should Norwegian mission organizations and NORME not be part of this dialogue?

Footnotes

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary and analysis of reflections
  3. The Norwegian context and situation
  4. Conclusion
  5. Footnotes
  6. Biographies
  • 1
    Joseph A. Sittler, “Called to Unity,”The Ecumenical Review 14 (January 1962): 177187.
  • 2
    Ibid., 186.
  • 3
    The School of Mission and Theology today is one of Norway's three faculties of theology, owned by the Norwegian Mission Society.
  • 4
    Gunnar Stålsett , ed., Misjonstenkningen i dag og i morgen (Missiology today and tomorrow) (Stavanger: Nome Forlag, 1969).
  • 5
    Hakon Haus, “Fornyelse i misjonen” (Renewal in mission), in Stålsett , Misjonstenkningen, 80.
  • 6
    Gunnar Stålsett, “Konservativ evangelisk misjonstenkning,”in Stålsett , Misjonstenkningen.

Biographies

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary and analysis of reflections
  3. The Norwegian context and situation
  4. Conclusion
  5. Footnotes
  6. Biographies
  • Dr Beate Fagerli works with the Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International Relations as advisor on theology and ecumenical relations.

  • Rev. Dr Knud Jørgensen is adjunct professor at the MF Norwegian School of Theology and the Lutheran Theological Seminary, Hong Kong.