From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Contemporary Culture Creates New Mission Situation,
04 May 1996 20:41:33
95332 Contemporary Culture Creates New Mission Situation,
WCC Moderator Says
by John Newbury
World Council of Churches Office of Communication
GENEVA--In a world where cultures are "the new powers of evil, destruction,
dehumanization and death," the ecumenical movement must help to develop "a
new way of being a missionary church." That challenge was posed to the
World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee Sept. 14 in the opening
report by its moderator, Aram I, catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic
To prepare for next year's World Conference on Mission and Evangelism,
whose theme is "Called to One Hope: The Gospel in Diverse Cultures," the
WCC has been encouraging local, regional and global theological reflection
on the gospel-culture link, and Aram called the Central Committee to make
its own contribution to that process.
He described culture as embracing "the wholeness of language,
tradition, beliefs, institutions and customs" that hold a particular
community together. Within this "dynamic reality," religion plays an
important and often central role.
But unlike Judaism, Islam and Hinduism, in which "the founding culture
is the sacred model for encountering the ultimate reality," he said,
Christianity sees culture as having "instrumental and transitory value."
Consequently, the Christian gospel must take root in every culture through
its own "cultural forms, patterns, norms and values."
The universality of the Christian faith, Aram said, means that "the
gospel should cross all human frontiers and be taken to all the people,
cultures and lands," but this process "must be accompanied by respect and
sensitivity to the cultural values and norms of the other." Historically,
however, missionary outreach from the West often introduced "cultural norms
and values that alienated local Christians from their own cultures."
Aram said three contemporary realities have given new urgency to
rethinking the gospel-culture link:
Pluralism: "the world has become one place, one community, where
cultures cannot maintain themselves apart from each other."
The way in which cultures have, amidst this pluralism, become
"sources of social, political, economic, religious and ethnic divisions and
The emergence of a "new global monoculture ... produced by modern
advanced technology and the market economy."
These realities pose several challenges to the ecumenical movement,
Aram said. One is to develop an "ecumenical hermeneutic," principles of
interpretation shared by the churches which will foster dialogue and
understanding among churches seeking to express the faith in very different
cultural contexts. At the same time, the ecumenical movement should help
the churches, which have often been "a major factor in preserving cultural
identity and cultural values" to avoid "cultural captivity while remaining
faithful to their cultural heritage and identity."
In summarizing the role of the ecumenical movement in this "new
missionary situation," Aram listed three tasks:
"to call the cultures to quality of life that is manifested in its
fullness and authenticity through the gospel"
to "give wholeness, integrity and authenticity to cultures" in
converging toward Christ
"to help the churches speak and act together in the common language
of the gospel."
This last, he concluded, involves an affirmation of "life in the midst
of cultures of death, peace in the midst of cultures of violence, justice
in the midst of cultures of injustice and koinonia (Christian fellowship)
in the midst of cultures of conflict and division."
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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