Partnering in the Body of Christ toward a New Global Equilibrium

Editor’s Note: This Cape Town 2010 Advance Paper has been written by Patrick Fung as an overview of the topic to be discussed at the Morning Plenary session on “Partnering in the Body of Christ toward a New Global Equilibrium.” Responses to this paper through the Lausanne Global Conversation will be fed back to the author and others to help shape their final presentations at the Congress.

I was asked to address the theme “Partnering in the Body of Christ toward a New Global Equilibrium” at this Lausanne Congress.  However, I face a fundamental problem.  I have struggled with the title.  The more I reflect on the theme, the more I am convinced that “towards a new global equilibrium” might be an inappropriate title.  I struggled with the word “equilibrium”.  The word “equilibrium” is interesting.  It signifies the condition of a system in which competing influences are balanced.  Equilibrium suggests that we are trying to equalize the powers of different forces.  This title seems to suggest that global equilibrium would be our final and ultimate goal.

1. The mission of God- Pursuing global equilibrium or world evangelization?

I can understand the reason why the Lausanne Congress would like to put the emphasis on “a new global equilibrium”.  This may not be irrelevant as participants from some parts of the world might have great power – whether the nature is financial, organizational or political – while others may have very little.  While Samuel Escobar passionately argued that “missionary and theological tasks have a global dimension wherein neither imperialism nor provincialism have a place,” (1)  it was claimed that nearly one million people go out on a short-term mission every year, mainly from the rich Western countries. (2) “[An] often negative aspect of short-term mission is that westerners often give the impression that our wealth is the secret to helping people come into right relationship with God.” (3)

The numeric centre of gravity in terms of Christian growth has shifted to the Global South while the fiscal centre of gravity remains in the Global North, though this might be changing.  The concept and the practice of the “powerful” bringing the good news to the “powerless” has been rightly challenged. 

God’s power

Firstly, the biblical concept of mission is NOT primarily or particularly about equilibrium or the balance of power.  It is about the power of God given to His people through His Spirit in the proclamation of Christ.  If anything, it is about the imbalance of power, the power of God upon His people who are the recipients of His power.   It is about God’s sovereign power that thrusts us out into the world to witness boldly for Christ.  The early church, whilst seemingly powerless, acknowledged the sovereign rule of God and the power of God in the lives of the disciples (Acts 4:24-31).  The power of God is not dependent upon equilibrium of resources.  As we have learned, the spreading of the gospel in the early church period was not dependent on charismatic leaders nor any grand strategies of the established Jerusalem Church, but by the nameless, “powerless” people who acknowledged the Lordship of Christ and experienced the power of the Spirit (Acts 11:19).

God’s mission

Secondly, partnership in the body of Christ should ultimately enhance world evangelization, not global equilibrium.    I am glad that LCWE stands for Lausanne Congress for World Evangelization and not Lausanne Congress for World Equilibrium.  Lindsay Brown, in his letter on the Third Lausanne Congress, urged churches around the world: “Please help us by your prayers. Our goal in every aspect of the Congress is to strengthen the Church in fulfilling Christ’s final command on earth, which has never been rescinded – to make disciples of all nations”.  Making disciples of all nations must be our urgent and ultimate goal as we partner together in the body of Christ.  Our energy must primarily be spent on the urgent task that “the gospel must first be preached to all nations” (Mark 13:10). 

God’s resources

Thirdly, although a better state of equilibrium will avoid the tendency of dependency, the biblical concept of partnering in the body of Christ should be interdependence.  The younger church of Antioch decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea, the impoverished church in Jerusalem, each according to his ability (Acts 11:29). Generosity was a way of life for the early Christians.  Both willingness to give and humility to receive are needed.  Yet, over-giving and over-receiving often cripple the work of God. (4) A pastor from China once said to me, “We do not need money from the West.  Money will divide the church in China”.  It is very encouraging to know that a group of participants from the Majority World attending this Lausanne Congress has asked the Congress not to sponsor them so that resources can be channelled to others in need. 

In pursuing God’s mission, unity is more important than equilibrium. 

All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of his possession was his own, but they shared everything they had.  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all (Acts 4:32).

Here we see the disciples testify boldly with the power of God and share generously with the resources from God.  Increasingly, resources for God’s mission will not only be channelled from the West to the rest, but also from “anywhere to anywhere”. (5) The time will come when churches from the Global South or the Majority World will contribute significantly to world evangelization.  Equilibrium will never eliminate comparison and competition.  However, unity with one heart and mind under the Lordship of Christ will bring about a sacrificial sharing of God’s resources for world evangelization. 

2. The redemptive purpose of God- Reconciliation as the basis of our partnership

The call to reconciliation

The first time I read John Stott’s book, God’s New Society – The Message of Ephesians back in 1979, I was struck by the profound statement in the preface, “For the sake of the glory of God and the evangelization of the world, nothing is more important than that the church should be, and should be seen to be, God’s new society [community]”.  This new community is characterised by reconciliation – reconciliation to God and reconciliation to one another.  Christ has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility (Eph 2:14).  Christ crucified has brought into being nothing less than a new, united human race, united in itself and united to its Creator. (6) Christianity is not international, it is supranational. (7) God’s new community will always transcend racial, linguistic and national barriers as it reflects the nature of the kingdom of Christ. 

Thus, reconciliation is the foundation of all Christian partnership.   Reconciliation is to happen not only between ethnic groups, but also between generations, between the old and the young and between genders.  For the Spirit of God has been poured out on all peoples. God’s new community includes those from the West and East, from the North and South, sons and daughters, young and old, men and women (Acts 2:17).  Every generation owes the next generation a commitment to journey with them and partner together in serving God’s purpose (Acts 13:36).

As I reflect on the nature of God’s new community, I cannot help but think of brothers and sisters who by their ethnic background were taught to be enemies of other peoples because of political and racial conflicts.  Yet, the power of the cross has brought together those who were alienated from one another to be united in Christ.  Today, many who were once enemies are serving together on the mission fields, proclaiming the message of reconciliation.   Chinese are bringing the gospel to the Japanese and Japanese are sharing their faith with the Chinese.  It is as if the sins of aggression and hostility in the past were nailed to the cross.  Recently in her will a Japanese Christian designated her assets for the ministry of the gospel amongst the Chinese people.  The message of reconciliation is to be lived out by God’s new community, which the fragmented world needs to see.  A senior communist party member once said to me, “If we communists could truly love one another like the Christians do, our society would be totally transformed”.

The call to “death to self”

Reconciliation is a position that Christ has achieved for us through the cross.  We are reconciled to God.  But we also know that in our human failures and weaknesses, reconciliation to one another sometimes is not evident; thus partnership becomes impossible.  However, the foundation of all Christian partnership is reconciliation, and the foundation of reconciliation is the cross.  The cross symbolizes death to self – death to our own rights – just as Christ did. 

The Boxer Rebellion in China of 1900 will never be forgotten. Missionaries were murdered and mission compounds set on fire. Thousands of Chinese believers lost their lives. The China Inland Mission suffered heavy loss during that rebellion, with 58 missionaries and 22 children being killed. It was in the province of Shanxi that the violence of the Boxers reached its height, with the greatest number of casualties. When the Boxer Uprising finally ended, and reparations were offered, it came as a surprise to the Chinese government as well as to the foreign powers that the China Inland Mission refused to accept any compensation.

On 11 October 1901, the governor of Shanxi issued an edict. Placards were seen wherever the CIM had worked and suffered, throughout Shanxi. On each placard was written these words:

The Mission, in rebuilding these Churches with its own funds, aims in so doing to fulfil the command of the Saviour of the World, that all men should love their neighbours as themselves, I, the Governor, charge you all, gentry, scholars, army and people, those of you who are fathers to exhort your sons, and those who are elder sons to exhort your younger brothers, to bear in mind the example of Pastor Hoste [and the China Inland Mission], who is able to forbear and forgive as taught by Jesus to do so… signed by the Governor of Shanxi (CIM 1902:33, 36).

Missionaries in the past demonstrated a “death” to self in the proclamation of the gospel. 

Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  For I testify that they [the Macedonian churches] gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability (2 Corinthians 8:2).

Similarly, the biblical model of Christian partnership is not a “win-win” model as the world promotes but always a sacrificial partnership. 

3. The sovereign rule of God – The danger of pride and self-pity

Winds of Change

The Edinburgh Conference in 1910 has often been referred to as the defining moment for the modern Western Missionary Movement with epoch-making significance.  There was such strong energy and commitment from the conference to carry the gospel to the entire non-Christian world.  The period of the 1910s also coincided with new possibilities due to advances in technology from the Western industrial world.  Technological progress was hailed as the handmaid to the spreading of the gospel worldwide. (8)However, the delegates were overwhelmingly Christians from the Western countries, mainly British and Americans (1000), and with a small minority (170) from continental Europe.   Very few came from the younger churches from Asia. (9) There were also no Latin American or African participants.  And the participants were mainly male.

It is encouraging to see that the picture is very different today.  It is reported that Korea has sent out more than 20,000 cross-cultural missionaries to over 160 countries.(10) With a Christian population of more than 70 million, there is an increasing concern for world evangelization from the church in China.  Over half of the delegates from this Third Lausanne Congress are from the Majority World. Many scholars, including Philip Jenkins, emphasize a shift of power from Western churches to those South of the equator. (11)

While I rejoice in the growth of the Asian Missionary Movement, I still have a nagging restlessness.  There is a thought that is circulated among Chinese Christians that the 21st century mission or the next century mission belongs to the Asians or to the Chinese.  Sometimes, even the Westerners boost the confidence of our Asian brothers and sisters by promoting this concept, which unfortunately is to our harm.  I do not deny the wealth and the tremendous resources with which God has blessed many of the Asian countries, including China.  However, I am concerned that we as Asians may be repeating the same mistake that our Western brethren might have committed in the past – that is, to equate economic and political power with advances in the spreading of the gospel.  We continue to reinforce the notion that the spreading of the gospel is always from the powerful to the powerless, the haves to the have-nots.  There is a sense of Asian triumphalism that makes me nervous.

Winds of God

The early Christians acknowledged a fundamental truth in the spreading of the gospel, namely, the sovereign rule of God (Acts 4:25).  Our sovereign Lord is the one in control of history, the Lord of all political powers and the one who determines our times.  The Most High is sovereign over kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes (Daniel 4:25). No one ethnic group or nation can claim the exclusive privilege of being the ones to finish the Great Commission.  We need to acknowledge that the Lord in the Bible even used Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar to fulfill His purpose.  He does as He pleases. 

God, by His sovereign grace, has created in Christ a new spiritual community from all tribes and nations to bring the good news to the world.  God’s new community of all tribes, nations and tongues is to be a community of mutual encouragement and learning.  Professor Andrew Walls insightfully highlighted the concept of polycentrism: the riches of a hundred places learning from each other. He believes that there is no one single centre of Christianity or one single centre of missionary activity. He said, “One necessitates the other”. (12)

Arrogance and self-pity will be the major barriers to pursuing world evangelization.  Arrogance with ethno-superiority can be hidden within the justified vision for world evangelization.  Self-pity undermines God’s work in us and through us.  There is a rich heritage of the modern Western Protestant Mission from which the non-Western Christian community can learn.  The faith and perseverance of Western missionaries who gave their lives for the sake of the gospel should be re-discovered.  The stories should be retold.  On the other hand, there is also a spiritual vibrancy from the Global South that the Western world needs to observe.  Also there is a desperate need for more missiological thinking beyond the Western paradigm, which speaks to the contemporary political, social, religious and ethnic contexts. (13,14)

We are God’s global community united in Christ.  Partnership is based upon this firm foundation.  Partnership must spring from a deep sense of gratitude to God for what Christ has done.  He has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility that separates us from God and from one another.  Sacrificial partnership with a commitment to “death to self” will be the only way to world evangelization, for the very shape of mission is cruciform.  The cross lies at the very heart of mission. (15)

© The Lausanne Movement 2010

  1. Samuel Escobar, “A Movement Divided: Three approaches to world evangelization stand in tension with one another” in Transformation: An International Journal of Holistic Mission Studies 1991 8:7
  2. Glenn Schwartz, “How Short term missions can go wrong?” in International Journal of Frontier Missions, 20:4 2003.
  3. Glenn Schwartz, p. 30
  4. Hwa Yung, “Kingdom Identity in Christian Mission” Mission Round Table- The Occasional Bulletin of Mission Research. December 2008, Vol. 4 No. 2
  5. The term “Mission from anywhere to anywhere” has been used by Andrew Walls in the Chapter “Christian Mission in a Five-hundred-year Context” in the book “Mission in the 21st Century- Exploring the 5 Marks of Global Mission.”   He said, “In the multi-centric Christian church there can be no automatic assumption of Western leadership; indeed, if suffering and endurance are the badges of authenticity, we can expect the most powerful Christian leadership to come from elsewhere.” P. 203-204
  6. John Stott, God’s New Society– The Message of Ephesians, Leicester: IVP, 1979, p.102
  7. Michal Green, 30 Years that changed the World, Leicester:  IVP, 2002, p.154
  8. Kenneth R. Ross, “Edinburg 1910- Its Place in History” published paper, 2009
  9. Brian Stanley, The Non-Western Presence at Edinburgh, The World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh 1910, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co.,  p.91
  10. Report from Korea World Missions Association (KWMA), 2009.
  11. Philip Jenkins, The next Christendomthe coming of global Christianity, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  12. Christianity Today, February 2007
  13. One key example is the critical missiological reflection from Samuel Escobar who described three main global missiological trends, namely, post-imperial missiology from Europe, managerial missiology from America and peripheral missiology from Latin America.
  14. Steve S. Moon and David Tai-Woong Lee, “Globalization, world evangelization, and global missiology” in One World or Many, ed. Richard Tiplady, Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2003.
  15. John Stott, “Part Four- Living under the Cross- suffering and glory”, p. 336-337, The Cross of Christ, Nottingham: IVP, 1978