Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Claudio Pose: The Pastoral Ministry in the Dynamics of Mission

Today's post is by Rev. Claudio Pose. Rev. Pose is a pastor of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina. It originally appeared (in Spanish) on the website of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina (IEMA) as part of a series organized by the Centro Metodista de Estudios Wesleyanos (CMEW). It appears here in translation with the author's permission and with the assistance of CMEW.

The Bible provides us with abundant material on the image of the shepherd. The context of a rural culture of antiquity, in which shepherding flocks was a common and well-known task, make this figure a pedagogical resource to explain, for example, God's love and care for God’s people. Since the Old Testament, God appears as a shepherd (Ez 34:31). In the New Testament, Jesus declares himself a shepherd (Jn 10:14). Shepherding implies caring for and guiding the flock (as in Ps 23). One can also note that references to the flock may include groups and persons not contained in the immediate group (see Jn 10:16).

The church took the figure of a shepherd from the Scriptures to refer to ministry in church communities, although the New Testament testifies to the use of other figures taken from the culture: elders, teachers, etc. Although some versions translate the word pastor on several occasions, only in Ephesians 4: 11 do we find an explicit mention of the figure of the pastor as a ministry in the congregational task.

The theological controversies of the first centuries within the Church strengthened the figure of the pastor as a doctrinal authority responsible for the administration of the sacraments, to guarantee that those people recognized by the community determined what was correct, amidst the disputes and interpretations that abounded.

The Middle Ages concentrated the regulation of “sacred matters” in the ordained ministry, producing a priesthood of mediation between the people and God. The Protestant Reformation confronted this idea by upholding the universal priesthood of all believers.

Methodism, as a movement that emerged within Anglicanism, maintained the criterion of the ordained ministry and the universal priesthood of believers. However, the plasticity with which Wesley responded to each new challenge led him to maintain the tension between respect and recognition for the ordained ministry of the Church of England and the need to provide answers to the enormous number of people who joined the ranks of Methodism.

In the colonies of America, the process was different, and the arrival of independence posed new challenges that included the ordination of ministers. Although the functions of the elder continued in accordance with Anglican precepts, new ministerial figures emerged for preaching, teaching, and spiritual guidance of communities.

From this background of the rich heritage of the universal church, Latin American Methodism was nurtured, particularly, from the model brought by the missionaries from the United States. Along with their theological training and Methodist identity, but the missionaries also brought their lifestyles and their cultural baggage, which were not always easy to differentiate from the contents of the gospel. I remember in my early adolescence during a congregational assembly, listening to a brother defend the idea that it was necessary to bring missionaries from the United States because together with the wisdom of their faith and their formation, they brought us a lifestyle that we needed. Theology, culture, and even ideological values seemed to be a single package.

The appearance of local seminaries in Latin America produced groups of pastors formed in the light of theological traditions, coming from the northern hemisphere, but now with an eye on the vernacular challenges. Starting in the sixties of the last century, this search for a dialogue between the problems of our continent and our communities became more evident. The nascent processes of autonomy simultaneously accompanied and enriched the process.

New times for mission and ministry

As has been stated in previous articles, the mission of the church in these times requires a review and rethinking. Pastoral ministry is an expression of the mission of the church. This is the order. In its Constitution, the Argentine Evangelical Methodist Church defines ordained ministry as follows:

“The Argentine Methodist Evangelical Church recognizes the universal priesthood of believers, as well as the need for an ordained representative ministry, called by God and authorized by the Church for specific functions of the same.” (Art. 7, sub. 3)

The ordained ministry is an expression of the universal priesthood and is representative of it, as well as of the connection of the church. It immediately clarifies that it is for specific functions, so that there is no way to confuse representation with substitution, a phenomenon that we will address below.

In the present, one may detect some tensions produced by the expectations that exist about ordained ministry in the framework of churches with difficulties in rethinking its mission and functioning. In addition, the ordained ministry has traditionally been formally trained in theological institutions and supported, partially or totally, to guarantee greater time dedicated to such tasks. All this appears up for debate in the present. The possibility of revising traditions and purposes is always something beneficial. The question to take into account is where we carry out the debate from.

Next, we present four descriptions of mission and pastoral ministry.

The pastoral ministry as a substitute figure. As stated above, there is an idea rooted in the communities that the pastor concentrates the responsibility for the mission of the church, transferring the universal priesthood from all the believers to one person. The enthronement of the pastor as a kind of “ideal believer” is an underhanded demand that no person, minister or layman, can bear. In some cases, this phenomenon has reached the pastoral family, causing an unbearable burden on spouses and children.

The characteristic of the pastoral task. The General Regulations of the Argentine Methodist Church define the pastoral task as follows: “The elder is an ordained minister for the proclamation of the Word, the direction of worship, and the administration of the sacraments, and to train, guide, and serve the Church in the fulfillment of its mission in the world, through teaching, pastoral counseling, and leadership.” (Article 701)

Ordination encompasses the task of proclamation, direction of worship, and administration of the sacraments. It then indicates that it enables, guides, and serves the church in the fulfillment of its mission in the world. It is important to highlight these last two elements: it is the whole church that must fulfill the mission, and it has the world as its objective.

Pastoring in a continent torn by inequality. In the situation of Latin America, where millions of people are condemned to possess the image and likeness of God disfigured by the conditions in which they are forced to live, it is necessary to ask: What is the shepherd’s flock? What are the limits of pastoral action? Do we limit the pastoral task to the administration of sacred matters, when human life, the most sacred thing, is at risk? These questions touch not only on the scope of the pastoral role, but the entire mission of the church.

The need for a trained pastoral ministry. To the extent that we can understand that the diversity of gifts and services in the church also allows us to discover the diversity of ministries, this will not blur the function of the ordained ministry. David Bosch investigates the relevance of the ordained ministry in the mission of the church and states about the pastoral role, “the guardian who helps the community remain faithful to the teachings and practices of apostolic Christianity. … The priesthood of the ordained ministry exists to facilitate, not to remove, the priesthood of the entire church.”

These times require spiritual, social, political, and cultural discernment. That is why there is a need for an ordered ministry prepared with the tools that make adequate accompaniment of communities possible. Jesus demanded that trained religious leaders be able to discern the times because the church's agenda is in the world and not inside church buildings.

“The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.’” (Mt 16:1-3)

Questions for reflection

  • If the mission of your congregation has already been discussed, you could now discuss what pastoral ministry would be appropriate for that mission.
  • What other ministries does the community have? Discuss how to train and support them. Why is pastoral work important in these ministries?
  • What challenges does the neighborhood or city in which the community is located pose?

Monday, September 26, 2022

Recommended Viewing: Panel on the Challenges of Methodism in Latin America

Over the past several weeks, UM & Global has been running a series of posts about mission and evangelism in Latin American Methodism originally published by the Centro Metodista de Estudios Wesleyanos (CMEW) of the Iglesia Evangelica Metodista Argentina (IEMA, Evangelical Methodist Church Argentina). The posts were originally published in Spanish and have appeared here in translation through the permission and support of CMEW. Two more translations remain to be published on UM & Global, but the Spanish-language versions are now all available.

As a follow-up to that series of posts, CMEW and IEMA are hosting a free online panel (in Spanish) on the topic of "The Challenges of Methodism in Latin America." The panel will be hosted by Revs. Claudio Pose and Viviana Pinto (both of whose essays in the series will appear on this site soon). It features as panelists Rev. Dr. Daniel Bruno of CMEW along with Rev. Dr. Miguel Ulloa Moscoso of Chile, Director of the Methodist Seminary of Chile, and Dr. Nancy Cardoso of Brazil, Professors of the Study of Religion and Theology at the Methodist University of Angola. The conversation should be excellent.

The panel will be at 7:30pm CST this Friday, September 30. Free online registration can be found here.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Recommended Reading: International Missionary Council Centenary Books

The International Missionary Council, predecessor to today's Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches (WCC), was founded in 1921 at Lake Mohonk, NY. 2021 thus marked the 100th anniversary of this organization, a milestone that led to a study process, a conference, and the production of two volumes on Christian mission, past and present. At the WCC General Assembly last week, organizers celebrated the publication of those two volumes, both of which are available as free PDFs in the links below.

A Hundred Years of Mission Cooperation: The Impact of the International Missionary Council 1921-2021, edited by Risto Jukko offers some framing remarks on the centenary and then mainly consists of reports from 13 regional centers around the world. The North American regional report was coordinated and written by Association of Methodist Professors of Mission member Dr. Dana L. Robert, and AMPM members Dr. Benjamin L. Hartley and Dr. David W. Scott contributed to the study process as well. While some regional reports are more historically focused, the North American report is focused on the current state of missional collaboration involving North American Christians today.

Together in the Mission of God: Jubilee Reflections on the International Missionary Council, also edited by Risto Jukko, contains a series of historical and theological reflections on the past, present, and future of ecumenical cooperation in mission. This book includes contributions by AMPM members Dr. Dana L. Robert, Dr. Arun W. Jones, and Dr. Luis Wesley de Souza.

Both volumes are recommended for those looking for in-depth analysis of the state of cooperative mission around the world today and insights into how the past century of international developments has influenced that state of mission.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Frank de Nully Brown: The Methodist Church: Institution for Mission or Mission for Institution?

Today's post is by retired Bishop Frank de Nully Brown. Bishop de Nully Brown is a retired bishop of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina. It originally appeared (in Spanish) on the website of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina (IEMA) as part of a series organized by the Centro Metodista de Estudios Wesleyanos (CMEW). It appears here in translation with the author's permission and with the assistance of CMEW.

The Methodist Church began as a movement based on an incipient network of local societies with the mission of proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ for all, with a spiritual and social commitment that challenged the personal transformation and the social reality of its time.

From its origins, the interpersonal connection and the connection with the social environment was something fundamental in the entire Methodist movement. That connection involved mutual support and growth in ministry. This connection was, through time, the foundation that constituted one of the largest and most well-organized denominations in its wide and diverse connections. This organization and structure were understood as a support that allowed the mission to expand throughout the world.

The Methodist churches in our Latin American continent are heirs to the mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which later became part of the current United Methodist Church.

The autonomy processes did not mean disconnection from the Methodist family, but a greater commitment at the local level. It occurred at the end of the '60s and beginning of the '70s and affirmed this missionary change in Latin American Methodism. For this reason, it generated the organization CIEMAL (Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches of Latin America and the Caribbean) as a space for connection and meaning for our evangelical mission.

Autonomy wanted to affirm our commitment to live and proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom of God in a different cultural and social context, in which we were challenged to give a Christian witness.

Autonomy confronted us with a reality where self-support was presented as a difficult path to follow, taking into account the very ambivalent socioeconomic trajectory in our Latin American countries.

We inherited an organizational structure with its virtues and defects. The organizational aspect always had an important weight for our churches because it had to do with our new way of being a connectional church.

The institutional presence was made concrete in the construction of churches and other buildings in the big cities and in places that were considered strategic, and many times autonomy showed that they could not be sustained or that mission with the people passed through other spaces that were not church buildings but were a symbol of a recognized and established church.

I share the goals of the organization of CIEMAL, written in its regulations, that reflect the dreams of being autonomous churches.

  1. Participate in the Mission of God, giving a testimony of solidarity in preaching, education, and service through the member churches to the Latin American and Caribbean peoples, giving priority to the poor and excluded.
  2. Stimulate the process of maintaining and perfecting the unity of the Church.
  3. Maintain and proclaim Methodist connectionality among its members, cultivating brotherhood and mutual support.
  4. Develop cooperative relationships with world Methodism and the ecumenical movement.
  5. Stimulate and promote awareness and practice of biblical theology in the Latin American and Caribbean context.
  6. Ensure a permanent analysis and evaluation of the political, economic, and religious reality of each country and of each member church at a continental level.
  7. Develop different programs through studies, consultations, seminars, offices, and other means that favor the fulfillment of mission.

Autonomy had its costs for each national church because it meant taking charge of a structure that showed difficulties in being sustained not only financially but also in leadership for the ministry.

So, the churches went along doing what they could, sometimes with great successes and mistakes too. On more than one occasion, autonomy was not seen as an achievement, especially when resources and gifts were limited. Sometimes, even on many occasions, the organization weighed down a congregation when it was associated with a building with a determined structure.

All this led to the dilemma of thinking about the mission of the extended parish, which is always an invitation to look at the surrounding community, our neighborhood, or to support an organization in a pre-determined way: it was difficult to recover the sense of a spiritual and social movement.

Today, there are debates about possible fractures in United Methodism, from which we recognize our origins, fractures that not only affect the church in the United States but throughout the world through the mode of our relations. These fractures are related to differing visions of our pastoral action based on certain biblical and theological interpretations.

Being an autonomous church allows us an exercise in being different and creative, making our own missional decision, building new and old networks of support and growth. We need to reconvert ourselves based on our mission and not just to make our institutional life last a while longer.

I believe that autonomy, throughout our Methodist history in our continent, has a positive balance that we have to refresh in these times of searching for paths of unity, not only with the Methodist family but with the body of Christ as a broader and more ecumenical concept.

It is a constant challenge to recover a concept of community and connectional evangelism in the society in which we have to bear witness. A community evangelism that generates congregations of faith in solidarity that seek the Kingdom of God and its justice, remembering that what is connectional is not to isolate ourselves but to connect ourselves. From there comes an ecumenical attitude in the search for justice and peace for all. We must not recognize ecumenism only as something celebratory and eventually linked to institutional hierarchy, but to adapt the essence of ecumenism, which is to weave networks for transformative mission in the world.

We need to remember that the church is only one instrument for God's mission. It can never be a burden but a tool that facilitates and speeds up the mission of God in the world.

I share some lines to rethink the life of our local congregations, recalling two concepts that appear in the previous writings about the need to rethink the mission from the margins of society and a gospel embodied in reality as Jesus did.

  • Be loving, supportive, inclusive and healing congregations.
  • Be congregations that make new disciples.
  • Be congregations open to the changes and movements that occur in the extended parish where we are inserted.
  • Be prophetic congregations, which join with other social spaces in the search for a more just and egalitarian society.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Klaus Ulrich Ruof: Working for Just Peace

Today’s post is a translation of part of Klaus Ulrich Ruof’s article “Christi Liebe drängt zur Solidarität,” first published on the website of the Evangelisch-methodistische Kirke, the UMC in Germany. It appears here and on UM News by permission. The translation is by UM & Global’s David W. Scott.

On the last day of the eleventh General Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), held from August 31st until September 8th in Karlsruhe, Germany, delegates adopted numerous documents on different subject areas, about which various committees had met in the days before. The documents had then been brought to plenary sessions for remarks and questions, which were incorporated into the final documents. Statements on peace stood out among those adopted.

Don’t think only about Ukraine!

Already at the beginning of the General Assembly, one of the points of contention was the participation of a delegation from the Russian Orthodox Church, which is after all the largest of the 352 member churches of the WCC. Before the General Assembly, many called for their exclusion. The hoped-for encounter of dialogue between the delegates of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine, which broke away from it, did not come to pass in the days at Karlsruhe.

Behind the scenes of the event, the leaders of the WCC had contact with both delegations, which was almost “a sort of indirect dialogue,” explained interim WCC General Secretary Ioan Sauca at the final press conference. In critical political or ecclesiastical confrontations there is “a margin between diplomatic negotiations and silence,” explained Petra Bosse-Huber, the foreign-relations bishop of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). For the conflict of these churches, the time in Karlsruhe was “kind of in-between.”

In the end, the statement adopted on this conflict, titled “War in Ukraine, Peace and Justice in the European Region,” denounced the “illegal and unjustifiable” Russian invasion of Ukraine and renewed the call for a ceasefire and the immediate removal of Russian troops. The statement strongly affirms and reiterates the position that “war is incompatible with God’s very nature.” The “love and accompaniment of the WCC global fellowship of churches” stands behind those affected. “We join in praying for all the victims of this tragic conflict, in Ukraine, in the region and throughout the world, that their suffering may cease and that they may be consoled and restored to lives of safety and dignity.”

At the start of the General Assembly, delegates from other parts of the world had reported that the Europe-centered consideration of the war between Russia and Ukraine distorts reality. It is understandable that a statement would be required, but there are still other regions and churches in this world that are affected by massive confrontations, genocide, and persecution. It is therefore only logical if the WCC also makes statements on these. As a result, there were further, shorter statements on ending the war and building peace on the Korean peninsula, consequences of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, the situation in West Papua, and Syriac-Aramaic genocide.

A compromise formula saves the statement on the situation in the Middle East

In the run-up to the Karlsruhe Assembly, allegations were repeatedly made that the WCC had taken a one-sided position for the Palestinians. The concrete reason for this was aspirations that the General Assembly would declare Israel an apartheid state. The feared scandal did not materialize.

The document adopted in the end formulated a hastily arranged compromise: “Recently, numerous international, Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations and legal bodies have published studies and reports describing the policies and actions of Israel as amounting to ‘apartheid’ under international law.” Then it mentions that some churches and delegates strongly support the use of this term “as accurately describing the reality of the people in Palestine/Israel and the position under international law.” Others, on the other hand, hold it as “inappropriate, unhelpful and painful.”

During the discussion of the first draft of the document, the EKD foreign-relations bishop Petra Bosse-Huber warned in a passionate appeal “in all clarity” against speaking about Israel as an apartheid state. In a written statement, she explained that a deep connection with Israel was “a priceless and unearned gift” for the German church that was developed “out of the ground of unending German guilt, including the complicity of our own churches.” Against the background of “this double solidarity with Israel and Palestine, in the future, we will fight together with our siblings on both sides of the conflict for a lasting and just peace in the Middle East.”

Despite the adopted compromise formula, the final document also says that the Israeli settlements in the West Bank are an obstacle on the “path towards a just peace” in the region. The expansion of Israeli settlements “in the occupied territories” is “illegal under international law.” The expansion of settlements and the accompanying heightened Israeli military presence have increased the suffering of the Palestinian society, because their lands and possessions are further confiscated and attacks from the Israeli settlers have increased.

However, the document also says that the situation of the Palestinian population is further aggravated by “the grave failings of the Palestinian authorities, including reprisals against opposition leaders and the lack of legal and democratic accountability.”

The situation cannot ultimately be solved by violence, but rather only by peaceful means in accordance with international law. Therefore, the WCC Assembly affirmed “the rightful place of the State of Israel in the community of nations” and recognized “its legitimate security needs.” At the same time, “the right of the Palestinians for self-determination” was underlined. “We believe that it is only through an end to the occupation and a just, comprehensive and lasting peace settlement that the security of both Palestinians and Israelis can be assured.”

Friday, September 16, 2022

Klaus Ulrich Ruof: Christ’s Love Urges Solidarity

Today’s post is a translation of part of Klaus Ulrich Ruof’s article “Christi Liebe drängt zur Solidarität,” first published on the website of the Evangelisch-methodistische Kirke, the UMC in Germany. It appears here and on UM News by permission. The translation is by UM & Global’s David W. Scott.

The eleventh General Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) is now history. At the ecumenical summit in Karlsruhe, Germany, around 3,000 participants from 120 countries met for nine days from August 31st until September 8th to discuss the future direction of ecumenism. The meeting ended with a church service.

The World Council of Churches is a community of 352 churches that together represent over 580 million Christians worldwide. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member but has observer status. This large, ecumenical, worldwide association is headquartered in Geneva and was founded August 23, 1948 in Amsterdam. The WCC General Assembly meets every eight years, according to WCC rules. Where the next General Assembly will take place had not been decided at the end of the Karlsruhe meeting.

Unity is anchored in Christ’s love

In a message at the end of the Karlsruhe meeting last Thursday, the delegates called for the “healing of our living planet.” “We will find a strength to act from a unity founded in Christ’s love,” read the message, which was titled, “A Call to Act Together.” The goal is to create and maintain peace. The message thus ties in with the texts of the General Assemblies of 1948 in Amsterdam and 1975 in Nairobi.

The text of the message warns of catastrophes that originate in an irresponsible and broken relationship with creation that has led to ecological injustice and the climate crisis. At this moment, in which the climate emergency is gathering speed, the suffering of penniless people crowded on the margins is increasing. Referring to the theme of the General Assembly, “Christ's love moves the world to reconciliation and unity,” the delegates emphasized that Christ’s love urges us to come to Christ in solidarity and “to respond and act for justice.”

WCC Central Committee organized; youth revolt

Fifteen persons from the Methodist church family belong to the 150-member Central Committee, including two from The United Methodist Church: Bishop Sally Dyck, the ecumenical officer of the international Council of Bishops of the UMC, and Ann Jacob, who serves as a pastor at Edmonds, Washington. The Central Committee is the highest governing body of the WCC in the time in between General Assemblies and meets every two years. It carries out the policies adopted by the General Assembly, supervises and directs the program work, and decides on the budget.

As the size and composition of the 150-person WCC Central Committee were being determined for the next eight years, the youth revolted. They put forward a statement signed by 38 youth General Assembly members, including 12 delegates and 9 advisors. As members of the generation affected by present and coming developments in climate and society, and in view of the worldwide number of young people, they clearly demanded more participation and voices in this WCC governing body.

Agnes Abuom, the chairperson of the Central Committee, explained that this was no longer possible in the short term with immediate effect for the current composition of the body. She promised, however, that this issue would be taken up in the coming consultations of the Central Committee and would be taken into account for the future. According to the WCC’s bylaws, changes can be made, at earliest, at the next General Assembly.

The policy committee of the WCC noted that youth must be fully included in all commissions, committees, advisory groups, and reference groups of the WCC. However, some member churches apparently hesitate to nominate youth people for the Central Committee and other committees.

Humility and willingness to serve, after the example of Jesus

The new General Secretary, already elected in June of this year, gave a speech to the members of the General Assembly at the end of the meeting. Jerry Pillay, who comes from South Africa where he was Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Pretoria, is a member of the Union Presbyterian Church in southern Africa. The 57-year-old will take as General Secretary from Ioan Sauca on January 1, 2023. Sauca took over the vacant position in April 2020 on an interim basis, after the former General Secretary, Olav Fykse Tveit, was named head bishop of the Church of Norway.

Pillay stressed his vision that the WCC member churches and their partners work together to “proclaim the good news of salvation and life in Christ” to the world. In addition, the WCC must continue and do more to make the “voices of the marginalized and neglected” heard so that economic influence or the power and authority of individual churches is not decisive, but rather a culture of inclusion, diversity, and equal rights is created.

In organizations, the powerful usually take over command and control. In a biblical sense, the humility and self-understanding of Jesus to be a servant must be an example. That is why Pillay put forward a vision of a WCC “that not only creates safe space, but also room in which the marginalized have equal rights and in which the voices of the neglected are heard, respected, and valued by the community.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Pablo Bordenave: Evangelization in Context: The Great Commission or the Great Omission?

Today's post is by Lic. Pablo Bordenave. Lic. Bordenave is Chaplain at Colegio Ward in Buenos Aires. It originally appeared (in Spanish) on the website of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina (IEMA) as part of a series organized by the Centro Metodista de Estudios Wesleyanos (CMEW). It appears here in translation with the author's permission and with the assistance of CMEW.

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” These words from the Gospel of Matthew that carry the title of “the Great Commission” point to one of the most discussed tasks within the Christian churches throughout the centuries. This topic is discussed so much that some have called those words “the great omission,” implying that it is the task that the church has forgotten.

David Bosch, author of the book Transforming Mission, says about this text of Matthew:

“It is inadmissible to lift these words out of Matthew’s Gospel, as it were, allow them a life of their own, and understand them without reference to the context in which they first appeared. Where this happens, the ‘Great Commission’ is easily degraded to a mere slogan, or used as a pretext for what we have in advance decided, perhaps unconsciously, it should mean. … One thing contemporary scholars are agreed upon, is that Matthew 28:18–20 has to be interpreted against the backdrop of Matthew’s Gospel as a whole and unless we keep this in mind we shall fail to understand it. No exegesis of the ‘Great Commission’ divorced from its moorings in this gospel can be valid.” (p. 57)

How good it would be if our ideas of evangelism/mission of the church had as a backdrop, that is, as a general context, the message of the gospel that became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth!

Juan Stam, a Latin American theologian, began an article on theology of evangelism entitled “God as a starting point for a theology of evangelism.” He said, “Where should evangelism start from? From heaven to arrive at the earth? That is what the title would seem to indicate. From the church to go out into the world? That would be another approach. Or from the world to then bring it to the gospel?”

Stam was looking to point out these perspectives, problematizing a little and showing the complexity of the theme of evangelization. These questions are enough to show at least that there is not a single “correct” way to evangelize, that this task can be assumed from different places or perspectives and that each of these different places have their own risks of distorting that message we are looking to transmit.

As you can see, the theme is fundamental.

If Jesus is our example both in works and in his humanity, the first thing we would have to say is that much of our failure to communicate the gospel in our Latin American contexts is largely due to our lack of dialogue with the culture, to our ignorance of it or worse still to the rejection of many historical and cultural traditions.

Jesus not only dialogued with the culture of his time, but he incarnated himself in full humanity to be able to establish that dialogue and that it may be fruitful. Not knowing our Latin American culture and intending to have a discourse more typical of other latitudes or past centuries is not having the person of Jesus as a backdrop.

Imitation of North American models

Stam says in his article, “It is necessary to highlight, in the nineteenth century, due to its projection in Latin America, the gigantic movement of ‘religious revivals’ with its emphasis on repentance and conversion and which was also characterized by its emotionalism and the mobilization of masses around a great evangelist. This is how names like James McGready, Charles Finney, Dwight L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and today Billy Graham are remembered. It is not surprising that Latin American evangelicalism, born largely in the heat and thanks to the pioneering effort of the North American Church, has always fallen to the temptation of copying the same patterns, reducing ‘evangelism’ to a function that can be called mimetic: of imitation.”

Without a doubt, if those preachers did their job well in those times, it was surely because they understood their cultures and knew how to enter into dialogue with them. We do them little favor when we only seek to imitate them in form and content.

The good news that we have to communicate must be incarnated in the culture of our time and our land in order to bear the fruit of justice. For this reason, as Latin Americans we are called to our own path of incarnation with our cultures. Evangelism is proclamation, but it is also incarnation. For this, our participation in the life of our cultures is indispensable.

On the contrary, the fundamentalist theology that has spread throughout Latin America has managed to live and practice the evangelistic task in fundamental terms of separation between faith and culture.

In Wesley we find a deep link between good news and culture. His concept of good news, deep and radical, led him to fight against the “execrable villainy of slavery,” and also to venture into the economy, health, and medicine, and to criticize those who transformed these tools given by God for the well-being of God’s children into personal gain. For Wesley, just as the Roman Terence mentioned, “nothing human was alien to him,” and we can add, neither was the non-human: for Wesley, animals and the entire creation enter in dialogue with the Good News of salvation. For Wesley, evangelism (although he never used that term) was to open the space for an enriching and salvific dialogue between God and all of his creation. He never thought of the good news as something to be imposed, on the contrary, “Think yourself, and let think. Use no constraint in matters of religion. Even those who are farthest out of the way never compel to come in by any other means than reason, truth, and love.” (Sermon 37, “The Nature of Enthusiasm).

The Uruguayan pastor Emilio Castro said, “The biggest obstacle to evangelism is the Church worried about its own existence. It would be amusing, if it were not pathetic, to see entire denominations preoccupied with completely secondary questions of form or doctrine…while revolutionary ferment rages in the streets and fields of Latin America.”

The good news of Jesus always seeks the horizons, not confinements. It is an encounter, not a hunt for candidates to be “converted.” And if the church remains self-absorbed and silent on this, “the stones will cry out.” It is time to find new questions to answer. That would be a promising start for a new church in Latin America.

Questions for reflection

  1. If to evangelize you have to enter into dialogue with culture as Jesus did, what keys do you think the text of Phil 2: 5-11 gives us to understand Jesus' relationship with human culture?
  2. How do you organize an evangelistic journey in light of these words of Wesley: “Beware you are not a fiery, persecuting enthusiast. Do not imagine that God has called you (just contrary to the spirit of Him you style your Master) to destroy men's lives, and not to save them. Never dream of forcing men into the ways of God. Think yourself, and let think. Use no constraint in matters of religion. Even those who are farthest out of the way never compel to come in by any other means than reason, truth, and love” (Sermon 37)?
  3. If the context of the Great Commission should be the rest of the gospel of Matthew, look for characteristics to carry this good news today in the following three passages:
    Matt. 5: 1-12
    Matt 12: 1-8
    Matt 15: 21-28