VII. ENVISIONING THE FUTURE: Ecclesiological Issues
Dynamic theologizing and scientific missiological efforts can prove to be begetters of sound ecclesiology. Ethnic congregations in the United States have adapted ecclesiological patterns from different denominations, sometimes without much reflection. Among Southern Baptists there are myriads of ecclesiological patterns practiced by ethnic churches. Attempts from leaders of the major boards of the convention to instruct and encourage leaders to adopt "sound" principles of Baptist ecclesiology have brought mixed results.
I am convinced that the effects of sound cross-cultural evangelization among ethnic churches in the United States will be monumental for candid observers studying the realities during the year 2010. I propose the following statement as a prediction.
The impact of the life and ministry of cross-cultural congregations in the United States will be overwhelming. Ecclesiologically it will revise church structures. Issues such as training and empowerment of leadership, delineation of denominational structures based on geographical boundaries, and distribution of human and financial resources, will be revolutionized by the year 2010.
I hope that someone at the end of the first decade of the twenty first century, having studied the realities of ethnic church life in the United States, can critically examine and evaluate the prediction for accuracy, improvement, instruction or correction.
Envisioning leadership training and empowerment for cross-cultural evangelization is of strategic importance. A significant priority of many Fist World mission boards has been the development and training of leadership. During the twentieth century, and more intensely during the second half of the century, leaders have been trained and institutions organized in Third World countries under the aegis and patterns of institutions of the First World. In these institutions leaders have been trained considering the local context. Others with potential to become "world class leaders" have been sent to Europe and the United States for advanced studies. Under both arrangements leaders have been empowered, mostly by the acquisition of language skills, theological content, and other subjects to be placed in leadership positions in the national judicatories. When national leaders from the Third World have become cognizant of the larger panorama of world mission and evangelization, many have become independent thinkers, entrepreneurs, and have come to interpret world evangelization accordingly. Others have chosen the path of least resistance and economic stability and have become in practice "company men." (There have been very few, if any, women who have experienced the process I describe.) Then there are those who are both independent-entrepreneur and "company men." What has been their reward? World-wide organizations such as those represented by mainline denominations, the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, the Baptist World Alliance, and others have empowered these leaders by asking them to speak at major conventions, to become members of study commissions. In the process they had ample time to travel and build their ego so that "back home" they could report about world evangelization and feel their contributions are important.
Those leaders who are genuinely interested in an holistic agenda of world evangelization have made significant contributions to the church. A number of Latin American, African and Asian scholars have been active and creative in their involvement, especially as some of them were instrumental in changing the contents of the Lausanne Covenant during the Congress in 1974.
In the United States theological institutions have been creative in seeking ways to train leaders for cross-cultural congregations. Among Southern Baptists efforts to train ethnic leaders have developed according to the needs of congregations. The Home Mission Board of the SBC in conjunction with Golden Gate Theological Seminary has developed basic-level training for ethnic lay and pastoral leaders in ethnic leadership development centers in the Western regions of the United States. During 1991, 1,020 ethnic leaders were trained in 101 ethnic leadership development centers among 17 ethnic groups in 13 languages.37 The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has provided theological education for Korean students in Baltimore by means of interpreters, and future plans include providing master's-level training in Korean during summer terms. Other institutions like Fuller Theological Seminary, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary have provided training for Asian and Hispanics in their language. These efforts are geared to meet the needs of leaders of ethnic congregations in the United States. During the twenty first century these configurations will adapt and increase to assist the churches to develop adequately their vision for world evangelization.
The delineation of denominational structures according to common or shared commitments will develop as well during the first decade of the twenty first century. These changes will coincide with the present erosion of denominational loyalty, the scarcity of financial resources, and the fact that among ethnic church leaders a feeling of despair for empowerment is prevalent.
Denominational configurations have changed in the United States during the 1980's. Mainline groups have decreased in number. Evangelicals have grown, but the proportion of ethnic leaders who are decision makers is amazingly limited in proportion to their evangelistic achievements. During the twenty first century, the second generation of ethnic leadership will hold the key and destiny for their churches. They will shape the ecclesiological patterns regardless of the connection with larger denominations.
Informal "affinity" groups are developing. Gatherings and planning events of leaders from ethnic "power block" groups take place to strategize, sometimes without involving recognized denominational leadership.38 Among Southern Baptists large ethnic groups such as Hispanic, Korean, and Filipino meet annually to discuss common concerns, develop strategies for world evangelization, and develop informal networks. There are twenty one different ethnic fellowships among Southern Baptists that meet annually.39 It is impossible to predict the direction some of these "fellowships" will take when their numbers increase and if they continue to be rebuffed by those in positions of power in the convention for representation on boards and institutions. The nature of these meetings reaffirms the view that geography is of little concern for these groups. Many of them have national character and meet in urban centers of the United States.
"The world has come to us" is an expression that interprets the realities of massive migrations from the Third World to the First World. National governments with limited resources promulgate laws to curb illegal or legal immigration. The economic impact of foreign born peoples on any nation affects the well-being of its citizens. Many churches have opted for the Statue of Liberty philosophy: "Give me your poor, tired . . ." and have added the words of the Lord of the Church: "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden." During the twenty first century the conditions of the world economy and politics will continue to affect First World churches who are working out a biblical strategy for world evangelization.
It is hoped that the best intellectual and spiritual resources will be used to dream together with Third World Christians the most adequate strategy to fulfill the Great Commission with integrity, so that Christ may truly become the "Cosmic Christ" of all creation and redemption.
VII. Envisioning the Future: Ecclesiological Issues
37. Co-Laborers, p. 5.
38. Jim Utley, "Minority Leaders Gather to Plan and Pray for Outreach," Christianity Today, 36 (March 16, 1992), p. 60.
39. Co-Laborers, p. 6.
(c)Review and Expositor, 90 (Winter, 1993): 83-99; Used with permission.
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