World Congress On Evangelism

This major global gathering devoted to fulfilling Christ's great commission to evangelize the earth was held in 1966 in West Berlin. Major ecumenical assemblies and conferences had been sponsored by the World Council of Churches* to discuss church unity, faith and order, and church and society concerns. The World Congress on Evangelism was a para-ecumenical effort inspired by the massive crusades of evangelist Billy Graham,* who served as honorary chairman. It was sponsored as a tenth anniversary project by the evangelical Protestant magazine Christianity Today whose founding editor, Carl F.H. Henry, was Congress chairman.

The congress drew participants dedicated to evangelism in more than 100 countries, most being nationals carrying evangelistic tasks in ecumenically aligned and independent denominations. Their identification within seventy-six church bodies inside and outside the conciliar movement constituted the Berlin Congress in some ways more ecumenical in scope than the World Council. Participants went back historically as far as the Mar Thoma Church* in India. Others came from young churches in Africa and Asia; youngest of all was the Auca church in Latin America sprung from the witness of five American missionary martyrs. The congress achieved a significant emphasis on evangelistic priorities and a correlation of theological and evangelistic concerns in a time when neo-Protestant reconstruction of both the doctrine and task of the church was displacing historic Christian commitments.

As the church moved into the last third of the twentieth century, Christianity represented only 28 percent of the world population and without new evangelistic vitality was doomed to become a diminishing remnant. Evangelistic momentum was slackened by Free World materialism and Communist-sphere atheism, by mass media emphasis on this-worldly concerns, and by the institutional church's preoccupation with sociopolitical issues.

The Berlin Congress achieved a significant correlation of theological and evangelistic concerns. Churchmen singled out as critically important target areas for contemporary engagement: the expanding great cities, the 20 million college and university students, the mass media, involvement of the laity, the world of computer technology, and the social dimensions of human life. Since the world population is expected to double by the year 2000, the importance of moving gospel witness into the space age and mass media age was evident. It was also noted that in the so- called silent world of 800 million illiterates, which revolutionary political forces are exploiting, evangelical Christianity has 40,000 Bible-teaching missionaries already familiar with the languages of people with an illiteracy problem.

The World Congress has stimulated subsequent regional and national conferences, including East Africa (Nairobi, 1968), Asia- South Pacific (Singapore, 1968), Latin America (1968), Eastern Europe (Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, 1969), United States (Minneapolis, 1969), Canada (Ottawa, 1970), and Western Europe (Amsterdam, 1971). In the USA, Key '73 signaled an attempt to coordinate evangelical energies at city and community levels in simultaneous and cooperative evangelism.

Asian and African interest in evangelism coincides with ecumenical missionary retrenchment abroad. Two-thirds of the world population now lives in Asia, where Christians who represent only 3 percent of the population have opened a coordinating office for Asian evangelism. A quarter of the human race, in mainland China, is sealed off from evangelism.

See One Race, One Gospel, One Task (Congress papers and reports, 2 vols., 1967).