The Asia Church Congress Theological Consultation
Bangkok, Thailand 20 to 22 August, 2013
Asia Evangelical Alliance
Shape and Focus
We, the members of the Asia Evangelical Alliance Theological Commission (AEA: TC), along with church leaders from Asia, gathered for The Asia Church Congress Theological Consultation. The leaders from twelve Asian countries represented a broad spectrum of denominations and confessions, including Evangelical, Pentecostal, Methodist, Reformed, Presbyterian, Baptist, Nazarene, Christian and Missionary Alliance and Independent. The topic was The Triune God: Creation, Church and Consummation, with the key verse: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).
The Growth of Christianity in the Global South
The innovative movements of the Holy Spirit over the past century, discerned especially in the Global South, surprise us with joy, demonstrating that the Triune God is inexhaustibly living and creative. Today the number of disciples of Christ in Asia, Africa and Latin America exceeds that in the West. This shift of the center of gravity of the church from the North to the South is not merely demographic. It is also seen in the vitality and growing influence of non-western Christianity. This growth is often spontaneous, certainly post-colonial, and periodically in face of militant nationalism. It frequently happens without western organizational support, relying on local leadership and resources. Increasingly, the emphasis is on local churches that do not import or imitate the lifestyle, liturgy or theology of western churches because they are culturally rooted in their own particular contexts. Indeed, we see a new kairos moment for the church.
We reflect on the breadth and range of the works of the Holy Spirit. We take courage to look beyond our limited ecclesiastical structures and wisdom to discern where the Spirit is at work, often in unfamiliar places and in unlikely ways. We interact with those around us, listening carefully and thinking critically in correlation with the Scriptures. We understand God’s actions in mission and history within the framework of a doctrine of the Triune God.
The Triune God
The Triune God, the Creator, redeems and directs the universe toward Himself. This relationship is embodied in the entire life of Jesus. The various dimensions of the Christological event are interconnected aspects of one multi-faceted jewel, from the incarnation, to the atonement, resurrection, ascension and, ultimately, the return of Christ. In this, all three members of the Trinity are intimately and necessarily involved. So Paul calls Jesus the power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). He also writes, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (15:3-4). The Father will direct all things towards the glory of the Son through the empowering work of the Holy Spirit in the church and in believers’ lives (cf. Ephesians 1:3-14). There we have Trinity.
In the words, “God is love” (1 John 4:8 &16), the Scriptures reveal God as inherently relational. God deals relationally with His people, saying, “I will be your God and you shall be my people” (Exodus 6:7; Jeremiah 31:33; etc.). God charged His covenant community, and us, to “Be holy for I am holy” (Leviticus 20:26, 1 Peter 1:16). Consequently, the Church must reflect the Trinity, for holiness is central to its mission. Our lives too must reflect that Gospel holiness.
Unity of the Church
The church is the body of Christ and its unity is a divine and perfect gift (Ephesians 4:1-6), above every human ecclesiastical institution. In Christ, we are already one, and the indwelling Holy Spirit maintains this unity (1 Corinthians 12:4-13). The members of the church unite in Christ like vines with the root, in a unity that must overcome all that divides us, whether gender, race, language or social differences. God calls us to demonstrate this unity for the sake of the Trinitarian God’s mission (John 17:21, 23). Since this is a major challenge in Christianity, we commit ourselves afresh to maintain the unity of the Spirit.
With the Spirit’s promptings, different church traditions are building intra-community bridges of listening, understanding and sharing. One example is the Global Christian Forum. When we overcome denominational and cultural barriers, we find that the Holy Spirit unites believers. How else would you make sense of a person who believes in the Lutheran doctrine of grace, was baptized by immersion in a Baptist Church, and speaks in unknown tongues? God is breaking our rigid systems through fresh winds of the Spirit for us to transcend boundaries.
The Mission of the Church
After he rose from the dead, Jesus said to his disciples, “‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:21-22). This inseparably links the distinctive works of the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the life and witness of the church. The church, God’s people, is a sign, a foretaste and an instrument of God’s reign. The church points beyond itself to the coming reign of God.
Mission expresses the very essence of church. The church proclaims the Gospel of the Kingdom of God “to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God” (Romans 15:18-19). Evangelism, calling all to repentance and faith in Christ, teaching God’s Word, restoration of fellowship with God, confronting evil and injustices, transforming lives, exorcisms, healings, and signs and wonders are not mere symbols of God’s future rule, but anticipates the future in the here and now.
We live in a world in which our relationships with God, with ourselves, with one another, and with Nature, are broken through sin. Holistic mission means applying the redemptive work of Christ to all kinds of need, whether spiritual, emotional and physical, socio-political or environmental. However, holistic mission also requires us to be like Christ, who not only met each person at their point of need, but also invariably brought them back to the fundamental human need for repentance, forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God.
God is the source of all the ministry and mission of the church. If we think only a few members can minister, we are wrong, for we value only those who appear as the main workers. This marginalizes women, youth and children, the poor and the weak. Instead we must follow the New Testament emphasis that empowers all believers (1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:7-16), regardless of age, gender or class. Each member in the body of Christ is a co-equal partner in God’s ministry and mission, including women, youth, children, the poor and the weak. This co-equality is implicit in the life of the Trinity.
Hospitality is a way of life of the people of God. Our God is the cosmic Host. God in love creates space for humans and the world to exist, in dependence on Him. Hospitality is sharing our home, our lives, our personal space, and our resources, without a need to show off or any expectation of return. Hospitality comes out of a heart grateful for all that God has done for us, not out of obligation.
Engagement with Culture
God is tied to no culture. Nevertheless, in mission, the Christians must engage with the languages and cultures of the world. We inhabit two “worlds”, that of the church and that of the created world, both of which belong to Christ. Our traditions and theology are shaped by our pre-understanding, interests, and prejudices. Yet, at the heart of our Christian identity lies an all-encompassing change of loyalty, from a given culture with its gods to the God of all cultures. Thus, as we engage with other cultures, we need to carefully examine our assumptions.
No culture can claim privileged access to the truth of God, and none is so marginal that it can be excluded. Every culture bears the marks of God’s goodness as well as the marks of sin. The Gospel evaluates each culture by its criteria of truth, and where the Gospel penetrates a culture, God’s reign breaks in. As churches, may we guard against all ethno-centricity and cultural imperialism, and work to contextualize the transmission of the Gospel from one culture to another.
Dialogue with Today’s World
The church exists in a world of many religions and worldviews. Because we believe in a personal and living Triune God who is active and present in the world, the church must be willing to learn, understand and grow. Evangelical theology contributes to dialogue that both deepens our insights of the Gospel and enables us to hear other voices. Indeed, we must enhance the dialogue between the Scripture as the revealed Word of God and the contextual needs of a world of traditional religions, modern and postmodern secular beliefs.
We affirm the decisive revelation of God in history in Jesus of Nazareth. The teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, enshrined in the New Testament, communicate definitive information on the nature of God, the way of salvation and what God requires of humans. This provides us with an adequate basis to address other traditions and worldviews concerning common issues of human existence. However, such dialogue is not the task of an individual. It is the responsibility of the local church community.
When we respectfully dialogue with other traditions, the coherence and attractiveness of the Christian vision can be humbly explained. The Biblical vision of society can then be presented as the answer to the desperate religious and social conflicts, economic disparity and human freedoms which continue to ravage the nations. Granted that other traditions will not accept the Biblical vision in totality, we hold enough in common to work with people of other faiths and traditions for common good to build a better world for all humans – one of the most important tasks of respectful dialogue.
Reconciliation, Religious Freedom, Social, Techno and Eco Justice
We call on the church then to engage in issues of reconciliation, freedom and justice. The love of God constrains us. We need grace to teach and model forgiveness instead of revenge. Since justice includes communal harmony, we commit ourselves to work for reconciliation.
Beyond being constitutional provisions by the state, human rights are God-given. The state should protect the equal rights of all citizens, and the church must prophetically remind the state of its responsibility. Freedom of conscience, thought and belief is the most fundamental of human freedoms. We commit ourselves to defend and strengthen these freedoms and rights for all, not just Christians, using every legitimate means, however costly that might be.
Religious freedom and reconciliation have little meaning without a just social order of dignity and respect for all humans. Biblical justice impartially renders to all their due according to God’s moral law. When distributing social benefits, Biblical justice is concerned with the poor, widows, orphans, resident aliens, daily-wage earners, the weak, disabled, and slaves. We must give proper attention to these and those similarly disadvantaged.
We also affirm that God created female and male with equal dignity and respect; they are equally redeemed and gifted by the Holy Spirit. We uphold marriage as a covenant relationship between man and woman, as Jesus said, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one but one” (Matthew 19:4-6). We condemn violence against women.
Nature is not to be conquered and exploited, but cared for. Technology must not become a tool to manipulate creation but to promote the value and dignity of creation. This includes proper treatment of animals in genetic technology, the pro-environmental management of forests and waterways, and the allocation of resources for effective national stewardship. It means moving beyond an utilitarian ethic to spirituality that acknowledges the mystery of creation.
A multi-faceted battle against evil is beyond our human strength and ability. Therefore, we commit ourselves to prayer, holy living and unity for God’s Holy Spirit to equip and enable us for the tasks he is entrusting to us.
The Consummation of All Things
The people of God live between the first coming of Christ, and his Second Coming and the final consummation of all things! While we wait for the end of all things, we remind ourselves that the church is called to bless the nations (Gen.12:1-3; 15; 17; Isa.42:6), to be the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” (Matthew 5:13f). To do this, the church cannot live for itself but for the rest of humankind. And this it can only do if it faithfully fulfills the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). We repent of our failures and faintheartedness. We commit ourselves afresh to join in God’s mission to reconcile all humans and heal all creation.
Meanwhile, we look with hope to the day when Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead and to “wipe every tear from their eyes,” when there will be “no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things [will] have passed away.” We will hear him say, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelations 21:5).
29 August 2013
Rev. Dr. Sang-Bok David Kim, Chairman: AEA.
Prof. Dr. Yung Han Kim, Chairman, AEA: TC.
Rev. Dr. Richard Howell, General Secretary, AEA; Secretary, AEA: TC.