Evangelicals from over 100 nations gathered in Pattaya, Thailand, on Saturday for the opening of the General Assembly of the World Evangelical Alliance.
The Assembly, which only takes place once every six years, enjoyed a colourful spectacle of traditional Thai dance and music in its opening ceremony, as well as a parade of national flags representing the home nations of some 500 delegates.
In a rousing address, WEA international director Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe told delegates that the five day gathering would be an opportunity to refresh their vision for integral mission.
“We need a fresh vision for and commitment to the work of the body of Christ around the world that reflects our focus on integral mission, on holistic mission, on the transformation of the Gospel,” he said. “We desperately need that new, fresh vision.”
Crucial to finding that vision is faithfulness to the Scripture, Dr Tunnicliffe insisted.
“We need a renewal of our historic commitment to the character of the Gospel and our biblical distinctive as evangelical Christians who are committed to the authority of Scripture. What drives us and undergirds us is our commitment to the Scriptures.”
The opening ceremony was joined by the Deputy Permanent Secretary of Thailand, Kanda Vajrabhaiya, who pointed to areas of common interest between Evangelicals and the Thai Government, including poverty reduction, HIV and Aids, human rights, child protection and perhaps women issues.
“The WEA is a meaningful network to us in implementing programmes to assist, protect and empower those vulnerable groups and improve the life conditions of those considered as disadvantaged people in this country. It is also consistent with Christianity’s principles of right living for the benefit and interests of other people.”
She paid tribute to the crucial role played by Christianity in the development of Thailand.
“This year marks 180 years since Christian missionaries came to Thailand. Thus far Christians have not only brought knowledge such as education, technology and medicine, but also established infrastructure like schools, universities and hospitals to help Thai people.”
Poverty, transforming churches, HIV and Aids, religious liberty and evangelical engagement in the public square will form the thrust of ‘Living Room’ open conversations and evening plenary sessions with experts from around the world.
Also present at the assembly are WEA Global Partners - organisations specialising in a field of particular importance to the achievement of global evangelisation - and the representatives of other denominations and Christian bodies, including The Salvation Army, the Pentecostal World Fellowship, the Mennonite community, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Charismatic stream, the China Christian Council, and historic mainline Churches.
“We want a greater appreciation, affirmation and assimilation of the various global evangelical movements,” said Dr Tunnicliffe.
The Assembly will for the first time commit day one entirely to fasting and prayer. The day marks the culmination of a year of prayer in preparation for the Assembly but will also be used as an opportunity to pray into global issues of concern.
Dr Tunnicliffe said he wanted to see leaders of the WEA’s 128 national Evangelical Alliances better equipped to do God’s work.
“We want this week to be an encouragement to evangelical leaders in their often discouraging and lonely work,” he said. “The work of being involved in an Evangelical Alliance is not easy. The work of encouraging Christian unity is not easy and it is easy to get discouraged.”
This would be helped in part by the launch of a new website over the course of the Assembly with more information and resources to help the WEA’s global constituencies, he said.
Dr Tunnicliffe also announced plans to publish a book based on the outcomes of the Assembly meetings.
“We are a community of grace,” he told delegates. “We are going to demonstrate our love to one another and live out what it means to be disciples of Jesus who love one another.
We want to build a culture of Christ so that when we leave this place we will say ‘these are sisters and brothers I can trust because I know them’, and we will move out together.”