Monday, January 25, 2010

The Edinburgh Missionary Conference: One Hundred Years and counting

"The Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910 is usually taken as the starting point of the modern ecumencial movement, and this indeed it was. But it was also the end of the great missionary movement of the West as that had gone forward for more than a century. There were good grounds for the tone of optimism and confidence that rang through many of the Edinburgh utterances. Prodigious difficulties had been overcome. The opening up of new areas to the Gospel had gone forward in the preceding half-century with almost unbelievable rapidity."
                                                   Stephen Neil Creative Tension, 1959.

This past Wednesday, there was a service at St. Andrews Cathedral, Honolulu, marking the hundreth year since the Edinburgh Missionary Conference. Given the current spiritual and theological climate, that event seems long ago, and longer than a century. In the great Anglican tradition, marked by both dignity and beauty, clergy from many different denominations participated, including by my count, Episcopalians, Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, United Church of Christ, Orthodox, and of course, delegates from the Celtic Church.

In days prior to the service, I thought back to what I remembered about the Edinburgh Missionary Conference. As a student at New College, this great event loomed in the background, and throughout my theological education there, many of my professors and teachers attempted to weave themes from that Conference into their lecture. The Conference attempted to gather clergy, and missionaries groups from all over the world together under the theme of "The Evanglization of the World in This Generation". As with most significant events, the church was blessed to have several multi-talented figures who helped guide and shape the conference. Key figures included Lord Balfour, from the Church of Scotland, the American missionary John Mott, and Scotsman John Oldham, who at that time was a leader in the Student Christian Movement.

For clarity sake, let me provide a brief overview of the aims of the Conference. The conference, lasted ten days, and took place from June 14th to the 23rd 1910. There were eight commissions which examined different issues. These were:
  • The carrying of the gospel to the non-Christian world
  • The Church in the Mission Field
  • Eduation in relation to the Christianization of national life
  • Missionary message in realtion to the non-Christian world
  • The preparation of missionaries
  • The home base of mission
  • Mission and governments
  • Cooperation and promotion of unity
Even now, a hundred years later, one cannot but be impressed at the ambitious  scope of the Conference. It was in fact, a watershed event for the Christian Church, with lasting lessons even to this day. In a following blog article, I will write a sequel which describes the events surrounding the Edinburgh 2010 Conference.

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