This is Part 1 of the series "A MISSIONARY ECCLESIOLOGY FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY". Originally presented in 2005, the relevance is current.
By R. Bruce Carlton
As the church enters the twenty-first century it does so with a significant shift in its center of gravity. For well over one thousand years the church of the West has held center stage, impacting the church in all areas, theological and ecclesiological. So great has been the influence of the Western church throughout the world that the words of Roland Allen ring true today as they have for a large part of the modern mission movement:
If a traveler returns from visiting our Indian or Chinese Christians the first thing that he tells us is that he was delighted to find himself worshipping in a church where the language was indeed strange and the worshippers of another colour, but that in every other respect he felt quite at home. He found the same sort of ornaments, the same service, the same Prayer Book, the same hymns with which he was familiar. If a Chinese or an Indian convert comes to England he finds, of course, that England is not the Christian country which he imagined it to be, and that the majority of people do not observe many of the rules which he has been taught to keep, but within the circle of the Church, he finds the same thing with which he was familiar in his own home. In all the outward forms of religion there is practical uniformity.
At the same time, the influence of the Western church is waning, although many in the Western church seem neither willing to admit this waning influence nor willing to let go of the firm grip the Western church has maintained through the years. The church in the Two-Thirds World, for the most part the mission fields of the Western church, is now where the majority of Christians can be found; therefore, if present trends continue, sometime during the present century over two-thirds of all Christians will be in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific region. The churches of the Two-Thirds World have genuinely arrived onto the scene of worldwide Christianity, and the shape of the church and mission in this century will be influenced more by these churches than the West. William Burrows offers a prophetic warning to the church of the twenty-first century noting what is needed is:
Westerners letting go of controls, for embodied manifestation will largely have to be done by local Christians. Mission will cease to be something done by Northerners for their brown, black, red and yellow brothers and sisters or vice versa.…Christian efforts to manifest Christ in Latin America, Africa and Asia will be carried on by Latin Americans, Africans and Asians – or they will grind to a halt.
What should the future look like? In the following series, I want to present a missionary ecclesiology for the twenty-first century church, one which I believe already is, and will continue, significantly impacting the nature and role of the church in this century and beyond. There are seven major emphases within this missionary ecclesiology, based much on my 20+ years of experience in the context of working alongside brothers and sisters in the Two-Thirds World. I hold the same hope as Shenk that an emerging missionary ecclesiology from the Two-Thirds World will bring a much-needed renewal of vision for the Western church and the church around the world.