The Rev. Andrew Anderson is the minister of a Church of Scotland church in Edinburgh and a member of the Executive Committee of Edinburgh 2010, the four-day gathering of 300 Christians taking place in the Scottish capital this week to mark 100 years since the historic World Missionary Conference.
With Christians from all the mainline denominations and traditions taking part, Anderson shares his vision for mission and unity here.
CT: Unity is a big theme for Edinburgh 2010 but there is always a concern where many Christians are coming together from a broad range of traditions that the unity expressed will only be skin deep and that after the conference is over, it will be a case of returning to “business as usual” and we won’t actually be any further along the road to unity. Are you concerned about achieving genuine unity when the Christians represented at Edinburgh 2010 are so diverse?
Anderson: Indeed! It is the challenge for the church but I would say we have achieved a lot of unity already. I’m very impressed with the make-up of the General Council, the very fact that that council was formed and that it has met very peacefully and cooperatively together over the last few years. That is a huge achievement and the fact we have even brought this event together is a sign of the unity we want.
I was at a consultation for Edinburgh 2010 in Seoul last year on the theme of spirituality and mission and different denominations and cultures came together – Orthodox, Pentecostal, Protestant, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and from different continents too.
It was an astonishing achievement to bring that grouping together and I think this has really happened worldwide. I don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few days but a lot has already been achieved and I think people have caught a vision of unity that they don’t want to let go of.
CT: That’s one of the striking differences between the 1910 gathering and Edinburgh 2010 – the participation of Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Christians from the Global South. What impact do you think that’s going to have on discussions?
Anderson: Well, I think it will be huge, I hope it will be dynamic and creative and an avenue for the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us and inspire us. I think a lot of people will find themselves sitting next to someone that they may not have found themselves sitting next to before over breakfast!
I will speak at the conference and my theme will touch on what is remembered from 1910 and that is a speech by an India bishop called Bishop Azariah of Dornakal who appealed for friends. He made the point that missionaries did a lot but there was still a difference between white missionaries and the indigenous Christians in Asia or Africa and he appealed for friends. Not just being missionaries working alongside indigenous people but that a friendship would be established. That is what is remembered by 1910 historians and theologians often quote his appeal, “Give us friends.”
What I want to say is, can we move on from that and see ourselves as a family and see ourselves as brothers and sisters in the family of God? Although friendships can be very close and lifelong, they can fade or grow or wax and wane, but family, even if you are estranged from your family you still remain family in a wonderful way and I wonder if we might have a vision of meeting one another, yes as Roman Catholics, as Protestants, as Pentecostals and so on, but also as brothers and sisters in Christ.
CT: We all know all about the divisions in the church but the conference’s focus on mission and unity almost suggests mission is a unifying force. Do you think mission is a point around which the church can rally?
Anderson: What is being put forward is not that mission is one activity among many that the church does, as if mission is a department in an office and one person gets on with it. Mission is for everyone, it lies at the heart of what the church is and what the church is called to do. I think that has emerged from the study process over the last two or three years, that from the moment we are called as Christians we are engaged in mission, in proclaiming God’s love in Jesus Christ in word and deed.
So I would love to think there is this sense emerging that mission lies at the heart of everything the church does because it reflects the very character of God himself who is a missionary God.
CT: The theme of 1910 was evangelizing the world in this generation. Do you think the missionaries that were there in 1910 would pleased looking at this gathering of missionaries today and at how much things have progressed or do you think they would be thinking ‘Oh dear, we’ve still got so much to do!’?
Anderson: Probably both! I think what’s happened in the last 100 years that they would be very pleased about is the emergence of a world church. In 1910 the church was almost entirely in Europe and North America. Today it might be 25 percent of the church in Europe, and 25 percent in Africa, 25 per in Asia and so on. So a world church has emerged and the center of the world church is certainly no longer in the West.
They would be pleased about that but obviously there are many we would like to hear of Christ and come to Christ. I think those at 1910 would see that they did not evangelist the world - far from it - but they did achieve much and much remains to be done.
CT: When we speak about this goal of bringing Christ to those who don’t know about him, do you think the divisions in the body of Christ are hindering that mission?
Anderson: There are divisions there. Some people feel very strongly that it is preaching and proclamation and that people make a personal conversion to Christ, and I would want to say that that is valid, but there are others who hold to the mission of the church by serving others like setting up schools and medical clinics and that’s been a huge part of the history of the church, that missionary workers have taken that kind of work to other people.
One of the things that’s emerging from the study process is our relationship with other faiths and where we must go is engage in serious dialogue with respect and recognition for other faiths and that is part of the mission of the church, saying what I believe and what I think is precious and then listening politely to what another person believes and says is precious to him. I think that is the kind of new form of mission that the church is developing.
Another area is that of liberation, of liberating people who are oppressed, victims of injustice and victims of poverty, it is the responsibility of the church to engage in these issues.
So there is a whole rainbow of missionary engagement that we are beginning to identify, and yes there are divisions and some people will want to do this and others will want to do that, but maybe we can unite over the spectrum, over the rainbow, and say there is a whole range of missionary engagement we can look at.
CT: Representatives of the WEA and Lausanne and have been involved in the Edinburgh 2010 and the conference is going to end with a common call in mission. What kind of common call can we expect?
Anderson: It’s in the process of being written and I can’t say any more than that! But it’s a very good point because much of the latter part of the twentieth century was a division between the ecumenicals and the evangelicals, the ecumenicals centering on the WCC and the evangelicals coming to define their interests in Lausanne. But we’ve brought these two together and that’s a fantastic, wonderful thing, that we can see the ecumenical gospel and the evangelical gospel as two sides of the same coin. That does seem to me to be quite significant and Edinburgh 2010 has brought these two strands together.
CT: How do you hope relations between ecumenicals and evangelicals will progress post-Edinburgh 2010?
Anderson: I very much hope they will work much more closely together and be more open to one another and accepting of one another and heal some of the suspicions and rivalries that there have been in the last 50 years. I hope that’s a journey we’ve started out on and will continue on.
CT: What do you think the legacy of the conference will be?
Anderson: People ask me that and the answer is that I don’t know but one of the things that might be a lasting legacy is the website. We’ve got a good website and we want to bring people in to engage with mission who perhaps can’t get to Edinburgh or can’t get to a conference but they’ve got something to say.
The website is something we are really determined to continue with after the congress and see how we can develop that for further missionary discussion.
I won’t say we haven’t had our difficulties but by the grace of God we are where we are and we are looking forward to a great conference!