NEW YORK – The World Evangelical Alliance announced on Tuesday that it is postponing its General Assembly, originally scheduled to take place in Seoul, South Korea, in October 2014, due to internal divisions in the evangelical community there.
"In recent months in particular there were some struggles within the Korean context, some divisions within the church, and because of that it presented them with difficulties in really hosting an assembly that was focused on Christian unity. They needed to focus more on some of the internal issues and resolving them before they could host a world assembly," Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, CEO and secretary general for the WEA, said in an interview with The Christian Post on Tuesday.
He added that the divisions in question are primarily organizational in nature.
"The reality is that most Christians in Korea will consider themselves evangelical. At the core of everyone's faith there are similar commitments, they may have different preferences or styles, but I don't think the differences are over theology," Tunnicliffe said.
A press release from the organization noted that South Korea was chosen four years ago as the host country for the General Assembly, which takes place every six years, with hopes that the decision would encourage unity among the nation's evangelical churches and the global body of Christ.
Tunnicliffe told CP that the Christian Council of Korea has understood and agreed with the decision to postpone the assembly.
"There has been a growing awareness of the challenges that the Korean church is facing in being united. We've sought to find a way that it could still happen in Korea, but because it's coming in eight months and there is so much preparation that needs to take place, we thought that there wasn't enough time to really allow the Korean brothers and sisters to work out some of these challenges and host a big world assembly in the same year," the WEA secretary general explained.
He added that there was more preparation done for this General Assembly than for any previous one in the past, including networking, research done on the key topics, developing new structures and building a forward momentum.
As for the future of the General Assembly, Tunnicliffe said that WEA's International Council will be looking at options for where to hold it, and did not rule out South Korea. He said, however, that due to the amount of preparation required, the assembly will not take place in 2014.
"You have to find a location that is easily accessible from around the world, that there are the right kind of facilities, and [then] there are issues of visas – in many countries around the world it is very difficult to get visas," he said about the process of choosing a location.
The WEA International Council said it is grateful for "the important and energetic vision of the Church in South Korea," and that it would be praying for a new coming together of evangelical leadership.
"I think all of this is a reminder of the prayer Jesus prayed in John 17, when He looked 2,000 years down the road and He prayed that we would be one and that the world would know Him," Tunnicliffe concluded.
"And I think it's a reminder to all of us, that the work of Christian unity is a challenge, and I am convinced that the Korean church wants to live out that prayer just like the church around the world, and we need to ask the Spirit to lead us and guide us into being responsive to the prayer of Jesus."