Ecumenical Theology in relation to Christian Mission in Asia
Ecumenism as it stands today in the Christian world has several layers of meaning. It is derived from the ancient word oikoumene, literally ‘the inhabited earth (world). According to the classic definition of “ecumenical” written by the WCC’s central committee in 1951, the term refers to “the whole church to bring the gospel to the whole world.” Focus in this formulation is on the church as the universal body of Christ and on the church’s proclamation of Christ throughout the oikoumene—“the whole inhabited earth”, that is the root of ecumenical.
By the late 1960s, new emphasis was being placed on (a) the Trinitarian nature of God, including the Holy Spirit’s sustaining and renewing presence in all of creation, and (b) the new humanity, revealed in Christ, which God intends for the entire human community. The third general secretary, Philip Potter, put it this in 1977 address to the central committee:
The whole burden of the ecumenical movement is to cooperate with God in making the oikoumene an oikos, a home, a family of men and women, of young and old, of varied gifts, cultures, possibilities, where openness, trust, love and justice reign.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the word was adopted by the church union movement in the west as the epitome of reuniting the divided Christendom. This was motivated missionary interests of western nations. At various stages of the evolution of the ecumenical movement, the vision of ‘oikoumene’ was enlarged from the unity of Christian Churches to the unity of humanity and finally to the unity and integrity of the whole of God’s creation.
The ecumenical movement can be divided into three periods. The first period runs from the Edinburgh mission conference in 1910 to the inaugural assembly of the WCC in Amsterdam in 1948. This era is dominated by several obvious historical events: the final years of colonial expansion, the First World War, the German church struggle of the 1930s, and the Second World War. The central motif of these years is: the rediscovery of the church, the whole church, as an essential component of the gospel.
The second period runs from the Amsterdam assembly (1948) to the World Council’s fourth assembly twenty years later in Uppsala. This period is marked by the cold war, but also by the end of colonialism and the rise of self-consciousness on the part of newly-independent nations and their churches. Its central motif: the rediscovery of the church as in and for the world.This period is an era of astonishingly rapid transition. In the early 1960s, those Orthodox churches which were not originally members of the WCC joined the Council. Meanwhile, Pope John XXIII was convening Vatican II, an event which catapulted the Roman Catholic Church from outside the movement to full ecumenical involvement.
The third period, from 1968 to the present, has been decisively shaped by the experience of pluralism (i.e., by the dialogue of cultures and ideologies within the now-global church) and by growing disparities within the human family (e.g., between rich and poor).
The main phase of the ecumenical history is to mark the incredible transitions that took place between the WCC’s third assembly in 1961 (New Delhi) and its fourth assembly seven years later in Uppsala in the late 20th century.
- As nations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific gained their independence following the collapse of colonialism; churches in these regions also claimed a new selfhood and began to assert their priorities for the ecumenical movement.
- These were also the years, when the Roman Catholic Church committed itself to seek the “restoration of unity among all Christians” and entered into various working relationships with the WCC. Meanwhile, Orthodox churches, not original members of the WCC joined the Council in the early 1960s; and the fourth pan-Orthodox conference (1968) underlined their commitment to ecumenism.
- The New Delhi assembly also witnessed the integration of the International Missionary Council with the WCC, a confluence that seemed to promise a closer relationship between unity and mission on the ecumenical agenda. There resulted split between ecumenical and evangelical approaches to mission and evangelization.
The word oikoumene is used to designate a modern Christian movement concerned with the unity and renewal of the church and its relationship to God’s reconciling and renewing mission throughout creation. While this movement has its roots in the 19th century, the symbolic beginning of modern ecumenism is the world missionary conference held in Edinburgh in 1910. From that conference followed streams that carried the movement’s continuing priorities:
-Common Service--this concern for addressing those things that disrupt human community found early expression in the Life and Work movement whose first world conference was held in Stockholm in 1925.
-Common Fellowship--this concern for church unity found early expression in the Faith and Order movement whose first world conference was held in Lausanne in 1927.
-Common Witness—this concern for cooperative mission and evangelism found early expression in the International Missionary Council whose first world conference was held in Jerusalem in 1928.
-Common Renewal--this concern has found particular expression in various lay-driven movements, including the World Sunday School Association (later the World Council of Christian Education), and in forms of “spiritual ecumenism” including the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
These stresses in Christian service are the beginning of Ecumenical Mission. The World Council of Churches (WCC), founded in 1948, and various national or regional Christian councils, are primarily expressions of this conciliar ecumenical movement. The WCC, with over three hundred member churches in all six continents, is “a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” This statement, which forms the “basis” for the WCC, explains what the council is and does.
Conciliar ecumenical missiology is that takes shape in the work and deliberations of the WCC’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME), created in 1961 as the successor to the former International Missionary Council (IMC, 1921-1961); in the former Division of Overseas Ministries (DOM) of the National Council Churches of Christ in the USA and in similar national councils; and in regional councils such as the All Africa Council of Churches (AACC) and the Christian Council of Asia (CCA).
The Ecumenical Convictions, which was adopted by the WCC Central Committed in 1982 onwards, bears significant reality to today ecumenical mission in Asia and elsewhere. The conviction has a seven-fold challenging conviction to implement in accordance with the situations and settings of the world today respectively. The seven-fold convictions are:
(2) The Gospel to all realms of life
(3) The church and its unity in God’s mission
(4) Mission in Christ’s way
(5) Good news to the poor
(6) Mission in and to six continents
(7) Witness among people of living faiths.
Ecumenical Theology from Asian Perspective
Asia is the home of the major religions of the world, and all of these religions have come under the influence of modernism. Their responses to the challenges of modernism provide a new context for the ecumenical movement. The traditional cultures of Asia have always had a strong religious foundation which has provided much of the cultures’ integrating principles as well as a certain legitimacy for social structures and political authority. The rise of technological rationality and the consequent secularization of society during the last few decades pose serious threats to this overall religious orientation. To be sure, except in the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand, Christians are still minority communities in all Asia countries and even the extraordinary church-growth phenomenon in South Korea has had no real impact in other countries.
K. M. George, in his article “Values for New Ecumenism in Asia”, pointed out six meaningful and challenging stands that Asian Christians need to be aware of.
First, the West has discovered in the last few years that the world is ‘plural’. This, sensational ‘discovery’ is similar to their earlier colonial discoveries of America, Africa, and other places on earth. But Asians have been living for centuries in ‘plural’ situations of many religions, cultures and races. It is no ‘discovery’ for them, for it is their living experience for centuries. Unfortunately, many Asian students of theology and religions repeat what the Western scholars pronounce about pluralism and construct their theological discourses around it as if it is a new revolution. An Asian ecumenism based on such a mimetic (imitative) theological subservience to the West will only remain an appendix to imperial ecumenism of western powers. A rejection of western categories of thinking and intellectual methods may be necessary, at least for some time, in order to reconstitute an authentic Asian ecumenical theology.
Second, Asian religious perfections embedded in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and others have evolved world-views of their own. These time-honored approaches to reality and perception of the universe are hardly attended to by many Christian ecumenists and theological students in Asia excepting a few distinguished theologians. It seems that we Asians still largely depend on the old missionary-colonial interpretations of other religions and spiritual traditions.
In concepts like Dharma, Advaita, Pratityasamutpada, Syadyaya, Nirvana, Karuna, Bodhisatva and so on, amazing insights and perceptions of a different world and life emerge. They are the elements of Asian ecumenism. They point not to one world, but to many, in fact, to innumerable universes. “Ecumenism” arising from a mono-cultural, mono-perspectival, aggressive, profit-seeking and power wielding Christianity cannot intellectually and spiritually cope with the unfolding of these universes—the ‘many mansions in my father’s house’. Entering Asia’s own vision or visions of the world (oikoumene) and its God-world-humanity relationships without judging it too soon by means of the western oikoumene is a primary task for us Christians in Asia.
Third, the search for identity and self-esteem manifested in the new self-awareness of Asian religions, sometimes spilling over to violent fundamentalism and radical cultural nationalism, sometimes creative and open to others, has to be approached with deep sympathy and understanding by Asian Christians. Often the minority situation of Christians in most of the Asia countries does not provide the self-confidence and bold openness required for this deep understanding. Yet Christians need to cultivate this attitude because Asia is their primary home and Asian struggles for justice and human dignity are their own struggle. This is to be cultivated without any ulterior motive or malice to anyone.
Fourth, globalization and universalism are apparently fascinating ideas but very fragile and untrue constructions of reality. One cannot find the elements of any genuine oikoumene on such a basis. One superpower can dominate all the rest and exploit the whole world. The local and all its rich meaning and significance are being obfuscated in our search for the global and the universal today. This is ultimately harmful for life in the world. Therefore, ecumenism for Asia cannot simply make assumptions of a false universal, instead we should seek the genuinely local in culture, spirituality, economy, production and consumption.
The classical Christian idea of the Church was that it was local, manifesting the global in its localness. The different local churches can be and should be in communion with each other expressing the catholic (Katholic = holistic) dimension. Catholicity is not universality or globalization. Therefore, Asian ecumenism should be able to transcend the ‘local-universal’ as ‘past-whole’ model as proposed to us by the western church, but rediscover the older ‘local-katholic’ model in which the local is whole in its communion with the other locals.
Fifth, Asia Christians are a negligible minority in spite of 500 years of intensive and aggressive colonial missionary work of the Portuguese, Spanish, British, French, Dutch, Germans and Americans, and so on. In the home of some of the world’s most profound spiritual-philosophical traditions, Christianity cannot adopt the method of announcing the good news of Christ as proposed by the Western churches.
We need a different method and style, Christ’s own use of the image of the reign of God as a quantitatively insignificant ferment working in the massive dough is appropriate here. The silence, peacefulness, subtlety, quality and effectiveness of the ferment invisibly acting from within the dough seems to be the more relevant model for ecumenism and mission in Asia.
Sixth, hospitality, one of the most precious virtues in all cultures is recognized as divine virtue in the Christian tradition. Abraham’s hospitality to the three strangers is celebrated in the Bible as he unknowingly entertained heavenly messengers and received the promise of life’s continuation. The true Christian model of mission must be based on hospitality. In the Gospels there are already more than one model. The model of Christ’s sending the disciples two by two to towns and villages and instructing them to reply on the hospitality of the people for the peaceful announcing of the Gospel is completely ignored by the western churches. In stead, Asians should be able to recapture the hospitality model both in between the local churches and in between the church and other religious communities in Asia. The reign of God is the ultimate model of hospitality for all. 
We have already in Asia the old celebrated peaceful missionary model of Buddhism which spread mainly through the power of compassion (karuna) and dispossession, not of armed might, conquest and expansion. A new Asian Ecumenism should review the whole western notion of mission, evangelism, church growth and ecumenism and re-link itself with the authentic Christian methods of hospitality, compassion, and dispossession, coupled with constant search for justice, equality and human dignity, and ecological harmony.
Main Agenda and Ecumenical theology in Asia
The most common encountered problem for Asia Christian, for me, is first of all the plurality of religions in Asia. In other words, there is a need of mutual understanding between people of other faith—through interfaith dialogue. The second is a vast and rich cultural diversity in Asian nations and indigenous groups. Therefore, study like Cross-Cultural Religious Studies, Cultural Analysis and Religious Movements, etc.are important. The third is Poverty. Majority of Asia people are highly low in social-economic standard compare to Western countrymen. The fourth is Colonial Influence and affect, and finally, but most challenging one is the right of women in our multi-cultural settings--Feminism.
As Asian theology in its nature is contextual, its mission theology is to imply with such Asian contexts into Asian reality. Charles Kraft wrote, “Contextualization is the expression of Christian meanings and commitment or allegiance in truly traditional cultural forms that may remain the same of may be adapted but in which the major change will be in the meanings conveyed and the commitment/allegiance chosen rather than in the forms themselves.” Most of Asian theologians express the same pivotal essence of mission work within and out of Asian contexts throughout the past years to the present day.
David Kwang-sun Suh wrote the following lines. Asian ecumenical movement has done many great things in the past century, and especially for the past 45 years. It was born in the most turbulent time of Asian history. Many Asian nations came out of the Pacific War. We shook off the yoke of colonialism and began the arduous task of nation-building as independent nations. We have survived and come through the tunnels of anti-colonial wars and hot and cold wars.
Asian ecumenical movement was born in the post-war period, but it has been thriving in the cold-war period. Our movement was against colonialism and the hot and cold wars in Asia. We might have thought that we have overcome our inherited colonial legacy, but Western colonialism continues under a different name: globalization. The 20th century cold war now has a new name: “War Against Terror”, which has been fought on the Asian Continent.
Asian ecumenical movement finds its task in this global and Asian context. We find ourselves in the midst of “Western war against Asian terror”, or “Christian war against terror is religiously defined with such terms as “Crusade” or “conflicts of religious fundamentalism”, and so forth, and since it is waged and fought against in Asia, we cannot escape from our responsibility as a Christian ecumenical movement. With this historical awareness, as our movement has been a prophetic voice in the Asian wilderness, we must enhance our mission to raise our voice even louder and clearer. I would like to emphasize the following areas of our work together.
First, we must direct our ecumenical efforts toward expanding inter-religious dialogue and understanding. In the region where Christian survival is a major issue, and dialogue is not an urgent issue. We may be a numerical minority in most of Asian countries, but we are a significant and powerful minority. Christianity has been regarded not as an Asian religion, but as a Western and colonial religion. Therefore, we must realize that we are part of the Asian problem of neocolonialism and the Western wars against Asians. We must acknowledge our Asian solidarity with the people of Asia, and create Asian solidarity movement with all the major Asian religious communities to fight against “terrorist wars against terror” and to work toward peace with justice in the region.
Second, Asian ecumenical movement has a prophetic role to play in the area of keeping international peace and economic justice. As we have been working against massive poverty in Asia in the last century, we have to further work toward economic justice in the Asian region.
Third, having heard from earlier leaders of CCA about how the university students were actively and passionately involved in the creation of the Asian ecumenical movement through university YMCAS, YWCAs and Student Christian Movements; we have an impression that the Asian churches are losing the participation of younger people. The intellectual communities in Asia need the ecumenical movement to renew themselves to meet the pressing needs of Asian societies. Likewise, the Asian ecumenical movement needs the intellectual communities of Asia.
Fourth, in order to meet our responsibility as a Christian prophetic movement, we must become more mature intellectually, theologically and spiritually. We need to train our younger leaders to be able to carry out these responsibilities. In this purpose, it is proposed to establish an institute or a graduate school for Asian ecumenical leaders. This might be named “Asian Institute for Ecumenical Mission” or “Graduate School for Ecumenical Theology in Mission.” This school or institute will be for theological renewal and reflection on ecumenical mission in Asia to enhance their ministry for Asia, Asian people, Asian religions, and peace and justice in the local, regional and global contexts.
Similar statement also expressed at the Manila Congress, emphasizing three dimensions particularly stressed for Asia: a dialogue with culture—a dialogue with the great world religions (and with folk religiosity)—a dialogue of life with people in misery, especially the poor. And another developed in recent documents is a dialogue with the natural environment (the ecological issue).
Except in the Philippines, Christians in Asia form only a tiny minority among large populations that have their own holy scriptures. Both Christian faith and modern secularism are being challenged by the revival of Hinduism, Buddhism and militant Islam. Asian Christians face questions such as: What is the relationship of the Bible to ancient Asian holy scriptures? To what extent could these scriptures function as the “Old Testament” for churches in Asia? What is the role of the Bible for the probably large number of “anonymous Christians” who do not have or want to have any contact with organized Christianity? In this connection, the Japanese Mukyokai, the “non-church movement”, is symptomatic.)
The Bible speaks strongly to Asian women and people involved in urban-rural mission. The experiences of the enslaved people of Israel in Egypt, as well as that of women and marginalized poor in Jesus’ time, are seen to be revealing analogies for the present situation of suffering and groaning among the masses in Asian cities and villages. In the minjung theology of Korea, this analogy functions as a key for biblical interpretation.
Other ways of understanding the Bible come to the fore in the encounter with believing Hindus or Buddhists who have a cyclical view of history and a long tradition of meditation. Western theology, especially in mid-20th century, emphasized a linear view of salvation history that often leads to an activist, prophetic involvement in history. In such a way neglected aspects of the Bible are rediscovered when it is read in an Asian context.
The most noteworthy development with regard to the Bible in Asia is what has happened since the 1980s in China. During the so-called Cultural Revolution, Bibles had been declared “poisonous literature”; they were confiscated and at times burned. As a result of fervent zeal of Asian Christian missionaries, by 1993, United Bible Society had printed its five millionth copy of the Chinese Bible.
Missionary Agenda and Ecumenical Witness in Asia
Asia is culturally relative, ethnically diverse, and religiously pluralistic. Being ethnic as its distinctiveness, Asian continent is home to numerous spirits, local deities, folk beliefs, dialects and cultures. Christianity is like an imported religion in the soil of Asia, with Christians as an alienated minority. The common cultural roots of both Christian and non-Christian ethnic Asians were claimed to be derived from diverse streams of primal faith traditions. The tribal peoples of Asia have numbered more than 150 million, that is, more than half of the total populations of the world’s indigenous peoples.
During recent decades there has been a general decline in the churches’ commitment to ecumenism. Church union negotiations seem to have lost their momentum. In spite of post-Vatican II developments and better, even innovative, cooperation among churches in general, a mood of ecumenical exhaustion seems to have set in. At the same time, however, ecumenism has itself acquired a wider meaning. The unity of the human family, in fact of the whole of creation, is increasingly being recognized as the goal of the ecumenical movement, and the overcoming of divisions in the Christian church is by many no longer seen to comprise the full ecumenical mission.
The 1960s and 1970s were a period of growing disillusionment and political uncertainty in Asia. Quite a few countries had to deal with situations of ethnic conflict, large-scale corruption, human-rights violations and the rise of religious fundamentalism. Even in societies with a measure of political stability, governments found it difficult to provide and to maintain reasonable standard of life.
According to assessment made on Ecumenical movement by Michael Kinnamon, the document Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, produced by the WCC’s Commission on Faith and Order, represents a new level of theological convergence on issues crucial to church unity; and bilateral conversations resulted in once-unthinkable consensus on such matters as justification by faith and the two natures of Christ. 
Ecumenical dialogue helps to forge a broad commitment to reject racism and sexism and to stand in solidarity with the poor; and concerted ecumenical action contributed to the collapse of apartheid in South Africa and recently in Asia. In many places and many churches, a spirit of dialogue and cooperation had, in a remarkably short time, replaced centuries of estrangement and condemnation.
Furthermore, dialogue became the chief mode of theological discourse. In such dialogue, as Stanley Samartha says, “It is not ideas, but people, not religious systems, but living faiths, that are involved. Aloysius Pieris, in deepening dialogue declared in his book Towards an Asian Theology of Liberation, “theology in Asia is the Christian apocalypse of the non-Christian experiences of liberation.”
Ecumenical Movement as a Transformative force in Oppressed Asia Nations
The stream in recent Asian Christian theology had its origin in the churches’ encounter with the socio-political realities of their contexts. According to M. M. Thomas, colonization, though often ruthless and exploitative, was the bearer of a process of humanization in Asian societies, however ambiguous, especially through the introduction of technology and industry and of liberal ideas of freedom and justice. Christ, the promise of a new humanity, he argued, should be confessed as the transforming and judging presence of God. For him the struggle for human dignity is a preparation for the gospel.
Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) has provided a forum for Asian thinkers to reflect deeply on the events of the gospel story from within the social and cultural contexts of the region. In this regard, Asian contextual theologians also proposed a critical Asian principle as a method for doing theology in their situation.
Third, the theme of the “people” has assumed a special significance in Asian theological discussions. CCA meetings and conferences have for years focused on “people”, seeing them as the subjects of history and of the church’s mission. Asian theologians interpret the term “people of God” not to mean a single tribe but a heterogeneous group of powerless, marginalized and dispossessed men and women, victims of injustice and social and political oppression, who are longing for justice and liberation. In this regard, Asian Christian thinkers explored the implications of people-centered theology, interpreting salvation in terms of liberation and humanization. Minjung theology in Korea, Dalit theology in India, and recently emerged Feminist theology in Asia are good examples of this kind.
This method of doing theology with people’s symbol and images holds great promise. Indications are that there will emerge a distinct voice in theology that comes out of the deepest yearnings of the people of Asia. Choan-Seng Song’s Theology from the Womb of Asia, Kosuke Koyama’s Mount Fuji and Mount Sinai, and Masao Takenaka’s God is Rice make, in different ways, important contributions in this area. The Programme for Theology and Culture in Asia under the leadership of C. S. Song is providing a forum, through its worships and publications, for deepening this concern. According to Song:
There is something deep in folklore and fairy tales—culturally and spiritually deep. In them we find popular theology at its most unsophisticated and yet at its most profound, at its simplest and yet at its deepest, at its most unadorned and yet at its most moving.
The fourth emphasis may be said that of the concern for economic and development in Asia.
M. M. Thomas, in his paper on “Christian Action in The Asian Struggle” suggests a seven-point strategy for Christian action in relation to the Asian struggle. These include the transformation of all spheres of Asian life—economic, social, political, cultural, and spiritual. The seven-point strategy are: (1) transformation of all spheres of Asian life—forms of state and politics, structures of economic and social living, cultural values and spirituality, which form one inter-related bundle; (2) the crucial issue in the struggle for social justice for the people of Asia is the struggle for the transformation of existing power-structures, so as to enable the poor and the oppressed to participate in the exercise of power and in the process of decision-making; (3) to give serious thought to the ethos of the Asian struggle leading through the struggle for social justice to nation-building; (4) emphasis on “mass struggles of people” for justice in local situations; (5) Asian struggle against poverty and for social justice to the international political and economic structures and their pressures; (6) the renewal of the spirit and structure of the Christian churches and congregations to enable them to become involved in Christian action in the Asian struggle; and (7) congregations must spiritually and theological educate, train, and support their laymen, women, and youth to respond to the Asian struggle within their secular vocations and through their associations.
The Situation of Ecumenical Work in Burma (Myanmar)
The basic theological formation in Asia, particularly in Myanmar, began not merely with traditional missionary teachings but also with the western patterns of thought, behaviors, and worldviews. Many missionary writings and records have reflected how the western missionaries regarded themselves as intellectually superior to the indigenous people, most of whom were illiterate, and how they responded to different social and cultural problems of the indigenous people of that time whom they have converted to Christian. Theological formation in its first stage of the first generation Christians in Myanmar underwent the strong influence of missionaries’ teachings, thinking, and ethos to the extent that their converts continued to follow their patterns verbatim, even after their expulsion from the country.
In fact, traditional mission theology has not been fruitful as it is expected for the extension of Christendom in Myanmar. To me, converts from Buddhists to Christians are mainly made up from the poor people. In other words, Christian mission can convert only a very few number of such religiously strong Buddhists so far. The reason to this result is to be assumed from the fact that Buddhism in Myanmar is so strong and firmly grounded long before Christian theology came to the land. Indeed, Myanmar people claim themselves that they are upholders of the most fundamental teachings of Buddha in the world through their practice of Theravada Buddhism.
In Theravada Buddhism Myanmar, unlike Mahayana Buddhism elsewhere, rejects the central basic theological concepts of the existence of God as Personal Being, Christ as divine, and human spirit as immortal. In light of this reality theologically approached Christian ecumenical mission work in Myanmar is really hard. A Burmese theologian Khin Maung Din has suggested some possible clues as a starting point of this approach. Theologically, it is more appropriate to speak of Theo-centric concept rather than Christo-centric concept; and liberation rather than salvation, suffering rather than original sin.
He wrote, “It is true that Buddhism categorically denies the existence of the Theos as a ‘Personal Being’ or a ‘Creator’.” Such a doctrine of God is rejected by the Buddha together with the doctrine of fatalism according to which all things good or evil are purely determined by past karma alone. But this does not mean that Buddhism in Myanmar denies the existence of what can be philosophically described as “Transcendence” or “the Ultimate Reality.” Indeed, if theism is meant the affirmation of the existence of such a Transcendental Reality, then Buddhism is profoundly theistic,
In the view of Theravada Buddhism, understanding the Theos or Ultimate Reality, either as “the Ground of or our Being” (as P. Tillich did), or as “the Process of Becoming,” (as Process theologians did) are still relative ways of understanding the Transcendent. But, for the true Theravadin, the best way to describe the Ultimate Reality is not to describe it at all; for the Absolute can never be described by relative human terms. Such theological concept of a non-personal God for us Christians becomes totally incomprehensible. But we must also be sympathetic to the Buddhists for whom the very idea of God as a Personal Being is incomprehensible. If Christian theology in Myanmar still persists in speaking of God only and absolutely as a Person, then the Christian God will be reduced to the level of a Nator a Brahmana.In light of this theological concept, the best approach for mission in Myanmar, to me is dialogue approach as this program has been launched since recent years.
Myanmar, as of the situation now, is the poorest country in the world. Political as well as religious oppression, human right violation, poverty, struggles for life, etc. are the most radical causes of people in Myanmar. In other words, struggles for peace and stability of political-religious-social-economic situations are the need of the people Myanmar. I believe Ecumenical mission work should best involve in such peoples’ causes for life in rather than engaging in theological field. Therefore, the main agenda for ecumenical movement in Myanmar should work mostly for the cause of the struggling people in all possible means.
Indeed, Christian denominations in Myanmar have long been working for such concern for the poor and the needy for their social life uplift. Christian denominations can be divided into two groups: Ecumenical and Pentecostal. Churches from ecumenical group are more concerned with socio-politico-economic works in their mission work. Churches from Pentecostal group, in contrary, concerned only the converting new members into their churches and establishing new churches in their mission work.
The greatest nation-wide Buddhist monks-led peaceful demonstration which took place in last September 2007 has been commonly attributed as the direct reaction of poverty in Myanmar. In other words, Buddhist monks are acting in a religious way representing peoples’ hunger and struggles asking peace and stability to the brutal military rulers. As a result, innocent countrymen over 200 monks and over 5000 civilians are lost from public scene. In such kind of people’s cause ecumenical movement in Myanmar with its churches and members should also take proper action and should participate in a non-violence way.
Mission is not first of all bringing people into our Church institution, but trying to be a sign of the kingdom. “We are sent to the nations to announce the Good News (…), especially where the Gospel is not yet known or lived.” The text does not state: where the “Church” is not know or lived. Lode L. Wostyn wrote, a confrere working in Japan told me: “in Japan, we don’t have poor but we have many pagans.” A confrere in Philippines replied to the statement of the confrere from Japan: “in the Philippines, we don’t have pagans, but many poor.” I will surely said too, “in Myanmar, we have a lot both poor and pagans.” Ecumenical mission can take on very different manifestations, depending on the situation. Poverty is a challenge for a missionary outreach; the reality of other religions is a very different challenge for Asia. Today, in Western Christian world, missionary challenge is idols of consumption and ideology.
Besides this poverty in the forefront, there is evident that social discrimination is highly practiced by the government. Christians are not promoted in government high rank though they are expert and qualified. There is AIDS HIV concern for the people of Myanmar. The entire direction social-political-religious-economic need to work out as a call for establishing the Kingdom of God as Jesus taught us. We need not only proclaim Christ as savior rather we need to live life as Christ lived. We need not just to preach the good news, rather we need to establish that preached good news in the life of the people.
Should Theology be Ecumenical? Can Theology be Sectarian or Denominational?
In a pluralistic world of different cultures and beliefs, the theology and mission of the churches must be to proclaim non-violence, tolerance, truthfulness, and equal rights as universal values. In practice, this means criticizing abuses of power, campaigning to reform unjust political and economic structures, and reshaping social and cultural attitudes and beliefs in the light of modern understandings.
In this light, theology should be ecumenical and as ecumenism signifies the entire cause of human being in the inhabited world. However, in the other stream, those Pentecostal and charismatic movements neglected these crucial important elements in sustaining and empowering Christian churches and their missions in the world. In this case, theology could be regarded as sectarian as well as denominational. In fact, theology should not and could not be neither sectarian nor denominational in all times and in all places because it is all about man’s search for God. As Lode L. Wostyn state, “Theology has to be done in the midst of life. Meaningful theologizing can never be insulated from the vicissitudes of life.”
It was emphatic that “Christian theology will fulfill its task in Asia only as the Asian churches, as servants of God’s word and revelation in Jesus Christ, speak to the Asian situation, and from involvement and participation in it.” Theology involves “participation with discernment.” Jesus Christ is present in the struggle of Asian peoples to recover their humanity, and the confessing of Christ involves courageous action “to resist every form of belief and ideology which denies men their essential dignity, every form of social structure in which man lives at the expense of fellowmen.”
Theology as ecumenical should therefore, be in touch with the cause of all level of people and should not be in one-sided as sectarian or denominational. God never does this way, and theology should not follow this way too. The heart of theology is the love of God for the entire humanity inhabited on earth which is essence of ecumenical. So also theology should not be such sectarian and denominational spirits which is the result of such love against characters.
According to G. Gutierrez, theology is a reflection, action spiral, constantly moving from commitment to critical reflection and back to commitment. Ecumenical Mission Theology should not be what I label, just “conversion” or “transferring,” rather it should be “transforming” mission. What I mean by “conversion mission” is the Christian mission just targeted to convert people to Christianity. This mission is done outside the church, but aim at only conversion for new Christian members. The second “transferring mission” is mission done within Christians or within churches themselves which result just transferring members from one denomination or church into another. The third is, Mission that transforms peoples’ lives and really promotes them regardless of denominational spirits.
The first and the second kinds of mission is mostly done in Asia today. The reason could be because of poverty of people in majority. The two missions are worthless before God and to be abandoned as soon as possible. The third kind of mission is the real mission which really fulfills the will and the mission of God. Ecumenical mission theology should be this kind of mission shouldering the common causes of people’s struggles for life and quests for spirituality.
There has been an envision of Asia for the future. We read: By the year 2005, the earth’s population will double; from the present 5.2 billion to 10.5 billion. The Asian continent is and will be the most populous of all. Christianity will remain a minority religion in Asia. The more developed capitalist nations will hold the basic monopolies of power. The twenty-first century might become a century of refugees due to wars, conflicts, political repression and poverty. Yet, it will also be the Age of Women (according to J. Naisbitt’s Megatrends in Asia) and a century of people’s movements and care for Mother Earth. Yes, we need to take seriously our multi-layers of contexts (local, national, regional and global) and be involved in their transformation. To me, this vision comes true in all its fullness in our present situation nowadays.
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 Hope S. Antone (ed.), Living in Oikoumene (Hong Kong: Christian Conference of Asia, 2003), pp. 78-79.
 John Briggs, Mercy Amba Oduyoye and Georges Tsetsis (eds.), A History of the Ecumenical Movement Volume 3: 1968-2000. World Council of Churches(Geneva: WCC Publications, 2004), p. 53.
 Hope S. Antone (ed.), Living in Oikoumene (Hong Kong: Christian Conference of Asia, 2003), pp. 78-79.
 Michael Kinnamon and Brian E. Cope (eds.), The Ecumenical Movement: An Anthology of Key Texts and Voices.(Grand Rapids, MI: WCC Publications, Geneva, 1997), p. 3.
 Ibid., p. 4. See also John Briggs, et. al., (eds.), A History of the Ecumenical Movement Volume 3: 1968-2000, p. 51.
 John Briggs, et. al. (ed.), A History of the Ecumenical Movement Volume 3: 1968-2000, pp. 52-53.
 Kinnamon and Cope (eds.), The Ecumenical Movement: An Anthology of Key Texts and Voices, p. 1.
 Ibid., p. 2.
 James A. Scherer and Stephen B. Bevans (eds.), New Directions in Mission & Evangelization 1: Basic statements 1974-1991, 3rd Printing (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998), p. x.
 Ibid., pp. 40-51.
 John Briggs, et. al. (ed.), A History of the Ecumenical Movement Volume 3: 1968-2000, p. 496.
 Antone (ed.), Living in Oikoumene, pp. 80-81.
 Ibid., pp. 82-83.
 Ibid., pp. 83-84. See also Raul Fernandez-Calienes, The Asian Church in the New Millennium: Reflections on Faith and Life (Delhi: ISPCK & Sydney: Centre for Millennial Studies, 2000), pp. 153-154.
 Ibid., p. 84.
 Ibid., pp. 84-85.
 Ibid., p. 85.
 Ibid., pp. 85-86.
 Charles H. Kraft (ed.), Appropriate Christianity (Pasadena, California: William Carey Library, 2005), p. 83.
 Antone (ed.), Living in Oikoumene, p. 120.
 Ibid., pp. 120-121.
 Wonsuk & Julie C. Ma, Asian Church and God’s Mission (Manila, Philippines: OMF Literature Inc., 2003), pp. 114-118.
 Antone (ed.), Living in Oikoumene, p. 122.
 Antone (ed.), Living in Oikoumene, p. 123.
 Lode L. Wostyn, Doing Ecclesiology: Church and Mission Today. (Quezon City, Philippines: Claretian Publications, 1990), p. 126.
 John Briggs, et al. (eds.), A History of the Ecumenical Movement Volume 3: 1968-2000, p. 207.
 Ibid., pp. 207-208.
 Samuel Ngun Ling, “Ethnicity, Religion and Theology in Asia: An Exploration from Myanmar Context” in Engagement, Volume 7, December 2006 (Insein, Yangon: Judson Research Center Bulletin, MIT, 2006), p. 1.
 John Briggs, et al. (eds.), A History of the Ecumenical Movement Volume 3: 1968-2000, p p. 495.
 Ibid., p. 51. See also Kinnamon and Cope (eds.), The Ecumenical Movement: An Anthology of Key Texts and Voices, p. 464.
 John Briggs, et al. (eds.), A History of the Ecumenical Movement Volume 3: 1968-2000, p. 498.
 Ibid., pp. 498-499.
 John Briggs et al. (eds.), A History of the Ecumenical Movement Volume 3, p. 499.
 Ibid. Quoted from C. S. Song, Tell Us Our Names: Story Theology from an Asian Perspective (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1984), p. ix.
 Douglas J. Elwood (ed.), What Asian Christians are Thinking: A theological source book (Manila: New Day Publishers, 1976), p. 438.
 Elwood (ed.), What Asian Christians are Thinking, pp. 448-453.
 S. Ngun Ling, Ethnicity, Religion and Theology in Asia, p. 9.
 Elwood (ed.), What Asian Christians are Thinking, p. 90.
 Ibid., p. 91.
 Ibid., p. 94.
 The figure of lost number in this account is taken from News from BBC, VOA, RFA, and DVB (during 24-30 September 2007). No media can tell us the exact number in figure. But Myanmar military rulers announced the number much less than this figure.
 Lode L. Wostyn, Doing Ecclesiology: Church and Mission Today (Quezon City, Philippines: Claretian Publications, 1990), p. 134.
 World Association for Christian Communication’s Publication: Communication is Peace: WACC’s Today Mission. URL: http://www.wacc.org.uk/wacc/publications/news/communication_is_peace_wacc_s_mission_today (Accessed on 2 October 2007)
 Wostyn, Doing Ecclesiology, pp. 2, 3.
 Elwood (ed.), What Asian Christians are Thinking, p. 445.
 Wostyn, Doing Ecclesiology, p. 4.
 Asian Theology in a Changing Asia: Towards an Asian Theological Agenda for 21st century: Response II “by Elizabeth Tapia”. URL: http://www.cca.org.hk/resources/ctc/ctc97-cats1/ctc97-cats1j.htm (Accessed on 24 October 2007).