Must the Church Pursue a Global Equilibrium?

I always appreciate it when thinkers carefully examine unstated premises.  I always think about an episode of the West Wing in which one main character is repeatedly advised to handle reporters by "rejecting the premise" of their questions. I believe that Singaporean Church leader Patrick Fung's ability to do this -- to put the premise of his paper's title ("Partnering in the Body of Christ toward a New Global Equilibrium") under the microscope-- is what makes his contribution to the Lausanne Congress so valuable.

Fung's self-conscious article presents a very important question. Should a global equilibrium of power, resources, and influence be pursued at all?  Phillip Jenkins and others have done a good job of pointing out to us that the majority of Christians now live in the global south while most of the power and influence remains in Western countries.  But as I read Fung, I must acknowledge that this fact alone mustn't be the sole reason that we pursue a global equilibrium in the Church.  Rather, our goal is world evangelism, not equilibrium.  Writes Fung, "I am glad that LCWE stands for Lausanne Congress for World Evangelization and not Lausanne Congress for World Equilibrium."  This is an important point. We must not be saying "to the extent to which pursuing global equilibrium in the Church is the nice thing to do, we must do it." Rather we must say "to the extent to which pursuing a global equilibrium in the Church contributes to the extension of God's reign and fame among all peoples and nations, we must do it."

To this point, I want to say three things -- things that I think Fung is also saying.

First, we may speak of a geographic, financial, numerical, or intellectual "center of gravity" in the Church, but the only "center of gravity" that has any real meaning is the theological one -- Christ is the one and only "center of gravity" for the Church.

This, of course, isn't a point original to me, but rather comes from something I read in the Lausanne Theology Working Group paper.  Let me provide an extended quote here:

"We rejoice in the phenomenal growth of the church in the majority world of the global south, and for that reason we understand the intention of the statement that the 'centre of gravity' of world Christianity has shifted south.  However, we strongly discourage the further use of this term, for two reasons.  First, Christianity has no centre but Jesus Christ.  We are defined by no geographical centre, but only by our allegiance to the Lordship of Christ, and he is Lord of all the earth.  The 'centre', therefore, is wherever he is worshipped and obeyed. Secondly, any talk of a centre (other than Christ) undermines the fact that Christianity, even since the book of Acts, has always been fundamentally polycentric. Anywhere on earth can be a centre, and any centre can rapidly become peripheral.  The global nature of the church as 'one throughout the whole wide world' subverts the language of a centre--whether geographic, numerical, or missionary. Mission is from everywhere to everywhere."

Second, for the gospel to be the gospel, there is a need for a kind of global equilibrium in the Church.  This is because a full-orbed understanding of the gospel includes the good news that God is creating out of fragmented and broken humanity, one new humanity, the Church.

So there can be no true gospel and no true evangelization unless it includes the presentation of this new reconciled humanity.  And I sense a growing chorus of voices on this point.  It is here in Fung's article, "Christ has destroyed the barrier . . . has brought into being nothing less than a new, united human race . . . the message of reconciliation is to be lived out by God's new community, which the fragmented world needs to see." It is also in the Lausanne Theology Working Group paper, "It is important to see how this 'peace-making' work of the cross -- reconciling Jews and Gentiles, and creating on new humanity -- is not just a by-product of the gospel, but is of the essence of the gospel itself." It there in the words of Antoine Rutayisire who, when speaking of factors contributing to the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s, mourned the fact that conflicts between missionaries from different denominations "created more divisions and animosities among the people who did not see Christianity as a unifying factor but rather another colonial importation." It is, of course, in the Lausanne Covenant itself which states, "our disunity undermines our gospel of reconciliation" and the Manila Manifesto which affirms "the urgent need for churches, mission agencies and other Christian organizations to cooperate in evangelism and social action, repudiating competition and avoiding duplication." And more voices besides these could be cited.  Praise the Holy Spirit as He works to move us more and more to this point of common ground.

Third, for a global equilibrium to be built upon an a priori commitment to God's global mission, it will necessarily look different than conceptions of equilibrium that are based on a rather arbitrary sense of niceness, fairness, or democracy.

And I'm not meaning to be cute here, but Fung has raised a critical specific point that alludes to this larger one.  His specific point is this, "although a better state of equilibrium will avoid the tendency of dependency, the biblical concept of partnering in the body of Christ should be interdependence". Now, I can't tell you how tempted I am to chase that rabbit trail, but I will try to exercise a bit of self-control and simply suggest, in agreement with Fung, that it is unbiblical to hold up independence and autonomy as signs of spiritual maturity either for individuals, local churches, or national/regional churches.  The three (to four) self formula is fundamentally flawed if it cannot allow for the kind of permanent interdependence that the Bible calls for.

Now it is this Biblical interdependence that must become what we mean by equilibrium.  It is not that the Holy Spirit distributes the same gifts, history, resources, experiences, and knowledge to every person, church, and region in precisely the same ways so as to facilitate our human conception of fairness.  Rather, it is that the Holy Spirit distributes gifts as He wills for the common good (1 Cor. 12).  We are all supposed to be strong in some ways and weak in others.  For in this, we cannot but come together.  The real problem may not be that Western churches "have all the power, influence, scholarship and resources", but rather that we in the West have failed to recognize the richness in majority world Churches that we desperately need.  Likewise we fail to recognize value that lies outside our normal categories of assessing value.  So that if we continue to only think of equilibrium in terms of balancing money, influence, information, and the like then we will never achieve Biblical interdependence (i.e. equilibrium) that also calls us to value a whole range of other categories such as prayer, worship, persecutions, powerlessness, poverty, joy, and more.


  1. Cody,

    I appreciate your summary of Fung's thinking and you own added to his - we need "thought leaders" who can challenge practitioners like me to go back to the issues.

    I am trusting that Cape Town 2010 will reinvigorate that equilibrium in the global conversation and that Orlando 2011 will take it steps further here in the US.

    Blog on, brother!


  2. Thanks, Phil. Hopefully we can all be thinking practitioners. Anyway, I'm here in Cape Town now, see you around, yeah?