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World Council of Churches Nairobi and Africa

World Council of Churches Nairobi and Africa

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Published by: michael olajide on Jun 15, 2013
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VOLUME 3 No. 1 March 1976
Published by the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar (A E.A.M.), RalphBunche Road, P.O. Box 49332, Nairobi, Kenya. Printed by Kesho Press, P.O. Box 40, Kijabe,Kenya.
The morning that he died, Dr. Byang Kato, General Secretary of the A.E.A.M., began writing the first draft of this report. He finished only the first two pages. Dr. Kato had not left us entirelywithout his overall evaluation of the WCC Assembly, however. The day before departing to the sea coast for a one week working holiday with his family, he had spoken at the annual conference of the Africa Inland Mission in Kenya. He gave them a summary of his impressions of the 5th Assembly of the World Council of Churches, which he had attended as an observer for the A.E.A.M. This message was recorded and has been transcribed. In addition Dr. Kato had written a guest editorial at the close of the Assembly for theTHEOLOGICAL NEWS bulletin of the World Evangelical Fellowship. And on the final day of the Assembly he had written an article dealing especially with the problem of syncretism versusevangelism at the 5th Assembly. From these materials we have compiled and edited thiscomposite report. Many people, not only in Africa but elsewhere, were looking forward to Dr. Kato's reaction tothis first meeting of the WCC on African soil. His perception and leadership among evangelicalsin Africa made his views significant. For that reason we have taken care to compile this report in Dr. Kato's own words, although that means that the style at times is more informal (where it istaken from an oral presentation) and lacks some of the documentary illustrations that would have characterised his written report. In his verbal report Dr. Kato used the device of direct quotation to paraphrase remarks made at the Assembly. Please note that we have retained this oratorical style and have used quotationmarks for statements that are probably summaries of what was said rather than exact quotes. A separate section at the back of this PERCEPTION contains additional observations and notes onthe Assembly.The Editor 
The Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches brought into Nairobi over 600 journalistsas compared to 676 delegates and 318 other participants. Obviously there will be a wide coverageof this first historic ecumenical gathering on African soil. This is not intended, therefore, to be athorough reporting of the 18 days' events. Rather, it is a statement of my impressions of theAssembly and how much influence it is likely to have or not to have on Africa. It is a challengeto ecumenically minded people to think more biblically, and a warning to the non-ecumenicalreaders against the unscriptural trends of the World Council of Churches. Any good lessons of 
the Assembly would be beneficial to all with an open mind. I do not claim an absolute objectivityas this is impossible. But as an official observer to the Assembly, I will try to be fair in reportingand interpreting what took place.The organisation of Nairobi ‘75 was no match for the Lausanne Congress on WorldEvangelisation in 1974. It was extremely difficult to find fellow participants unless oneknew their hotel or where they sat. A number of changes were made in the programme and therewas not enough information given to the participants. For example, a session was set up on'Moratorium' to be addressed by a key WCC leader. Participants waited in vain for the supposedsession. A Nairobi resident just saw his name as a speaker on a given subject at the WCC lectureseries held separately during the Assembly, but had not been informed, let alone asked for hiswillingness to do so.On the other hand, we should realize that the Assembly was scheduled to be heldin Jakarta, Indonesia. It was reportedly due to Muslim pressure, and possibly the potential political involvement of the WCC, that it was shifted to Nairobi. It took less than a year for  Nairobi to plan for the Assembly. Many delegates were highly impressed with the ultra-modernKenyatta Conference Centre where the Assembly was held. The arrangements for meals at theAssembly and the transportation of delegates to their hotels was good.
The impression is given sometimes that the WCC is a monolithic giant Organisationrepresenting Christendom. That is far from being the case. Roman Catholics, of course,are not in the WCC. It has been reported that only about 20% of Protestant Christians in LatinAmerica are in any way related to the WCC. In the case of Africa the following facts speak for themselves.Out of 45 countries in Africa, churches in only 18 of them have WCC membership.Only 39 denominations in these countries are related to the WCC in any way. According to theWCC official document (
WORK BOOK for the Fifth Assembly)
, only three churches of Kenyaare in the WCC. the Anglican, the Methodist, and the Presbyterian Church of East Africa.(In Kenya, the Salvation Army and the Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria have also identifiedthemselves as WCC members, apparently by headquarters action. IDOC No.14, 1975 says thatKenya has 49 historical denominations present. Nine are listed as the major churches, of whichonly one is a WCC member.)Four more churches in Africa joined the ranks of the WCC at this Assembly. Full members arethe secessionist African Christian Church and Schools in Kenya, the African Israel Church Ninevah (with its emphasis on symbolism and rituals) -also in Kenya, and the Church of theAladura in Nigeria. The African Church of the Holy Spirit in Kenya became an associatemember. It has been indicated that these independent movements were attracted by the material benefits received from the WCC. The indigenous Church of the Aladura claims a membership of over a million and is well known for its emphasis on dreams, visions and prophecies. Syncretismdoes not seem to be a theological problem with them. Their dubious theological stance poses no
 problem with the WCC whose trends are bending in that direction in any case.Although member bodies of the WCC are few in Africa, the All Africa Conference of Churchesis closely associated with the WCC. The AACC has 114 member churches and councils of churches in 31 countries. They claim to represent about 40 million African Christians. The totalfigure of African Christianity is put at about 150 million. Even including the AACC, ecumenismstill cannot speak for half of the Christians in Africa. This needs to be noted by our readersoverseas. A secular journalist was surprised when I told him that well over 70% of Christians inAfrica are opposed to moratorium which calls for the withdrawal of personnel and money fromAfrica.
Several delegates indicated that evangelical Christianity was more vocal at Nairobi than it was atthe WCC Assembly at Uppsala in 1968. The evangelical flavour was, however, more notable inthe documents produced by some group sections than in the programme of the Assembly. After experiencing Lausanne, Nairobi was a descent to a lower level spiritually. To go to Lausanne lastyear from the AACC Conference at Lusaka was like a breath of fresh air. The spiritualatmosphere at Lausanne was certainly the opposite of what I experienced at Lusaka.
(See the AEAM PERCEPTION of July 1974.)
From Lusaka we went up to the peak, and to Nairobi wedescended, although the WCC at Nairobi was not as low as the AACC at Lusaka.The WCC 5th Assembly at Nairobi was more like a meeting of the Organisation of African Unity(OAU) or some other economic or political meeting, than a Christian meeting. One participantsaid to me, "Coming from an evangelical background where the atmosphere is usually spiritual, ithas been good to have a taste of this kind of secular emphasis. But I have found it too politicalfor me." This is not to say that there was no Christian touch to it, nor no mention of the name of Jesus Christ or that there were no Christians there. There were many outstanding evangelicalChristians. But the meeting had very little spiritual expression. To illustrate the point, I don'tremember any time when the sessions were either opened with prayer or closed with prayer. Theonly form of prayer offered was as a written document.Although it was said at the outset that worship was to be an integral part of the whole Assembly,this was unnoticeable. Even the sessions set aside for "worship" were so dubious that it was hardto see the lesson being conveyed. For example, the United Bible Societies took the first sessionon morning worship. They presented the account of the prodigal son who later found his wayhome. A parable that was meant to teach the lostness of man in regards to salvation was presented to imply that those outside the ecumenical movement are the lost son. Perhaps it wasmy failure to understand the presentation, but was the simple picture story meant to be made sodifficult that only a genius would understand?The parable was presented in music and drama. A little pamphlet contained the Scriptureaccount and the songs. A narrated explanation was read by the Archbishop of Canterbury. On the pamphlet was a picture of a house and a mountain. From the house foot prints went off behindthe mountain and then came back around the other side. There were people on top of the house

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