The second Latin American Congress on Evangelism (CLADE II), which took place in Lima, Perú, October 30 to November 9, 1979, may prove to be the most significant Christian event of the seventies—at least for the Protestant movement in this part of the world. Organized by the Latin American Theological Fraternity, it brought together 266 church leaders from 22 countries and about 40 denominations to consider the meaning of evangelization in Latin America. The “CLADE II Letter,” issued at the end of the congress to Christians in Latin America, illustrates well the theological emphases of this important conference.
First, CLADE II was far more than a mere reaffirmation of basic evangelical convictions, however: it was an effort to understand the meaning of such convictions within a particular historical context. At the beginning of the congress, Prof. Emilio Antonio Núñez, ex-president of the Central American Theological Seminary in Guatemala, went back to four basic tenets of the Protestant Reformation (grace alone, Christ alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone) and showed their relevance to the Latin American situation. The concern for the contextualization of the gospel reflected in that first address became one of the dominant notes throughout the congress. The letter explicitly refers to the specific situation in which the gospel is to be proclaimed:
“We have heard the Word of God who speaks to us and who also hears the cry of those who suffer. We have lifted our eyes to our continent and contemplated the drama and tragedy which our people live in this hour of spiritual unrest, religious confusion, moral corruption, and social and political convulsion. We have heard the cry of those who hunger and thirst for justice, of those who are destitute of that which is essential for their subsistence, of marginal ethnic groups, of destroyed families, of women stripped of their rights, of the youth given to vice or pushed to violence, of children who suffer hunger, abandonment, ignorance, and exploitation. On the other hand, we have seen many Latin Americans giving themselves to the idolatry of materialism, subjecting the values of the spirit to those imposed by the consumer society, according to which the human being is valued not for what he is in himself, but rather for the abundance of goods he possesses. There are also those who in their legitimate desire to regain the right to life and liberty, to maintain the present order, follow ideologies which offer only a partial analysis of the Latin American reality, and lead to diverse forms of totalitarianism and the violation of human rights. At the same time vast sectors are enslaved by satanic powers manifested in various forms of occultism and religiousity.”
The picture can hardly be any darker, but it adequately reflects the conclusions drawn by the regional groups meeting during the first two days of the congress. And it shows the type of concern that is presently in the hearts and minds of Christians in a continent where exploitation and violence are institutionalized and where government corruption and social injustice are oftentimes taken for granted.
Second, the letter recognizes the fantastic numerical growth of evangelical (and especially Pentecostal) churches in Latin America. “We are encouraged,” it reads, “by the testimony we have shared in CLADE II of the marvelous work God is performing in our respective countries. Thousands have given their lives to Jesus Christ as Lord, finding liberation in him, and becoming members of local churches.”
At the same time the letter points to the need for a more holistic approach to the mission of the church, in which faith is regarded as inseparable from obedience and the call to conversion is seen as a call to radical discipleship. We also wish, it says, to study with greater resolution “the Word of God, to … [hear] what He wants to say to us in this critical hour.”
Further on it registers a confession that “we have not always paid attention to the demands of the gospel we preach, as is demonstrated by our lack of unity and our indifference toward the material and spiritual needs of our neighbors”; it admits we have not done “all that with the Lord’s help we could have done on behalf of our peoples” and concludes with a new commitment to the whole task of the church.
Designed to accompany a 20-page Documento de Proyecciones Estrategicas (a document of strategic projections), the CLADE II Letter synthesizes a number of topics that have gained the attention of evangelicals south of the Rio Grande during this last decade. In contrast with CLADE I, CLADE II was “a Latin American product,” planned and organized by Latin Americans. It could hardly avoid, therefore, the theological questions forced upon us by our situation. As Samuel Escobar, one of the organizers of CLADE II, stated in the September 1979 issue of Pastoralia, “A decade ago we tried to open the windows a bit, so as to see something of the hard world where we live and which we have to take into account as we evangelize. Today we have perceived that we fail to understand the richness of gospel for us as well as for the world unless we seriously face the dramatic questions, the anguish, and the hope of the people among whom we are witnesses.”
There is no doubt that the basic concern of CLADE II conveyed by the theme of the congress, “The Gospel in the Latin American Context,” has gained force among evangelical Christians in this region of the world mainly through the influence of the Latin American Theological Fraternity. It must, however, be understood as a Latin American expression of a concern that the Spirit of God seems to be giving to the church on a worldwide basis at this critical moment of history. Even so, CLADE II is likely to be criticized for its emphasis on the need for contextualized evangelization in the 1980s.
Samuel Escobar meets the critics when he writes: “We must take into account that there have been foreign commentators who looking at CLADE I saw in our timid efforts to contextualize the gospel a dangerous departure from the ‘simple gospel.’ For them Lima will probably be a terrible apostasy. But we who live the gospel in these lands believe that the Spirit is pushing us in this direction, to take more seriously our witness, to stop reducing the gospel, dressing it with foreign clothes, to put an end to the artificial separation between evangelization and theology, to move from a busy ecclesiastical traffic on to a more serious way of being the Lord’s church in Latin America.”
C. René Padilla is the director of Ediciones Certeza, the publishing house of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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