Consultation on the Church in Response to Human Need

20 Jun - 1 Jul 1983 Wheaton, Illinois, USA

The Consultation on the Church in Response to Human Need met in Wheaton, Illinois, in June 1983 as the third track of a larger conference sponsored by the World Evangelical Fellowship under the title ‘I Will Build My Church’. The Consultation Statement ‘Transformation: The Church in Response to Human Need‘, which was produced as an outgrowth of the consultation, does not attempt to be a comprehensive statement of the whole counsel of God on the issues of development, but it reflects the thoughts of the participants at the consultation as they were expressed and modified in the papers and discussion that followed.

The following text is the Introduction to the Consultation Statement:

‘For two weeks during June 1983 we have come together from local churches and Christian mission and aid agencies at Wheaton College in the USA from 30 nations to pray about and reflect upon the church’s task in response to human need. Some of us belong to churches which are situated among marginalized peoples who live in situations of poverty, powerlessness, and oppression. Others come from churches situated in affluent areas of the world. We are deeply grateful to our heavenly Father for allowing us the privilege of sharing our lives with one another, studying the Scriptures in small groups, considering papers on aspects of human development and transformation, and looking closely at the implications of case studies and histories which describe different responses to human need. Because God hears the cries of the poor, we have sought each other’s help to respond (Exod 3:7-9; James 5:1-6). We rejoice at what we believe the Holy Spirit has been teaching us concerning God’s specific purpose and plans for his distressed world and the part the church has to play in them.’

As we have faced the enormous challenge before God’s people everywhere to alleviate suffering and, in partnership together, to eliminate its causes, we are more than ever aware of the liberating and healing power of the Good News of Jesus. We gladly reaffirm, therefore, our conviction that Jesus Christ alone is the world’s peace, for he alone can reconcile people to God and bring all hostilities to an end (Eph 2:14-17).

We acknowledge furthermore, that only by spreading the Gospel can the most basic need of human beings be met: to have fellowship with God. In what follows we do not emphasize evangelism as a separate theme, because we see it as an integral part of our total Christian response to human need (Matt 28:18-21). In addition, it is not necessary simply to repeat what The Lausanne Covenant and the Report of the Consultation on the Relationship between Evangelism and Social Responsibility (CRESR, Grand Rapids, 1982) has already expressed.

What we have discovered we would like to share with our brothers and sisters throughout the world. We offer this statement, not as an attempt to produce a final word, but as a summary of our reflections.

Both Scripture and experience, informed by the Spirit, emphasizes that God’s people are dependent upon his wisdom in confronting human need. Local churches and mission agencies, then, should act wisely, if they are to be both pastoral and prophetic. Indeed the whole human family with its illusions and divisions needs Christ to be its wisdom as well as its Savior and King.

Conscious of our struggle to find a biblical view of transformation that relates its working in the heart of believers to its multiplying effects in society, we pray that the Spirit will give us the discernment we need. We believe that the wisdom the Spirit inspires is practical rather than academic, and possession of the faithful rather than the preservation of the elite. Because we write as part of a world full of conflict and a church easily torn by strife we desire that the convictions expressed in this document be further refined by God’s pure and peaceful wisdom.

Some may find our words hard. We pray, however, that many will find them a help to their own thinking and an encouragement to ‘continue steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain’ (1 Cor 15:58).

Read the full Consultation Statement.