Someone in the line of the Huguenots—the French Protestants who had to flee from persecution in the 16th and 17th centuries—has shown up to remind us what today’s priorities for Christian witness should be.
I refer to Thomas Schirrmacher, who became Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) on March 1. His family lineage dates back to the Huguenots.
Symbolically, Schirrmacher’s inauguration ceremony took place just down the road from Wittenberg, where five centuries ago Martin Luther pried open the controls exerted by the Catholic Church and triggered the Protestant Reformation, from which today’s evangelicals are descendants. Now Schirrmacher, a German like Luther and a theologian, is leading this worldwide community of Evangelicals.
Raised in a home of university professors, Thomas grew up meeting Evangelical leaders who visited his home. He went on to study theology and cultural anthropology, accumulating multiple earned Ph.D. degrees and honorary doctorates and publishing prolifically.
Schirrmacher is not just a theologian and author; he is also experienced as a diplomat. He knows politics as well as he knows theology. He has met with many prominent Muslim leaders in the world and has built respectful relationships with the full range of Christian denominations and movements.
I came to appreciate Schirrmacher’s style 16 months ago, when I joined him to spend a day with leaders of Nahdlatul Ulama, an Indonesian-based Islamic movement that seeks to foster respect and understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims. As intense and articulate as he is, his framing of our conversation that day was first built around friendship and understanding. His grasp of cultural differences, even slight variations and nuances, started the day’s meetings off in a warm and gracious fashion even as we pressed each other on some difficult issues.
Why Global Leadership Matters to Evangelicals
This is the first time in its history that the World Evangelical Alliance has been led by a theologian. Many other esteemed theologians, such as John Stott and J. I. Packer, have made important contributions to the WEA, but none have felt called to devote so much of their lives to the organization as Schirrmacher has.
Schirrmacher has become Secretary General at a strategic time. The WEA’s governing body, the International Council, has adopted a plan called “Roadmap 2030” with four priorities for the coming decade: developing vibrant and effective national Evangelical Alliances; advocating strongly for those who are suffering; coordinating and affirming the many networks, denominations and missions that make up the global Evangelical landscape; and nurturing strong and effective ministries in governance and leadership.
Today, the WEA has become a natural center for Evangelicals—globally, regionally and nationally. It needs a great Christian mind at this crucial time to lead the largest network of Evangelicals worldwide in fostering unity, preserving core Evangelical theology, speaking on behalf of its many communities, and strengthening the Evangelical community in discipleship and witnessing for Christ.
He is uniquely qualified to guide the WEA as the Evangelical community faces these challenges brought about by a changing religious landscape and an acceleration of this global movement.
First, the center of the global church is moving from established Catholic and Protestant structures to a Spirit-led horizon of Bible-centered movements. Historically, no religious community has experienced such amazing growth as Evangelicals in the past six decades, from 90 million in 1960 to over 600 million today and still growing. In many places, including the global south, Evangelical movements are experiencing growth that is not happening in the West. But they are also young and lacking guidance from a long theological or organizational tradition. The WEA has years of experience to assist church leaders in their ministry.
Second, this growth has opened up enormous opportunities for Evangelicals to influence the world. But because of our decentralized nature, Evangelicals have no center like the Vatican. We need a Spirit-guided way to come together in unity, communicate our identity, encourage fellowship, champion biblical theology, and catalyze effective, collaborative action. The WEA is the organization best positioned to help us find common ground.
Third, this past year was one of the bloodiest yet for Christian believers. On an average day, 8 Christians are killed, 23 are raped or sexually harassed, and 10 are unjustly arrested or imprisoned because of their faith. During 2020, there were more than 9,000 attacks on Christian churches in 51 countries, according to Open Doors. And Christians are not the only victims of persecution. In western China, hundreds of thousands of Muslims are held in gulag camps, and we have no idea how many have died. The WEA has built a strong presence at the United Nations in Geneva, the primary place in the world where human rights issues are addressed head-on.
Where countries are violating religious liberties, the WEA team carefully builds credibility by getting their facts straight and constructing persuasive arguments. The WEA is leveraging the critical mass of our global Evangelical community to stand up effectively for Christians and others who face persecution because of their faith.
Although COVID-19 has seized much of our attention in the past year, other pressing issues also defy our ability to manage them alone: religious nationalism rearing its head in parts of the Western world and in Asia, religious persecution that violates our accepted norms of human rights, horrible instances of racial exclusion, and much more. Jesus’ call for unity wasn’t just a biblical idea about being nice to each other; it also called for practical outworkings that transform our ways of thinking and living. The WEA is doing many of these things in ways that no other entity can do.
Thomas Schirrmacher in becoming the WEA Secretary General is not only strategic in his planning and enthusiastic in executing those plans, but he has surrounded himself with able and experienced people who believe deeply in fostering unity and working towards spiritual well-being in the church globally.
Brian C. Stiller Global Ambassador, World Evangelical Alliance April 2021
Around the world, in countless cultures, there are approximately 2.4 billion people who identify as Christian. Many of those are “evangelical” in faith, i.e. they are biblical, Gospel-hearted believers. The World Evangelical Alliance, the global fellowship of Gospel-minded Christians that was first established in 1846, and now has 134 (independent) national alliances in its membership, includes the New Zealand Christian Network.
Earlier this week, the WEA officially handed over leadership roles. Among them, Rev Dr Brian Winslade, of Hamilton, was introduced as the new Deputy Secretary of the WEA. Watch his introduction video above. Brian is also a member of the NZCN Working Board.
If you would like to know more about the DNA of being evangelical, you might want to watch Dr Thomas Schirrmacher’s inaugural speech as the incoming Secretary General of the WEA. (Thomas visited New Zealand in 2019, and took a shine to NZCN’s Te Rongopai DVD).
Now that Donald Trump has left the White House, how should Evangelicals outside the United States of America view this experience, and what counsel might they be able to offer their American brothers and sisters? Many non-Americans ask for my view on what has been transpiring recently in the US. Here are some thoughts.
In my role as global ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance, as I attempt to explain the United States to others, a number of factors help in my understanding of Americans and, more importantly, American Evangelicals.
For the last four years, too many American Evangelicals have been caught up in passionate contests about the use of raw political power. This has embarrassed many of us and confused others. Never before have I heard so many people say that they either avoid or despise Evangelicals. There have been bizarre debates, sometimes pitting evangelical leaders against each other. Some self-proclaimed prophets even declared that God’s anointing was on President Trump; they predicted that he would win a second term as if this was a word from the Lord.
To understand where American Evangelicals are today, it is helpful to look at their heritage. The United States of America was founded amidst historic aspirations towards freedom, a founding myth that twentieth-century leaders traced to John Winthrop’s famous statement that they were “a city set upon a hill for all to observe.” This powerful religious vision, filtered through the dynamism imparted by mass migration and vast resources, implanted in American rhetoric and ethos a sense that their land had special divine promise and design.
The fact that the USA been predominantly Christian from its beginning has powerfully reinforced this belief. Even in an age of increased secularization, it still enjoys strong denominations and has many megachurches. After World War II, the influence of the American South spread throughout the nation as many Evangelicals moved away from that region. White Evangelicals moved mostly to the West and Southwest, Black Evangelicals mostly to the North as well as the West. And here is another major point of confusion. Pundits often speak of “Evangelical” as if it simply equalled “white Evangelicals.” But there are many African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans who share Evangelical beliefs and practices, but not the political loyalties of white Evangelicals.
This sort of background information assists my non-American friends to understand the power and innovative skill of the American national persona, the unmatched creativity and productivity of Americans, and their unvarnished generosity and desire to be a force of good in the world.
In the wake of a discredited president to whom a remarkable number of (though far from all) white Evangelicals gave support, what are we Evangelicals in the rest of the world to do?
American politics divides into two primary sides—the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. In recent decades adherence to these parties has become much more important for defining social, cultural, and religious convictions. (A generation ago, maybe 15% in each party “hated” or gravely distrusted members of the other party. Now it is way over 50%.), From the start of Trump’s rise to power, while a determined and loyal rank-and-file of white Evangelicals latched on to Trump’s populism, other Evangelical leaders were profoundly concerned and attempted to warn America. A number (seemingly too few) of highly visible pastors, educators and agency leaders were vocal in protesting that people were putting too much stock in one man. They critiqued those who attributed prophetic greatness to the president or the belief that he was under a divine call. They also warned against giving loyalty to any political party, political platform, or political leader a higher priority than loyalty to Christ.
Today, America is a wounded country. Many Evangelicals express embarrassment for their unguarded support others continue to be angry that their candidate didn’t win. A large minority of Americans in general (including Evangelicals) now have a profound distrust in their governmental institutions.
Second, because America is such a global cultural force and its role in evangelical expansion has been so influential, it is easy to overlook the fact that the real growth among Evangelicals recently has been in the Global South. Although the current malaise among American Evangelicals will inevitably influence us all, there is a strong tendency for the media to assume that a trend in the US is the same elsewhere.
But the United States is not the world. In a Christian community of 600 million Evangelicals, Americans don’t define who we are or should be for the rest of the world. As the term “Evangelical” has become mixed up with all sorts of political groups, views, political pressure and personalities, Evangelicals elsewhere in the world should insist that Christian belief and Christian practice deserve first place. Evangelicals elsewhere should not be looking to recent American history for what it means to “be in the world, but not of the world.”
A nagging question coming out of the Trumpian mobilization, however, relates to the “brand” value of the name. Should we replace the name “Evangelical”? Arguments in the affirmative say that the term lacks definition, that it has been coopted by political debate, and that it is now a term driving some away from the Gospel. Others, given this American debacle, feel that the name has been simply emptied of its usefulness.
I disagree. First, it’s a biblical name. The word euangelion, or “Evangel”, meaning “the good news”, has been used for centuries, particularly for the followers of Martin Luther and then more broadly at the time of William Wilberforce. Today, in many parts of the world, it remains an important means of identity. For example, if you are in a Muslim or Hindu majority country, and you are not Roman Catholic or liberal Protestant, what name do you use? As a threatened minority, the ability to identify with over 600 million fellow Evangelical Christians provides shelter in identity and bonding in fellowship. As a friend noted, every time a priest takes a misstep, do Roman Catholics wonder about a name change?
Finally, to my Evangelical friends in the rest of the world, let’s not be naïve about the temptation that we too might get caught using our church base and witness to gain political power. We have seen this happen in other countries: Kenya, South Korea, and Brazil, to name a few. As the number of Evangelicals continues to grow, there is a natural inclination to turn size and presence into political power. We may think that the Gospel inhibits us from being seduced by power, but we must recognize our own vulnerability as we seek to parlay our global growth into greater political influence.
Americans need space and time to make sense of the choices they confront. Let us pray that they will make choices based on the Christ they serve and the Bible they read. My prayer is that this hurtful and damaging American moment will be followed by a time of national confession, spiritual healing and a resolute will to make the first priority biblical in faith and Christ-honoring in words and actions.
The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) joins the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), its national member body in the United States, in lamenting the recent killing of a black unarmed man at the hands of a white police officer – a symptom of the racial injustice that continues to exist in the country. The WEA and evangelicals worldwide join together praying for an end to the violence that is overshadowing peaceful protests.
“Recent events surrounding the wrongful deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and George Floyd in Minnesota illustrate severe racial injustices in the United States,” the NAE that represents some 42,000 churches said in a statement. “[We] lament the recurring trauma experienced by African Americans. We condemn racism and the violent abuse of power, call for justice for victims and their families, and exhort churches to combat attitudes and systems that perpetuate racism. We are grateful for law enforcement officers who honorably serve and protect our communities, and urge our members to uphold them in prayer.”
Bp Efraim Tendero, Secretary General of the WEA, said: “As a global family of Christian believers, we feel the pain of a nation in turmoil strained with broken relationships that have suffered from decades, indeed centuries of injustice between people of various ethnic backgrounds. We also wish to express our concern about the evident violence that is overshadowing those whose intent is to register a peaceful protest. This violence only adds to the pain Americans are suffering amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Today as a world body, understanding the complexity of this social unrest, we stand in prayerful solidarity, asking the God of creation and the Lord of our salvation to restore peace, to establish His justice and to bring about a lasting healing and reconciliation within the United States,” Bp Tendero continued.
He concluded: “We pray that Christian believers will be at the forefront of reconciliation as did Jesus Christ who himself reconciled us to God and to each other. Further we pray that Christians will be at the forefront in advocating and working for justice, in the footsteps of our God of justice who shows no favoritism. And finally, it is our earnest prayer that believers will take on themselves the calling to be peace builders, living the life of Jesus who came to this world as the Prince of Peace.”
Over two billion Christians in the world today are represented by three world church bodies. The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) is one of those, serving more than 600 million evangelicals. Launched in 1846 to unite evangelicals worldwide, the WEA continues to be a dynamic movement with 9 regional and 134 national Evangelical Alliances, and over 150 member organizations. WEA’s mission is to establish and strengthen regional and national Evangelical Alliances, who in turn enable their national Church to advance the Good News of Jesus Christ and effect personal and community transformation for the glory of God. For more information, visit Worldea.org
Seven New Zealanders attended the recent General Assembly of the World Evangelical Alliance, in Indonesia: Stuart Lange, Rick Pierce, Brian Winslade, Glyn Carpenter, Rachel Afeaki Taumoepeau, Jay Matenga, and – based in the USA – Chris Elisara.
The WEA represents some 600+ million evangelical Christians, including Pentecostals. There are national evangelical alliances in 130 countries. NZCN is one of those.
The emphases at the Assembly included the absolute necessity of holistic disciple-making, and inter-generational leadership.
The most delightful thing about the Assembly, though, was the fellowship and interaction with evangelical leaders from all over the world, and the opportunities to learn from one another.
It was also good to see some Kiwis elected to key positions within the WEA: Jay as Executive Director WEA Mission’s Commission, Rachel as Regional General Secretary of the South Pacific (replacing Glyn), and Brian as the South Pacific representative on the International Council, of which he is now the chair.
WEA General Assembly Digest: Discipleship
The theme of our General Assembly was ‘Your Kingdom Come’. We are praying and longing for God’s Kingdom to be manifested on earth. It comes by God’s will being done. Therefore we commit ourselves to “…make disciples of all nations…” and help them obey everything that Jesus has commanded (Mt 28:19-20).
Our theme and commitment led us to our corporate response – Decade of Disciple-Making, when the global Evangelical community will be revitalized and realigned toward holistic intentional disciple-making. This is not about a program or a project, it is about a lifestyle and relationships. It is when every believer is fully committed to becoming like Jesus and is inviting others into a journey of Christ-likeness in every area of their lives.
We are encouraged that, according to the GA Evaluation, 87% of the participants were impacted by the call to the Decade of Disciple-Making and want to be involved. And 83% of EA leaders anticipate their alliances to be engaged in it. Pray with me that God will empower us to effectively do his will in a way that is appropriate to our times and contexts. Pray for a transformational ripple-effect from General Assembly across the WEA membership and beyond. Pray for the evangelical alliances as they seek to spread the shared vision by encouraging its participants towards disciple-making and providing opportunities for connection, learning, and collaboration.
Thank you for responding to this call and championing the decade of holistic disciple-making.
Bp Efraim Tendero Secretary General / CEO World Evangelical Alliance