Identity and Identification: The Latin American Protestant Church

Author: Paul Davies, Tutor in Theology of Mission, All Nations Christian College


The church is sent into the world with a distinct message: the gospel. It is called to announce and live out that message in the context where it is placed. The nature of the gospel, however, precludes the possibility of shouting the message from a safe distance; the message must be incarnated. This means that the messenger must live out the message and identify with the hearers. This raises the question of the tension between identity and identification, which is a problem that always faces the church in mission. The more the church emphasises its distinct identity the more it is in danger of losing its ability to identify with the world into which it is sent. On the other hand, the more it identifies itself with the world, the more it faces the danger of losing its distinctiveness. Jürgen Moltmann calls this the tension between identity and relevance; José Míguez Bonino calls it the tension between the Christ reference and the universal reference. Whatever it is called it seems to sum up well the problem that has faced the Latin American Protestant Church throughout its history.

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