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WCC, Evangelicals, Catholics have historic agreement

Thomas Schirrmacher
Thomas Schirrmacher

Speaking on behalf of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) to the World Council of Churches (WCC) 10th Assembly in Busan, Thomas Schirrmacher of Bonn, Germany, executive chair of the WEA’s Theological Commission, announced that in 2011 the WCC, WEA and Roman Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue agreed to a common statement on mission and evangelism.

“Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct” was adopted in June 2011 as basis for churches developing mission statements.

The WEA’s four concerns when it was established in 1846— Christian unity, human rights, world evangelism and religious freedom for all —“have never been combined more clearly than in the first ever joint document signed by the WEA, the WCC and the Vatican,” Thomas said.

The document challenges unethical forms of witnessing to the gospel that deny human dignity or rights.

Witnessing to the gospel should never be done in a way that overrules the human dignity and the human rights of others, he said.

Having been involved in the five-year process, Thomas is grateful for the WCC’s flexibility to include the WEA, which represents 600 million Christians in 128 countries.

“Mission belongs to the very being of the church. Therefore proclaiming the word of God and witnessing to the world is essential for every Christian. However, it is necessary to do so according to gospel principles, with full respect and love for all human beings,” Thomas quoted.

“For the first time the three global Christian bodies representing 95 percent of world Christianity have spoken with one voice. Now the document goes from country to country, furthering Christian unity,” he said.

Both in that document and through the Global Christian Forum, which includes Roman Catholics and churches not in any global ecumenical community, Thomas said, the WCC and WEA are giving Christian unity worldwide a higher priority than furthering their own organizations.

Given that “Evangelical“ describes many groups, Thomas said, “We take responsibility for what we say and do as a global community, but we cannot influence what happens outside our members. Often we are the target of attacks.

“Evangelism is proclaiming in word, deed and Christian character of the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross and through the resurrection. He alone overcame sin and can forgive and overcome sin,” Thomas said.  “Our churches are committed to seeing the Gospel proclaimed and demonstrated in all nations.”

He said the WEA stands for “holistic evangelism and integral mission,” which “emphasize the connection between proclaiming the good news in word and practicing it in actions. We need both for the integrity of the gospel.”

The WEA believes personal conversion results in the growth of Christian character and witness.

“There have been times when mistakes have been made and Evangelicals have struggled to link proclamation of the gospel with acts of justice and peace,” he said, “yet in our history there have been many people who exemplify the holistic nature of evangelism.”

The WEA is committed to respond to growing biblical illiteracy, Thomas said, emphasizing a recommitment to not only reading but also following the Holy Scripture as the necessary backing for holistic mission, “because the Bible also calls us to feed the hungry, help the poor, speak for the oppressed and utter our prophetic voice against structural evils in societies, such as corruption or racism.”

Given the WEA’s commitment to human rights—beginning with working to free slaves in the 1800s—he expressed solidarity with those working for the reunification of Korea. 

In a press conference, Thomas said the document contains the terminology and Christology acceptable to the WEA.

“It does not contain any sentence we would not sign,” he said.  “Like the WCC, we believe the world has to be reconciled.”

When a reporter asked about the Christian Council of Churches of Korea, a member of the WEA, protesting the WCC assembly, Thomas said the WEA opposes their demonstration.

“Protests and denouncing other Christians is not the way to proclaim the Good News,” he said.

When a reporter asked if everyone on earth should be Christian, Thomas said, “We can only witness to our faith in word and actions.”

“Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct” is not a theological statement but addresses practical issues associated with Christian witness in a multi-religious world.  The goal is for churches, church councils and mission agencies to study the document, reflect on their practice and prepare their own guidelines for witness and mission in both word and deed.

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The document suggests that in witnessing to their faith, Christians account for their hope “with gentleness and respect,” as they proclaim the kingdom, serve their neighbors and give of themselves sacrificially.

“The example and teaching of Jesus Christ and of the early church must be the guides for Christian mission,” the document says, adding that “Christian witness in a pluralistic world includes engaging in dialogue with people of different religions and cultures.”

Where it is difficult or prohibited to live and proclaim the gospel, Christians are to live faithfully.

If Christians resort to deception or coercion, “they betray the gospel and may cause suffering to others.”

While Christians are “responsible to witness to Christ,” the document recognizes that “conversion is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit.”

The document offers principles Christians are to follow, particularly in interreligious contexts.

They are to 1) act in God’s love; 2) imitate Jesus Christ; 3) conduct themselves  by Christian virtues; 4) do acts of service and justice; 5) exercise discernment as they do ministries of healing; 6) reject the use of all forms of violence; 7) promote freedom of religion; 8) work with people in mutual respect and solidarity; 9) respect people in different cultures; 10) renounce false witness; 11) ensure personal discernment, and 12) build interreligious relationships.

The Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal participants, preparing the document “in a spirit of ecumenical cooperation,” call for churches, national and regional confessional bodies and mission organizations to study the issues, form guidelines and build relationships of respect and trust with people of all religions to provide new opportunities for resolving conflicts, restoring justice, healing of memories, reconciliation and peace-building.

They encourage Christians to strengthen their own religious identity and faith as they learn about different religions and cooperate with other religious communities engaging in interreligious advocacy towards justice and the common good.

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Copyright © December 2013 - The Fig Tree