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2. The Nature Of Mission
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2. The Nature of Mission

      The very existence of the Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission testifies to our common commitment to mission. One of the factors which led to its inauguration was the publication of the Lausanne Covenant (1974) and of Evangelii nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Exhortation "Evangelization in the Modern World" (1975). These two documents supplied some evidence of a growing convergence in our understanding of mission. Not that Evangelicals or Roman Catholics regard either of these statements as exhaustive, but they consider them valuable summaries and teaching tools.

1) The Basis of Mission

      In response to the common criticism that we have no right to evangelize among all peoples, we together affirm the universality of God's purposes. God's creation of the world and of all humankind means that all should be subject to his lordship (Ps 24:1-2; Eph 3:8-11). The call of Abraham and of Israel had the wider purpose that all nations might see God's glory in his people and come to worship him. In the New Testament Jesus sends his disciples out in proclamatory witness, leading to the apostolic mission to all nations. In his Epistle to the Romans Paul teaches that, since all without distinction have sinned, so all without distinction are offered salvation, Gentiles as well as Jews (3:22f; 10:12).
      We are agreed that mission arises from the self-giving life and love of the triune God himself and from his eternal purpose for the whole creation. Its goal is the God-centered Kingdom of the Father, exhibited through the building of the body of Christ, and cultivated in the fellowship of the Spirit. Because of Christ's first coming and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Christian mission has an eschatological dimension: it invites men and women to enter the Kingdom of God through Christ the Son by the Work and regeneration of the Spirit.
      We all agree that the arrival of the messianic Kingdom through Jesus Christ necessitates the announcement of the good news, the summons to repentance and faith, and the gathering together of the people of God. Sometimes Jesus clearly used "the Kingdom of God" and "salvation" as synonyms.
15 For to announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God is to proclaim its realization in the coming of Jesus Christ. And the Church witnesses to the Kingdom when it manifests the salvation it has received.
      At the same time, long-standing tensions exist between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals. While both sides affirm that the pilgrim Church is missionary by its very nature, its missionary activity is differently understood.
      Vatican II defines the Church for Roman Catholics as "the sacrament of salvation," the sign and promise of redemption to each and every person without exception. For them, therefore, "mission" includes not only evangelization but also the service of human need, and the building up and expression of fellowship in the Church. It is the mission of the Church to anticipate the Kingdom of God as liberation from the slavery of sin, from slavery to the Law and from death; by the preaching of the gospel, by the forgiveness of sins and by sharing in the Lord's Supper.
16 But the Spirit of God is always at work throughout human history to bring about the liberating reign of God.
      Evangelization is the proclamation (by word and example) of the good news to the nations. The good news is that God's actions in Jesus Christ are the climax of a divine revelation and relationship that has been available to everyone from the beginning. Roman Catholics assert that the whole of humanity is in a collective history which God makes to be a history of salvation. The mysterion of the gospel is the announcement by the Church to the world of this merging of the history of salvation with the history of the world.
      Evangelicals generally, on the other hand, do not regard the history of salvation as coterminous with the history of the world, although some are struggling with this question. The Church is the beginning and anticipation of the new creation, the firstborn among his creatures. Though all in Adam die, not all are automatically in Christ. So life in Christ has to be received by grace with repentance though faith. With yearning Evangelicals plead for a response to the atoning work of Christ in his death and resurrection. But with sorrow they know that not all who are called are chosen. Judgment (both here and hereafter) is the divine reaction of God to sin and to the rejection of the good news. "Rich young rulers" still walk away from the kingdom of grace. Evangelization is therefore the call to those outside to come as children of the Father into the fulness of eternal life in Christ by the Spirit, and into the joy of a loving community in the fellowship of the Church.

2) Authority and Initiative in Mission

      Primary Christian obedience, we agree, is due to the Lord Jesus Christ and is expressed in both our individual and our common life under his authority. Roman Catholics and Evangelicals recognize that the tension between ecclesiastical authority and personal initiative, as also between the institutional and the charismatic, has appeared throughout biblical and Church history.
      While for Roman Catholics hierarchical structures of teaching and pastoral authority are essential, the Servant Church, as described by the Second Vatican Council is called to express herself more fully in the exercise of apostolic collegiality and subsidiarity (the principle that ecclesial decisions are made at the lowest level of responsibility).
      Evangelicals have traditionally emphasized the personal right of every believer to enjoy direct access to God and the Scriptures. There is also among them a growing realization of the importance of the Church as the Body of Christ, which tempers personal initiative through the restraint and direction of the fellowship.
      This issue of authority has a bearing on mission. Are missionaries sent, or do they volunteer, or is it a case of both? What is the status of religious orders, mission boards or missionary societies, and para-church organizations? How do they relate to the churches or other ecclesial bodies? How can a preoccupation with jurisdiction (especially geographical) be reconciled with the needs of subcultures, especially in urban areas, which are often overlooked?
      Although our traditions differ in the way we respond to these questions, we all wish to find answers which take account both of Church structures and of the liberty of the Spirit outside them.

3) Evangelization and Socio-political Responsibility

      The controversy over the relationship between evangelization and socio-political responsibility is not confined to Roman Catholics and Evangelicals; it causes debate between and among all Christians.
      We are agreed that "mission" relates to every area of human need, both spiritual and social. Social responsibility is an integral part of evangelization; and the struggle for justice can be a manifestation of the Kingdom of God. Jesus both preached and healed, and sent his disciples out to do likewise. His predilection for those without power and without voice continues God's concern in the Old Testament for the widow, the orphan, the poor and the defenseless alien.
      In particular we agree:

a) that serving the spiritual, social and material needs of our fellow human beings together constitutes love of neighbor and therefore "mission";
b) that an authentic proclamation of the good news must lead to a call for repentance, and that authentic repentance is a turning away from social as well as individual sins;
c) that since each Christian community is involved in the reality of the world, it should lovingly identify with the struggle for justice as a suffering community;
d) that in this struggle against evil in society, the Christian must be careful to use means which reflect the spirit of the gospel. The Church's responsibility in a situation of injustice will include repentance for any complicity in it, as well as intercessory prayer, practical service, and prophetic teaching which sets forth the standards of God and his Kingdom.
      We recognize that some Roman Catholics and some Evangelicals find it difficult to subscribe to any inseparable unity between evangelization and the kind of socio-political involvement which is described above. There is also some tension concerning the allocation of responsibility for social service and action. Roman Catholics accept the legitimacy of involvement by the Church as a whole, as well as by groups and individuals. Among Evangelicals, however, there are differences between the Lutheran, Reformed and Anabaptist traditional understandings of Church and society. All would agree that Christian individuals and groups have social responsibilities; the division concerns what responsibility is assigned to the Church as a whole.

4) God's Work Outside the Christian Community

      We have written about the Church and the Kingdom. We are agreed that the concept of the Church implies a limitation, for we talk about "church members" which infers that there are "non-members." But how widely should we understand the Kingdom of God? We all agree that God works within the Christian community, for there he rules and dwells. But does he also work outside, and if so how?
      This is a question of major missiological importance. All of us are concerned to avoid an interpretation of the universal saving will of God, which makes salvation automatic without the free response of the person.
      At least four common convictions have emerged from our discussions. They concern the great doctrines of creation, revelation, salvation and judgment.

  1. Creation. God has created all humankind, and by right of creation all humankind belongs to God. God also loves the whole human family and gives to them all "life and breath and everything" (Acts 17:25).
  2. Revelation. There are elements of truth in all religions. These truths are the fruit of a revelatory gift of God. Evangelicals often identify their source in terms of general revelation, common grace or the remnant image of God in humankind. Roman Catholics more frequently associate them with the work of the Logos, the true light, coming into the world and giving light to every man (John 1:9), and with the work of his Holy Spirit.
  3. Salvation. There is only one Savior and only one gospel. There is no other name but Christ's, through whom anyone may be saved (Acts 4:12). So all who receive salvation are saved by the free initiative of God through the grace of Christ.
  4. Judgment. While the biblical concept of judgment refers to both reward and punishment, it is clear that those who remain in sin by resisting God's free grace (whether they are inside or outside the visible boundaries of the Church) provoke his judgment, which leads to eternal separation from him.
      The Church itself also stands under the judgment of God whenever it refuses or neglects to proclaim the gospel of salvation to those who have not heard Christ's name.
      The sphere for missionary activity is described differently within each tradition. Roman Catholics would expect God's mercy to be exercised effectively in benevolent action of his grace for the majority of humankind, unless they specifically reject his offer. Such a position gives them cause for confidence. Evangelicals consider that this view has no explicit biblical justification, and that it would tend to diminish the evangelistic zeal of the Church. Evangelicals are therefore less optimistic about the salvation of those who have no personal relationship to God through Jesus Christ.
      We all affirm that the missionary enterprise is a participation in the mission of Jesus and the mission of his Church. The urgency to reach all those not yet claimed by his Lordship impels our mission.
Whether or not salvation is possible outside the Christian community, what is the motivation for mission work? We agree that the following strong incentives urgently impel Christians to the task of mission:
a) to further the glory of God; the earth should be a mirror to reflect his glory;
b) to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ; all men and women are called to submit to his authority;
c) to proclaim that Christ has struggled with Satan and dethroned him; in baptism and conversion we renounce Satan's rule and turn to Christ and righteousness;
d) to proclaim that man does not live by bread alone; the gospel of salvation is the perfect gift of God's loving grace;
e) to hasten the return of the Lord — the eschatological dimension. We look for the day of the Lord when the natural order will be completely redeemed, the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and people front every nation, people, tribe and tongue will praise the triune God in perfection.


  1. E.g. Mark 10:23-27; cf. Is 52:7.

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  2. In this Report we use "the Lord's Supper," "the Holy Communion" and "the Eucharist" indiscriminately; no particular theology is implied by these terms. "The Mass" is limited to Roman Catholic contexts. Similarly, we use "sacrament" or "ordinance" in relation to Baptism and Eucharist without doctrinal implications.

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