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Part II - Catholics, Evangelicals, and Evangelization in Light of Koinonia



    (47) We now turn to issues of evangelization, proselytism, and religious freedom to explore them in the context of a theology of koinonia. In doing this we have learned from some of the insights of other dialogues on these issues and have built on them.

    (48) Evangelicals and Catholics agree that every Christian has the right and obligation to share and spread the faith. "It is contrary to the message of Christ, to the ways of God's grace and to the personal character of faith that any means be used which would reduce or impede the freedom of a person to make a basic Christian commitment" (B 34). Since evangelization is a focus of this section, we can now indicate briefly how Catholics and Evangelicals understand this responsibility.

A. Our Respective Views on Evangelization/Evangelism

1. A Catholic View

    (49) Catholics view Evangelization in the context of the one Mission of the Church. In this regard, "evangelization is a complex process involving many elements as, for example, a renewal of human nature, witness, public proclamation, wholehearted acceptance of, and entrance into, the community of the church, the adoption of the outward signs and of apostolic works" (EN 24).

    (50) "Evangelization will always contain, as the foundation, the center and the apex of its whole dynamic power, this explicit declaration: In Jesus Christ …salvation is offered to every human person as the gift of the grace and mercy of God Himself" (EN 27; cf. RM 44). It involves proclamation of this good news, aiming at Christian conversion of men and women (cf. RM 44-46). But it involves also efforts "to convert both the individual consciences of men and their collective consciences, all the attitudes in which they are engaged and, finally, their lives and the whole environment which surrounds them" (EN 18). Thus "evangelization is to be achieved…in depth, going to the very center and roots of life. The Gospel must impregnate the culture and the whole way of life of man…" (EN 20). Through inculturation the Church makes the Gospel incarnate in different cultures, "transmits to them her own values, at the same time taking the good elements that already exist in them and renewing them from within" (RM 52; cf. EN 20).

    (51) There is a diversity of activities in the Church's one mission according to the different circumstances in which it is carried out. Looking at today's world from the viewpoint of evangelization, we can distinguish three situations. (a) People, groups and socio-cultural contexts in which Christ and his Gospel are not known. In such a context Catholics speak of mission ad gentes. (b) Christian communities with adequate and solid Ecclesial structures; they are fervent in their faith and in Christian living, in which participation in the sacraments is basic (cf. EN 47). In these communities the church carries out her activities and pastoral care. ©) The intermediate situation, for example, in countries with ancient Christian roots, where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith. In this case what is needed is a new evangelization or a "re-evangelization". The boundaries between these three "are not clearly definable, and it is unthinkable to create barriers between them or to put them into water-tight compartments" (RM 34). There is a growing interdependence which exists between these various saving activities in the church.

2. An Evangelical View

    (52) For Evangelicals, the heart and core of mission is proclamation. However, it is the core, not the totality of the Church mission within the divine Plan of redemption. The Lausanne Covenant refers to this comprehensive mission as "evangelization" (Lausanne, Introduction) and places it within a trinitarian framework: "We affirm our belief in the one eternal God, Creator (Is 40:28) and Lord of the world, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19), who governs all things according to the purpose of his will (Eph 1:1). He has been sending forth a people for himself (Acts 15:14), and sending his people back into the world (Jn 17:18) to be his servants and witnesses, for the extension of his kingdom, the building up of Christ's body, and the glory of his name (Eph 4:12)" (Lausanne 1).

    (53) The Lausanne Covenant describes mission in its most inclusive sense as "Christian presence in the world" (Lausanne 4), which consists of "sacrificial service" and entails a "deep and costly penetration of the world", and a permeation of "non-Christian society" (Lausanne 6). Because followers of Christ are engaged in the mission of the triune God, who is "both the Creator and Judge of all", Christians "should share his concern for justice" (Gen 18:25) and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men and women from every kind of oppression (Ps 45:7; Is 1:17). Because all human beings are created in the image of God, "every person, regardless of race, religion, color, culture, class, sex or age (Lev 19:18; Lk 6:27,35), has an intrinsic dignity because of which he or she should be respected and served, not exploited (Jas 3:9; Lausanne 5). When one is born again one is born into Christ's kingdom "and must seek not only to exhibit but also to spread its righteousness (Mt 5:20; Mt 6:33) in the midst of an unrighteous world" (ibid).

    (54) Although the mission of the triune God is as broad as "God's cosmic purpose" (Lausanne 6) and therefore calls God's people into this all-embracing mission, Evangelicals are particularly concerned to keep proclamation front and center. Accordingly, the Lausanne Covenant circumscribes "evangelism itself" as "the proclamation of the historical, Biblical Christ as Savior (1 Co 1:23; 2 Co 4:5) and Lord, with a view to persuading people to come to him personally and to be reconciled to God" (2 Co 5:11, 20; Lausanne 4). Moreover, Lausanne forcefully asserts the primacy of evangelism as proclamation: "In the Church's mission of sacrificial service evangelism is primary". A subsequent World Evangelical Fellowship statement again stresses the crucial role of evangelism. Yet, the document does not treat evangelism "as a separate theme, because we see it as an integral part of our total Christian response to human need" (Mt 28:18-21; Consultation on the Church in Response to Human Need. Wheaton, 1983, Introduction). Clearly, the "Great Commission" is here seen as a call to holistic mission, with at its center calling all people to believe in Jesus Christ.

B. Old Tensions in a New Context of Koinonia

    (55) It is our common belief that God has sent the Holy Spirit into the world to effect the reconciliation of the world to God. Those to whom the Spirit is sent participate in this mission of the Spirit. The heart of the mission of the Spirit is koinonia, a communion of persons in the communion of God, the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.

    (56) The real koinonia we already share gives rise to our mutual concern to view conjointly the issues of religious freedom and proselytism that have divided us. We believe that the two issues of religious liberty and proselytism must not be treated as totally separable areas but must be firmly linked and considered jointly as related concerns, seen in the context of the meaning of evangelization and the possibility of common witness. Evangelical and Catholic Christians can now recognize that they share a real but imperfect communion with each other, and are able to take modest steps toward a more complete communion in Christ through the Holy Spirit. The interrelated components necessary for increasing koinonia are repentance, conversion, and commitment, in which we commit ourselves to the convergence that has already begun in our life together.

    (57) The first component is repentance, a radical turning away from the habits of mind and heart that fall short of God's purposes and design. Those purposes are that there be a communion between persons and God, and between communities whose unity is authored by the Spirit. God intends that the Church be the main instrument for the koinonia of all peoples in God. Therefore, the reconciliation of our Christian communities is urgent.

    (58) The second component for increasing koinonia is conversion in which by faith we turn to God in Christ and his saving message. Christian conversion itself is threefold: moral, intellectual, and religious. In moral conversion we are freed by grace to value what God values and obey what God demands. In intellectual conversion we learn and embrace the truth. In religious conversion we come to abide in the love of God.

    (59) The third component that the Spirit enables is a turning to one another in our commitment to proclaim the Gospel. Catholics and Evangelicals are striving to learn how to love one another in our efforts at evangelization. There are signs of convergence on how we are to participate in the mission of the Spirit in our sharing of the good news. Our two traditions have insights into the contents of this inexhaustible source. These insights need to be retained in the work of evangelization that we undertake respectively, so as to complement and affirm one another's efforts.

1. Repentance: From What Are We Turning?

    (60) Catholics and Evangelicals are called to pray for grace as we come to a better understanding of the will of Christ, which our past relationships have not reflected (P 108). Our divisions in the past have led to conflicts in evangelization.

    But, at Manila, 1989, Evangelicals exhorted one another:

"Evangelism and unity are closely related in the New Testament. Jesus prayed that his people's oneness might reflect his own oneness with the Father, in order that the world might believe in him, and Paul exhorted the Philippians to 'contend as one person for the faith of the Gospel'. In contrast to this biblical vision, we are ashamed of the suspicions and rivalries, the dogmatism over non-essentials, the power-struggles and empire-building which spoil our evangelistic witness" (Manila 9).

    And Pope John Paul II, on behalf of Catholics, asked God' forgiveness for sins against unity with the following prayer:

"Merciful Father,
on the night before his Passion
your Son prayed for the unity of those
who believe in him:
in disobedience to his will, however,
believers have opposed one another, becoming divided,
and have mutually condemned one another and
fought against one another.
We urgently implore your forgiveness
and beseech the gift of a repentant heart,
so that all Christians, reconciled with you and with one another,
will be able, in one body and in one spirit,
to experience anew the joy of full communion.
We ask this through Christ our Lord."

    (61) Concerning "proselytism," it should be pointed out that the understanding of the word has changed considerably in recent years in some circles. In the Bible the word proselyte was devoid of negative connotations. The term referred to someone apart from Israel who, by belief in Yahweh and acceptance of the law, became a member of the Jewish community. It carried the positive meaning of being a convert to Judaism (Ex 12:48-49). Christianity took over this positive and unobjectionable meaning to describe a person who converted from paganism. Until the twentieth century, mission work and proselytism were largely synonymous and without objectionable connotations (B 32, 33). It is only in the twentieth century that the term has come to be applied to winning members from each (B 33), as an illicit form of evangelism (P 90). At least, in some Evangelical circles proselytism is not a pejorative term; in Catholic and most ecumenical circles it is. The attempt to "win members from each other" (B 33) by unworthy means is negative and pejorative proselytism. Members of our communions have been guilty of proselytism in this negative sense. It should be avoided.

    (62) We affirm therefore "that the following things should be avoided: offers to temporal or material advantages...improper use of situations of distress... using political, social and economic pressure as a means of obtaining conversion ... casting unjust and uncharitable suspicion on other denominations; comparing the strengths and ideals of one community with the weakness and practices of another community" (B 36). This issue of seeking to win members from other churches has ecclesiologically and missiologically significant consequences, which require further exploration.

    (63) Unethical methods of evangelization must be sharply distinguished from the legitimate act of persuasively presenting the Gospel. If a Christian, after hearing a responsible presentation of the Gospel, freely chooses to join a different Christian community, it should not automatically be concluded that such a transfer is the result of proselytism (P 93, 94).

    (64) Catholic-Evangelical relations have been troubled by the practice of seeking to evangelize people who are already members of a church, which causes misunderstanding and resentment, especially when Evangelicals seek to 'convert' baptized Catholics away from the Roman Catholic Church. This is more than a verbal conflict about different uses of terms like conversion, Christian, and church. Evangelicals speak of 'nominal Christianity,' referring to those who are Christians in name, but only marginally Christian in reality, even if they have been baptized. Nominal Christians are contrasted with converted believers, who can testify to a living union with Christ, whose confession is biblical and whose faith is active in love. This is a sharp distinction common among Evangelicals, who see nominal Christians as needing to be won to a personal relation with the Lord and Savior. Evangelicals seek to evangelize nominal members of their own churches, as well as of others; they see this activity as an authentic concern for the Gospel, and not as a reprehensible kind of 'sheep-stealing' (E sec. iii). Catholics also speak of 'evangelizing' such people, although they refer to them as 'lapsed' or 'inactive' rather than as 'nominal,' and still regard them as "Christian" since they are baptized believers. They are understandably offended whenever Evangelicals appear to regard all Roman Catholics as nominal Christians, or whenever they base their evangelism on a distorted view of Catholic teaching and practice.

    (65) We agree that a distinction must be made between one's estimate of the doctrines and practices of a church and the judgment that bears on an individual's spiritual condition, e.g. his or her relationship to Christ and to the Church.

    (66) As to an individual's spiritual or religious condition, whether a person is nominal, lapsed, inactive, or fallen away, a negative judgment is suspect of being intrusive unless the person to be evangelized is the source of that information. The spiritual condition of a person is always a mystery. Listening should be first, together with a benevolent presumption of charity, and in all cases we may share our perception and experience of the Good News only in a totally respectful attitude towards those we seek to evangelize. This attitude should also be the case apart from evangelization in all attempts at persuading brothers and sisters in what we believe to be true.

    (67) Evangelicals and Catholics are challenged to repent of the practice of misrepresenting each other, either because of laziness in study, or unwillingness to listen, prejudice, or unethical judgments (E I). We repent of the culpable ignorance that neglects readily accessible knowledge of the other's tradition (P 93). We are keenly aware of the command: "Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor" (Ex 20:16).

    (68) We repent of those forms of evangelization prompted by competition and personal prestige, and of efforts to make unjust or uncharitable reference to the beliefs or practices of other religious communities in order to win adherents (E I, p. 91, J 19). We repent of the use of similar means for retaining adherents. We deplore competitive forms of evangelism that habitually pit ourselves against other Christians (P 93) (cf. DH 4, 12; John Paul II, Tertio millennio adveniente 35). All forms of evangelization should witness to the glory of God.

    (69) We repent of unworthy forms of evangelization which aim at pressuring people to change their church affiliation in ways that dishonor the Gospel, and by methods which compromise rather than enhance the freedom of the believer and the truth of the Gospel (B 31).

    (70) Thus agreeing, we commit ourselves to seeking a "newness of attitudes" in our understanding of each other's intentions (cf. Eph 4:23, UR 7).

2. Conversion: To What Are We Turning?

a. Growing in Koinonia

    (71) The bonds of koinonia, which separated Christians already share, imply further responsibilities toward one another. Each must be concerned about the welfare and the integrity of the other. The bonds of koinonia imply that Christians in established churches protect the civil rights of the other Christians to free speech, press and assembly. At the same time, the bonds of koinonia imply that the other Christians respect the rights, integrity and history of Christians in established churches. Tensions can be reduced if Christians engaged in mission communicate with one another and seek to witness together as far as possible, rather than compete with one another.

    (72) Central to our understanding of religious conversion is our belief and experience that "the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom 5:5). "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child." (1 Jn 5:1). Our failures in loving one another are the scandal that calls into question whether we have allowed this love to come into our hearts without obstruction. Since Evangelicals believe their church to be catholic, and Catholics believe their church to be evangelical, it would seem that our future task is to recognize better the aspects that each of us emphasizes in the others' view as well.

    (73) Evangelicals agree with Catholics, that the goal of evangelization is koinonia with the triune God and one another. One enters into this koinonia through conversion to Christ by the Spirit within the proclaiming, caring community of faith which witnesses to the Reign of God. Catholics agree with Evangelicals, that all Christians of whatever communion can have a living personal relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior. On the basis of our real but imperfect communion we ask God to give us the grace to recommit ourselves to having a living personal relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior and deepening our relationship to one another.

b. Religious Liberty

    (74) We grow in koinonia when we support one another and acknowledge one another's freedom. Religious freedom is not only a civil right but one of the principles, together with that of mutual respect, that guide relationships among members of the Body of Christ and, indeed, with the entire human family (P 99). We have been called to work together to promote freedom of conscience for all persons, and to defend civil guarantees for freedom of assembly, speech and press. Recognizing that we have often failed to respect these liberties in the past, Catholics and Evangelicals affirm the right of all persons to pursue that truth and to witness to that truth (J 15, P 104). We affirm the right of persons freely to adopt or change their religious community without duress. We deplore every attempt to impose beliefs or to manipulate others in the name of religion (J 15, P 102). Evangelicals can concur with the position of the Second Vatican Council on religious freedom, namely that all "are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs. Nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits" (DH 2; cf. B 40).

    (75) In the person of Pope John Paul II the Catholic Church has recognized and apologized for the violations of justice and charity for which its members have been responsible in the course of history.13 Today it seeks to protect the religious liberty of all persons and their communities. At the same time, it is committed to spreading the message of the Gospel to all without proselytism or reliance on the state.

    (76) While religious liberty has been a rallying point for Evangelicals from the earliest period, they have been called from their sectarianism to greater mutual respect and increased co-operation in mission by the catholic spirit of John Wesley, the revivals of the nineteenth century, and the challenges of world mission. Interdenominational, world-wide fellowship and co-operation in mission have been served by the Evangelical Alliance. The Alliance has always been concerned about religious liberty, indeed, as early as 1872 lobbying on behalf of oppressed Catholics in Japan.14 According to the Manila Manifesto (1989):

    Christians earnestly desire freedom of religion for all people, not just freedom for Christianity. In predominantly Christian countries, Christians are at the forefront of those who demand freedom for religious minorities. In predominantly non-Christian countries, therefore, Christians are asking for themselves no more than they demand for others in similar circumstances. The freedom to 'profess, practice and propagate' religion, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, could and should surely be a reciprocally granted right (Manila 12.1).
We greatly regret any unworthy witness of which followers of Jesus may have been guilty (Manila 12.2).

    (77) Religious freedom is a right which flows from the very dignity of the person as known through the revealed Word of God: it is grounded in the creation of all human beings in the image and likeness of God (P 98). Civil authorities have an obligation to respect and to protect this right (cf. DH 2). For Catholics this view was formally adopted at Vatican II in the Declaration on Religious Freedom. Evangelicals at Lausanne 1974, Manila 1989 and Amsterdam 2000 affirmed a similar position.

    (78) Evangelicals and Roman Catholics differ somewhat in the theological and anthropological rationale for this position. Catholic social thought bases rights' theory on natural law. It sees human rights as legitimate moral claims that are God-given; free moral agents have a corresponding responsibility to act in the light of those claims. Revelation is seen to complement this understanding of rights. In evangelical teaching, primacy belongs to the divine right over conscience, the Lord's immediate claim on each individual; human rights, then, are viewed not only in creational light but also against the backdrop of the human fall into sin. The history of sin makes the mandate for rights all the more important. God continues to pursue fallen creatures in the unfolding history of grace. Catholics and Evangelicals agree that human rights should be interpreted and exercised within the framework of Scripture teaching and of rigorous moral reasoning. Due regard must be had for the needs of others, for duties towards other parties, and for the common good (P 102, DH 7). Human rights language, also, must guard against being turned into narcissism, self-assertiveness and ideology.

3. Turning to One Another: The Challenge of Common Witness

    (79) What remains as a hope and a challenge is the prospect of our common witness. We see the communities of faith, to which we belong, as set apart and anointed for mission. We are concerned about the growing secularization of the world and efforts to marginalize Christian values. It is urgent that our evangelization be ever more effective. Is it not also urgent that Christians witness together? In this sense the Second Vatican Council called Catholics to cooperate with other Christians in this way:

"To the extent that their beliefs are common, they can make before the nations a common profession of faith in God and in Jesus Christ. They can collaborate in social and in technical projects as well as in cultural and religious ones. Let them work together especially for the sake of Christ, their common Lord. Let His Name be the bond that unites them!" (AG 15).

    The core of evangelization is the apostolic faith that is found in the word of God, the creeds, and is reflected in biblical interpretations and the doctrinal consensus of the patristic age. The possibility of Evangelicals and Catholics giving common witness lies in the fact that despite their disagreements, they share much of the Christian faith. We rejoice, for example, that we can confess together the Apostles' Creed as a summary of biblical faith.

    (80) While acknowledging the divergences, which remain between us, we are discerning a convergence between our two communions regarding the need and possibilities of common witness:

    The Amsterdam Declaration 2000 urged Evangelicals:

"to pray and work for unity in truth among all true believers in Jesus and to co-operate as fully as possible in evangelism with other brothers and sisters in Christ so that the whole church may take the whole Gospel to the whole world" (Amsterdam 14).

And Pope John Paul II asks,

"How indeed can we proclaim the Gospel of reconciliation without at the same time being committed to working for reconciliation between Christians?" (UUS 98).

    Therefore, to the extent conscience and the clear recognition of agreement and disagreement allows, we commit ourselves to common witness.

    (81) We conclude this report by joining together in a spirit of humility, putting our work, with whatever strengths and limitations it may have, in the hands of God. Our hope is that these efforts will be for the praise and glory of Jesus Christ.

    "Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." (Eph 3:20-21).


  1. Cf. John Paul II, "Universal Prayer for Forgiveness, III. Confession of the sins which have harmed the unity of the Body of Christ", during the Liturgy of First Sunday of Lent, St. Peter's Basilica, (Vatican City, March 12, 2000). See: Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Vatican City, Information Service 103 (2000/I-II) p. 56

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  2. Cf. John Paul II, "Universal Prayer for Forgiveness, e) Confession of sins committed in actions against love, peace, the rights of peoples and respect for cultures and religions", Vatican City, March 12, 2000.

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  3. Cf. I. Randall and D. Hilborn, One Body in Christ: The History and Significance of the Evangelical Alliance, (Carlisle, 2001) p. 98.

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