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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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";
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.
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.
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.
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.
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"
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.
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.
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 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
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:
to further the glory of God; the earth should be a mirror to reflect
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.
E.g. Mark 10:23-27;
cf. Is 52:7.
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.