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  INTRODUCTION - selezionare
7. The Possibilities Of Common Witness
  CONCLUSION - selez.

7. The Possibilities of Common Witness

      We turn in our last chapter from theological exploration to practical action. We have indicated where we agree and disagree. We now consider what we can do and cannot do together. Since our discussion on this topic was incomplete, what follows awaits further development.

1) Our Unity and Disunity

      We have tried to face with honesty and candor the issues which divide us as Roman Catholics and Evangelicals. We have neither ignored, nor discounted, nor even minimized them. For they are real, and in some cases serious.
      At the same time, we know and have experienced that the walls of our separation do not reach to heaven. There is much that unites us, and much in each other's different manifestations of Christian faith and life which we have come to appreciate. Our concern throughout our dialogue has not been with the structural unity of churches, but rather with the possibilities of common witness. So when we write of "unity," it is this that we have in mind.
      To begin with, we acknowledge in ourselves and in each other a firm belief in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This faith is for us more than a conviction; it is a commitment. We have come to the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit (Eph 2:18).
      We also recognize that the gospel is God's good news about his Son Jesus Christ (Rom 1:1-3), about his godhead and manhood, his life and teaching, his acts and promises, his death and resurrection, and about the salvation he has once accomplished and now offers. Moreover, Jesus Christ is our Savior and our Lord, for he is the object of our personal trust, devotion and expectation. Indeed, faith, hope and love are his gifts to us, bestowed on us freely without any merit of our own.
      In addition, God's Word and Spirit nourish this new life within us. We see in one another "the fruit of the Spirit," which is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal 5:22, 23). No wonder Paul continues in this text with an exhortation that there be among us "no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another" (v. 26).
      There is therefore between us an initial if incomplete unity. Nevertheless, divisions continue, even in some doctrines of importance, as we have made clear in earlier chapters of our report. Our faith has developed in us strong convictions (as it should), some uniting us, others dividing us. The very strength of our convictions has not only drawn us together in mutual respect, but has also been a source of painful tension. This has been the price of our encounter; attempts to conceal or dilute our differences would not have been authentic dialogue, but a travesty of it. So would have been any attempt to magnify or distort our difference. We confess that in the past members of both our constituencies have been guilty of misrepresenting each other, on account of either laziness in study, unwillingness to listen, superficial judgments or pure prejudice. Whenever we have done this, we have borne false witness against our neighbor.
      This, then, is the situation. Deep truths already unite us in Christ. Yet real and important convictions still divide us. In the light of this, we ask: what can we do together?

2) Common Witness

      "Witness" in the New Testament normally denotes the unique testimony of the apostolic eyewitnesses who could speak of Jesus from what they had seen and heard. It is also used more generally of all Christians who commend Christ to others out of their personal experience of him, and in response to his commission. We are using the word here, however, in the even wider sense of any Christian activity which points to Christ, a usage made familiar by the two documents, jointly produced by the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church, which are entitled Common Witness and Proselytism (1970) and Common Witness (1980).

a) Common Witness in Bible Translation and Publishing

      It is extremely important that Roman Catholics and Protestants should have an agreed, common text in each vernacular. Divergent texts breed mutual suspicion; a mutually acceptable text develops confidence and facilitates joint Bible study. The United Bible Societies have rendered valuable service in this area, and the Common Bible (RSV) published in English in 1973, marked a step forward in Roman Catholic-Protestant relationships.
      The inclusion of the Old Testament Apocrypha (books written in Greek during the last two centuries before Christ), which the Roman Catholic Church includes as part of the Bible, has proved a problem, and in some countries Evangelicals have for this reason not felt free to use this version. The United Bible societies and the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity have published some guidelines in this matter,
35 which recommend that the Apocrypha be printed "as a separate section before the New Testament" and described as "deutero-canonical." Many Evangelicals feel able to use a Common Bible in these circumstances, although most would prefer the Apocrypha to be omitted altogether.

b) Common Witness in the Use of Media

      Although we have put down the availability of a Common Bible as a priority need, Evangelicals and Roman Catholics are united in recognizing the importance of Christian literature in general, and of Christian audiovisual aids. In particular, it is of great value when the Common Bible is supplemented by Common Bible reading aids. In some parts of the world Bible atlases and handbooks, Bible dictionaries and commentaries, and explanatory notes for daily Bible reading, are available in a form which betrays no denominational or ecclesiastical bias. The same is true of some Christian films and filmstrips. So Evangelicals and Roman Catholics may profitably familiarize themselves with each other's materials, with a view to using them whenever possible.
      In addition, the opportunity is given to the churches in some countries to use the national radio and television service for Christian programs. We suggest, especially in countries where Christians form a small minority of the total population, that the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant Churches and specialist organizations cooperate rather than compete with one another in the development of suitable programs.

c) Common Witness in Community Service

      The availability of welfare varies greatly form country to country. Some governments provide generous social services, although often the spiritual dimension is missing, and then Christians can bring faith, loving compassion and hope to an otherwise secular service. In other countries the government's provision is inadequate or unevenly distributed. In such a situation the churches have a particular responsibility to discover' the biggest gaps and seek to fill them. In many cases the government welcomes the Church's contribution.
      In the name of Christ, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals can serve human need together, providing emergency relief for the victims of flood, famine and earthquake, and shelter for refugees; promoting urban and rural development; feeding the hungry and healing the sick; caring for the elderly and the dying; providing a marriage guidance, enrichment and reconciliation service, a pregnancy advisory service and support for single parent families; arranging educational opportunities for the illiterate and job creation schemes for the unemployed; and rescuing young people from drug addiction and young women from prostitution. There seems to be no justification for organizing separate Roman Catholic and Evangelical projects of a purely humanitarian nature, and every reason for undertaking them together. Although faith may still in part divide us, love for neighbor should unite us.

d) Common Witness in Social Thought and Action.

      There is a pressing need for fresh Christian thinking about the urgent social issues which confront the contemporary world. The Roman Catholic Church has done noteworthy work in this area, not least through the social encyclicals of recent Popes. Evangelicals are only now beginning to catch up after some decades of neglect. It should be to our mutual advantage to engage in Christian social debate together. A clear and united Christian witness is needed in face of such challenges as the nuclear arms race, North-South economic inequality, the environmental crisis, and the revolution in sexual mores.
      Whether a common mind will lead us to common action will depend largely on how far the government of our countries is democratic or autocratic, influenced by Christian values or imbued with an ideology unfriendly to the gospel. Where a regime is oppressive, and a Christian prophetic voice needs to be heard, it should be a single voice which speaks for both Roman Catholics and Protestants. Such a united witness could also provide some stimulus to the quest for peace, justice and disarmament; testify to the sanctity of sex, marriage and family life; agitate for the reform of permissive abortion legislation; defend human rights and religious freedom, denounce the use of torture, and campaign for prisoners of conscience; promote Christian moral values in public life and in the education of children; seek to eliminate racial and sexual discrimination; contribute to the renewal of decayed inner cities; and oppose dishonesty and corruption. There are many such areas in which Roman Catholics and Evangelicals can both think together and take action together. Our witness will be stronger if it is a common witness.

e) Common Witness in Dialogue

      The word "dialogue" means different things to different people. Some Christians regard it as inherently compromising, since they believe it expresses an unwillingness to affirm revealed truth, let alone to proclaim it. But to us "dialogue" means a frank and serious conversation between individuals or groups, in which each is prepared to listen respectfully to the other, with a view to increased understanding on the part of both. We see no element of compromise in this. On the contrary, we believe it is essentially Christian to meet one another face to face, rather than preserving our isolation from one another and even indifference to one another, and to listen to one another's own statements of position, rather than relying on second-hand reports. In authentic dialogue we struggle to listen carefully not only to what the other person is saying, but to the strongly cherished concerns which lie behind his or her words. In this process our caricatures of one another become corrected.
      We believe that the most fruitful kind of Evangelical-Roman Catholic dialogue arises out of joint Bible Study. For, as this report makes clear, both sides regard the Bible as God's Word, and acknowledge the need to read, study, believe and obey it. It is surely through the Word of God that, illumined by the Spirit of God, we shall progress towards greater agreement.
      We also think that there is need for Evangelical-Roman Catholic dialogue on the great theological and ethical issues which are being debated in all the churches, and that an exchange of visiting scholars in seminaries could be particularly productive.
      Honest and charitable dialogue is beneficial to those who take part in it; it enriches our faith, deepens our understanding, and fortifies and clarifies our convictions. It is also a witness in itself, inasmuch as it testifies to the desire for reconciliation and meanwhile expresses a love which encompasses even those who disagree.
      Further, theological dialogue can sometimes lead to common affirmation, especially in relation to the unbelieving world and to new theological trends which owe more to contemporary culture than to revelation or Christian tradition. Considered and united declarations by Roman Catholics and Evangelicals could make a powerful contribution to current theological discussion.

f) Common Witness in Worship

      The word "worship" is used in a wide range of senses from the spontaneous prayers of the "two or three" met in Christ's name in a home to formal liturgical services in church.
      We do not think that either Evangelicals or Roman Catholics should hesitate to join in corn- mon prayer when they meet in each other's homes. Indeed, if they have gathered for a Bible study group, it would be most appropriate for them to pray together for illumination before the study and after it for grace to obey. Larger informal meetings should give no difficulty either. Indeed, in many parts of the world Evangelicals and Roman Catholics are already meeting for common praise and prayer, both in charismatic celebrations and in gatherings which would not describe themselves thus. Through such experiences they have been drawn into a deeper experience of God and so into a closer fellowship with one another. Occasional participation in each other's services in church is also natural, especially for the sake of family solidarity and friendship.
      It is when the possibility of common participation in the Holy Communion or Eucharist is raised, that major problems of conscience arise. Both sides of our dialogue would strongly discourage indiscriminate approaches to common sacramental worship.
      The Mass lies at the heart of Roman Catholic doctrine and practice, and it has been emphasized even more in Catholic spirituality since the Second Vatican Council. Anyone is free to attend Mass. Other Christians may not receive Communion at it, however, except when they request it in certain limited cases of "spiritual necessity" specified by current Roman Catholic legislation. Roman Catholics may on occasion attend a Protestant Communion Service as an act of worship. But there is no ruling of the Roman Catholic Church which would permit its members to receive Communion in a Protestant Church service, even on ecumenical occasions. Nor would Roman Catholics feel in conscience feel to do so.
      Many Evangelical churches practice an "open" Communion policy, in that they announce a welcome to everybody who "is trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation and is in love and charity with all people," whatever their church affiliation. They do not exclude Roman Catholic believers. Most Evangelicals would feel conscientiously unable to present themselves at a Roman Catholic Mass, however, even assuming they were invited. This is because the doctrine of the Mass was one of the chief points at issue during the 16th century Reformation, and Evangelicals are not satisfied with the Roman Catholic explanation of the relation between the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and the sacrifice of the Mass. But this question was not discussed at our meetings.
      Since both Roman Catholics and Evangelicals believe that the Lord's Supper was instituted by Jesus as a means of grace
36 and agree that he commanded his disciples to "do this in remembrance" of him, it is a grief to us that we are so deeply divided in an area in which we should be united, and that we are therefore unable to obey Christ's command together. Before this becomes possible, some profound and sustained theological study of this topic will be needed; we did not even begin it at ERCDOM.

g) Common Witness in Evangelism

      Although there are some differences in our definitions of evangelism, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals are agreed that evangelism involves proclaiming the gospel, and that therefore any common evangelism necessarily presupposes a common commitment to the same gospel. In earlier chapters of this report we have drawn attention to certain doctrines in which our understanding is identical or very similar. We desire to affirm these truths together. In other important areas, however, substantial agreement continues to elude us, and therefore common, witness in evangelism would seem to be premature, although we are aware of situations in some parts of the world in which Evangelicals and Roman Catholics have felt able to make a common proclamation.
      Evangelicals are particularly sensitive in this matter, which is perhaps not surprising, since their very appellation "evangelical" includes in itself the word "evangel" (gospel). Evangelicals claim to be "gospel" people, and are usually ready, if asked, to give a summary of their understanding of the gospel. This would have at its heart what they often call "the finished work of Christ," namely that by bearing our sins on the cross Jesus Christ did everything necessary for our salvation, and that we have only to put our trust in him in order to be saved. Although many Evangelicals will admit that their presentation of the gospel is often one-sided or defective, yet they could not contemplate any evangelism in which the good news of God's justification of sinners by his grace in Christ through faith alone is not proclaimed.
      Roman Catholics also have their problems of conscience. They would not necessarily want to deny the validity of the message which Evangelicals preach, but would say that important aspects of the gospel are missing from it. In particular, they emphasize the need both to live out the gospel in the sacramental life of the church and to respect the teaching authority of the Church. Indeed, they see evangelism as essentially a Church activity done by the Church in relation to the Church.
      So long as each side regards the other's view of the gospel as defective, there exists a formidable obstacle to be overcome. This causes us particular sorrow in our dialogue on mission, in which we have come to appreciate one another and to discover unexpected agreements. Yet we must respect one another's integrity. We commit ourselves to further prayer, study and discussion in the hope that a way forward may be found.

3) Unworthy Witness

      We feel the need to allude to the practice of seeking to evangelize people who are already church members, since this causes misunderstanding and even resentment, especially when Evangelicals are seeking to "convert" Roman Catholics. It arises from the phenomenon which Evangelicals call "nominal Christianity," and which depends on the rather sharp distinction they draw between the visible Church (of professing or "nominal" Christians) and the invisible Church (of committed or genuine Christians), that is, between those who are Christian only in name and those who are Christian in reality. Evangelicals see nominal Christians as needing to be won for Christ. Roman Catholics also speak of "evangelizing" such people, although they refer to them as "lapsed" or "inactive" rather than as "nominal," because they do not make a separation between the visible and invisible Church. They are understandably offended whenever Evangelicals appear to regard all Roman Catholics as ipso facto unbelievers, and when they base their evangelism on a distorted view of Roman Catholic teaching and practice. On the other hand, since Evangelicals seek to evangelize the 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." Roman Catholics do not accept this reasoning.
      We recognize that conscientious conviction leads some people to change from Catholic to Evangelical or Evangelical to Catholic allegiance, and leads others to seek to persuade people to do so. If this happens in conscience and without coercion, we would not call it proselytism.
      There are other forms of witness, however, which we would all describe as "unworthy," and therefore as being "proselytism" rather than "evangelism." We agree, in general, with the analysis of this given in the study document entitled Common Witness and Proselytism (1970), and in particular we emphasize three aspects of it.
      First, proselytism takes place when our motive is unworthy, for example when our real concern in witness is not the glory of God through the salvation of human beings but rather the prestige of our own Christian community, or indeed our personal prestige.
      Secondly, we are guilty of proselytism whenever our methods are unworthy, especially when we resort to any kind of "physical coercion, moral constraint or psychological pressure," when we seek to induce conversion by the offer of material or political benefits, or when we exploit other people's need, weakness or lack of education. These practices are an affront both to the freedom and dignity of human beings and to the Holy Spirit whose witness is gentle and not coercive.
      Thirdly, we are guilty of proselytism whenever our message includes "unjust or uncharitable reference to the beliefs or practices of other religious communities in the hope of winning adherents." If we find it necessary to make comparisons, we should compare the strengths and weaknesses of one church with those of the other, and not set what is beat in the one against what is worst in the other. To descend to deliberate is representation is incompatible with truth and love.


  1. Guiding Principles for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible (1968).

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  2. See Chapter 4 (3).

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