APPENDIX II: COMMON WITNESS AND PROSELYTISM
(A Study Document)
following document, prepared by a Joint Theological Commission,
was received by the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic
Church and the World Council of Churches at its meeting in May,
1970, which recommended it for publication.
document was elaborated by the commission on the initiative of the
Joint Working Group. The commission held two full meetings (in Arnoldshain,
Germany, in 1968, and in Zagork, USSR, in 1969). Various subsequent
drafts were submitted to a wide group of consultants. The text being
presented now has been formulated in the light of comments received.
Joint Working Group, having examined it, recommends to its parent
bodies that it be offered to the Churches as a study document for
their consideration. Although there may not be complete agreement
on everything contained in the document, it represents a wide area
of consensus on the subject of common witness and proselytism which
may guide the Churches in their mutual relations.
is, therefore, suggested that the Churches in the same area study
it together. The further examination of the theme o f common witness
will inevitably demand a fuller development of, and agreement on,
the content of the witness Christians are bound to give to Christ
and his Gospel.
Unity in witness and witness in unity. This is the will of Christ
for his people. The Lord has called all his disciples to be witnesses
to him and his Gospel, to the ends of the earth (cf. Acts l: 8).and
he has promised to be with them always, to the close of his age
(Mt. 28: 20). But for centuries, in their efforts to fulfil this
mission, Christian Communions have borne the burden of divisions,
even differing about the meaning of the one Gospel. They have
not been a clear sign of the one and holy people, so it has been
hard for the world to believe (cf. Jo. 13:35; 17:21).
moved by the Holy Spirit, the various Christian Communions are
seeking to restore the unity they have lost, in the hope that
one day, when they are fully renewed and united in faith and charity,
they may be better able to glorify God by bringing home to the
whole world the hope of the coming kingdom. They are striving
to overcome whatever indifference, isolation and rivalry has marked
their relations to each other and thus has distorted Christian
witness even to that unity with which God has already blessed
This document is an attempt to state the implications of the obligation:
- to bear common Christian witness, even while the Churches are
- to avoid in their mutual relations and in their evangelizing
activities whatever is not in keeping with the spirit of the Gospel;
- to provide one another, as far as possible, with mutual support
for a more effective witness of the Gospel through preaching and
selfless service to the neighbor.
This document is offered to the Churches. Its reflections and
suggestions may serve as a basis of discussion among Christians
in varied circumstances, in order to arrive at a line of conduct
where they live and witness.
MEANING OF THE TERMS:
CHRISTIAN WITNESS, COMMON WITNESS,
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, PROSELYTISM
Christian Witness 1.
Witness is taken here to mean the continuous act by which a Christian
or a Christian Community proclaims God's acts in history and seeks
to reveal Christ as the true light which shines for every man. This
includes the whole life: worship, responsible service, proclamation
of the Good News - all is done under the guidance of the Holy Spirit
in order that men may be saved and be gathered into Christ's one
and only Body (Col. 1: 8; Eph. 1: 22-23), and attain life everlasting-to
know the true God and Him whom he has sent, Jesus Christ (cf. Jo.
Common Witness. Here is meant the witness the Churches, even while
separated, bear together, especially by joint efforts, by manifesting
before men whatever divine gifts of truth and lite they already
share in common.
Religious Freedom. Religious freedom is not used here in the wider
biblical sense (e.g. Rom.8:21). It is pointing to the right of the
person and of communities to social and civil freedom in religious
matters. Each person or community has the right to be free from
any coercion on the side of individuals, social groups, or human
power of any kind; so that no individual or community may be forced
to act against conscience or be prevented from expressing belief
in teaching, worship or social action2.
Proselytism. Here is meant improper attitudes and behavior in the
practice of Christian witness. Proselytism embraces whatever violates
the right of the human person, Christian or non-Christian, to be
free from external coercion in religious matters, or whatever, in
the proclamation of the Gospel, does not conform to the ways God
draws free men to himself in response to his calls to serve in spirit
and in truth3.
use several biblically derived terms which denote particular
aspects of the announcements of the Gospel in word and deed:
Witness, Apostolate, Mission, Confession, Evangelism, Kerygma,
Message, etc. We have preferred here to adopt "Witness,"
because it expresses more comprehensively the realities we are
Witness, Proselytism and Religious liberty in the Setting of
the WCC, of the Third WCC Assembly (1961); Declaration
on Religious Freedom, of the Second Vatican Council (1965);
Universal Declaration on Human Rights, of the United
Nations (1948), esp. n. 18. Since the right to religious freedom
operates in society, these documents also mention rules which
modify the use of it.
In certain linguistic,
cultural and confessional contexts, the term "proselytism,"
used without qualification, has acquired this pejorative sense.
In those other languages and contexts in which the term still
retains its more original meaning of "zeal in spreading
the faith," it will be necessary always to use "proselytism
in the pejorative sense" or some phrase which denotes defective
attitudes and conduct.