Index > Interconfessional Dialogues > JWG > Third Official Rep. | CONT. > App. II - II

     INTRODUCTION - select
   III. THE LAITY - select
   I. COMMON WITNESS - select
II. Proselytism and Relations Between Churches
   CONCLUSION - select
  PART ONE - select
  PART TWO - select
  Appendix I - select
  Appendix II - select
Appendix III - select
Appendix IV - select
Appendix V - select
Appendix VI - select
Appendix VII - select
   Contributors - select


  1. Christian witness, to those who have not yet received or responded to the announcement of the Gospel or to those who are already Christians, should have certain qualities, in order to avoid being corrupted in its exercise and thus becoming proselytizing. Furthermore, the ecumenical movement itself had made Christians more sensitive to the conditions proper to witness borne among themselves. This means that witness should be completely
    - conformed to the spirit of the Gospel, especially by respecting the other's right to religious freedom, and
    - concerned to do nothing which could compromise the progress of ecumenical dialogue and action


  3. In order that witness be conformed to the spirit of the Gospel:

    a) The deep and true source of witness should be the commandment: "you must love the Lord
    your God with all your soul, and with all your mind... You must love your neighbor as yourself"
    (Mt.22: 37 and 39, cf. Lev. 19: 18; Deut. 6: 5).

    b) Witness should be inspired by the true end of the Church: the glory of God through the salvation of men. Witness does not seek the prestige of one own's community and of those who belong to, represent or lead it.

    c) Witness should be nourished by the conviction that it is the Holy Spirit who, by his grace and
    might, brings about the response of faith to witness.

    d) Witness respects the free will and dignity of those to whom it is given, whether they wish to accept or to refuse the faith.

    e) Witness respects the right of every man and community to be free from any coercion which impedes them from witness to their own convictions, including religious convictions.

  4. B

  5. Witness should avoid behavior such as:

    a) Every type of physical coercion, moral constraint or psychological pressure which would tend to deprive man of his personal judgement, of his freedom of choice, of full autonomy in the exercise of his responsibility. A certain abuse of mass communications can have this effect.

    b) Every open or disguised offer of temporal or material benefits in return for change in religious adherence.

    c) Every exploitation of the need or weakness or of lack of education of those to whom witness is offered, in view of inducing their adherence to a Church.

    d) Everything raising suspicion about the "good faith" of others "bad faith" can never be presumed; it should always be proved.

    e) The use of a motive which has no relation to the faith itself but is presented as an appeal to change religious adherence: for example, the appeal to political motives to win over those who are eager to secure for themselves the protection or favors of civil authority, or those who are opposed to the established regime. Churches which form a large majority in a state should not use legal methods, social, economic or political pressure, in the attempt to prevent members of minority communities from the exercise of their right to religious freedom.

    f) Every unjust or uncharitable reference to the beliefs or practices of other religious communities in the hope of winning adherents. This includes malevolent criticism which offends the sensibilities of members of other communities. In general, one should compare the good qualities and ideals or the weaknesses and practices of one community with those of the others, not one's ideals with the other's practice.


  7. The Lord has willed that his disciples be one in order that the world believe. Thus it is not enough for Christians to conform to the above. They should also be concerned in fostering whatever can restore or strengthen between them the bonds of true brotherhood. Proposed suggestions:

    a) In each Church one is conscious that conversion of heart and the renewal of his own community are essential contributions to the ecumenical movement.

    b) Missionary action should be carried out in an ecumenical spirit which takes into consideration the priority of the announcement of the Gospel to non-Christians. The missionary effort of one Church in an area or milieu where another Church is already at work depends on an honest answer to the question: what is the quality of the Christian message proclaimed by the Church already at work, and in what spirit is it being proclaimed and lived? Here frank discussion between the Churches concerned would be highly desirable, in order to have a clear understanding of each other's missionary and ecumenical convictions, and with the hope that it would help to determine the possibilities of cooperation, of common witness, of fraternal assistance, or of complete withdrawal5. In the same manner and spirit the relations between minority and majority Churches should be considered.

    c) Particularly all competitive spirit should be avoided by which a Christian community might seek a position of power and privilege, and concern itself less with proclaiming the Gospel to those who have not yet received it, than with profiting by chances to recruit new members among the other Christian communities.

    d) To avoid causes of tension between Churches because of the free exercise of the right of every man to choose his ecclesial allegiance and, if necessary, to change it in obedience to conscience, it is vital:

    - that this free choice should be exercised in full knowledge of what is involved and, if possible, after counsel with the pastors of the two Churches concerned. Particular care is necessary in the case of children and young people; in such cases, the greatest weight and respect should be given to the views and rights of the parents and tutors;

    - that the Church which admits a new member should be conscious of the ecumenical repercussions, and not draw vain glory from it;

    - that the Church which has lost a member should not become bitter, or hostile, nor ostracize the person concerned; that it examine its conscience as to how it has done its duty of bringing the Gospel to that person. Has it made an effort to understand how his Christian convictions ought to affect his life, or rather was it content that he should remain . a nominal and official member of that community?

    - that any change, of allegiance motivated mainly by the desire to secure some material advantage
    should be refused.

    e) Some points of tension between the Churches are difficult to overcome because what is done by one Church in view of its theological and ecclesiological convictions is considered by the other as implicit proselytism. In this case, it is necessary that the two sides try to clarify what is really in question and to arrive at mutual understanding of different practices, and if possible, to agree to a common policy. This can be realised only if the carrying out of these theological and ecclesiological convictions clearly excludes every type of witness which would be tainted by proselytism, as described above. Some examples of such tensions:

    - The fact that a Church which reserves baptism to adults ("believer's baptism") persuades the faithful of another Church, who have already been baptised as infants, to receive baptism again is often regarded as proselytizing. A discussion on the nature of baptism and its relation to faith and to the Church could lead to new attitudes.

    - The discipline of certain Churches concerning the marriage of their members with Christians of other communities is often considered as proselytic. In fact, these rules depend on theological positions. Conversations on the nature of marriage and the family could bring about progress and resolve in a joint way the pastoral question raised by such marriages.

    - The Orthodox consider that the existence of the Eastern Catholic Churches is the fruit of proselytism. Catholics level the same criticism against the way in which certain of these Churches have been reunited to the Orthodox Church. Whatever has been the past, the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church are determined to reject not only proselytism but also the intention even to draw the faithful of one Church to another. An example of this pledge is the common declaration of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I, on October 28, 1967. The resolution of these questions, evidently important for the ecumenical movement, should be sought in frank discussion, between the Churches concerned.


  9. These reflections and suggestions on common witness and proselytism will, it is hoped, offer the Churches an opportunity of moving more quickly along the way which leads to the restoration of complete communion among them. As they travel that path to unity the Churches realised that Christian witness can never be perfect. They can never cease to strive for a deeper realization and clearer expression of the Good News of the unfathomable riches of Christ (cf. Eph. 3: 8), and for a more faithful living in accord with His one message. By fidelity to this striving the Churches will grow together in witness to Christ, "the Faithful and True Witness"(Rev. 3: 14) in expectation of that day when all things will be perfectly reestablished in him (cf. Eph. 1: 10; Col. 1: 20).

[Information Service 14 (1971/II) 13-23]



  1. In speaking of Joint Action for Mission, the World Council of Churches distinguishes presently three degrees of missionary collaboration: surveying the possibilities of missionary action, joint planning; and joint action. The meaning of common witness is wider than that of joint action for mission.

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