II. PROSELYTISM AND RELATIONS BETWEEN CHURCHES
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
1. REQUIRED QUALITIES FOR CHRISTIAN WITNESS
In order that witness be conformed to the spirit of the Gospel:
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.
Witness respects the free will and dignity of those to whom
it is given, whether they wish to accept or to refuse the
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.
Witness should avoid behavior such as:
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.
Every open or disguised offer of temporal or material benefits
in return for change in religious adherence.
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.
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.
2. CHRISTIAN WITNESS AND RELATIONS BETWEEN THE CHURCHES
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.
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.
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
- 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
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).
Service 14 (1971/II) 13-23]
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.