Index > Interconfessional Dialogues > PE-RC > Evangelization, Proselytism... (part IV)


IV. Evangelization And Social Justice
  V. PROSELYTISM - select
  APPENDIX 1 - select
  APPENDIX 2 - select


  1. Since our traditions have approached the linkages between these two subjects in such different ways we have decided to have each side elaborate the connection in its own way before we show our convergences and differences.
1. Pentecostal Reflections on Evangelization and Social Justice
  1. Pentecostal churches believe that they have been called by God in the "last days" (Acts 2:17) to be Christ-like witnesses in the power of the Spirit. One of the major contributions of Pentecostals to other Christian communities is an understanding of the Church as a Spirit-filled missionary movement which not only founds communities but also cultivates them, while the Holy Spirit empowers them with the charisms.

  2. Pentecostals have sometimes been accused of emphasizing evangelization to the exclusion of helping people in their practical needs. The sense of urgency which Pentecostals have concerning witness and salvation of the lost, like that of the early church, is not inconsistent with love and care for one another and for others. There are many examples of their sacrificial care throughout the world. The hope in the imminent coming of the Lord has sustained Pentecostals during persecution, harassment, imprisonment, and martyrdom during this century. They have consistently taught that the Church must be ready for the coming of the Lord by means of faithful witness and holy living. They have taught that all will have to give account to the righteous Judge for those things which have been done or left undone.

  3. Pentecostals have a great concern for the eternal salvation of the soul, but also for the present welfare of the body as is readily apparent on the high priority they give to the doctrine of divine healing. In addition, they have had a real concern for the social as well as for the spiritual welfare of their members, especially in the third world. Theologically, the rebirth of a person by the Spirit is the anticipation of the transformation of the cosmos (cf. 2 Cor 5:17; Rom 8:21). This is why conversion and incorporation into the community of faith cannot be seen apart from the transformation of society The person filled by the Spirit of God is impelled by that same Spirit to cooperate with God in the work of evangelism and social action in the anticipation of the new creation.

  4. With their increasing numerical strength and upward social mobility, Pentecostal communities are now confronted by greater challenges for the kinds of social justice and human-rights concerns which the Catholic dialogue partners rightfully voice. Pentecostals continue to believe that intense hope has been and will continue to be necessary for endurance, healing and engagement of the forces —both social and spiritual— which oppress and violate people.

  5. If it seems to Catholics that Pentecostals have reflected too little on problems related to social structures, Pentecostals suggest that social conditions under which they existed during early stages of their corporate experience be kept in mind. They had no access to structures of power by which they could influence public policy directly This has meant that:

    A. Most Pentecostals do not give priority to systematic reflection on problems related to social structures. They place more attention on the ways people experience those problems in their own lives and communities.

    B. Pentecostalism, for the most part, has not existed until recently among "well educated" people who are able to reflect more systematically on structural dimensions of social justice.

    C. Pentecostals do not read the New Testament as placing high priority on structural change; rather they read it as emphasizing personal conversion and commitment to the communities of faith, and through that process they effect social change.

  6. The perceived lack of stress on structural change does not, however, imply a lack of interest in social issues. Pentecostal conversion, while being personal, is not simply an individual experience, but also a communal one. In the life of the community, Pentecostals have found a new sense of dignity and purpose in life. Their solidarity creates affective ties, giving them a sense of equality. These communities have functioned as social alternatives that protest against the oppressive structures of the society at large. Along with some social critics, Pentecostals have discovered that effective social change often takes place at the communal and micro-structural level, not at the macro-structural level.

  7. Pentecostals have continued to speak and act on behalf of those victimized by abortion, pornography, violence, oppression, etc. They have been concerned with feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and providing emergency disaster relief. They have expanded their educational efforts and have begun to address issues of social-structural evil more explicitly. They are discovering their responsibility for those structures and their ability to influence them for good. This awareness was particularly fostered in situations of political and economic oppression.

  8. From their earliest existence, Pentecostals have been active in missionary endeavors in the so-called "Two/Thirds" world. The churches established there have opposed social evils from the pulpit and on an interpersonal level in the oral fashion typical of the non-literary culture of Pentecostals. This concerns evils such as the Caste-system in India, polygamy in Africa and the Pacific and genital mutilation in some African countries. Here exists a difficulty of perception. For older, more literary publics, only what is written and documented is perceived as having real existence. Pentecostals have begun to document work being done on these kinds of social issues in which they may have participated for many years.

  9. In recent years and in various parts of the world, there have been a number of attempts to formulate Pentecostal social ethics which address the issues of structural change. Some Pentecostals have used the category of the new creation/Kingdom of God with its characteristics of justice and peace to develop criteria for structural change. This has been connected with passages such as Luke 4:16-18 which demands the liberation of the oppressed in the power of the Spirit. Other Pentecostals speak more in terms of principalities and powers, of demonic forces which are present in the structures of the oppressive systems (cf. Eph 6:12; Col 2:13-15), that need to be fought with prayer and prophetic denunciation.

  10. But even prior to these efforts, Pentecostals sometimes consciously, but usually unconsciously, have long used a number of significant theological criteria for taking social responsibility More specifically, the ongoing narrative or story of Pentecostal communities has functioned to move people from their experience of the biblical witness to serious and often successful attempts to solve social problems. Likewise, ethical concerns about matters of justice and peace have developed in Pentecostal communities as they have correlated specific biblical injunctions with the reading of the Bible as a whole.

  11. In summary, the emphasis Pentecostals place on personal evangelism and incorporation into Christian communities as a means of cultivating, pursuing, and even propagating social structures may differ in method or emphasis from other Christian communities. Certainly as these relatively young churches continue to grow and mature, they will need to grow also in their capacity to address social issues on the societal level from their own perspective and identity Nevertheless, up to this point these emphases in Pentecostal ministry have not been without impact, and not just in terms of generating and supporting acts of mercy. All this being said, however, we would anticipate that the Pentecostal style of engaging in justice will continue to differ from that of other Christian traditions.
2. Catholic Reflections on Evangelization and Social Justice
  1. Catholics tend to view the questions of societal change, church and state relationships, and human rights, from the perspective of a complex and rich Catholic social teaching which is more than a century old in its development. It has its roots in the Scriptures, reached its highpoint at Vatican II, and continues on in the Pontificate of John Paul II. For example, two of these documents from Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World and the Decree on Religious Liberty put the Catholic Church on record as representing legitimate pluralism, religious liberty, and the rights of people to be politically and civilly self-determining. It furthermore holds that they have socio-economic rights. It sees the human person as the inviolable subject of these rights, which include religious liberty. Human freedom is the condition not only of civil liberty, but is fundamental to accepting the Gospel in the first place.

  2. The Synod of Bishops of 1971, which focused on the question of justice, spoke of the way in which the quest for justice is an important part of the mission of the Church in these words: "Action on behalf of justice and the transformation of society is integral to the mission of the Church and the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church's mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation" (Justice in the World, introduction).

  3. All believers are called by God to engage in works of charity and to strive for social justice. According to the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People of Vatican II, the laity, within the church as a whole, led by the light of the Gospel and according to the mind of Christ, are called to renew the temporal order as their own special obligation (Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, 7). The Decree points to the need to change unjust structures, stating that " the demands of justice should first be satisfied... Not only the effects but also the causes of various ills must be removed. Help should be given in such a way that recipients may gradually be freed from dependence on others and become self-sufficient " (Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, 8).

  4. The transforming power of the Gospel on individuals, communities, and society is the grace of God, especially as mediated through Word and Sacraments. It is in the prayer of the Church, (i.e., in the Eucharist, in the other sacraments, as well as in the daily prayer of the people) that we are united to the transforming prayer of Christ. He taught us to pray for the coming of the Kingdom (Mt 6:10), which by its very nature is God's gift and work. We do not construct the Kingdom but rather ask for it, welcome it, and rejoice in its growth within us. Prayer empowers us, in fact, demands that we strive for just and loving relationships among people, in family, in community and in society. These are all included in Christ's redemptive work.

  5. Any account of modern Catholicism's efforts in these matters of evangelization, education and social justice would be incomplete if it did not mention men's and women's religious communities. Many of these religious congregations view their doing works of justice and faith as intrinsic to their particular calling. Many of their members live out this vision at great sacrifice — even of their lives.

  6. To speak of the "Kingdom of God" is to speak of the ultimate will of God for the whole of creation. The symbol of the Kingdom conveys not only what we hope for but also a sense of urgency about our present responsibilities to be about the work of justice and the ministry of reconciliation between individuals, social classes and racial and ethnic groups. It also furnishes criteria for promoting social well-being on personal, communal, and structural levels.
3. Our Common Views Regarding Faith and Justice
  1. Pentecostals and Catholics agree that the Word of God is the foundation of both evangelization and social justice.

  2. In the Old Testament there is a strong insistence that the people whom God has freed should live justly (e.g. Jer 21:12 and 22:3; Amos 5:7-12; 8:4-6; Mic 6:12). One OT passage about justice, in particular (namely Is 61:1-3), is quoted by Jesus to characterize His own proclamation (Luke 4:18-21). The fact that we find in the Gospel both the Great Commission to evangelize the nations (Mt 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18) and the Great Commandment to love God and one's neighbor (Mt 22:34-40; Mk 12:28-34; Luke 10:27-28) suggests that there is a continuum between the two.

  3. Koinonia as lived by the early Christians (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37) had social implications. Their communities did not act from a concept of social justice. The concern they showed for the poor, widows, and strangers was not seen as an entirely separate activity but rather as an extension of their worship.

  4. We agree that:
    — evangelization and love for one's neighbor are intrinsically connected and that basic to
    this love is active work toward social justice;

    — even as we engage in evangelization, we need to give due attention to the social welfare of our neighbor.

    — both Pentecostals and Catholics need to resist reductionism, anthropocentrism, and politicization of Christ or the Gospel; and the privatization of the Kingdom and individualization of society. Here we see a point of strong convergence.

  5. Clearly, any striving for social justice in which our faith communities engage needs to be rooted in the life of God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God the Father, who blessed the creation and called it good, commands us to look for justice for our neighbor, particularly orphans, widows, and foreigners (Jer 22:3-5).

    God the Son, the Redeemer, who accomplished the work of salvation for the whole world, calls us to imitate His compassionate ministry of preaching the Good News of the Kingdom, healing the sick and feeding the hungry (Luke 4:16-21). In fact, He identifies himself with them (Mt 25:31-46).

    God the Spirit, who gives life, empowers us to witness to the world — in word and deed (Acts 1:8). Life in the Holy Spirit, energizes Christians to engage in evangelization and to work for justice in society. Transformed people are compelled by the Spirit, the Creator and Sanctifier, to transform the world in the light of the in-breaking Kingdom of God.

4. Things We Have Learned Together Perceptions and Convergences
  1. Pentecostals and Catholics exhibit strengths and weaknesses in their understanding and practice of evangelization and social justice. Pentecostals believe that Catholics do not appreciate the social impact of Pentecostal ministry. Though Pentecostals may lack a formal social doctrine, Pentecostal evangelization has arguably a powerful social impact on individuals, on family life and the whole community.

  2. We have come to realize that Pentecostals and Catholics have much to bring to one another with regard to social justice. While Catholics believe in the importance of personal faith, they also put great emphasis on the power of the Gospel to change societal structures. Pentecostals, on the other hand, have traditionally pursued social change at the individual and communal levels. Catholics wonder whether the Pentecostal theology of evangelization leaves them ill-equipped for engaging in social justice. Pentecostals, believe that Catholics should take more seriously the importance of personal and communal transformation for promoting societal change.

  3. Catholics realize that in some predominantly Catholic regions of the world there are places where the Gospel does not always appear to be effectively proclaimed and/or lived out in daily life.

  4. Pentecostals believe that Catholics tend to minimize the impact of the power of the Holy Spirit when it brings concrete changes on the level of the individual, family and community. Pentecostals realize that in the past they were often not sufficiently aware of the implications of the Gospel for social systems.

  5. Pentecostals and Catholics agree that the regrettable division among Christians is a counter-witness to the credibility of the Gospel and a hindrance to the effectiveness of promoting justice in the world. Some non-Christians have used this division as a sign of God's favoring of their own particular faith.

  6. In the work of evangelization and social justice, we believe, as we have said above, that our communities are currently undergoing a form of convergence. While the Catholic Church is in a process of renewal in evangelization and pastoral formation, Pentecostals are growing in an awareness of their responsibilities in the matter of structures and social systems.

  7. Pentecostals and Catholics believe Jesus Christ to be the Lord of the Kingdom He came to proclaim, and in our preaching and understanding, the Kingdom of God and social justice should not be separated. Churches should strive to be faithful to the demands of the Kingdom of God. Scandal is given when the churches, in their social and historical existence, grow slack in pursuing the divine purposes of the Kingdom.

  8. We differ in our emphases on the sources of evil, specifically, as to what extent they are human, natural, and/or supernatural origin. We also differ in the ways in which to recognize and deal with them. This is an area in which both traditions have much to learn from one another. We see the need to explore together the theological nature of power and its appropriate or inappropriate meditations. We need to ask how our spiritualities, explicitly or implicitly, empower people to bear witness in evangelization and social justice.


  1. The papers done for this section were by John C. Haughey, sj of Loyola University, Chicago (Evangelization and Social Justice: An Inquiry Into Their Relationship), and by Murl O. Dirkson, Ph. D. and Karen Carroll Mundy, Ph. D., (Church of God) of Lee University, Cleveland, Tennessee, USA (Evangelization and Social Justice: A Pentecostal Perspective).

    Back to text


Index | Centro Activities | Course | Publications | Conferences
Week of Prayer | Library | Interconfessional Dialogues
Directory of Ecumenical Study Centers | Society of the Atonement
Guest Book | Credits | Site Map

1999-2004 © - Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, Inc.
Remarks to Webmaster at webmaster@pro.urbe.it