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


  V. PROSELYTISM - select
VI. Common Witness
  APPENDIX 1 - select
  APPENDIX 2 - select

VI. Common Witness14

  1. Jesus Christ is the unique witness to the Father, and the Spirit comes from the Father to witness to Jesus Christ. Therefore, witness which belongs to the nature of the Christian life is an imperative of the Great Commission and is an ideal for which we strive. In different ways, both Pentecostals and Catholics base their witness on Matthew 28. Both consider the Pentecost event as central to their Christian faith. In the biblical sense witness is the unique testimony of the apostles and disciples to what they have seen and heard (1 John 1:1-4). Witness is rooted in the apostles' experience of Jesus who is the image of the Father sent in the power of the Spirit to return all to the source, the Father. Disciples are empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel (Acts 1:8; 4:20).

  2. Common witness means standing together and sharing together in witness to our common faith. Common witness can be experienced through joint participation in worship, in prayer, in the performance of good works in Jesus' name and especially in evangelization. True common witness is not engaged in for any narrow, strategic denominational benefit of a particular community. Rather, it is concerned solely for the glory of God, for the good of the whole church and the good of humankind.

  3. Common witness requires personal inward conversion, a renewal of heart and mind. This enables all to hear the Word of God anew and to listen again to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Purification of our own hearts and minds and the renewal of our respective communities help make common witness a possibility. One sign that this purification has taken place is that in the process of growing mutual understanding and trust, our stereotypes of one another diminish. In other words, we change, but the change is not compromise.

  4. Once mutual trust as persons and reciprocal respect for each others' traditions has been established, then some limited measure of common witness is possible. Are there any precedents? There are innumerable precedents from all over the world. For example when a Pentecostal leader was murdered in Iran in 1995 the eulogy was preached by a Catholic priest. In Berlin the Classical Pentecostals are members of the association of churches and cooperate in its activities. In Munich a Benedictine monastery provided a Pentecostal pastor just starting his ecumenical ministry with meeting rooms in the center of the city In the United States a Pentecostal invited a Catholic priest to give a retreat for ministers. A Pentecostal leader was invited to preach in the Catholic Cathedral in Los Angeles. The revivals of Billy Graham have long enjoyed both Pentecostal and Catholic participation. In Chile, some Pentecostal leaders participate together with Catholics, Orthodox and other Protestants in the Fraternidad Ecumenica. Pentecostals and Catholics charismatics have for some time now participated together in many ways, including planning such significant international conferences as those held in Jerusalem, Singapore, Bern, Brighton, Port Dickson (Malaysia), Kansas City, New Orleans, Indianapolis, and Orlando.

  5. Pentecostals and Catholics are still at the beginnings of their relationship and their search for mutual understanding. Some are only now exploring ways of giving common witness. Others do not want to give common witness. As members of the Dialogue we believe that a limited common witness is already possible because in many ways a vital spiritual unity exists between us, a real though imperfect communion (Perspectives on koinonia, 54-55). We already have communion in the grace of Jesus Christ. We both believe in the centrality of Scripture. We proclaim together that there is no evangelization unless the name, teaching and life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is proclaimed (cf. Evangelization in the Modern World). We share a common belief in the Fatherhood of God; the Lordship of Jesus Christ, Messiah, Savior, and Coming Lord; the power of the Spirit for witness; the enduring nature of Pentecost; the love of God poured out through the Spirit. We both acknowledge the unique character of salvation, the belief that anyone without exception who is saved attains salvation through Jesus Christ; the forgiveness of sins, the promise of eternal life, the significant role of the charisms, the ten commandments and the beatitudes. Common witness shows the bonds of communion (koinonia) between divided churches.

  6. No one is called to compromise. Common witness is not a call to indifference or to uniformity In fact though division and separation are contrary to the will of God, the diversity within the unity of the one Body of Christ is a precious and indispensable gift which is to be recognized, valued and embraced. Common witness prevents neither individuals nor communities from witnessing to their heritage. This can even include our witnessing separately on things over which we seriously disagree. However, this can be done without being contentious, with mutual love and respect.

  7. At a deeper level, common witness and forgiveness are intrinsically related to one another. Forgiveness also leads to a more credible common witness. Praying together is a case in point. In fact, mutual forgiveness is itself an act of common witness. Here equity in the recognition of guilt is not the goal. One side may have offended more than the other. That determination is left to God. Rather, as Jesus himself has given us an example, each side takes on the sins of the other. In Christian forgiveness it is not a question of who threw the first stone (John 8:7), of who did what to whom first; rather it is the willingness to make the first step. Both sides should take the initiative according to Gospel norms: Pentecostals should take the initiative for reconciliation because they feel themselves the most aggrieved; Catholics should take the initiative because they are the elder in inter-Church relations. In both cases, if asked for our coat, we give also our cloak; if asked to go one mile, we go two (Mt 5:41).

  8. We need to be aware of the dark side of our histories, with full recognition of all the circumstances which gave rise to the distrust. Forgiveness is based on the truth established by both sides. The truth shared by the followers of Christ is not established by judicial procedure (cf. 1 Cor 6:4-7). There is another way of resolving difficulties, more appropriate for those who are profoundly related to one another in the unity of the Spirit. The offended should not have to prove their position to the last detail. The model here is a more relational one. Once mutual forgiveness has been expressed reconciliation should be effected. In our cases this reconciliation should be expressed publicly in a form acceptable to both groups.

  9. Both should have acquaintance with the other's history, and theological positions. Otherwise we will not escape our histories of mutual distrust. Common witness gives Pentecostals and Catholics the opportunity to work together in the writing of our common and separate histories, without excluding different interpretations of the facts. Once Pentecostal and Catholic students have a firm grounding in their own tradition sharing in institutes of higher learning is possible, especially in disciplines such as intellectual history, philosophy, government, law, sociology, and medicine. This activity could include not only students but mature scholars. We already share in scholarly biblical research and we participate together in learned societies such as the Society of Pentecostal Studies.

  10. We often underestimate the degree of common witness which already exists among Pentecostal and Catholic relatives and neighbors who pray together and cooperate in many ways, including visiting the sick and caring for others. Is it possible that the people in our local congregations and parishes are perhaps more involved in common witness than their pastors and church leaders realize?

  11. In our Pentecostal-Catholic Dialogue, we have discovered two useful principles:

    — we cannot do what conscience forbids;

    — we can do together what conscience permits in the area of common witness.

    The first principle, "we cannot do what conscience forbids," emphasizes that our witness must be prudent, honest and humble. We recognize today that there are limits as to what we can do together. Both Pentecostals and Catholics have diverse pastoral and worship understandings, as well as doctrinal points which they do not fully share with one another. While we build on those things that unite us, our common witness should also acknowledge our divergences. The present inability of Catholics and Pentecostals to share together at the table of the Lord is a striking example of our divisions and the lack of common witness in this respect (cf. 1 Cor 11:26). All of us experience this as deeply troubling.

    The second principle raises the provocative question: Why do we not do together what we can do together? While recognizing that relations between Pentecostals and Catholics are a matter of a growth progress, what is possible at a later stage of growth may not be possible at an earlier stage. Many Pentecostals and Catholics may not see some of our suggestions as options for today. But both need to know what doors can be opened, if not today, perhaps in the future. Above all, no one wants to close off either the present or future inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

  12. Some measure of common prayer seems indispensable for common witness. How can we witness together, if we have not prayed together? To pray together is already common witness. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which is generally celebrated in January or before Pentecost, is a possibility Pentecostals and Catholic charismatics already share profound experiences in prayer together. There could be exchange of pulpits related to non-eucharistic worship services. We can exchange films, videos and printed materials which explain the faith but betray no denominational animus.

  13. We believe that Pentecostals and Catholics can together be proactive in promoting values and positive actions in human society In the spirit of Mt 25:31-46, we can stand together against sin in promoting human dignity and social justice. Though with changing times other issues will present themselves, currently there are many examples of the kinds of issues on which we can work together. We can cooperate in such works as the quest for disarmament and peace, providing emergency relief for refugees, for victims of natural disasters, feeding the hungry, setting up educational opportunities for the illiterate, establishing drug rehabilitation programs and rescuing young women and men from prostitution. We can work together to eliminate racial and gender discrimination, working for the rights and dignity of women, opposing offensively permissive legislation (such as abortion and euthanasia), promoting urban and rural development and housing for the poor, denouncing violations of the environment and the irresponsible use of both renewable and unrenewable natural resources. In some parts of the world, Pentecostals already collaborate with Catholics on many of these issues and others, yet there are still many more opportunities for cooperation, especially in North America. Why do we do apart what we can do together?

  14. This document comes out of our experience of Dialogue with one another over twenty-five years on a variety of topics, with years of focused discussions on Evangelization, Proselytism and Common Witness. Strong bonds of affection and trust between Pentecostals and Catholics in the dialogue have created an atmosphere in which differences have been faced with candor, even when those differences seem to be irreconcilable. We hope that the text conveys something of the frustrating and rewarding moments that have been part of our experience over the years. We also hope that the text will help readers to re-experience what we ourselves experienced, namely, the joy of discovering together astonishing areas of agreement. But the text would lack integrity if it did not also offer to the reader the opportunity to re-experience with us the shocks of the gaps between our positions. Still we hold dear the unity in diversity which exists among us and look forward to the day when we may work more closely together despite our differences. In reality, what unites us is far greater than what divides us. Though the road to that future is not entirely clear to us we are firm in our conviction that the Spirit is calling us to move beyond our present divisions. We invite our readers to travel this road with us.


  1. Papers were delivered on this topic by Kilian McDonnell, osb of Collegeville, Minnesota, USA (Can Classical Pentecostals and Roman Catholics Engage in Common Witness?) and by Prof. Walter J. Hollenweger (Swiss Reformed), Krattigen, Switzerland (Common Witness). The Pentecostal team invited participation from Prof. Hollenweger for three reasons. He was formerly a Pentecostal pastor. He was formerly on staff of the Office of Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches. He was formerly a Professor in the field of Mission and Evangelism at the University of Birmingham, England for many years, where his study of global Pentecostalism was a life long passion. Other dialogue documents which have dealt with Common witness are: "The Challenge of Proselytism and the Calling to Common Witness: A Study Document of the Joint Working Group", The Ecumenical Review 48, 2 (1996) 212-221; the ERCDOM report The Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission, 1977-1984 (Grand Rapids/Exeter: Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1986 and IS 60 (1986/I-II) 71-97) and Summons to Witness to Christ in Today's World: A Report of the Baptist-Roman Catholic International Conversations, 1984-1988 (see footnote 10 above).

    (footnote 10: On the Catholic side, the theme has been addressed in several international bilateral dialogues in which the Roman Catholic Church has been involved, namely with Evangelicals (The Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission, 1977-1984: A Report, Information Service [IS] 60 (1986/I-II) 71-97; with Baptists (Summons To Witness to Christ in Today's World: A Report of the Baptist-Roman Catholic International Conversations, 1984-1988, IS 72 (1990/I) 5-14); with the Orthodox (Uniatism: Method of Union of the Past, and the Present Search for Full Communion, 1993, IS 83 (1993/II) 96-99). On the multilateral level, the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches has recently published a study document entitled The Challenge of Proselytism and the Calling to Common Witness, 1996, IS 91 (1996/I-II) 77-83. In so doing, Catholics, like many Protestant and Orthodox groups, have expressed the desire to condemn all proselytism.)

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