The new rules for evangelism

Last week we blogged about the conclave of world evangelicals, Roman Catholics, and liberal Protestants that put together a document on the Ethics of Evangelism.   Christianity Today has a good analysis, including what the document leaves out and what it says that some might find troubling:

“I think the fact that the WEA [World Evangelical Alliance] is engaging with the WCC[World Council of Churches] and the Catholic Church here indicates that they are becoming more willing to embrace interreligious dialogue,” Mannoia said. “On the other side, I think for the WCC and the Vatican to make the statement that witnessing is in the nature of the church marks a significant adjustment.”

George Hunter, dean of the School of World Missions at Asbury Theological Seminary, sees an even more significant adjustment in what’s not in the document. “A lot of times in these documents it’s what they leave out that’s really telling,” he said. “Probably the Catholics engaged in the greatest concession by omission here: sacramental expression. Omitting sacramental rites from the ‘essence’ of evangelism is a huge statement from the Catholic Church, and an indication that they are willing to give up an important part of their tradition in order to meet evangelicals in the middle.

But Lon Allison, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, said the document doesn’t include everything evangelicals would have liked to see, either. “We wish that the verbal witness of the good news of Jesus was considered more central to how we express love to our world,” he said. “While it was appropriate to teach how acts of service and justice, as well as Christian behavior, are witness, we desire to say that the most essential element of witness must be the verbal expression of the gospel adorned by love acts, respect, and gentleness.” . . .

Jerry Root, professor of evangelism and leadership at Wheaton College, said that he similarly fears the document’s failure to make verbal proclamation explicit “leaves the door open for some to consider any proclamation at the time of service a coercive act.” The document, he notes, says Christians “should not … violat[e] others’ rights and religious sensibilities” and “never denigrate, vilify, or misrepresent them for the purpose of affirming superiority of our faith.”

“This is ambiguous,” said Root, author of The Sacrament of Evangelism. “If I said to another person, ‘We need Jesus for the hope of heaven,’ could this be considered a denigration of another’s faith because of that faith’s inability to provide a Cross-centered redemption? We never want to be offensive, but there are some features of the Cross that simply are offensive, by nature, to those outside the faith.” . . .

Craig Ott, professor of mission and intercultural studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, said that while the omissions are significant, evangelical leaders are likely to be more uncomfortable with some of the language that’s included than with what’s left out.

“There’s at least four mentions of the necessity of interreligious relationships and continuous commitment to engagement with other religions, and I’m not sure that this is realistic or theologically a major part of missions,” he said. “This leans very heavily toward Catholic and WCC notions that the God of other religions is the God of Christianity, and that’s something evangelicals are not willing to accept.” . . .

Similarly, Hunter notes one section that states, “Christians are to acknowledge that changing one’s religion is a decisive step that must be accompanied by sufficient time for adequate reflection and preparation, through a process ensuring full personal freedom.”

“That is not consistent with evangelical policy in the past,” Hunter said. But he thinks it’s worth questioning evangelical emphasis on the “moment of decision.” “Faith is more like a gift—like falling in love—than a methodical, carefully discerned decision.”

But is “changing one’s religion” the same as “converting,” or “having faith”? The terms faith, religion, and witness appear repeatedly in the document, but not evangelism.

“This document steps back from a lot of the activistic language we see in the Great Commission and throughout Matthew and favors the more Jesus-centric language of John—Jesus as the perfect witness to the gospel,” said Dana Robert, co-director of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at Boston University. “You don’t see any language like convert or evangelize in the document because it would be perhaps perceived as too strong.”

via Top Evangelical, Catholic, and Mainline Bodies Issue Evangelism Rules | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

So we have a sort of Evangelicals Catholics & Liberals Together moment.  Evangelicals feel good that they have been included at the table for once.  Catholics gave up the sacramental dimension and evangelicals gave up going for the instantaneous decision.  With the emphasis on peace and justice and interfaith dialog, rather than the actual Gospel, it sounds like the liberal protestants basically had their way.   Or am I missing something?

 (Lutherans, of course, unlike evangelicals, were not included at the table except for the liberal variety in the WCC.)

HT:  Ted Olsen

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    What did the liberals compromise to achieve this?

    This reminds me of the Taize movement, in which the leader basically acknowledged the pope. The pope didn’t compromise or move from his original position.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    What did the liberals compromise to achieve this?

    This reminds me of the Taize movement, in which the leader basically acknowledged the pope. The pope didn’t compromise or move from his original position.

  • helen

    Will it discourage an AG in a 95% Buddhist country from telling a Roman Catholic convert that s/he is not Christian?

  • helen

    Will it discourage an AG in a 95% Buddhist country from telling a Roman Catholic convert that s/he is not Christian?

  • helen

    Will it discourage an AG missionary in a 95% Buddhist country from telling a Roman Catholicconvert that s/he is not Christian? (Of course, I’d like them both to be Lutheran.) :)

  • helen

    Will it discourage an AG missionary in a 95% Buddhist country from telling a Roman Catholicconvert that s/he is not Christian? (Of course, I’d like them both to be Lutheran.) :)

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    What is AG?

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    What is AG?

  • larry

    “Catholics gave up the sacramental dimension and evangelicals gave up going for the instantaneous decision.”

    That would be the Calvinist, in particular the TULIP Baptist, no decision theology, no sacramental theology.

  • larry

    “Catholics gave up the sacramental dimension and evangelicals gave up going for the instantaneous decision.”

    That would be the Calvinist, in particular the TULIP Baptist, no decision theology, no sacramental theology.

  • Helen F

    And here we are, hundreds of years removed from the efforts of Luther and others, saddled with an anemic theology.

    And…the truth of God’s word continues to suffer attacks!

  • Helen F

    And here we are, hundreds of years removed from the efforts of Luther and others, saddled with an anemic theology.

    And…the truth of God’s word continues to suffer attacks!

  • SKPeterson

    AG – Assemblies of God.

    In Africa they do a lot of damage to other Christian missions and new Christians by accusing them of not having the Holy Spirit, then fill up the despondent believer with a lot of false teaching.

    This video and other related videos give some illustration of the challenges:

  • SKPeterson

    AG – Assemblies of God.

    In Africa they do a lot of damage to other Christian missions and new Christians by accusing them of not having the Holy Spirit, then fill up the despondent believer with a lot of false teaching.

    This video and other related videos give some illustration of the challenges:

  • Helen F

    SKPeterson, then do they not fall under St. Paul’s charge of being,
    “enemies of the gospel”?

  • Helen F

    SKPeterson, then do they not fall under St. Paul’s charge of being,
    “enemies of the gospel”?

  • SKPeterson

    Helen F @ 8 – I would argue, yes.

  • SKPeterson

    Helen F @ 8 – I would argue, yes.

  • Helen F

    SKPeterson,
    I wonder if that seminary he speaks about (although he doesn’t identify it) that teaches falsely might also be added to the AG as “enemies of the gospel.”

  • Helen F

    SKPeterson,
    I wonder if that seminary he speaks about (although he doesn’t identify it) that teaches falsely might also be added to the AG as “enemies of the gospel.”

  • SKPeterson

    He says it was a Mekane Yesus seminary – the Lutheran Church in Ethiopia. This seminary has had professors come from the ELCA here and from Scandinavia, especially Sweden, who have been imparting the slipshod theology that this gentleman received. So we have the spectacle of little or no education being imparted and what little is delivered is done through a post-modern theological viewpoint that discounts Biblical truth or the necessity for understanding even the catechetical basics.

  • SKPeterson

    He says it was a Mekane Yesus seminary – the Lutheran Church in Ethiopia. This seminary has had professors come from the ELCA here and from Scandinavia, especially Sweden, who have been imparting the slipshod theology that this gentleman received. So we have the spectacle of little or no education being imparted and what little is delivered is done through a post-modern theological viewpoint that discounts Biblical truth or the necessity for understanding even the catechetical basics.

  • Jon

    “Lutherans, of course, unlike evangelicals, were not included at the table except for the liberal variety in the WCC.)”

    I don’t get this. Would it have been appropriate to invite to an international gathering synods (e.g., LCMS, WELS) that are based only in the US? Wouldn’t these synods have refused to go, if invited, due to fellowship restrictions and Papacy = AntiChrist contempt for the Catholic Church? Why are WCC Lutherans not considered Lutheran?

    I’m not trying to be provocative; I just don’t get the hard feelings over “[US synod] Lutherans … were not included….”

  • Jon

    “Lutherans, of course, unlike evangelicals, were not included at the table except for the liberal variety in the WCC.)”

    I don’t get this. Would it have been appropriate to invite to an international gathering synods (e.g., LCMS, WELS) that are based only in the US? Wouldn’t these synods have refused to go, if invited, due to fellowship restrictions and Papacy = AntiChrist contempt for the Catholic Church? Why are WCC Lutherans not considered Lutheran?

    I’m not trying to be provocative; I just don’t get the hard feelings over “[US synod] Lutherans … were not included….”

  • Helen F

    SKPeterson,
    Thanks for the additional info. Rather sad.

  • Helen F

    SKPeterson,
    Thanks for the additional info. Rather sad.

  • SKPeterson

    Jon – The LCMS is a member of the ILC, a more “confessional” grouping of Lutherans than is found in the LWF, but both the ILC and the LWF are members of the WCC, so indirectly the LCMS was at the table. As to WELS, I’m not sure what their international polity might be.

    Also, the LCMS was long a party to ecumenical talks with the RCC despite the lingering recriminations by both parties (there might be Papacy = AntiChrist contempt in the LCMS, but there’s also been Lutherans = AntiChrist contempt in the RCC; it goes both ways and has for centuries. We won’t even mention the back and forth between East and West that’s gone on for 1000 years or so) . However, they were not part of the Lutheran group that declared that Rome and the Lutherans agreed upon justification.

  • SKPeterson

    Jon – The LCMS is a member of the ILC, a more “confessional” grouping of Lutherans than is found in the LWF, but both the ILC and the LWF are members of the WCC, so indirectly the LCMS was at the table. As to WELS, I’m not sure what their international polity might be.

    Also, the LCMS was long a party to ecumenical talks with the RCC despite the lingering recriminations by both parties (there might be Papacy = AntiChrist contempt in the LCMS, but there’s also been Lutherans = AntiChrist contempt in the RCC; it goes both ways and has for centuries. We won’t even mention the back and forth between East and West that’s gone on for 1000 years or so) . However, they were not part of the Lutheran group that declared that Rome and the Lutherans agreed upon justification.

  • DonS

    This who exercise seems like an utter waste of time that could be better spent actually evangelizing.

    “(Lutherans, of course, unlike evangelicals, were not included at the table except for the liberal variety in the WCC.)”

    Confessional Lutherans don’t share their table anyway, right? ;-)

  • DonS

    This who exercise seems like an utter waste of time that could be better spent actually evangelizing.

    “(Lutherans, of course, unlike evangelicals, were not included at the table except for the liberal variety in the WCC.)”

    Confessional Lutherans don’t share their table anyway, right? ;-)

  • SKPeterson

    I retract my previous post as to the ILC and WCC membership. Here’s what I first saw: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/member-churches/church-families/lutheran-churches.html

    You’ll notice ILC is listed off to the left along with the LWF. I incorrectly assumed this meant they were both WCC members, since it is listed under “Members.” However, if you select the ILC link you get this: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/member-churches/church-families/lutheran-churches/ilc.html which indicates that the Lutheran Church of Ghana, which is a member of the ILC, is also a member of the WCC. Then it lists all the ILC members. Very deceptive on a first pass, but I’m old and busy, so I didn’t do my proper discernment.

    The rest of my post does stand, though. ;)

  • SKPeterson

    I retract my previous post as to the ILC and WCC membership. Here’s what I first saw: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/member-churches/church-families/lutheran-churches.html

    You’ll notice ILC is listed off to the left along with the LWF. I incorrectly assumed this meant they were both WCC members, since it is listed under “Members.” However, if you select the ILC link you get this: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/member-churches/church-families/lutheran-churches/ilc.html which indicates that the Lutheran Church of Ghana, which is a member of the ILC, is also a member of the WCC. Then it lists all the ILC members. Very deceptive on a first pass, but I’m old and busy, so I didn’t do my proper discernment.

    The rest of my post does stand, though. ;)

  • SKPeterson

    By “off to the left”, I meant to the right.

  • SKPeterson

    By “off to the left”, I meant to the right.

  • Stephen

    Well see, there you go Don, stirring the pot you say has so oppressed you.

    Busted! ;)

  • Stephen

    Well see, there you go Don, stirring the pot you say has so oppressed you.

    Busted! ;)


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X