Evangelisation and Ecumenism:
A New Chapter
This is a personal paper provided for further reflection and discussion. It is not a policy document of Churches Together in England but is written by Captain Jim Currin, CA., Evangelisation, Mission and Media, at Churches Together in England. The paper is available from a search on www.cte.org.uk
Evangelization and Ecumenism: a new chapter, begins with a note about three major significant documents (see Introduction below) and then reflects on new aspects of evangelisation and ecumenism that Jim believes to be significant developments across England at the present time.
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The article first appeared in One in Christ, a journal produce by Turvey Abbey, in June 2014. Link to One in Christ website.
For a further exploration of this topic, see Missio Dei:New Ways of Being Churches Together by Grove books.
Sample text from the Introduction
David Cameron’s Easter message[i] saying we should be more confident about the Christian faith caused an interesting response, firstly from atheists and agnostics who’s reply letter[ii] made national media, and then by a variety of people discussing whether England was a ‘Christian country’ or not. Without using the specific words, this vignette illustrates that ‘evangelization’ and ‘ecumenism’ can still be a national debate. Here, I want to explore these topics and scope changes that I have elsewhere called ‘tectonic plates of change’ and a ‘new Pentecost’ in, what I believe, is a new chapter in the relationship between evangelization and ecumenism.
Let’s begin this exploration with an extraordinary alignment of three recent exhortations and affirmations about evangelization – which I shall briefly define as the sharing of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We begin with the introductory words chosen as the first Apostolic Exhortation of a new Pontiff.
‘THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark on a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the church’s journey in years to come’.
These are the opening words of The Joy of the Gospel, the (English) title Pope Francis chose for his first major document of his pontificate. The 224 pages are officially known as Evangelii Gaudium[iii] and was written for the ‘Bishops, clergy, consecrated persons and the lay faithful’ of the Roman Catholic Church ‘on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world’. Evangelii Gaudium was released in November 2013.
In the same month, November 2013, the General Synod of the Church of England discussed and agreed a major report presented by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York about ‘Intentional Evangelism’[iv]. The Vision of the report begins: ’To proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ is also to proclaim the vision of Jesus Christ for God’s world, for humankind and for the whole of creation’[v], and concludes: ’In the Quinquennium Goals of the General Synod and the Archbishop’s Council it is vital to hold together the call to grow the Church through making disciples with the call to serve the common good of the whole society and the re-imagining of ministry which will make both possible’[vi].
As if the content and coincidental timing of the above is not astonishing enough, at the beginning of November 2013, the World Council of Churches, at the 10th Assembly in Busan, South Korea accepted, Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes[vii], as a New WCC Affirmation on Mission and Evangelism.
The WCC 10 ‘Affirmations’ are introduced with the words: ‘We are the servants of the Triune God, who has given us the mission of proclaiming the good news to all humanity and creation, especially the oppressed and the suffering people who are longing for fullness of life. Mission – as a common witness to Christ – is an invitation to the “feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15). The mission of the church is to prepare the banquet and to invite all people to the feast of life’.
You may think that statements, exhortations and affirmations about evangelization are often made and common place as foundational to the church. However, all of the above have been years in formation and the last time the World Council of Churches agreed such was in 1982.
The coincidence of three major discussions and agreed documents about evangelization coming along at the same time, like the proverbial London buses, is an event that requires serious consideration and further study. Although much has been made of each in the respective churches and networks from which they come, little seems to have been written about their joint arrival in the same month[viii]. I think it is nothing less than our first illustration of the ‘new chapter’ suggested by Pope Francis.
Of particular significance is that for all Christians, evangelization should be at the heart of all that we seek to do. To quote Evangelii Gaudium, ‘Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization: indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples”[ix].
All three ‘accepted’ documents are aimed at encouraging all Christians in the task of sharing the gospel message afresh, especially with people who have not heard it before.
[iii] Evanggelii Gaudium, Pope Francis, Vatican Press 2013. P3.
[iv] Challenges for the Quinquennium: Intentional Evangelism. GS 1917, Church of England Oct 2013.
[v] Ibid p5
[vi] Ibid p6
[vii] Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes. WCC Affirmation on Mission and Evangelism paragraph 101. WCC 2013
[viii] World Council of Churches: 30th Oct – 8th Nov 2013. General Synod Press Release 18th Nov 2013. The Joy of the Gospel published 26th Nov 2013.
[ix] Op. cit. Evangelii Gaudium p 97
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