Issue No. 2
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Peace and greetings from Geneva!
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:2).
I am very glad to share with you another issue of the Ecumenical Letter on Evangelism which focuses primarily on the outcomes of the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME), which took place in Athens, Greece, 9-16 May 2005, on the theme: “COME, HOLY SPIRIT, HEAL AND RECONCILE. Called in Christ to be Reconciling and Healing Communities”.
In the first part of the Letter, we are sharing information on relevant aspects of the conference, and we are also publishing the article “Ecumenists seek to recover evangelistic emphasis”, written by Simon Barrow, former secretary of the Churches’ Commission on Mission of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.
Finally there is an interesting article on a very creative way of contemporary evangelizing – referring to a Cuban numismatic collector who uses stamps to evangelize.
Please remember to send your contributions to our office. We will be very glad to publish articles relating to the vital ministries that you are carrying out to promote the Lord’s kingdom, as messengers of the Word.
Carlos Emilio Ham (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In a very early stage of the mission conference’s planning, the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism decided to have a different style. This meant that the highlights of the conference were no longer going to be centered on plenaries, or keynote addresses, or on sections, as in previous occasions, but rather in a general sharing of experiences on healing and reconciliation as they happen in the communities, where the mission of the churches is carried out. The program was this way built on the following elements:
The Home Groups served several purposes. They served as small groups for Biblical meditation. They provided an opportunity to meet and share across cultural and denominational borders. Finally, they also provided a safe space for sharing. What was shared and experienced in a Home Group was not reported.
The same Home Group met every morning for Lectio Divina; a meditative Bible study approach around carefully selected Bible texts. It also met every evening, to share the experiences of the day and to prepare for the following day.
Some synaxeis focused specifically on evangelism. The one we organized was moderated by Dr. Tobias Brandner under the theme, “Reconciling Evangelism” and focused on the outcomes of the latest four WCC’s “Schools for Evangelism” (Cuba 2001, Syria 2002, Poland 2003 and Fiji 2004). Reports will be available.
This particular synaxis helped to rescue the Biblical, legitimate and holistic meaning of evangelism; to address the diversity and bring together different expressions of evangelism and to acknowledge evangelism as an instrument for reconciliation and healing.
There was a Power Point presentation, followed by testimonies based on the newly published booklet “Evangelism. A Programme designed for voicing the Gospel Ecumenically”. We ended with a general discussion focusing on a follow-up process.
Following this section, there is an article printed by Simon Barrow, commenting on this synaxis and on the issue of evangelism in the WCC and in the wider ecumenical circle.
This is particularly evident in Central and Eastern Europe, after the political changes, which occurred following the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, and sometimes in the Middle East in countries where Christians are the minority. I often remember an interview we once had with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Ignatius IV Hazim in Damascus, Syria, who told us: “the problem is that our Evangelical brothers want to present us with a Jesus, like if he would have born in New York City, when he actually was born here, around the corner”.
We also have Orthodox churches like the ones belonging to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, among others, which carry out the mission and evangelism endeavor more pro-actively. We had the opportunity to participate, during the visit of His All Holiness Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome, in the consecration of the new Cathedral San Nicholas in Havana, on January 25th 2004. In an Ecumenical Letter on Evangelism, we commented on the ecumenical and historical meaning of this visit, since, for the first time the Ecumenical Patriarchate visited the Latin American region, and in particular a Spanish speaking country.
Another important element to take into consideration, in the context of the final report of the Special Commission of Orthodox Participation in the WCC, is the significance of carrying out a process of reconciliation between these churches and the WCC, which has not been easy. So, to certain extent, we can say that we went to Athens, not only to talk about healing and reconciliation, but we actually experienced it, even though there is still a long journey ahead of us.
On the other hand, Athens was chosen as the venue of the Conference, in order to continue our commitment to God’s mission, following the footsteps of that great missionary, Saint Paul, the “Apostle of the Gentiles”. You can imagine what it meant for all of us to conclude our conference on Pentecost Sunday and to be sent out to continue the reconciling and healing mission in this world, at the Areopagus, the same place where the Apostle Paul delivered his famous missionary message in the first Century (cf. Acts 17: 22 ff)!
Finally, we started to connect our theme of the reconciling and healing mission of the Church with the theme of world’s transformation, by God’s grace, which will be the emphasis of the next WCC’s Assembly, planned to take place for the first time in Latin America, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, just nine months after our conference in Athens.
In the opening plenary, Dr. Sam Kobia expressed in this regard: “‘God, in Your Grace, Transform the World!’ is an intercession that lies at the heart of our mission. In one form or another, this has always been the theme, the prayer, of Christ’s church in mission: ‘God, in your grace, transform the world!’ We know that it is possible for us to become what we are called to be – the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church – only through the grace of the Triune God. We trust that, through the power of God’s Word and Spirit, the Creation may be redeemed and made new. In healing us as persons created in God’s image, in reconciling us as communities, the Holy Spirit builds us up in love, transforming us into the body of Christ, in order that we may play the part that God has assigned us in the healing, the reconciliation, the transformation of all people, and of the whole Creation”.
Indeed both themes are complementary to each other and serve as an inspiration to all of us when we try to respond to God’s call to work in order to make the ‘oikoumene’, the whole inhabited world, an ‘oikos’, a house, a great family, in which we all can enjoy the fullness of life that our Lord Jesus Christ came to bring us all!
(For more information on the mission conference, please remember to check our website: www.mission2005.org)
Ecumenists seek to recover evangelistic emphasis
Contrary to the image it often has, the World Council of Churches is committed to proclaiming the message of Christ’s transforming love to the whole world. That was what Carlos Ham, the WCC’s evangelism secretary, told a seminar held as part of the thirteenth Conference on World Mission and Evangelism in Athens, Greece, 9-16 May.
Dr Ham, formerly president of the Presbyterian Church in Cuba, has helped to coordinate a series of ‘schools of evangelism’ in different parts of the world over the past few years. The WCC also publishes a worldwide Letter on Evangelism and seeks to create a conversation among Christians of different traditions about how the Gospel message can be proclaimed effectively and appropriately.
There is nervousness as well as enthusiasm about evangelism among the constituency of the World Council, which has 340 churches and families of churches in membership across the Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox spectrum.
The Catholic Church is an observer, but participates fully in the mission and evangelism commission – which meets next Tuesday to assess the CWME gathering and to prepare for the ninth WCC general assembly in Brazil next February.
One of the concerns about evangelism is that the word (which means both ‘good news’ and ‘ambassador’ in New Testament Greek) has often been hijacked by fundamentalist churches with American-inspired imperial designs.
Several plenary speakers at the world mission conference have made cautionary references to the “abuse of the Word” and to proselytism, the manipulative targeting of one church by another in order to steal members. The latter is a concern especially to the Orthodox, and the WCC has spoken strongly against violations of “common witness”.
But a spokesperson for the World Evangelical Alliance said that it was important that the WCC should recover its evangelistic nerve. Catholics, mainline Protestants, Anabaptists, Pentecostals and some Orthodox are also calling for a renewed emphasis on proclaiming the Gospel’s message of hope integrally with works of service, community-building, worship, peace and justice.
Dr Ham emphasized that the evangelism vocation is about a sensitive invitation for people to respond to God’s initiative in Jesus Christ, and that it fits naturally with respectful conversation among those of other faith and no faith.
It should not be seen as a monopoly of evangelicals, he added – referring to the fast-growing section of the church that emphasizes a stricter interpretation of the Bible and the priority of personal conversion. Many of them are estranged from the WCC and organize independently through the Lausanne Committee and other bodies.
Later next week some British and Irish participants from different traditions will unveil a letter they have written to the WCC’s mission commission suggesting that the time has come to re-focus on ‘talking the walk’ that Christians of different traditions share together in witness and service.
They stress that their call is not a criticism of CWME, but a bold invitation. Among the signatories will be Canon Tim Dakin, general secretary of the Church Mission Society, one of the two large voluntary mission agencies in the Church of England.
CMS played a major part in the nineteenth and twentieth century missionary movement. It supported the growth of indigenous churches in Africa and elsewhere, and was associated with action against slavery as well as spreading the Gospel message.
Dakin told Ekklesia that he believes it is time for the global ecumenical movement to return to its evangelistic vocation in a world where the majority of the world’s Christians are in the South, and Christianity has been seen to be faltering in the West.
“CMS is remodeling itself as an evangelistic movement in mission based on global partnerships,” Canon Dakin explained. “We are committed to working not just with Anglicans but with new mission movements from the South. It is these, and people involved in fresh expressions of church in the North, whose voices have not really been heard here in Athens.”
Dakin stresses that having “holistic evangelism as our cutting edge” does not mean retreating from CMS’s concern for service in areas like health and education, or back-peddling its commitment to global justice. “It is about giving focus to what we do”, he explains, rooted in the change God offers the world in Christ.
Others at the CWME agree with Dakin that word, deed and the life of the Christian community cannot be divided.
German Mennonite delegate and WCC central committee member, Dr Fernando Enns, earlier told a seminar that active non-violence should be an “identity marker” of the church and Christian discipleship in a brutal world.
He and Canadian Mennonite Janet Plenert said that churches which were themselves centers of healing and reconciliation had the capacity to grow, to attract new believers, and to be living examples of the Gospel message.
“Evangelism is not just about proclamation but about a way of life that witnesses to who Christ is”, Tim Dakin of CMS told Ekklesia.
The World Council of Churches owes part of its own origins to the missionary movement that gathered in Edinburgh 1910. The vast majority of participants in that event were white, male, Western and Anglican. But world Christianity has now enjoyed a major demographic shift to the global South.
Christian mission is based these days in interchange between churches and cultures rather than simply ‘sending missionaries’. It also links the divine gift of freedom with liberation from oppression. But its image in the media remains stubbornly associated with colonial practices.
“Authentic mission and evangelism is essentially cross-cultural,” says Canon Tim Dakin, explaining that listening, learning and acting together are as essential as speaking to the proper communication of the Gospel message.
The fourteenth Conference on World Mission and Evangelism is due to meet in 2010, the centenary of the Edinburgh conference. It will be a clear indicator of the radically changing face of world Christianity, including the massive growth of Pentecostalism.
The World Council of Churches, which assumed responsibility for these gatherings with the integration of the International Missionary Council in 1961, is in active dialogue with Pentecostals, evangelicals and others outside conciliar processes. It recognizes that it has to reconfigure itself as part of the wider ecumenical movement, and recognizes that there is still a long way to go.
A book called ‘You Are the Light of the World: Statements on Mission by the World Council of Churches 1980-2005’ has been published to coincide with the Athens event, which has drawn together 600 church leaders from 105 countries.
Cuban Numismatic Collector Evangelizes with Stamps
By JOSÉ AURELIO PAZ, Communications Department of the Cuban Council of Churches (Published by the Latin American and Caribbean Agency of Communication, ALC, March 22, 2005).
An interesting ministry of evangelization, through numismatics, is carried-out by Ricardo Ferre Vázquez, member of the Moravian Church in Cuba.
His love for the stamps, as a collector, and his Christian experience led him to initiate a series of religious theme, which, according to his own words, “has more than 2000 stamps, which cover from the birth of Jesus, to his Resurrection”.
Stamps from countries so different as Spain, Paraguay or the Dominican Republic, among others, are part of the collection on a religious theme, “which, I hope, can be taken to other countries in order to encourage those persons who love philatelic collections that they could follow this new way of evangelizing”, he concludes.
His dream is that a publication could promote this Project. In this respect he invites people to send him some stamps on this theme which can allow him to enrich the collection. And he requests that those interested to contribute can do so to his postal address: Ave. 19, number 6622, entre 66 y 68, Playa, Havana, CP 11300, Cuba. Ricardo is making his small contribution to take the Word of God to many people, using this simple and humble way, just as the life of Jesus was.