The Pope and the World Synod of the Catholic Church invited the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) to present their view of “Evangelism” on the occasion of the 50th jubilee of Vatican II and the synod’s topic “The new evangelisation”. Therefore the Theological Commission of WEA developed a statement “Evangelism: The Hallmark of Evangelical Faith”, which the Secretary General of WEA presented personally to the synod and the Pope.
The speech and declaration opened with the sentence: “Evangelism is the proclamation in word, deed and Christian character of the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross and through the resurrection. Evangelism lies at the core of the identity of being evangelical. We affirm that it is not possible to be truly evangelical without a radical commitment to world evangelisation.”
Still in the first paragraph, WEA states, that beside evangelism the other two characteristics of Evangelicalism are, “that Jesus Christ is the unique Saviour of humanity and Lord of all creation and that the Scriptures are the ultimate authority in all matters of faith and conduct.”
As World Evangelical Alliance we were present at the World Synod of the Catholic Church in the Vatican and experienced how it’s documents emerged. I would like to show, how many positive statements are found in the propositions of the Vatican Synod, which Evangelicals can only agree with. You can read the text of the propositions here and here.
The third paragraph has the heading “The personal encounter with Jesus Christ in the Church” and begins with the words:
“Before saying anything about the forms that this new evangelization must assume, we feel the need to tell you with profound conviction that the faith determines everything in the relationship that we build with the person of Jesus who takes the initiative to encounter us.”
Beside the personal relation to Jesus stands a church centering around loving relationships, as found in the same third paragraph:
“We must form welcoming communities in which all outcasts find a home, concrete experiences of communion which attract the disenchanted glance of contemporary humanity with the ardent force of love – ‘See how they love one another!’ (Tertullian, Apology, 39, 7).”
From the personal relationship to Jesus the document naturally goes on to the role of the Bible under the heading of the forth paragraph:
“The occasions of encountering Jesus and listening to the Scriptures” it says: “The frequent reading of the Sacred Scriptures – illuminated by the Tradition of the Church who hands them over to us and is their authentic interpreter – is not only necessary for knowing the very content of the Gospel, which is the person of Jesus in the context of salvation history. Reading the Scriptures also helps us to discover opportunities to encounter Jesus, truly evangelical approaches rooted in the fundamental dimensions of human life: the family, work, friendship, various forms of poverty and the trials of life, etc.”
Even though the church in good Catholic fashion has an official interpretive function at this point, in good evangelical form the relationship with Jesus along with listening to the Holy Scriptures as they relate to each other, and constant, renewed study of the Bible, combine to help orient all areas of life towards the gospel.
It is also evangelical to see God’s agency and iniative always put first in the sixth paragraph:
“In the face of the questions that dominant cultures pose to faith and to the Church, we renew our trust in the Lord, certain that even in these contexts the Gospel is the bearer of light and capable of healing every human weakness. It is not we who are to conduct the work of evangelization, but God, as the Pope reminded us: ‘The first word, the true initiative, the true activity comes from God and only by inserting ourselves in to the divine initiative, only by begging this divine initiative, will we too be able to become – with him and in him – evangelizers’ (Benedict XVI, Meditation during the first general Congregation of the XIII General Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Rome, 8 October 2012).”
It is pleasing – in fact even for me personally – that in the 10th section fundamentalism is no longer considered to be a certain understanding of Scripture. Rather, it is seen as I conceive of it in my book Fundamentalism, i.e., the use of force and the violation of human rights in the name of truth. That a reference to Christian persecution and a call for religious freedom directly follow are things which lie along the same line:
“The dialogue among religions intends to be a contribution to peace. It rejects every fundamentalism and denounces every violence that is brought upon believers as serious violations of human rights. The Churches of the whole world are united in prayer and in fraternity to the suffering brethren and ask those who are responsible for the destinies of peoples to safeguard everyone’s right to freely choose, profess and witness to one’s faith.”
Which special Catholic doctrines are mentioned in the document? Beside the already mentioned magisterium of the Church (chapter 4) and the “consecrated life” (chapter 7) the whole last proposition 14 is dedicated to Mary, even though – as it is typical for the time of Benedict XVI. – non of the major Marian dogmas is mentioned.