The Joint Statement
I was visiting with a student in the cafeteria this week when some faculty friends joined us at the table. “Hey—did you hear about the joint statement the bishop of Rome and the patriarch of Moscow released last February when they met in Havana?” I hadn’t. Turns out our conference president Jay Gallimore had referenced the joint statement in an editorial in a recent Michigan Memo. And sure enough, when I later googled “pope” “patriarch” “Havana,” I found the concord.
In fact here is the paragraph (#24) in question:
24. Orthodox and Catholics are united not only by the shared Tradition of the Church of the first millennium, but also by the mission to preach the Gospel of Christ in the world today. This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism. We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world. We urge Catholics and Orthodox in all countries to learn to live together in peace and love, and to be “in harmony with one another” (Rm 15:5). Consequently, it cannot be accepted that disloyal means be used to incite believers to pass from one Church to another, denying them their religious freedom and their traditions. We are called upon to put into practice the precept of the apostle Paul: “Thus I aspire to proclaim the gospel not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on another's foundation” (Rm 15:20). (www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/full-text-of-joint-declaration-signed-by-pope-francis-and-patriarch-kirill-61341/)
Did you catch that? “This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism.” The notion of brotherly cooperation rather than cut-throat competition within the Christian community—what’s not to like about that? Living “together in peace and love”—ditto.
But consider the meaning of “proselytism”: “ . . . it now refers to the attempt of any religion or religious individuals to convert people to their beliefs, or any attempt to convert people to a different point of view, religious or not” (www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=proselytism).
What my own faith community would consider “evangelism” (the proclamation of the “evangel,” or Good News of the gospel to all peoples) is increasingly being redefined by more powerful voices, as Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill expressed: “disloyal means . . . to incite believers to pass from one Church to another, denying them their religious freedom and their traditions.” But is that a fair reading of Jesus’ commission—“Go and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19, 20)? Does communicating the “everlasting gospel” embedded in the Three Angels’ Messages (Revelation 14:6-12) deny people(s) “their religious freedom and their traditions,” as the joint statement declares?
Is it not the embodiment of the Protestant Reformation to proclaim the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ to all peoples of earth, both in and out of Christendom? Are there not millions who bear the name of Christ, but who have yet to discover the “blessed assurance” of His salvation by grace through faith alone?
In five weeks Hope Trending will encircle the earth with a livestreaming invitation to all peoples to come to Christ, the only Hope for our dying civilization. In five weeks Watch Parties locally, nationally, globally will gather (October 14-22) to hear the Creator’s appeal to this generation.
But the joint statement is a sobering alert that one day public access to all peoples will be curtailed. It is no coincidence that Vladimir Putin, five months after the joint statement, announced a law curtailing “proselyting” in Russia (http://dailysignal.com/2016/07/20/back-to-the-soviet-era-putins-new-law-could-lead-to-religious-crackdown/). Ostensibly under the aegis of an anti-terrorism crackdown, such a law could be duplicated in any country in a time of emergency or crisis.
What we can do today may not be possible one day. So please join me in earnestly petitioning the mighty Spirit of God to harness the technology, ignite the proclamation and raise up a generation of radical witnesses within this faith community—men and women unafraid to go where Christ sends us, giving heed only to the joint statement of Christ and Scripture. “So help us, God.” Amen.