Over the last three days I have written about evangelism and evangelization, from both a Protestant and Catholic perspective. I have attempted to show the meaning and importance of these respective terms and the theology that lies behind both of them. But what has all of this to do with ecumenism, or with what I call missional-ecumenism?
John Paul II answered my question clearly when he wrote: “How many internal tensions, which weaken and divide certain local churches and institutions, would disappear before the firm conviction that the salvation of local communities is procured through cooperation in work for the spread of the Gospel to the farthest bounds of the earth!” I recognize that the pope was primarily writing about local Catholic parishes but when you see his view fully you will soon realize that he embraced ecumenism as a necessary part of the work of global evangelization.
John Paul II believed that this new evangelization is connected with “entering a new missionary age, [one] which will become a radiant day bearing an abundant harvest, if all Christians, and missionaries and young churches in particular, respond with generosity and holiness to the calls and challenges of our time.”
Note that I have italicized the words “all Christians” here. I do this for a very specific reason. John Paul II was the pope and he spoke on behalf of the Catholic Church, both for her witness and her faith. But he was also an ecumenist who longed to solve some of the problems that divided Christian from Christian, and the Catholic Church from other ecclesial communities that are non-Catholic. This is evident to anyone who bothers to really read his work on evangelization with any degree of care.
The church historian Martin Marty suggests that there are three guiding images for a proper historical assessment of evangelism.
The first image, says Marty, is that of a “hurricane. ” This image fits when one thinks of modernity. This image calls some people to be bridge-builders (I see this as my own vocation) while it calls others to fly above the storm in C-130’s so that they can offer perspective and relief. Then some are like remote satellites that broadcast the message in every way that they can into every possible place.
The second image that Marty provides that is helpful is that of exemplum. By this he means we need exemplary leaders and movements which will “clear the woods” by defining, by throwing light on the darkness and by cultivating the soil.
The third image that Marty offers is that of a new landscape which will endure because there is an outline of the major events to be discovered in history. The landscape in the early centuries of the church was one of persecution. The church then became official and then it was divided and further established within culture. After the fourth century evangelism was often subsumed under the form of the established state church. Then after the Reformation it was broken and became captive to the Enlightenment and human reason. But God used the pietists to awaken various churches and people and to thrust the church into the harvest once again. From the 1790s to the present new churches and movements created “young churches” and a vast new gospel witness that expansively reached out to unreached peoples. Now the church has become truly global and ecumenical in the best sense of these two vitally important words.
We do not need to use the exact same words in order to experience and practice the reality that I’ve called evangelism and evangelization. I learned this in my mid-30s when I saw a new kind of disciple-making in South India. Here I truly witnessed how simple preaching campaigns, joined with power encounters of the Spirit, produced an abundant harvest in previously non-Christian villages and towns. This was Christian faith on the frontier where Christendom had never been. There was no great debate about the meaning of words like evangelism or evangelization in rural India but these core ideas that I have written about were clearly present in every expression of the faith that I witnessed firsthand.
Martin Marty suggests that one can pursue the essential core of evangelism/evangelization by seeing several components that are webbed together as a whole when we speak of these ideas.
He lists seven components that he believes are needed to get the whole picture.
- Receive. Prayer and pneumatic stories abound in every period of history and growth.
- Go. Pre-evangelism and preparatory evangelism are always needed.
- Witness. Personal evangelism and presence evangelism are both part of true witness.
- Proclaim. Preaching evangelism, or proclamation that seeks to make Christ clearly known.
- Disciple. This involves a proper understanding of persuasion that is not forced but will always include education and formation.
- Baptize. Pastoral evangelism, planting and establishing new converts in the faith.
- Train. Programmatic evangelism that becomes pedagogical. We must teach others to go and serve in evangelization.
There are several cautions to be observed in these comments by Marty. He says, “A map is not a territory.” The coach may diagram a play but the game must still be played and things will surely change as the story unfolds. “A musical score is not the music.” Yet these seven components can help us to launch out into faithful action and thus help us to become active agents in the task by calling us to be faithful ambassadors.