The recent Catholic Synod of Bishops (October 7–28) dialogue on the new evangelization included a number of presentations by both Protestant guests and Catholic bishops. One of the more stirring and encouraging reports (most of these are short and can be quickly read in English at the Vatican site devoted to the synod) was given by the President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of New Evangelization, Salvatore Fisichella, the titular bishop of Voghenza:
The New Evangelization presents itself as a pastoral project which will engage the Church for the next generations. It is urgent that before “doing”, the foundation of our “being” Christian is rediscovered so that the NE is not experienced as an addition in a moment of crisis, but as a continuous mission of the Church. One must combine the need for unity, to go beyond fragmentation, with the richness of ecclesial and cultural traditions. Unity of a pastoral project, is not equated with uniformity of fulfillment; rather, it indicates the need for a common language and contributing symbols which make evident the journey of the whole Church more than the originality of a particular experience. We must be motivated because in a time of epochal transition such as ours, marked by a general crisis, we are asked today to live in an extraordinary way our ordinary ecclesial life. We must present the newness that Jesus Christ and the Church represent in the lives of individuals. Today’s man, instead, no longer perceives the absence of God as a lack in his life. Ignorance of the fundamental concepts of the faith are united with a kind of unprecedented self-centeredness. How can the news of Jesus Christ be expressed in a world permeated solely with scientific culture, modeled on the superficiality of ephemeral concepts, insensitive to the proposal of the Church? Proclaiming the Gospel is equated with changing one’s life; but today’s man seems tied to this kind of life of which he is in control because he decides when, how and who should be born and die. Perhaps our communities no longer show the characteristics which allow us to be recognized as carriers of a good news that transforms. They appear tired, repetitive of obsolete formulas that do not communicate the joy of encountering Christ, uncertain of the path to follow. We are wrapped up in ourselves, we demonstrate a self-sufficiency that prevents us from drawing near to one another as a living and fruitful community that generates vocations, having so greatly bureaucratized the life of faith and the sacraments. In a word, we no longer know whether being baptized is equivalent to being evangelizers. Incapable of being proclaimers of the Gospel, unsure of the certainty of the truth that saves, and cautious in speaking because we are oppressed by control of language, we have lost credibility and we risk rendering vain the Pentecost. In this moment, we do not need nostalgia for times of the past nor utopia for chasing after dreams; rather, what is needed is a clear analysis which does not hide the difficulties or even the great enthusiasm of the many experiences that in these years have allowed for the implementation of the NE.
This presentation by Bishop Voghenza includes points to truths that profoundly stir my “evangelical” spirit. My prayer here is that Catholics, especially in North America, will encounter fresh winds of the Spirit and catch the work in mission that God is doing among millennials, the youngest adults in our society (20s and 30s) who are leaving the churches, Catholic and evangelical, in droves. Unless, and until, we capture the significance of this exodus, and then hear Jesus speaking to us a creative and fresh vision of true evangelization, the tide of unbelief will continue to grow and the impact will be felt on every aspect of our culture. Only the church, and in this case I mean all of Christ’s one flock, can make a difference that will truly transform the culture around it. But we cannot do this with the methods and forms that worked 25 years ago. A new, less institutionally-based, missional vision must replace the old wineskins of “Christendom” in the West.
One of the invited guests who spoke at the Synod of Bishops was my good friend, Dr. Timothy George. George deeply and profoundly shares my evangelical missional-ecumenism and is also a great friend of the Catholic Church. Various separatistic evangelicals have attacked Dr. George for his deep love for the whole Christian tradition and church but he remains a strong Reformed evangelical who understands that you can be a Reformation Christian AND work as as allies with your Catholic brothers and sisters to reach the multitudes with the gospel. Here is Dr. George’s excellent word to the synod:
As the fraternal delegate representing the Baptist World Alliance, a fellowship of some 42 million Christians serving the Lord in 177,000 churches in 120 countries, I would like to emphasize three points with respect to the New Evangelization.
First, Baptists confess with all Christians a robust faith in the triune God, who has made us partakers of his divine life through Jesus Christ, the Great Evangelizer, who saves us by his grace alone. Apart from this fundamental trinitarian reality, all of our programs and plans for evangelization will be fruitless.
Second, there is a biblical imperative for Christian unity. This is because ecumenism is never an end in itself but is always in the service of evangelization. Jesus prayed to the heavenly Father for all believers to be one “so that the world may believe” (John 17:21). An example of Christian unity is the soon-to-be-published Report of the International Baptist-Catholic Conversation, “The Word of God in the Life of the Church”.
Third, throughout our history, Baptists have been ardent champions of religious freedom for all persons. This freedom is not rooted in social or political constructs but derives from the character of God himself and the kind of relationship to which he calls all persons.
Today, religious freedom is under assault in so many ways, some blatant and others more subtle. All Christians who take seriously the call to evangelization must stand and work together for its protection and flourishing.
Dr. George expresses my understanding precisely when he says, “ecumenism is never an end in itself but is always in the service of evangelization.” That is what I also believe, based on John 17:21, and it is why I get up each day to do the mission we call ACT 3. If you agree help me and pray for me.
In 2013 ACT 3 plans to do a series of Saturday seminars around the nation. We begin on January 12 in Phoenix. We then do one in Chicago on February 2 and in Dallas on February 16. Other cities are in the works. If you are interested in hosting a “Unity Factor Forum” please contact me directly. We can come to your city if you will form a ground committee to sponsor and host us coming. In this setting we will begin the day at 9:30 a.m. and end at 3 p.m. We will experience the vision and story of missional-ecumenism at the most grass-roots level as Catholics and Protestants come together to learn and plan how to better reach our cities for Christ as one people united in our one Lord Jesus Christ. I will share more details later.