The three main bodies in Christianity, representing about 90 percent of Christians worldwide, released a "historic" agreement Monday on how Christians should conduct themselves when witnessing in a religiously diverse context.
Leaders from the World Evangelical Alliance, the World Council of Churches and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council on Inter-religious Dialogue were in Geneva on Monday to launch the document entitled, "Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct."
The document, a result of five years of cooperation, provides a biblical mandate for evangelism and outlines a set of ethics on Christian conduct in missions.
It is the first time that bodies representing evangelicals, mainline Protestants and Catholics have joined together to endorse a major document.
"This is a historic document, a historic moment and a time for Christians to awake once again to our calling to mission and unity, always bearing in mind the ways in which Jesus calls us to do so," the Rev. Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, secretary general of the WEA, said at a press conference at the Ecumenical Center in Geneva.
The top evangelical leader also said the document was a "major achievement" because it shows the world that Christians across different backgrounds and traditions can work together.
There are three main parts that make up the Recommendations for Conduct.
The first part provides a biblical basis for Christian mission, asserting that Christians should follow the "example and teaching of Jesus Christ and of the early church" in their witness and that "conversion is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit."
The second section outlines 12 principles Christians are called to follow in witnessing of Christ in a manner consistent with the Gospel. These include: acting in God’s love; living with integrity, compassion and humility; rejecting any form of violence; and offering respect to all people.
The document concludes with six recommendations to all Christians, church bodies, mission organizations and agencies.
They are: study the document; build respect and trust with people of all religions; strengthen religious identity and faith while at the same time deepening knowledge and understanding of different religions; advocate justice and respect for the common good; call on governments and representatives to ensure religious freedom for all people; pray for the well-being of neighbors, recognizing prayer is integral to the Christian life and of Christian mission.
The Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC, commented, "We send this document to each of our constituencies with the hope that they will see these recommendations as an inspiration to design their own codes of conduct, relevant to their own particular contexts."
Christian leaders involved in the language of the document said it is in part a response to the accusation that the Church and missions seek to “unethically” convert non-Christians. The text seeks to resolve some of these misunderstandings, they said.
Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran, president of the PCID, said the recommendations "will help us reduce unnecessary tensions and to present the truth of God in a credible way to the world around us."
"Conversion cannot be imposed on anyone," Tveit stressed. "I hope this is a clear message [we convey] through this document."
Tauran added that there was "no hidden agenda" behind the spirit of renewed missionary activity embodied in the document but rather it is to "encourage people in a pluralistic world to live together in a better climate of mutual dialogue and respect and sincere friendship."
The team comprised of consultants from the WEA, WCC and PCID first met in Lariano, Italy, in May 2006 to discuss the document. The text was finalized during a meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, in January of this year.
Kristian Goropevsek contributed to this report from Geneva.
On the Web: Read the "Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct."