August 7, 2007
Jesus . . . gave His disciples a challenging mission to renew the face of the earth by spreading the message of His salvation to all humankind. He wished His Church to be dynamic, not static, and to transform humanity from within by being the salt of the earth, the light of the world and leaven in the dough, in order to prepare the advent of a new creation, “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1).
Those bracing words were delivered on July 21 at the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops. They were not, however, delivered by an Anglican, but by the Roman Catholic representative to Lambeth, Cardinal Ivan Dias. Born in India, Dias served as Archbishop of Bombay until appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in 2006.
In addressing the bishops on the topic, “Mission, Social Justice, and Evangelisation,” Cardinal Dias drew the connection between the three. Referring to Jesus’ announcement of his mission in Luke 4:18-19, Dias noted, “We can see here a reference to the close relationship between the mission to preach the Good News and the necessity to be alert to the needs of our brethren relating to social and justice issues.”
While he did not say that an exclusive emphasis on social and justice issues was a error, the Cardinal made it clear that “to preach the Gospel is not an option, but a command.”
The urgency to preach the Good News is as true today as it was two thousand years ago, even if some scholars have naïvely declared God to be dead, forgetting that they are dealing with a God who found His way out of the grave; and notwithstanding the opinions of some theologians who blush at proclaiming the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the universality of His salvation, mindless of His stern warning that, if anyone denies Him here before men, He will deny him before His Father in heaven (Mt 10:33).
In fact, belief in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the universality of His salvation has been handed down to us since the beginning of Christianity.
The double reminder of “the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the universality of His salvation” is a necessary corrective to the relativism infecting the Church. Earlier this month, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reported, “Seventy percent of Americans with a religious affiliation say that many religions—not just their own—can lead to eternal life.” This includes evangelical Protestants and, no doubt, a significant number of Anglican bishops. It is way of thinking that rings the death knell for evangelism. If all religions lead to eternal life, why trouble people with the Gospel?
In the midst of “the vast gamut of non Christian religions and cultures,” Dias told the bishops, “many answers being proposed in our post-modern world have become disconnected from authoritative sources of moral reasoning, ignoring the transcendental dimension of life and seeking to make God irrelevant. In the Western world, which is increasingly becoming distanced from its Christian traditions and roots, a context of moral confusion has ensued, and sound Christian ethical and moral principles and values are under threat from various quarters.”
The great need of the day is evangelization. This begins with Christian living, “the credible witness of simple Christians who live in the world.” Along with that, “The world today needs Christian apologists, not apologisers; it needs persons like John Henry Cardinal Newman, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, Hilaire Belloc, and others, who brilliantly expose the beauty of the Christian faith without blushing or compromise.”
Evangelism includes enculturating the Gospel to make its timeless truths comprehensible and inter-religious dialogue that affirms “the values in non Christian traditions which are compatible with Christian thought and behavior . . . leading to an explanation of their fulfillment in the divine person of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The great threats to evangelization, he noted, are spiritual Alzheimer’s and spiritual Parkinson’s.
For example, when we live myopically in the fleeting present, oblivious of our past heritage and apostolic traditions, we could well be suffering from spiritual Alzheimer’s. And when we behave in a disorderly manner, going whimsically our own way without any co-ordination with the head or the other members of our community, it could be ecclesial Parkinson’s.
This is another way of emphasizing the need for clear doctrinal standards and enforceable Church discipline.
Fulfilling Christ’s mission “to renew the face of the earth by spreading the message of His salvation to all humankind” requires a clear sense of identity formed by the faith once delivered to the saints and an ability to make orthodoxy and orthopraxy obligatory rather than optional. Cardinal Dias’ words at Lambeth are a timely gift to the Anglican bishops and to all who seek to follow Christ in the post-modern West.
Jim Tonkowich is the President of the Institute on Religion & Democracy and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America.
The Institute on Religion & Democracy is an ecumenical alliance of U.S. Christians working to reform our churches' social witness, in accord with biblical and historic teachings, thereby contributing to the renewal of democratic society at home and abroad. IRD depends on support from people like you. Click here to learn how you can help support IRD's mission.
Click here to have the weekly IRD e-mail sent to you directly.