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Let me first express my gratitude for this opportunity to speak to you today. I'm bringing special greetings from EMW but also from sisters and brothers in our German churches. The organizers have asked me to present a short case study to you today, namely on the reactions to the document “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct” in Germany. On this basis I will discuss how this text can help to strengthen “evangelism in ecumenical unity” and “authentic discipleship.”

Positive reactions to the document

  1. Top of page
  2. Positive reactions to the document
  3. Ecumenical reception process
  4. Evangelization and authentic discipleship
  5. Biography

Let me start with the good news: since its publication in 2011 this document has attracted a significant attention from German churches, mission agencies, and theological faculties. This is quite unusual, as statements from the worldwide ecumenical community nowadays tend to meet with indifference in my country. Not so in this case: people belonging to a wide range of church groups, from evangelical mission societies to liberal regional churches, have given the text great attention, and the great majority agree that this document is important and of great help in their own work. I would say that no ecumenical statement on Christian witness and interreligious dialogue has echoed so resonantly in Germany in a long time.

Why? The text is relatively short and understandable for those who are no experts on the subject. The language is inviting, the structure is clear, and it is well reasoned. The combination of basic theological statements that, however, remain open for varied interpretations is helpful. The authors have not restricted themselves to abstract formulas, because the descriptions of multi-religious contexts are accompanied by concrete recommendations. Therefore, this text can be used outside the church-related circles, too.

The combination of those organizations responsible for the document is extraordinary: It is the first time that the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Evangelical World Alliance (EWA), and the World Council of Churches (WCC) have taken a joint platform like this, and it cannot be rated highly enough. The very fact that such a diverse coalition has been established means that this must be something of great importance.

Yes, it is a key issue of our current situation that is discussed here: “Mission Ethics” is a major subject in our discussions on appropriate forms of evangelism and authentic discipleship for today. A number of publications about encounters with people of other faiths or non-religious worldviews have a similar focus. For some years now, we have been seeing a growing interest in mission issues in many parts of our church life, but outside church circles there are still many stereotyped reservations about mission. Its religious nature is suspected of intolerance and totalitarian thinking. This leads to passionate debates about the capacity for peace and potential for violence of religions, especially since militant Islam has come to the forefront. The humble approach and the clear emphases of the document are quite helpful for these debates. I would like to add that in Germany there is general agreement on the fact that the bounds set on our engagement in mission described in this document should not be overstepped.

Besides the focus on a dialogue-centred and respectful missionary presence, our debates have made it clear that the statement has another strength: its powerful affirmation of Christian witness in multi-religious contexts. While similar “codes of conduct” tend to give the impression that they are recommending refraining from mission, this text has quite a different ring to it. A clear Christian testimony of God's loving presence is indispensable – and that makes the text attractive to those who insist on putting authentic discipleship at the top of their agenda. Addressing church players and stimulating inner-Christian consultation processes have been helpful in our church constellations. This makes it possible to discuss the different understandings of mission and the attitudes connected with them in worldwide practice.

The discussions of the last two years have led to amazing consequences in our churches:

For example, in a fairly progressive regional church, the Evangelical Church of the capital of Berlin and surrounding region (EKBO), this text was submitted to the synod in an important policy paper focusing on a reform process for this church. The missionary reorientation of local congregations has thus been made a thematic priority and the Christian witness document has been introduced as the reference framework. We will have to wait and see how many congregations will implement it in their everyday work. But it is a sign of hope that debates on the basic level of churches are taking place. The results of this process will be evaluated in the coming years. Similar processes have been initiated in other regional and Free churches.

In another example, at the Academy for World Mission in Korntal (Southwest Germany), which is an evangelical training institute, this statement has been integrated into the obligatory course on mission studies. This means the students make use of this text to prepare themselves for their missionary work in other world regions.

And in a final case, in 2012, discussions on the document took place at the general assembly of the United Evangelical Mission (UEM), a communion of 36 churches in Africa, Asia, and Germany. There it was stated that the text expresses what the worldwide UEM membership stands for and how they do mission, especially the way in which evangelism and dialogue belong together. At a later stage, it should be adopted as an official part of the UEM mission and dialogue policy.

Ecumenical reception process

  1. Top of page
  2. Positive reactions to the document
  3. Ecumenical reception process
  4. Evangelization and authentic discipleship
  5. Biography

In addition, a wide-ranging ecumenical reception process has been initiated. The Roman-Catholic Church, the German Evangelical Alliance, the Council of Christian Churches in Germany, of which Orthodox and Pentecostal churches are members, the Conference of Evangelical Free churches, various mission departments, and representatives of migrant churches in Germany are engaged. It would take quite some time to explain the complicated German church landscape, especially the serious conflicts between “evangelical” and “ecumenical” players here. But it is only understandable in this horizon how surprising and joyful it is that almost twenty churches and umbrella organizations have committed themselves to cooperate in this process. This unique constellation is due to the high appreciation for this document. The extraordinary international church coalition gives us encouragement to venture into unusual togetherness at the national level.

First debates resulted in a concrete project: In summer 2014 a congress will be organized. Politicians and representatives of other religions will be invited so that the worldwide political consequences in some countries will become clear to them. This is because the statement works in some countries as a basis for important discussions between representatives of governments, churches and other religions regarding freedom or change of religion, anti-conversation laws, and accusations of proselytism.

We started to work preparing three areas of discussions:

Part 1: “Listen”

Representatives of organizations in charge of the document at international level (WCC, WEA, PCID) will communicate their experiences. This will be accompanied by giving country reports on inter-church, inter-religious, and socio-political dimensions. We need to listen and learn from others.

Part 2: “Answer”

Probably in the form of a public service, some parts of the document will be accepted as commitments for the missionary action of the churches and institutions involved. A liturgy will be elaborated for this ceremony in order to enable the participants to jointly express a high degree of commitment on behalf of their churches and organizations. Perhaps we can adopt some lessons learned by the process of the Charta Oecumenica, with its significant importance for churches in Germany.

Part 3: “Contextualize”

Up to now, the positive reactions to the text have been accompanied by some uncertainties about how to put it into practice in our country. This has to do with the impression of most German players that their own missionary work is already in compliance with the document's recommendations. For this reason there are plans to draw up a contextualized statement with the working title “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious Germany.” Some areas have been identified and will be elaborated. It is important how freedom of religion and missionary witness are related to each other. In Germany, freedom of religion, of course including its public expression, is a constitutionally guaranteed right that is put into practice to a large extent. The right of freedom from “religious pressure” is, in the views of important groups of our society however, a trickier subject. Missionary activity is often seen as limiting people's freedom and as an intolerant, totalitarian practice. Since mission is aimed at changing one's previous belief or worldview, some people feel that peace in their own religious “house” is easily threatened by evangelistic activities.

Three examples from daily life in Germany may serve to illustrate the problem:

First, there is a wide consensus that missionary activities should not be “taking advantage of people in distress” or “at times when people feel under great pressure.” What do we mean by this? Chaplains in hospitals or prisons meet with such situations when people ask to be baptized. In cases of people seeking asylum, the wish for baptism may also be controversial. If a change of faith, for example to Christianity, could lead to persecution in the person's home country, this might be seen as a reason to grant asylum in Germany, and therefore the wish for baptism is suspected as a tactical attitude seeking this advantage.

In a second example, in some regions in Eastern Germany, the former GDR, daily life is led practically without religion or church membership. In order to find employment in church hospitals, schools, and other diaconal institutions, however, church membership is obligatory. Is this a case of taking advantage of unemployed people in distress, that is, the unemployed? What about religious education in state schools, which the church is responsible for? Could this be regarded as an opportunity for evangelism? Should Muslim children in church-led kindergarten be introduced to the Christian faith and invited to say grace before meals?

And third, another question is how far we want to accept “reverse mission,” conducted by people coming from the global South. Migration is a fact. Churches in the North should be happy and offer hospitality. But some of the churches from the global South describe the commission their members have for mission in the North in a quite aggressive, non-dialogical way. Such views affect people of other faiths, but also Christians living in Germany, especially when, for example, they read on some church websites that “they have lost a lively, committed faith in Christ or never really had one.” Missionaries and local churches from the global South sometimes consider these Christians in Germany to have gone in false directions or to be lost, and they see it as their obligation to “save” them. This seems to show that they are not interested in the contextuality of the Christian witness in this country. Because of its conflict potential, this kind of reverse mission is regarded skeptically, not only by local German churches but also by other religious communities and persons of no religious affiliation.

These examples are helpful in showing that our discussions are not easy, but that we could make true progress if we succeed in clarifying a common understanding of responsible Christian witness in certain fields of our social reality. We hope to be able to draw up this contextualized document from the results of the congress in the next two years.

Evangelization and authentic discipleship

  1. Top of page
  2. Positive reactions to the document
  3. Ecumenical reception process
  4. Evangelization and authentic discipleship
  5. Biography

The document is a real gift for churches, congregations, and other Christian organizations in Germany. Worldwide inter-church cooperation has helped us to enter into discussions in our country. As my examples show, the text has its Sitz im Leben – its place in the life – of many of our churches when they want to give Christian witness the right direction by observing recommendations for conduct. And this is a solid foundation for an adequate missionary presence in a public sphere that is characterized by secularization and multi-religious life.

We have to keep the WCC's “Lund-principle” in mind and clarify ecumenically what we are able to do together here and now with regard to our Christian witness.

In this context we can talk about difficult positions that are usually kept beneath the surface. Some evangelical mission societies in Germany can be asked whether they give their approval or support to missionary projects conducted by partners who are barely in keeping with the fundamental convictions of the document. And the Roman Catholic Church in Germany is asking about the attitude of the Protestant churches in Germany when Catholics are taken away from their church by non-Catholic groups in other parts of the world in what they consider to be aggressive proselytism. The mainline Protestant churches in Germany can be asked whether they still wholeheartedly fulfill the Great Commission to evangelize. Finally, Orthodox churches level harsh criticism against most forms of mission carried out by other churches with their members as target groups in so called “Orthodox countries.” If we succeed in discussing some of these questions together in mutual respect as sisters and brothers, if we can bear with them and even find common answers, it will mean huge progress for the ecumenical community in our country. And beyond that, it will strengthen the credibility of the churches' witness, their discipleship, and the potential of their evangelization towards the world.

I would like to conclude by saying that coordinated, transparent, and accountable positions of churches with regard to their witness are important terms of reference for the inter-religious dialogue in our country. Much needs to be learned in local churches and other religious communities about how to establish good neighbourly relations that enable us to work hand in hand for justice and peace and to share our joy in our own faith and challenge one another about the path towards authentic discipleship.

We are very grateful to the ecumenical community for this important text. We have started a promising ecumenical journey. We very much hope that our efforts will bear fruit, and we ask for your prayers to the God of life that churches and other religious communities in Germany will be able to live together in peace and justice. May God bless your witness in your churches.

Biography

  1. Top of page
  2. Positive reactions to the document
  3. Ecumenical reception process
  4. Evangelization and authentic discipleship
  5. Biography
  • Rev. Christoph Anders is general secretary of EMW (Association of Protestant Churches and Mission in Germany) in Hamburg. He is also an ordained minister of the Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia Evangelical Church and served for seven years in the Berlin-Mission-Center as a secretary for church relations between Cuba and Germany.