Mission - Resources - Papers

Evangelism Beyond the World of Anglicanism

By The Revd Dr Carlos E. Ham WCC Program Executive for Evangelism

Firstly, I want to express my most sincere gratitude to the Anglican Communion for the invitation to attend this “Missions and Evangelism Provincial Co-ordinators Consultation” in Nairobi, Kenya. It is indeed a great honour for me and for the World Council of Churches (WCC) to participate and to share with you this presentation.

The theme that I have been asked to present is “Evangelism Beyond the World of Anglicanism”. I must confess that I have been struggling with it. How is it possible to introduce new information to a Communion which is so creative and at the same time is ministering and serving all over the world? I wonder if in stead of referring to the World of Anglicanism, we should rather say Anglicanism of the World. In any case, what I will try to do is to share with you some of the experiences of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism and its related team of the WCC, as we journey and accompany the churches in this important task.

According to the document “Mission and Evangelism in Unity Today”, the WCC expresses that “’Mission’ carries a holistic understanding: the proclamation and sharing of the good news of the gospel by word (kerygma), deed (diakonia), prayer and worship (leiturgia) and the everyday witness of the Christian life (martyria); teaching (didaje) as building up and strengthening people in their relationship with God and each other; and healing as wholeness and reconciliation into koinonia — communion with God, communion with people, and communion with creation as a whole. ‘Evangelism’, while not excluding the different dimensions of mission, focuses on explicit and intentional voicing of the gospel, including the invitation to personal conversion to a new life in Christ and to discipleship.” Therefore, evangelism is not an option of the Christian faith, it constitutes the very essence, the reason a being of all the Christian Church.

This invitation, according to the Rev. Dr. Emilio Castro, a former general secretary of the WCC, “is always joyful, it’s never constraint, its never obligation, the invitation is made in Jesus’ way, this is the great difference with proselytism, --we are not buying people’s loyalty with a cheap grace, we are offering people to join, to follow Jesus into the discipline of the kingdom and to become aware of our reality, precisely in comparison with the life that is in Christ we realise…”

In other words, evangelism has a twofold task: a) It involves the proclamation in word and in deed (action) of the good news of God's grace and abundant life, promised and demonstrated in Jesus Christ, and b) It involves the invitation, calling people to: repentance; respond to God's grace by confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, by personal faith in him; to active membership in Christian community, and to obedient service (witness, commitment, discipleship) in the world.

In order to develop my theme, I would like to work on the Biblical paradigm of Jesus' dialogue with the Samaritan Woman, which can be found in John 4: 1-41.

John begins by telling us that the Pharisees heard that Jesus was winning and baptising more disciples than John, so he left, and, on his way from Judea to Galilee passed through Samaria. In the city of Sychar he stopped to rest by a well at noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water and Jesus asked her to give him a drink. She replied that if he was a Jew, and she a Samaritan, how could he ask such a thing. Jesus answered that if she knew what God gives and who was asking for a drink, she would ask him and he would give her life-giving water. He had to explain this because she did not understand his message, believing that he was referring to material water. He then explained to her that their ancestor Jacob, who gave them the well used it for his family and for the animals.

Then he asked her to call her husband and she admitted that she had had more than one. She realised that he knew very well about her life. So, she even called him a prophet. Then Jesus goes on and urges her to believe him and says that the time will come when people will not worship the Father neither in that mountain nor in Jerusalem, but by the power of God's Spirit; and underlines that it is from the Jews that salvation comes.

The woman told Jesus that she knew that the Messiah will come and that he reveal everything. He answered that he was the Messiah. Then the disciples came concerned about Jesus' food, but he told them that his food is to obey the will of the One who sent him to finish the work he gave him to do. Then he used the image of the harvest, stressing that the ones who sow and the ones who reap will rejoice together.

In the meantime the woman returned to the town to witness about the Messiah, and many people went to meet Jesus. They said to the woman that they believed now, not because of what she said, but because they themselves had heard him, and that they believed that he is really the Saviour of the world.

Dr. Gail R. O’day, a New Testament scholar, and specialist in John, referring to it, says that it “presents the interpreter with a text that from the beginning to end transforms conventional expectations and challenges the status quo. The setting of this narrative in Samaria is a scandal that may have lost its force for modern readers. Jesus openly challenges and breaks open two boundaries in this text: the boundary between ‘chosen people’ and ‘rejected people’, between male and female… Jesus initiates contact with a Samaritan, asking her to attend to his needs (v. 7). He then offers the Samaritan woman the gift of God (v. 10) and reveals his identity to her (v. 26). He treats the Samaritan woman –and later the Samaritan villagers—as a full human being, a worthy recipient of the grace of God, not as the despised enemy from whom to fear contamination”.

Now, talking of "Sharing the Good News in Christ's Way" in the context of the overall mission of the church, I would like to highlight the following points, taking into consideration the Biblical paradigm that we just described:

  1. The issue of competition.
    In the text, the Pharisees, are observing and comparing the number of disciples baptised by John and by Jesus. One of the main questions that the churches committed with the ecumenical movement deal with is, do we evangelise in competition, or in collaboration with each other? I think we must admit that a very important reason why more people in this world do not believe in Jesus Christ is because we, as evangelisers, often times are trying to work for "our own business". And, what we are actually doing is proselytising instead of evangelising. If we don’t love one another, we prevent others of loving Christ.

    This is the reason why we can't address the whole question of evangelisation separately from the question of unity, because without evangelisation the good news is not shared, and without unity the message is not credible.

    The whole question of proselytism has become, throughout the years, such a disturbing issue for the churches and the ecumenical movement in general, that the World Council of Churches' Central Committee in 1997 had to issue the document "Towards Common Witness. A call to adopt responsible relationships in mission and to renounce proselytism".

    "The aims of this statement are: (1) to make churches and Christians aware of the bitter reality of proselytism today; (2) to call those involved in proselytism to recognise its disastrous effects on church unity, relationships among Christians and the credibility of the Gospel and, therefore, to renounce it; and (3) to encourage the churches and mission agencies to avoid all forms of competition in mission and to commit themselves anew to witness in unity".

    The document states that "common witness is the witness that the churches, even while separated, bear together, especially through joint efforts, by manifesting whatever divine gifts of truth and life they already share and experience in common".

    "Common witness is constructive: it enriches, challenges, strengthens and builds up solid Christian relationships and fellowship. Through word and deed, it makes the gospel relevant to the contemporary world. Proselytism is a perversion of authentic Christian witness and thus a counter witness. It does not build up but destroys. It brings about tensions, scandal, division, and is thus a destabilising factor for the witness of the church of Christ in the world. It is always a wounding of koinonia, creating not fellowship but antagonistic parties.

    "Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that some people may move from one church to another out of true and genuine conviction, without any proselytistic pressure or manipulation, as a free decision in response to their experience of the life and witness of another church. "The churches must continually assess their own internal life to see whether some of the reasons people change church allegiance may lie with the churches themselves".

    This is clearly stated in the section called “Being Missional and Evangelising Churches” of the document written by the WCC Commission on World Mission and Evangelism for the preparation process of the 2005 World Mission Conference, in which we read: “There is urgent need to come to a clearer ecumenical stand on the place and role of evangelism within a holistic mission theology. In several places, recently, people have expressed a call for a spiritual renewal among traditional churches. This requires to understand mission also as having a religious offer and challenge to the world. We need to reflect anew on the missionary nature of the congregation, or the missional character of the church, but by including the need for spirituality. CWME should be able to affirm the importance of sharing the gospel, including to those persons who have not yet heard of it, and place the debate on proselytism and conversion in a positive context. This is possible, under certain conditions, like an atmosphere of mutual respect. However, trends towards confessionalism and aggressive competition must be resisted and the move towards "mission in unity" or "common witness" reinforced”.

    But the truth of the mater is that many WCC member churches and so called “historical” churches are in a passive, reactive and defensive mode, “protecting” themselves from evangelical and Pentecostal churches in stead of being proactive, sharing the Good news responsibly, but also with passion and joy. In many cases, in the Western countries, I am afraid that there is a “great omission” on this regard in stead of developing the “Great Commission”.

    For Rev. Dr. Konrad Raiser, current general secretary of the WCC, the issue of proselytism is particularly relevant in current times, in the context of rearticulating a missionary calling as a message of peace and reconciliation. He notes that evangelicals tend to place greater importance on conversion because they view Jesus Christ as the exclusive way to salvation. But, he says, “I have a fairly deep trust that God will work ways of salvation even beyond the limit of the visible Christian community”. Raiser makes a distinction between evangelism, as the “proclamation of the gospel in word and deed,” and proselytism, which has the sole aim of conversion. “I think the spirit of the gospel demands of us a witness to Christ that is at the same time a witness to peace and reconciliation”.

    This statement is particularly relevant for the WCC’s Decade to Overcome Violence program and for the thematic area that the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism has chosen for the next World Mission Conference in 2005: “Called in Christ to be reconciling and healing communities”, which is indeed one of the greatest challenges of God’s mission and therefore of churches today, to carry-out a ministry of compassion, of solidarity, inclusion, mutual respect and acceptance.
  2. Evangelisation is contextual and focused primarily on the less privileged, the rejected, the excluded.
    John tells us that Jesus went back to Galilee, which was the region rejected by the Jews and by the "pure" religious people. It is the land of the excluded, of the marginalised. This is precisely his "mission field", even after the experience of the resurrection. It is indeed very interesting that when the women went early in the morning to the tomb to see Jesus buried, the angel told them. “He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said… Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there will see him’. This is my message for you. “The mystery of evangelisation –says Rev. Dr. Emilio Castro—is precisely the mystery of the presence of the risen Christ”, and I would add, of the risen Christ who is going ahead of us to Galilee with a message and praxis of hope, restoration and liberation.

    This fact is even more evident when Jesus approaches this nameless woman (not even her name is mentioned in the biblical text) who was rejected and marginalised mainly for two reasons: because she was a woman and because, she was a Samaritan.

    A third factor that caused the rejection of this woman, and therefore the commitment of the Lord to make justice, and this is explained in v. 16 and after. Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back." The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true."

    The woman not only did not have an “official” husband, which gave social status, but she had had several, and therefore was considered to have a very bad reputation. Jesus approaches this woman and offers her the living water, right there, where she is, in her desperate situation.

    But the other thing that strikes me is the fact that Jesus is talking to a person that he knows very well. He even knows of her private life, as we have seen before, which is reaffirmed in her testimony of faith to the other Samaritans, at the end of the passage, “He told me everything I have ever done” (v. 39). This, of course, posses a great question to us. As we engage in a dialogue to proclaim the Gospel, How much do we actually know our interlocutor? Many inter-religious conflicts are caused by ignorance, by making presumptions without knowing well each other.

    On of the characteristics that I have admired the most of Anglicanism is that it a contextual Church. Names such as “The Church of England”, “The Church of Bangladesh”, “The Church of South India”, “The Church in Wales”, etc., express the commitment to try to be a Church incarnated in each society. This also explains the importance of the relationship gospel/culture, addressing the question How to express our Christian faith in a particular culture or context. A relevant question therefore is what does it mean to be an Anglican or an Episcopal in each one of our contemporary societies?
  3. Evangelisation is carried-out in dialogue. As evangelisers, we are bridge-builders.
    Jesus takes the initiative to approach the Samaritan woman and develops a very rich dialogue, and a very profound exchange of ideas and opinions.

    When we evangelise, following the model of Jesus, we are not full vessels, with all the truth and the knowledge, ready to empty all the contents in the recipients of the “objects” of our work, rather, we are engaged in an ongoing process of sharing the message, of giving and receiving, of mutual nourishment.

    The Samaritan woman was trying to find all the excuses in the world to avoid talking with Jesus, to create barriers and obstacles in order to prevent the dialogue. She says: "You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan, so how can you ask me for a drink? For him it would have been easier to give-up, but he insisted and persisted, until he gained her trust, the aim to overcome her fear and establishing the dialogue. As a church, as a community of followers of Jesus, we are called to be a “safe space” of acceptance and hospitality to each other, where everybody is accepted, welcomed, embraced and listened to, regardless of the origin, ethnicity, gender, age, ideology or any other differences.

    We are also bridge-builders between the “community of saints” and the wider community, the society. We are bridge-builders between the churches of the North or the West and the ones in the South and East. Throughout the centuries the former churches have evangelised the latter, but, we need to admit that in general, the “historical” churches in the North have become “pre-historical” in their structure, liturgy, ecclesiology and would receive a lot if they are re-evangelised by the churches in the South, which are not only the fastest growing ones, but are also, in general, communities of men and women that try to live their faith with hope and meaning in an economy of survival; men and women of faith who day-by-day, experience in their own lives, what it is to live by the grace of God.

    I appreciate the fact that the Decade of Evangelism of the Anglican Communion has enabled and encouraged a “shift from maintenance to mission”, as it is expressed in the report “Anglicans in Mission. A Transforming Journey”11. This is indeed a gift that we must share with the World Christian Communion. As WCC we are bridge-builders, sharing these rich experiences with others.

    We are bridge-builders also with people of other faiths. In this regard, I would like to remember the well known quote from the San Antonio World Mission and Evangelism Conference (1989): "We cannot point to any other way of salvation than Jesus Christ; at the same time we cannot set limits to the saving power of God12… We are well aware that these convictions and the ministry of witness stand in tension with what we have affirmed about God being present in and at work in people of other faiths; we appreciate this tension, and do not attempt to resolve it"13. Evangelisers as bridge-builders means to respect others, but even more, to work with others for a better world, for justice, peace and integrity of creation. This notion is reaffirmed in v. 38 in which Jesus says to the disciples: “I sent to harvest that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour”. Evangelisation in unity, consisting in planting and harvesting, harvesting and planting together, as an ongoing process.

    Even, if we go back to the etymology of the word “religion”, it came originally in the 13th century from Latin and means, among other things ‘re-ligare’, re-unite, to tie, to bind, or to link together. It is indeed very sad, and discouraging that throughout the centuries and certainly today, in some cases and places, religions in stead of serving to unite the world, have served as a violent factor to fragment, fracture and even to kill, even though behind these conflicts lie deeper political or economical root causes.

    There is no question that September 11 terrorist attacks in the USA are part, in great extent, of these complex dynamics. This is indeed one of the greatest challenges to mission and evangelism today. And after all this happened, violent conflicts among religious extremists have escalated in different parts of the world. A few days ago there has been more than 50 people killed in sectarian violence between Hindus and Muslims in Western India. More than 850 people have been killed since February. Christians have been killed in bomb attacks during religious services in Pakistan. Eight women were killed in a Mosque recently also in Pakistan, and the list can be longer.
  4. The content of the gospel is a "life-giving" one.
    In a world of brokenness and of fragmentation, the message of the "good news" is one that gives life, like the water that Jesus was offering to the Samaritan woman.

    The water from Jacob’s well could satisfy the physical thirst; but Jesus is offering water of a different nature. A water that satisfies the deepest demands of the human heart. The language is an existential one. Only those who ever have experienced thirst in the desert, would understand that water is the most valuable gift, a symbol of the only thing that can fully satisfy a human being”.

    This sense of being fulfilled which is provided by the “life-giving” water is not one that makes people feel happy with themselves, it is rather one that converts, changing the lives of the people. Evangelism, therefore in the words of Rev. Dr. Emilio Castro, “aims not to satisfy people, but to transform people, we are not calling them to be happy with what they are, we are calling them and ourselves to aim at the promise of abundant life, that is the life under the cross that Jesus has called us for”.

    The life that Jesus is offering to the Samaritan woman is a life in all its fullness and abundance, a life to which we are committed as evangelisers. We just returned a few days ago from a Missiology Consultation organised in London, under the theme “Toward the Fullness of Life: Inter-contextual Relationships in Mission”. The final report summarises what we are trying to say: “The fullness of life is the goal of the missio Dei. This vision of abundant life now shapes our calling and engagement with the world. The mission of the church is to receive, celebrate, proclaim and work for the fullness of life in Christ. In Christ, we are called to be reconciling communities, bringing a message of healing and wholeness to a broken world; sharing in the life of the world as the people of God in the midst of all God’s peoples; receiving the gifts of all peoples, cultures and religious traditions; and resisting the powers of death that still and kill, scatter and destroy”.

    Rev. Dr. Philip Potter, another former general secretary of the WCC, many years ago shared this same vision in these words: “The whole burden of the ecumenical movement is to co-operate with God in making the oikoumene an oikos, a home, a family of men and women, of young and old, of varied gifts, cultures, possibilities where openness, trust, love and justice reign”.

    This is expressed in terms of an ecumenical strategy for congregational evangelism by Raymond Fung in his book “The Isaiah Vision”. He says that the Isaiah agenda is concrete and clear in its objective. It specifies:
    • that the children do not die;
    • that the old people live in dignity;
    • that those who build houses live in them; and
    • those who plant vineyards eat the fruit.18

  5. Evangelisation is informed by the Biblical message and tradition.
    The Swiss Reformed theologian, Professor Karl Barth said, that in order to bear witness of the risen Lord, we ought to hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. We have seen already how the evangelisation endeavour is contextual, defined in this metaphor by the newspaper, but it is also textual, in the sense that it is informed by the Biblical text, the “revealed Word of God”. In verse 12 of our passage, the woman makes a reference of the Scriptures talking about Jacob’s well, which Jesus uses as a starting point to offer the water of eternal life. And this was a constant procedure of Jesus in his ministry, since he had been a child.

    “Jesus loves me, yes I know, for the Bible tells me so” is the very simple song that we learned in Sunday School and is the essence of evangelism.
  6. As evangelisers, we are not judges.
    “One of the most harmful attitudes as we try to share the Good News is to be judgmental. I do not pretend to judge here the judgmental people, but perhaps it would be very helpful at this point to learn from Jesus’ way in dealing with the woman at the well, which reminds us of his reaction with the scribes and the Pharisees when they caught the other woman in an act of adultery. He asked her: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir. And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go you way, and from now on do not sin again” (John 8: 1-11).

    “The Samaritan woman is never judged as a sinner. On the contrary, she is portrayed as a model of growing faith”19. In fact “Jesus treats her as a serious conversation partner, the first person in the Gospel to whom he makes a bold statement of self-revelation”20. As we evangelise, “We are not called to be judges, we are called to be witnesses”, says Rev. Dr. Emilio Castro.21
  7. As we evangelise, we call to metanoia, repentance, conversion, transformation, liberation, a turning from and a turning to.
    Progressively the differences have been solved and finally comes the highest point of the story: the self-revelation of Jesus, as we have seen before: “I am he, the one who is speaking to you” (v. 26). This is the starting point to better understand the following facts:
    • My food is to do the will of my Father (v34) This is the way of access to eternal life
    • That we are in the harvest time, which is a normal symbol in Judaism to point out to the judgement not for the future, but for the present;
    • Some plant and others harvest. This is the missionary activity of the Church;
    • Faith in Jesus is born out of the witness and a personal encounter with him, and finally;
    • Jesus is discovered as the Messiah, the saviour of the world.22

    So, as evangelisers we ourselves are not the message, we are the channels of the message, called to lead people to a personal encounter with Jesus. We propitiate this encounter without interfering or hindering, giving "account of the hope that is in us"
  8. Evangelisers as servants.
    In the text, John also tells us about the participation of the disciples, which was not that encouraging. As we have seen before, at the beginning of Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan woman, they were not present with him. They came later and “were astonished that he was speaking with a woman…” (v. 27). On the other hand, they are concerned about his material needs, they are asking him to eat something (v. 30) and he replied, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work” (v. 34).

    Having accompanied to him for so long, and knowing the type of person he was, it seams they did not know him well, and were focusing on their own agenda. The followers that Jesus calls are ordinary people, like us. People with a lack of vision, with their own values, just like the disciples, just like us. But Jesus has a transforming power, he turns our mistakes into positive energy in order to evangelise. We see it constantly with the disciples and with the Samaritan women. He sends them –and us--, as faithful servants, to continue the work of salvation that he began.

    This call is clearly stated in many WCC documents, particularly in “Mission and Evangelism. An Ecumenical Affirmation”: “’As the Father has sent me, even so I send you’ (John 20:21). The self-emptying of the servant who lived among the people, sharing in their hopes and sufferings, giving his life on the cross for all humanity – this was Christ’s way of proclaiming the Good News, and, as disciples, we are summoned to follow the same way. ‘A servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him’ (John 13:16).”
  9. Going back to town - The evangelised woman became an evangeliser.
    The Samaritan woman after talking with Jesus, was so moved, that she herself felt obliged to share with others (v. 28) the treasure that she discovered in Jesus, though he did not ask her to do so. She took the initiative, as she felt that she could not keep the “living water” for herself. She “takes Jesus to the people”25. Here we clearly see what Pope Paul VI describes in his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelisation in the Modern World”, ‘Evangeli Nuntiandi’, as a movement “from Christ the evangeliser to the evangelistic church”26. “The ‘conversion agenda’ is essential. Only those who are converted can evangelise and be sacrificial givers”27. In fact, the word evangelisation involves the messenger, the “angel”, committed to finish the work that the Lord started, aware of the "already", but at the same time, the "not yet" of the Kingdom.

    This notion of evangelising in order to fulfil the "not yet" of the Kingdom is clearly stated by Rev. Mortimer Arias. He believes that “to evangelise is to make visible the Kingdom of God, through gestures, words, deeds which call to follow Jesus Christ. Evangelism becomes liberating when the announcement of the Good News under the action of the Holy Spirit, calls to conversion and discipleship, provoking processes of change towards humanising lifestyles, for individuals, groups, systems and structures”

    At the end of the passage we read that “many Samaritans from the city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (v. 39); and of course, “many more believed because of his word” (v. 41). She did not impose conversion, she only shared the experience of her ‘metanoia’, of her transformation. She told of her “transforming journey” with the Lord.

Final Remarks

Summarising my presentation, I would like to quote one of the most helpful thoughts on the theology of evangelisation and our commitment to it, from Dr. David Bosch. “Evangelism as that dimension and activity of the church’s mission which, by word and deed and in light of the particular conditions and a particular context, offers every person and community, everywhere, a valid opportunity to be directly challenged to a radical orientation of their lives, a reorientation which involves such things as deliverance from slavery to the world and its powers; embracing Christ as Saviour and Lord; becoming a living member of his community, the church; being enlisted into his service of reconciliation, peace, and justice on earth; and being committed to God’s purpose of placing all things under the rule of Christ”29.

May God, inspirer and source; Jesus Christ, communicator and the Holy Spirit, enabler of the “life-giving” message, guide us as we try to be faithful evangelisers in the whole creation. Amen.

The Inter Anglican Provincial Mission and Evangelism Co-ordinators Consultation
Encounters on the Road
Resurrection Gardens, Nairobi, Kenya May 2002