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A Pentecostal Perspective on Evangelism and Religious Pluralism: The Right Moment for an Important and Unprecedented Document, by Tony Richie

On Tuesday, June 28, 2011 the news became public that an important, and in some ways, unprecedented, document on Christian witness and mission has been finalized and published. In the interest of full disclosure, along with several others, I helped write it. That doesn’t mean that what follows is a defense. Although some of us who worked long (5 years) and hard (in Lariano, Italy; Toulouse, France; and Bangkok, Thailand) on it may be tempted to see this document as our “baby,” we also know better than anyone its faults and flaws. However, I must express my deep and profound respect for my colleagues. It was a special blessing to work with them all. And this document is important and unprecedented, and it is the right moment for it. It is important because it addresses some of the most challenging and significant aspects of Christian mission in today’s religiously plural world.1 As a collaborative effort involving representatives of 90% of the world’s 2 billion Christians, it is also unprecedented. It is the right moment for it because global conditions demand we face the reality of interfaith conflict and violence.2 “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct” is literally the first document ever to receive unanimous endorsement from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) of the Catholic Church, the World Council of Churches (WCC), and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). In a time of interreligious tension, often involving issues of Christian mission, the “Preamble” to “Recommendations for Conduct” unapologetically affirms the mission of the churches in a manner respectful of others, including non-Christian religions.

An Ethical Approach

More of a practical guide than a theological statement, “Recommendations for Conduct” outlines “A Basis for Christian Witness”. This is the most consistently biblical section, and primarily upholds mission as a participation in the mission of God and obedience to the example of Jesus and the early church with a strong emphasis on ethical behavior and responsibility.3 The document also details “Principles” of Christian conduct in bearing witness to the gospel: “Acting in God’s love,” “Imitating Jesus Christ,” “Christian virtues,” “Acts of service and justice,” “Discernment in ministries of healing,” “Rejection of violence,” “Freedom of religion and belief,” “Mutual respect and solidarity,” “Respect for all people,” “Renouncing false witness,” “Ensuring personal discernment,” and “Building interreligious relationships.” True to its subtitle, it also suggests “Recommendations” for guiding relationships between Christians and others as Christians respond to God’s call to do mission: “study” the critical issues involved, “build” relationships of respect and trust, “encourage” Christians to strengthen their own religious identity and faith, “cooperate” with other religious communities for justice and the common good, “call” on governments to respect religious freedom, and “pray” for all neighbors.

“Recommendations for Conduct” ends with an “Appendix” describing the background and process of its origin and development over the last five years. As a participant from beginning to end in that process, I understand that this background is essential for appreciating many of the nuances of the statements of this document. Also, it would be a mistake to divorce the content and tone of “Recommendations for Conduct” from the clear purpose statement in the “Preamble”.

The purpose of this document is to encourage churches, church councils and mission agencies to reflect on their current practices and to use the recommendations in this document to prepare, where appropriate, their own guidelines for their witness and mission among those of different religions and among those who do not profess any particular religion. It is hoped that Christians across the world will study this document in the light of their own practices in witnessing to their faith in Christ, both by word and deed.

Early Response

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Category: Ministry, Pneuma Review, Winter 2012

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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