Leaders representing 90 percent of all Christians worldwide issued guidelines on acceptable missionary conduct based on the witness of Christ and the early Church.
“The example and teaching of Jesus Christ and of the early church must be the guides for Christian mission,” church leaders wrote.
“Christian witness is always a sharing in his witness, which takes the form of proclamation of the kingdom, service to neighbor and the total gift of self even if that act of giving leads to the cross.”
The document “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World” was issued jointly on June 28 by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the World Council of Churches and the World Evangelical Alliance.
The three bodies include Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, Evangelical, Pentecostal and independent churches. Their combined membership accounts for around two billion people or nearly 90 percent of the world’s Christians.
Organizers said the guidelines are the result of a five year process involving the consultation of over 40 experts and are intended to “serve as a set of recommendations for conduct on Christian witness” around the world.
The list includes suggestions on how to best evangelize in multifaith societies, defends the right to share the Gospel and the rights of others to change faiths, and urges missionaries to reject aggressive or coercive methods.
Leaders clarified up front that the document does “not intend to be a theological statement on mission” but rather aims to address practical issues associated with Christian witness in a multi-religious world.
They added that the guidelines came about due to their awareness “of the tensions between people and communities of different religious convictions and the varied interpretations of Christian witness.”
The document calls on Christian missionaries to share the Gospel by giving “an accounting for the hope that is within them” and to do so “with gentleness and respect.”
Christians should “reject all forms of violence ... including the violation or destruction of places of worship, sacred symbols or texts,” the document states.
Instead, they should “acknowledge and appreciate what is true and good” in other religions, and make any criticisms “in a spirit of mutual respect.”
The guidelines also encourage respect for the “full personal freedom” of individuals being ministered to by allowing them “sufficient time for adequate reflection and preparation” before converting.
“If Christians engage in inappropriate methods of exercising mission by resorting to deception and coercive means, they betray the gospel and may cause suffering to others,” the leaders wrote.
“Such departures call for repentance and remind us of our need for God’s continuing grace.”
The document also acknowledges the dangers of proselytizing in modern society and touched on “increasing interreligious tensions in the world today, including violence and the loss of human life.”
“In some contexts, living and proclaiming the gospel is difficult, hindered or even prohibited.”
However, “Christians are commissioned by Christ to continue faithfully in solidarity with one another in their witness to him,” they said.
The guidelines noted that often politics, economics and other factors play a role in these tensions and that “Christians too are sometimes involved in these conflicts, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, either as those who are persecuted or as those participating in violence.”
They said that the issue of growing hostility will be addressed separately by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the World Council of Churches and the World Evangelical Alliance through what they called a “joint process towards producing shared recommendations for conduct on Christian witness.”