“By the book” evangelism: no longer means what you think it means

The World Council of Churches has taken upon its good self to release a guideline for converting the dirty heathen. Here is the document – Christian Witness in a Multi-religious world. But for now. This seems:

a) Dumb.
b) Possibly well motivated.
c) Unlikely to be effective.
d) All of the above.

Here’s a Reuters story that will no doubt filter through the interwebs and the media this week.

“It reaffirms their right to seek converts but also urges them to abandon “inappropriate methods of exercising mission by resorting to deception and coercive means”, saying that such behaviour “betrays the Gospel and may cause suffering to others”.

That seems ok. Right? Coercion is bad. But what could they possibly mean by that? Bait and switch “we’ll give you food if you convert” doesn’t really appeal to anybody but the most hardened numbers driven pragmatists.

Here’s what the story suggests…

“Christian missionaries have long been accused of offering money, food, or other goods to win converts in poor countries, either from other faiths or from rival churches.”

The problem, I’m noticing, is that this seems to suggest some sort of dichotomy where we are to seek converts using words and logical arguments, rather than actions. Deeds follow doctrine. Love is an important part of Christian testimony. It should be precisely that we offer the above, without strings attached, that serves as evangelism in multi-religious impoverished countries.

The WCC document actually recognises this tension (and having had a read through it, doesn’t do a bad job)…

Acts of service, such as providing education, health care, relief services and acts of justice and advocacy are an integral part of witnessing to the gospel. The
exploitation of situations of poverty and need has no place in Christian outreach. Christians should denounce and refrain from offering all forms of allurements, including financial incentives and rewards, in their acts of service.

Here’s the media release from the World Council of Churches spruiking its document.

I set out really wanting to dislike this document. Who is a post-modern ecumenical council to try to tell us how to do a job the Bible already spells out pretty clearly? And I’ve decided it’s actually not bad. And it’s sad that there’s a perceived need for a document like this. Have a read and tell me what you think.


Scott says:

I really enjoyed that, Nathan. Thanks for sharing. Speaking as what I consider myself to be – a lay Christian – I found that helpful, not just as a guide for churches, but also as an individual. Just reading it was a good refresher on the basis for witness, and simple things to keep in mind when witnessing. It is perhaps sad that something like that is needed, but we’d be kidding ourselves and pretty arrogant to think that it wasn’t. I think it’s a good thing.

Mind you, I can understand your initial desire to be critical of such a document – don’t you hate when it changes your mind as you read it? I expect many people have found the Bible to be the same!

Arthur says:

I’m waiting for the chance to read it. It’s a joint product of the WCC, the World Evangelical Alliance and a Pontifical Council, which adds another layer of interest!

[…] read it in depth yet, but want to come back to it. Here’s a link. Nathan Campbell has some preliminary thoughts. Chris Castaldo, an evangelical with a background in Roman Catholocism, offers some observations […]