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KELLNER: At world gathering, a troubling comment on evangelizing

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

BUSAN, South Korea — The 10-day ecumenical lovefest known as the World Council of Churches draws to a close Friday, leaving this South Korean coastal city little changed other than the bulging coffers of many restaurateurs, hoteliers and taxi drivers.

I'm not sure whether it did all that much for Christianity, however.

Every seven years, leaders of many of the world's churches gather to discuss all sorts of issues and, occasionally, areas of Christian witness. This meeting was no exception, with statements due on subjects such as nuclear disarmament, climate change, U.S. sanctions against Cuba and the status of Christians in the Middle East. (The papers hadn't been released by the time I departed for home but should be out by the time you read this.)

But when it comes to more substantive matters — at least substantive in terms of what a church is supposed to be involved with — the WCC is oddly silent, or even contradictory.

A statement about U.S. sanctions against Cuba — a nation not always friendly to expressions of religious faith or the concept of religious freedom — likely will not lead to the salvation of a single individual. If all the nuclear weapons in the world were to disappear tomorrow, there is absolutely no indication that a worldwide Christian revival would erupt.

However, the clear mandate of Scripture is that Christians are required to "go and make disciples" of all nations, as noted in Matthew 28:19. Moreover, there's the unambiguous statement of Jesus in John 14:6, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me."

It would seem plain: Christians are called to evangelization, and that evangelization is intended to produce more Christians.

Readers can make their own decisions about such a premise, but any objective viewer of Christianity likely would acknowledge this, regardless of agreement.

Such a premise appears a bit demanding for the WCC, which wants to be friends with everyone and not cause too much of a ruckus. At a plenary session Monday, the group unveiled its first statement on evangelism in more than 30 years, "Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes" (bit.ly/1hHzunS).

Many journalists at the WCC assembly were drawn to this statement from the document: "God's Spirit, therefore, can be found in all cultures that affirm life. The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways, and we do not fully understand the workings of the Spirit in other faith traditions. We acknowledge that there is inherent value and wisdom in diverse life-giving spiritualities."

Do "inherent value and wisdom" promote salvation? Kirsteen Kim, professor of theology and world Christianity at Leeds Trinity University in Britain and a member of the panel that assembled the document, said the "[Holy] Spirit moves much wider than the Christian community."

Jooseop Keum, secretary for the WCC Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, said he read Matthew 28 "from a contextual context" of what was prevalent in the Roman Empire, and not as an "imperial" command to go forth and disciple others.

Mr. Keum added, "Can we really possess divine wisdom as created beings? I don't think so. There are many wisdoms in the world that inform life."

Mr. Keum went on to praise many good ideas he found in Buddhism as one of those "many wisdoms." That's fine, but is it what is to be expected from a council of Christian churches?

The WCC's "Together Towards Life" statement granting "value and wisdom" to non-Christian faiths was fine with Thomas Schirrmacher, chairman of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance, who said the document "does not contain any statement we could not sign," saying only that discussion between the two groups would be "when it comes to emphasis" of certain aspects.

Members in the pews might feel more passionately about the matter, I suspect.

Mark A. Kellner can be reached via email at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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