Friday, June 03, 2005


It was good to get an email from Johan Maurer today. His commentaries on life and faith are always a stimulating read. A Quaker writer and scholar, Johan is involved in some very important work on the Quaker testimonies and and the evangel. I first met him during his recent sojourn at Woodbrooke Study Centre in the UK.

Perhaps it is a self-preserving reaction, but my personal experience is that some in the Christian world for whom 'evangelism' is not a natural mantle have most to offer in terms of recovering 'witness' (martyria) as the key category for hopeful Christian engagement... which might well include Friends. Whereas those who trumpet the word to the skies as a litmus test of 'true faith' run the risk of displacing costly testimony with brash advertising slogans.

["We are the Church of martyria. For this reason, our witness is a witness for love, for the just peace, for the non-violent struggle for the truth, and for equitable just co-existence between Palestinians and Israelis... The Church of martyria is the Church that seriously carries the cross whatever the price might be, because it is the follower of its crucified Lord and master. " Bishop Munib Younan.]

I make that observation partly in response to those who wrote to me following the drafting of the open letter to the WCC on the subject of "recovering the kerygma" (for context see CWME reports). Several were grateful that the topic had been raised in a way that emphasised "talking the walk", rather than promoting a specialist activity which then becomes the preserve of what one correspondent called "certain kinds of Christians". I'll leave that one to your imagination!

On the other hand, a few wrote expressing views which seemed to suggest that any emphasis on pointing explicitly to Jesus Christ as the source, shape and goal of our hope was tantamount to 'exclusivism' and 'triumphalism'. To think that is, I fear, to entertain some serious confusions.

To speak of Christ or to point to the transfiguring impact of his crucified and risen life is to raise a question, not to impose an answer. Not to allow this question to be raised may be to cut our conversations off from the life of One who comes to us in the vulnerability of a stranger and bids us be friends. It is a matter of listening and discernment, not imposition and formula.

The challenge, I think, is to do with our preparedness (in our relationships, our plans and our encounters) for an "Emmaus Road" moment. The evangelising instant is not one where we hear ourselves speaking, but a time to find ourselves lovingly addressed. For it is God's voice we seek.

At the WCC World Mission Conference, many observed that the plenary references to evangelism were primarily cautionary. I can understand why. The name of Christ is so horribly abused in our world. For this reason, as the historic peace churches are perhaps in the best position to recognise, the first step in speaking of or pointing to Jesus is our disarmament.

It is, indeed, peace that anchors the Gospel's witness.

Only when we abandon our weapons of fear can we engage with others in a way which will be free of manipulation and self-interset, and which will thereby truthfully witness to the one who refuses our violence by taking it upon himself.

The precondition of participating in the evangel, then, is metanoia. Ours, first of all. That is what makes it so vital, so tough, and so inimical to the imperialism into which the word 'evangelism' has been so disgracefully distorted.

All of which has reminded me to add links to two organisations for which I have a particular affinity: Witness for Peace (I was in Nicaragua briefly in the mid-1980s) and Christian Pecaemaker Teams (a partner of Ekklesia).

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