From the Dean

News items, published articles, and reading recommendations from Dean Timothy George

Remarks at the Vatican

Remarks by the Rev. Dr. Timothy George,

Fraternal Delegate, Baptist World Alliance

to the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops

on “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith”

Vatican City

October 16, 2012

Dear Holy Father, Venerable Fathers of the Synod, brothers and sisters in the Lord,

I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ, the one and only Savior of the world, and on behalf of the Baptist World Alliance, a fellowship of 42 million Christians, serving the Lord in some 180,000 churches in 120 countries. That a Baptist Christian would be invited to participate in and address this Synod is a moment of historic significance. I am grateful for the warm welcome extended to me.

I would like to emphasize three points with respect to the New Evangelization.

First, Baptists confess with all Christians a robust faith in the one triune God who in his great mercy and love has made us partakers of his divine life through Jesus Christ, the Great Evangelizer, who saves us by his grace alone. This faith is based on the inspired Holy Scriptures, God’s written Word, especially on the primal confession of St. Johns Gospel, ho logos sarx egeneto, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

Already in de Trinitate, St. Augustine speaks of the missiones of the beloved Son and the divine Spirit who fulfill the Father’s plan of salvation. As St. Paul declares in Galatians 4:6, “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,” prompting us to cry out in the very words Jesus taught us to say, “Our Father, Abba, Father.” The risen Jesus gave us the Great Commission to go among all the nations, evangelizing, baptizing, and catechizing—doing all this in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Apart from this trinitarian foundation all of our programs and plans for evangelization will prove fruitless. The first paragraph of the Instrumentum laboris reminds us that the Christian faith is “not simply teachings, wise sayings, a code of morality or a tradition.” Rather, it is “a true encounter and relationship with Jesus Christ, the Good News and great gift of God to humanity.”

Second, the missionary God who gave the church this commission also placed before her an imperative for Christian unity. We are not only to proclaim the Good News to all peoples but to do it in a way that visibly reflects the unity and love between the Father and the Son. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” Jesus said. And also, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 20:21; 13:35). Christian unity is not an end in itself but is always in the service of evangelization. Where our witness is fractured, our message is unpersuasive, if not inaudible. Baptists and Catholics differ on important ecclesial and theological issues but we are committed to seek greater mutual understanding through a process of loving dialogue and respectful listening. One example of this approach is the five-year conversation between the Baptist World Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, resulting in the report, “The Word of God in the Life of the Church,” to be published in the near future.

In his encyclical, Ut Unum Sint, Blessed Pope John Paul II emphasized the memory of the martyrs as a living part of our Christian witness today. On a visit to the Basilica of St. Bartholomew several days ago, I was shown the beautiful icon of twentieth and twenty-first century Christian martyrs, from East and West, North and South. I was most moved to see there the likeness of two Baptist Christians, one a humble believer imprisoned and then killed by the Communists in Rumania, the other, Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist pastor from my own country. Jesus prayed to the heavenly Father that his disciples would be one so that the world might believe. As of old, the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church, so now the blood of today’s martyrs is the seed of the church’s unity.

Third, throughout our history Baptists have been ardent champions of religious freedom, not only for ourselves, but for all persons everywhere. In recent times, religious freedom has become part of public moral discourse, as reflected in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which all Christians can and should affirm. But, before religious freedom is a right, it is a gift, a gift rooted in the character of God himself, and in the kind of relationship to which he calls all persons. As the Epistle of Diognetus declared, “Violent force (bia) is no attribute of God” (Ep. Dg. 7:4). This truth was clearly reflected at Vatican Council Two where several Baptist theologians were among the Protestant observers. In the Declaration on Religious Liberty, Dignitatis humanae, we find these words: “Although at times in the life of the people of God, as [the church] has pursued its pilgrimage through the twists and turns of history, there have been ways of acting hardly in tune with the Spirit of the Gospel, indeed contrary to it, nevertheless the church’s teaching that no one’s faith should be coerced has held firm” (DH 12). Today in many places, religious freedom is under assault in many ways—some blatant and others more subtle. All Christians who take seriously Jesus’s call to evangelize must also stand and work together for the protection and flourishing of universal religious freedom, both for individuals and for institutions of faith.

In his homily on October 11 marking the beginning of the Year of Faith, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI used the image of a desert to describe the world we are called to evangelize today. Indeed, we are faced on many sides with a barren wilderness of disorientation and detachment from faith. There is a desertum ad extra—secularism and relativism, resulting in a culture of violence and death. There is also a desertum ad intra—the anguish of loneliness and isolation, giving way to the despair felt by so many in our time. But the Scriptures also remind us that it was precisely in the wilderness, in the desert, that John the Baptist appeared to prepare the way of the Lord exclaiming: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The evangelical prophet Isaiah declared that God will make the desert to rejoice and blossom as a rose. And in that arid, desiccated place will gush forth streams of living water. To those who are of a fearful heart, he said, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God” (Isaiah 35:1-6). May the Year of Faith and the Synod for the New Evangelization be a harbinger of Gospel renewal and refreshing for the church and for the world in our time.

The Rev. Dr. Timothy George is the dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University (USA) and chairs the Doctrine and Christian Unity Commission of the Baptist World Alliance.

Posted by Betsy Childs at 1:00 PM
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