The Institute of Middle East Studies in collaboration with World Vision Lebanon was privileged to host an important discussion on the Arabic language version of the landmark document, Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct [Arabic/English] this past Tuesday, February 11, 2014, at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) in Beirut, Lebanon.
Following an introduction by Rev. Charles Costa, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of ABTS, two of the key contributors to the document, John Baxter-Brown, former consultant on evangelism to the World Council of Churches, and Rosalee Velloso Ewell, executive director of the World Evangelical Alliance Theological Commission, presented the document, discussing both its content and the process by which it was developed. Of the document, Velloso Ewell affirmed:
“This document is unique and its necessity lies in its nature: it is genuinely a mission document, it is genuinely an ecumenical document, it is genuinely an inter-religious document, it is genuinely a biblical document, and it is a historic document. Despite its brevity and simplicity, it is necessary in that these things have never been said jointly, by these three bodies who represent about 95% of Christians worldwide.”
Published initially in Geneva in 2011, the document is the result of a collaboration between the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Vatican’s Pontifical Council on Inter-religious Dialogue (PCID), and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), who together represent hundreds of Christian denominations, including Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, Evangelical, Pentecostal, and independent churches.
Following the initial presentations of the document itself was a significant forum discussion between representatives of Maronite-Catholic, Eastern-Orthodox, Arab-Baptist, and Sunni-Muslim traditions regarding the document’s potential significance for Lebanon and the broader Middle Eastern context. The forum discussion was moderated by television personality Dr. Imed Dabbour and the discussants included:
“This document is a road map for all Christian denominations to work and pray together for reconciliation in a very sensitive region” said Maronite Bishop Paul Rouhana, stating,
“Our role is to produce a Middle Eastern contextual text based upon this document, in order to move forward with it in Lebanon and the region. We need to acknowledge in one another the fundamental elements that make us the Church of Christ, and respect one another if we want to be witnesses of Christ and not our denomination.”
Orthodox Father George Massouh also contributed to the table discussion, emphasizing the importance of being a witness to Christ even if it results in martyrdom. He was followed by Baptist Rev. Dr. Hikmat Khasouh, who cautioned:
“The ecumenical work plays a vital role as long as it does not dampen the voice of evangelism. It is vital because it invites us to listen and engage with one another, to ask questions and answer others. It teaches us humility and openness. [T]he Gospel surpasses both the one evangelizing and the one being evangelized. We should not forget the Gospel precedes both. In Acts, we observe how the incident between Cornelius and Peter had as much of an impact on changing Peter’s perceptions as it did the faith of Cornelius.”
Adding a Sunni-Muslim voice to the discussion was Sheikh Dr. Mohamad Nuqqari, who made the observation that “the principles of the document are applicable to Muslims as much as they are applicable to Christians.”
In attendance were persons of a variety of Lebanese churches, denominations and backgrounds who posed a variety of challenging, yet enriching questions. In the end, all of the speakers encouraged not only intra-religious dialogue as much as inter-religious dialogue, but also envisioned and emphasized the need for solid steps to achieve this dialogue in the practice of daily life.
Leading up to this event, IMES has been reflecting upon each of the individual recommendations in an ongoing series. You may read the first three posts here and here and here and an interview with John Baxter-Brown and Rosalee Velloso Ewell here.