In a context of confusion and flashy journalism, rigour becomes a precious value.
The World Evangelical Alliance admits that “evangelical-Catholic relations are a highly sensitive issue for evangelicals in many parts of the world”, and says it will seek better communication with its members.
After a brief initial reaction in December, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) issued a larger “official response” to the open letter the national Evangelical Alliances of Spain, Italia and Malta published in December, in which they criticised what they identified as an “ecumenical agenda” of the global body representing evangelical Christians.
The response, released on January 10, begins by clarifying that the WEA, the Vatican and the World Council of Churches have no plans of signing a “common statement on unity”. The World Evangelical Alliance “regrets that the alliances that produced the open letter did not check their facts with us before publishing”.
Last year’s meeting of the Global Christian Forum in Bossey (Switzerland), which was mentioned in the open letter, had no “ecumenical agenda”, the WEA says. “WEA’s relations with the Vatican (...) do not seek ecclesial or sacramental unity”, the statement emphasizes.
WEA ADMITS CONCERNS ABOUT ITS RELATIONS
The Italian, Spanish, and Maltese evangelical Alliances (supported later by the Albanian EA) expressed their concern in December about the way “historic positions on biblical unity (among born-again Christians) (...) seem now to be eroded and replaced by ecumenical attitudes that revolve around a kind of ‘unity’ that is in conflict with historic evangelical convictions”.
This new approach to dialogue with other confessions, the three southern European national alliances said, was made “without proper discussion at a grass-root level and without involving the different parts of the Alliance in the decision-making process”.
The open letter also expressed doubts about the use of language. “Unity has become a blurred term to refer to any relationship even beyond the principles that have always characterized evangelicals. Leaders have become less cautious in talking about unity with the Catholic Church as such and have tended to bypass the historic boundaries”
The WEA admits in its response that there is “a deep-seated, ongoing concern about the WEA’s intra-faith relations and particularly its relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. The EAs responsible for the open letter fear that too close a rapprochement and collaboration with the Catholic Church could undermine our ability to articulate the historic evangelical faith in an uncompromised way”.
“WE HAVE NOT COMPROMISED THE WEA’S THEOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES”
“The WEA has worked closely with Pope Francis and the Vatican on many issues, such as responses to the worldwide persecution of Christians”. But “we do not believe that we have changed, betrayed, or compromised the WEA’s theological principles in doing so”.
The global body representing 600 million evangelical Christians says “evangelical-Catholic relations are a highly sensitive issue for evangelicals in many parts of the world, especially those with majority Catholic populations”.
The “painful interactions” with the Roman Catholic Church in “Italy, Spain, Malta and elsewhere”, the WEA’s response says, are “realities [that] are not overlooked in our ongoing discussions with the Vatican”.
The WEA also speaks of “legitimate disagreement among evangelicals on how to approach the Roman Catholic Church today”. Evangelicals in other countries “emphasize evidence of great positive change in the RCC over the last 50 years”, the statement says, while others believe not much has changed. “This is a very complex issue requiring careful discernment, and we respect the existence of a wide variety of opinions on this issue among evangelicals”.
BETTER COMMUNICATION WITH NATIONAL ALLIANCES
The WEA defends the current decision-making process but says it will improve its communications. “Although the WEA actively consults with its membership on matters of intra-faith and inter-faith relations”, it says, “we recognize a need to be more proactive in communicating with our constituency about our activities”.
“We will endeavor to provide more extensive detail on the scope and substance of our work with the Vatican and in intra-faith and inter-faith relations generally”, the text concludes.
Read the full “Official Statement in Response to Open Letter from Three Evangelical Alliances on Its Relations with Other Church Bodies” on the World Evangelical Alliance website.