"Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose" (I Cor 1:10)
To the Christians and churches of Eastern Europe,
We, the 25 participants of the Ancient Oriental, Anglican, Baptist, Evangelical, Lutheran, Orthodox, Reformed and Roman Catholic traditions of Eastern Europe have just completed an eight-day "School for Mission: Preaching the Gospel in Eastern Europe" organized by the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches. It was an encouraging time of Christian fellowship and learning, during which we struggled to understand better how to express the missionary nature of the Church by bearing common witness in our home countries.
This opportunity of meeting and learning together through sharing and listening gave us a greater understanding of each other, and of the context in which we fulfil our mission. As we looked at the social, political and economic situation in Eastern Europe, we saw afresh that all of our countries were in a stage of transition bringing new opportunities of service for the churches. The new freedom the churches have been experiencing since the end of the Communist era has weakened the strength of unity that they found in facing together the oppression of an atheistic ideology. We call our churches to support the peoples in Eastern Europe in their struggle for reconciliation and democracy.
The group saw the need to avoid competition and to seek ways to encourage closer cooperation between our churches, especially in mission and our common witness. Thus, we must struggle to understand each other better, even if our different traditions cause tension between us and strive to work together in good will wherever we can. We may do this through loving service to our neighbour because of our love for the same Christ; or it may be through our common journey of life where we are constantly seeking truth, or we may simply try to offer the example of a holy life, lived side-by-side in the midst of the world. In our meeting at times we struggled with tense moments when we realized that our different faith traditions face difficult, yet unique, situations in each country. However, we also understood that many problems and opportunities in these post-communist countries are common to us all.
As members of our churches, we want to remind ourselves that it is necessary to fulfil our Lord Jesus Christ's Great Commission to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19). This imperative is laid upon all Christians and churches. We understand that this call integrates us into God`s mission, to proclaim, present and witness in love the good news of salvation which Jesus Christ offers, through the Church to all people including non-Christians and nominal believers. The aim of this mission is to transform humanity from within (metanoia) and make it new. Yet, this holistic mission of proclaiming the good news (kerygma), sharing the good news through worship (leitourgia), witnessing our faith (martyria) and service (diakonia) must always be done in a testimony of holiness. In this context we emphasized the importance of acknowledging the religious freedom of the other. God is working through his Church and in his Church, healing and reconciling the world by the Holy Spirit. Suffering communities need healing and reconciliation to be signs of his Kingdom.
The atheism of the former communist regimes is gone, but a new agnosticism of the neo-liberal and secularised world has given little time for our churches to recover, so we should unite our efforts. It is not easy, especially if we consider the ecclesiological differences in the self-understanding of our churches. However, we have already experienced common witness. We need to respond to this situation by offering the good news of God's love in an authentic and sincere manner. One of our problems, however, is the way in which our divided witness hurts the churches' credibility, confuses the people of our countries, and proclaims the exact opposite of the message we wish to share.
Recognising religious freedom as a human right, we realize that one of the great challenges in offering this common witness is the problem of proselytism, which is a counter-witness that does not respect the other, but instead brings tension and division. We believe that we must keep a balance between the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20) and the Golden Rule (Mt 7:12). Our burning zeal sends us out to proclaim the Gospel, we go out in humility and love, treating each person and the local churches of the area with respect and understanding. We should never try to encourage Christians who belong to a church to change their allegiance by ways and means that contradict the spirit of Christian love, violate the freedom of the human person and diminish trust in the Christian witness of the Church. Whenever we are confronted with the painful reality of division, we should be engaged in dialogue to find ways of cooperation in Christian love.
It is not always easy for Christians from different traditions to work together. Yet it is even worse for us NOT to work together. May we strive - with humility, patience, and good will - to listen to and understand one another, as well as to love and respect the other, so that as much as we can, we offer our common witness to the glory of God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in whose name we wish to share with you our prayer:
Creator of the visible and invisible world,
We praise You and give You thanks
That in Your never ceasing love
You have sent Your eternal Son
And in Him You reconciled us with You.
Through Him You invited all
Who are baptized and follow Him
To bring His good news of healing and reconciliation
To all nations and peoples around the world.
We ask You in His holy name:
Strengthen us with the gift of Your Holy Spirit
In order to fulfil Your commandments
By acting together as Your truthful messengers
So that the world may believe in You,
And praise Your holy name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen
The participants of the School for Mission: Preaching the Gospel in Eastern Europe
European Centre for Communication and Culture, Warsaw, Poland