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An Ecumenical “Conversion Plan?”

The Associated Press reports that the Vatican and the World Council of Churches are working on “a common code for religious conversions.” The groups are also expected to seek contributions to the process from Muslim leaders, among others.

“How can we — anxious to maintain, develop and nurture good relations with people of other faiths — deal with this highly complex issue that sometimes threatens the fiber of living together?” asked the Rev. Hans Ucko. Ucko directs the interreligious relations office for the World Council of Churches.

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Envoys from the Vatican’s office on interreligious dialogue and the Geneva-based WCC — which includes more than 350 mainline Protestant, Orthodox and related churches –are scheduled to open a four-day conference Friday near Rome to sketch out the broad outlines toward an eventual “code of conduct” on Christian conversions. The document could take at least three years to research and draft.

Members of other faiths, including Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims, also plan to attend the meeting in Velletri, about 25 miles southeast of Rome.

On another note:

The biggest challenges to the project will be highlighted by who will be absent: Pentecostal and evangelical-style congregations that often lead the drive for conversions around the world and represent the fastest-growing bloc in Christianity.

In other words, a group generally opposed to a conversionist theology (the World Council of Churches) is now trying to develop a code for conversions.

Here is a statement from the WCC’s Web site:

The next stages of the project will be, first, a discussion of religious conversion from a Christian perspective and, second, the establishment of a shared code of conduct. This is expected to distinguish between witness and proselytism, making respect for freedom of thought, conscience and the religion of others a primary concern in any encounter between people of different faiths.

But for many of the liberal member churches of the WCC, witness means little more than telling one’s story. There is no call to conversion. Post-Vatican II, the Roman Catholic church’s position on conversion is somewhat unclear, but it is fair to suggest that it is not in alignment with the conversionist theology held by evangelicals. Liberal groups use the word “proselytism” to refer to a call for conversion that means a radical change in faith and conviction — just the kind of call found when the disciples modeled Christian evangelism in the book of Acts.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. Acts 16:25-34, English Standard Version.