Proclamation and social justice belong together, Latin American Christians told

By staff writers
February 24, 2007

Many Christians recognise that the development of the Gospel has implied taking responsibility for other human beings and human rights, says the general secretary of the Latin American Council of Churches, which is known as CLAI – reports Peter Kenny for Ecumenical News International (ENI).

The general secretary of CLAI, the Rev Israel Batista, presented his report to 550 participants on 21 February at the church grouping's 5th assembly, its highest governing body, during a meeting at Ward College on the outskirts of the Argentine capital.

Batista, a Methodist from Cuba, made a number of references to issues that some have seen as impediments to closer unity between churches that have long embraced church unity and some Pentecostal and Evangelical denominations.

"We should recognise that, in these last decades, some Christians have understood that the proposal of the Gospel and the following of Jesus imply taking responsibility for one's neighbour and the development of certain dimension of human beings and their rights," said Batista.

"In this sense, the societal commitment and the necessity to work for a more just society, oriented towards the development of every individual, brought many to consider that the work of diakonia (service to society) was not separated from the life and mission of the Church," said the CLAI head. "Moreover it was placed in the political dimension of society."

The Latin American church council was once seen as a bastion of liberation theology. But some delegates have noted that in recent years it has moved closer to the mushrooming Pentecostal and Evangelical churches which are outstripping the traditional Protestant and Roman Catholics churches in membership growth.

In an apparent reference to the interpretation of many Pentecostal and Evangelical churches, Batista referred to a biblical quote from Jesus, where he stated his "kingdom is not of this world". As a result, they did not share the same fervour of those Christians seeking to transform the circumstances sustaining the exclusion of the poor.

"Instead they opted to proclaim a Gospel that did not always respond the context and its demands," noted Batista who observed that similar perceptions had been expressed at the last assembly of CLAI in Baranquilla, Colombia in 2001.

For the first time on 19 February the CLAI assembly was opened at a lively worship service held in a Pentecostal church in Buenos Aires. The leader of that church, Pastor Hector Osvaldo Petrecca, is a member of the main governing body of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, the world's largest Christian grouping made up mainly of Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant churches.

Batista said there was a tendency for some to debate about a superiority of either evangelisation or diakonia, "when in reality it deals with sincere testimony and commitment of brothers and sisters".

He asserted: "It follows that diakonia (service) and evangelisation form part of the one whole Mission and that they do not possess different values, but they compliment each other." Batista added, "They are two sides of the same coin."

Some Pentecostal churches have misgivings about the relationship in ecumenical bodies of traditional Protestant churches with the Roman Catholic Church and others have been uneasy about what has been called a predominantly "social Gospel".

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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