Issue Date: March/April 2008
Frustrated by the loss of members, particularly in Latin America, the Vatican has launched a subtle attack on soul winners. It is in the form of a push for an international "code of conduct on conversions." The goal is to "ease tensions with Muslims, Hindus and other religious groups who fear losing adherents and resort to punishments as extreme as imprisonment and even death for converts from their faith, as well as attacks on foreign missionaries."
The World Council of Churches (WCC) has joined with the pope to attempt to draft a code that will lay ground rules for "proselytizing." They convened a meeting in May, 2006, with representatives of all the major world religions, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and indigenous traditions. This first meeting was a study group to begin the dialog that they hoped would lead to a code of conduct spelling out commonly agreed ethics of conversion.
Delegates were concerned about the rapid growth of evangelical Christianity worldwide. Some governments see this growth as a threat to their national culture and are already passing anti-conversion laws and looking the other way when missionaries or local converts are attacked.
Initial working papers affirmed the "fundamental, inviolable and non-negotiable right" of all religions to spread their faith. But they also declared that religious people need to "heal themselves" of the "obsession of converting others."
In August of 2007, the World Evangelical Alliance joined the discussion at a meeting in France. WEA leaders are hoping to use the meetings to call attention to the severe persecution of believers in the Muslim countries. The risk is that any such code will strike at the heart of our biblical soul winning mandate —the great commission.
While biblical soul winners are careful to avoid any semblance of coercion, many cultures are threatened by even the presence of another religion. Muslim countries are the most restrictive, but Hindus and Buddhists in India have begun to tighten laws and allow attacks on Christians and churches.
Persecution of Christians is on the rise, worldwide. It is estimated that 55,000 Christians are killed each year for their faith. This is partly because of an increased interest in religion. Atheistic Communism is all but dead. Russian president Vladimir Putin, who wears a cross and attends church regularly, has recently consolidated political power with the Orthodox church.
It is estimated that over 100 million believers are in the underground church in China. Various brands of Christianity have made significant advances in Africa and Asia. Europe is now one of the most secular (non-religious) areas in the world.
While interest in religion has risen, many of the religions have become more anti-Christian, trying through laws and persecution to eliminate true biblical witnessing. Any concerted effort by the other major religions of the world to develop a "code of conversion" can only further restrict the freedom to preach the gospel.
Even spreading the gospel by literature is being restricted. Custom duties and restrictions, theft and sabotage of shipments are increasing. Chick Publications is having to find ways of producing literature within some of the countries that raise the barriers against importing. Some missionaries are pleading with Christians who travel to their countries to travel light and carry literature in their luggage.
Jesus spoke of the night coming when "no man can work." Throughout history, the times of freedom to witness have been largely restricted in most of the world. Today, with the internet and inexpensive literature, we have a rare opportunity. Jesus said in Matthew 24 that the end would not come until the gospel was preached to all nations. This is the first generation with the tools to fulfill this scripture.
Soul winners, we cannot afford to miss this rare chance to reach the world for Jesus.