Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Christian Presence in the Middle East a Working Paper [*]

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Christian Presence in the Middle East a Working Paper [*]

Article excerpt

I. Christian Presence is a Witness to Christ and His Gospel

Our concern about and efforts to strengthen Christian presence spring out of a sense of responsibility to express a living witness to the person of Christ and his gospel, and to the salvation, which he gives to the whole world. The churches in all Middle Eastern countries are communities called to manifest the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in their midst, and to fulfill his mission in the power and work of the Holy Spirit, affirming thereby the will of God and the Kingdom's fulfilment.

The Christian churches bear witness to the saving mystery of Christ in their inner life primarily, and in the life of the human societies to which they belong. They implement their mission through declaring the word of life, through celebrating the mystery of the Eucharist (the mystery of love and thanksgiving), and through interacting with those who share with Christians in a common national life. This requires that they (the churches) be faithful to their mission in what they do with all people toward achieving commonly held humanitarian, social and national goals. It also means that the churches ought not to close in upon themselves. Such a closing-in would be a denial of their identity and mission, causing them to lose the meaning of their existence, because God sent them as the instrument of salvation for humanity, as his witness, and as a sign of love for all people.

As we discuss the matter of Christian presence in all its aspects, the first and foremost of our concerns is that the Christian churches implement their mission of salvation. For this reason, we do not analyse the circumstances of Christians without keeping in view the fulfilment of this mission. Quite the contrary. We affirm that our faithfulness to Christ and our commitment to his mission of love are the primary measures for our presence. They exceed in importance the weight of Christian numbers. But this in no way means that we make light of the problem of declining Christian numbers. Working to maintain and strengthen the physical presence of Christians is a prerequisite to bearing an effective witness to the gospel, to fulfilling the duties of our faith, and to sustaining our role in service to all. It is in this respect that the size of the presence of Christians has meaning for the Lord Christ and its significance in the eyes of others.

The existence of our churches in this region bears witness to the indigenous character of the one, universal, holy and apostolic Church in the march of human history and in geography. In spite of the various difficulties they have faced and the divisions they have experienced through successive historical epochs, their continued presence witnesses to their faithfulness to Christ ever since the day of Pentecost. None among us is ignorant of the fact that Christian presence in our countries dates from when our Lord Jesus Christ first established his covenant. In our region he was born, lived, saved the world through his cross, and achieved salvation for all humanity in his death and resurrection. Here he founded his church, and hence went out the rays of the gospel's light to the world, East and West. On our soil came into being the first church of Jerusalem whence, after the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Church went forth. Here too is Antioch where the disciples were first called "Christian." Here is Alexand ria and the witness of St. Mark. Here is Cyprus and the towns of Asia Minor where the Apostle Paul sojourned and where he devoted to its people most of his ministry.

Our indigenous ecclesiastical presence and its uninterrupted continuity lay upon us a weighty responsibility. Thus, any set-back to the presence of Christians or any limitation placed upon their role would be a negative witness to the enrootment of Christianity in this land from the era of the apostles to this day. This would impoverish all of Christianity. …

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