Tuesday, November 30, 2004

In Christ Alone

This evening at SAOMC we concluded our course on Interfaith and Secular Culture with a discussion about mission and evangelism in the context of people from other faiths.

The question we were asked was:

If a close friend of yours was a Hindu/Jew/Muslim would you want them to be a Christian?

Interestingly we didn't answer that question so much as what we would DO about it. Ultimately I think we mostly agreed that we would WANT that person to be a Christian because, as Christians we believe in the centrality of Jesus to our faith and salvation. However it was the outworking of that desire that led to conflict and debate.

Would you actively evangelise someone of another faith?

Would you share your faith with them?

Would you be prepared to have them share their faith with you (and, as some put it, risk being persuaded of THEIR conviction?)

Well I suppose simply asking those questions isn't much of a blog is it?

I find it a very tricky situation. We generally agreed that NEVER discussing your faith with people, whether they're of another faith or no faith, is not true to the Christian faith. However, by the very nature of being a Youth Minister, I witness to my faith whenever someone asks me what I do. Where I go after that point is another matter.

We pondered whether we could share faith with people at any poit in a relationship or whether it was necessary to earn the right to share faith with people. Certainly in my work with young people I share my faith but do I share it at a great depth one to one with young people I hardly know. Well, surprising as it is to me, yes I have shared faith with some young people I'd only just met at our large town-wide youth event simply because I was asked to. With my regular young people I share my faith with the whole group on a regular basis but in one to one relationships I do tend to wait until we have developed our relationship to the point of sharing opinions or openness. This is a bit of a cop out because, by the very nature of my job, it is KNOWN that I am a Christian so it is expected that I'll talk about it. However I do remember talking about it all when I was a university lecturer but it was on a basic level with a large group and again only after a relationship had developed with individual colleagues or students. I did actually have some fascinating discussions with an atheist colleague who was trully interested in understanding where I was coming from as a Christian though fairly convicted in his own position.

Ok I'm skirting round the issue of whether I'd evangelise those of other faiths. I know for certian that I am extremely uncomfortable with missions focussed specifically on those of other faiths. However I find missions and evangelism which target the whole community (which may include those of other faiths) such as visiting all the houses in the parish an acceptable practice.

For me I think evangelism must come from LOVE. Love of God and love of neighbour. What are we seeking to do through our mission? Persuade those of other faiths that they are wrong? Or show God's love to them and our love to them because of our faith?

Our church's simple mission statement is:
A place for our whole community to encounter God.

This is, of course, inclusive of all our community; those of our faith, those of other faiths and those of no faith. The aim of our mission therefore is clear: to enable people to come to know God. My wise fellow student pointed out that we are not called upon to convert anyone. God does that. It is simply for us to share our faith and then let the spirit work.

Someone in previous years on the course had argued that it was far more sensible to evangelise those who have no concept of a spiritual dimension to life, the unchurched, than to seek to convert those who have already opened themselves to an experience of God. I think, in sheer practical terms I agree with that view.

Perhaps, once we have shared our faith with ALL those within our pastoral area who have NO faith, then we will have earned the right to evangelise those of other faiths?

What do you think?


ConradGempf said...

Thing is, if the New Testament guys had avoided evangelizing those who already had a religious belief, there wouldn't have been any Christians. At all. Ever.

The trick is that we're not just encouraging people to encounter the spiritual dimension; not just encouraging people to encounter a god; we're to bring them into contact with the true and living God... and those people who are serving gods who are not gods need, sometimes desperately, to know that. 1 Thess 1:9

The love motive and and theme of respect for others has to be stressed, as you've done. But having said that, Jesus never taught anyone to merely share about their faith, the disciples instead were called to share their faith, to go out and make disciples of all nations, to teach people to obey what Jesus had said (Matt. 28:19-20).

Few Christians seem to notice that Jesus wasn't always successful at evangelism. The rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-23 is certainly someone Jesus was trying to get on board. He didn't force it, he didn't argue bitterly, but neither did he make it all optional or cover up the fact that the guy's religion wasn't really together. Instead he presented a clear and difficult challenge and then respected the guy's decision when he walked away, sad. Good role model.

Roger Vere Youth Worker said...

An excellent point, Conrad. One NOBODY made yesterday! If the early church had shyed away from converting those of other faiths we wouldn't be here.