Should Christians Share Christ with People of Other Faiths?
by Graham Kings
Date added: 04/07/2010
Should Christians keep themselves to themselves and not share Christ with people of other faiths? ‘Conversion must never become a word of which Christians fight shy’ is a key succinct statement by Rowan Williams and John Sentamu, in their Foreword to a recently published General Synod report, ‘Sharing the Gospel of Salvation’.
I believe Christians should be involved in patient, dialogical evangelism among people of other faiths, and not keep Christ to themselves, for at least five reasons.
First, Christianity was born amongst Judaism and the diverse religions of the Roman Empire. This is not a new question, but a foundational one. Jesus Christ’s message and life of God’s Kingdom was a challenge to the Judaism of his time, for repentance and renewal in the face of political and religious disaster. If Jesus shared and showed that news with his own people – even when, and especially because, they were oppressed by imperialists – then his disciples have rightly followed his example ever since. The news soon spread beyond Judaism, challenging the hegemony of Emperor worship and the insider dealing of mystery religions in the Roman Empire. Without the impetus of belief in a unique Saviour, and a desire to pass on the good news to people of all faiths, Christianity would have shrivelled and died out within a few years and – speaking personally – I would not be a Christian today.
Second, the God we see revealed in Christ loves the whole world. If Christians keep this good news to themselves, they are being selfish and narrow. If this universal story is kept as a secret for insiders, it betrays its essence and origin in the outward movement of God’s own being. An Anglican Communion report, ‘Generous Love: the truth of the Gospel and the call to dialogue’ (2008), stressed this point. If we succumb to restrictive and constrictive practices, then the good news would not open to all in God’s world.
Third, God in Christ is not tribal. Beginning from Jerusalem, the news early on spread westwards into Europe, eastwards into Persia and India, and southwards into Mediterranean and Ethiopian Africa. The movement reached China in the 7th century, the Americas in the 15th century and further parts of Africa and Asia in the 19th and 20th centuries. Africa is the surprise story of the 20th century movement of Christianity. At the beginning of that century, world Christianity had a European and American face: at the end, it especially had an African face. Yes, there were awful mistakes and practices, mixed with arrogance and racism, but also indigenous Christianity grew with the integrity and shape of the incarnation: God did not send a tract but came in the attractive person of his Son. Most people in the world are religious, so this movement inevitably involved engaging with the faith of the local people.
Fourth, it takes the whole world to understand the whole gospel. Sharing the good news involves the re-evangelisation of the evangelisers. The gospel bounces back in a reciprocal way of challenge to wider understanding. If Jesus’s encounter with a woman of another faith, a gentile of Syrophoenician origin, led to amazement and learning on his part (Mark 7:24-30), then it also does for his followers.Christianity is always in danger of being partial and stultified if the news is not shared, for the encounter sends Christians back to the Scriptures to discover in them key aspects which the accretions of the years have obscured.
Fifth, it is Christ who shares the good news. The dynamic comes from his risen life. He is making himself known, before us, without us, through us and often in spite of us. He is the intangible third person who is always part of the meeting between a Christian and a person following another faith. An awareness of his presence, drawing and elucidating, leads to attentive listening and appropriate humility on the part of the Christian and often the opening of eyes in wonder, puzzlement and delight.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York commend the General Synod report, which includes guidelines and good practice from Leicester, Southall, Birmingham, Bedford, Burnley and Bradford, with the words:
‘In Christ, old identities are never the last word and the good is offered for all the world. So there should be nothing embarrassed or awkward about the Church’s commitment to draw others to Christ. This we do, not in order to win favour for ourselves, nor to make others more like us, but simply because we want to share God’s gifts as we have received them – freely and unearned.’