Review: Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World

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Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World, recently co-published by 3 groups that supposedly represent Christendom puts forward ‘Recommendations for Conduct” for Christians in a multi religious world. You can get the PDF hereThe fact that we need such a document suggests that:

  1. Christendom has either forgotten, or is unclear of its purpose in this world – hence the need for the chapter – A basis for Christian witness
  2. Christendom has abandoned the Bible as its source and guide for teaching and witness – hence the various methods and philosopies of witness prevalent in Christendom – which prompts the need for this document.
  3. Christendom is too lazy to go back to the basics of studying and teaching the Bible – why read the bible, when you can get everything summed up in bullet point form in a document like this?

Why do I say this? Because I’m surprised that it took 5 long years, to produce a document that contains *some* content, which has been in the Bible for the past two centuries. Not only that, after 5 years, it still contains recommendations that are either not biblical, or completely skip biblical principles of witness. Not surprising, since the document states that the groups “met during a period of 5 years to reflect and produce this document to serve as a set of recommendations“. 5 years to… reflect? I’m sure they were reflecting on the Word of God, but after reading the document, I’m sure they were also reflecting on things like, interreligious ecumenism, pentecostalism, social acceptance and common good. Gone are the days of ‘sola scriptura‘, because using the bible alone, would offend the Roman Catholics or Anglicans with their huge emphasis on tradition and ‘the Church’, it would deny pentecostals their signs and wonders, and make Christians look, to borrow that now loosely used word, ‘dogmatic‘, and we don’t want to be labelled as dogmatics, do we? Some of the content is good and are worthy reminders, even though elementary is what we teach new converts in Christianity 101 classes, like below: [Basis 1] For Christians it is a privilege and joy to give an accounting for the hope that is within them and to do so with gentleness and respect [Basis 6] If Christians engage in inappropriate methods of exercising mission by resorting to deception and coercive means, they betray the gospel and may cause suffering to others [Basis 7] Christians affirm that while it is their responsibility to witness to Christ, conversion is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit [Principles 1] Acting in God’s love. Christians believe that God is the source of all love and, accordingly, in their witness they are called to live lives of love and to love their neighbour as themselves [Principles 4] Acts of service and justice. Christians are called to act justly and to love tenderly (cf. Micah 6:8). They are further called to serve others and in so doing to recognize Christ in the least of their sisters and brothers Really basic principles of Christian teaching, aren’t they? Has Christendom forgotten even these? Anyway, after this last principle, the document starts going downward. Interestingly, that last principle was also the last one to have a bible reference linked directly to the thought it was trying to convey. Hmmm. Some of the ‘recommendations’ that raise alerts in my mind… [Basis 3]The example and teaching of Jesus Christ and of the early church must be the guides for Christian mission.

  • The example and teaching of Jesus Christ – I agree wholeheartedly.
  • The early church? That is an ambigous statement, and that is NOT what the bible teaches.
  • “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off …because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.”  Eph 2:17-20
  • The mission work of the early church was based on the teachings of the Lord Jesus, and of the apostles and prophets, the teachings of whom are recorded by the Holy Spirit in the Bible, NOT the ‘early church’, because not everyone in the ‘early church’ was right, and not all of them were apostles and prophets.
  • The recommendation is not entirely wrong, but the term ‘early church’ can be wrongly interpreted, based what different people understand the term to be, the Roman Catholics claim Peter was the first Pope, and the early church has a very different meaning to them, non Roman Catholic. Also, there are many sources of ‘early church’ practices out there.We should focus on the principles of witness used by by the apostles and prophets as they guided the early church as recorded in the Bible.

See the danger of ambiguous statements? [Principle 5] Discernment in ministries of healing. As an integral part of their witness to the gospel, Christians exercise ministries of healing. They are called to exercise discernment as they carry out these ministries, fully respecting human dignity and ensuring that the vulnerability of people and their need for healing are not exploited.

  • Ambiguous again. What do they mean by ‘healing’? Is it physical healing? The bible does not teach that physical healing as an integral part of Christian witness. If physical healing was, then Paul would have been a bad witness, because he was not healed of his thorn, and Timothy was sickly, and Ephaphroditus was sick to the point of dying and Paul could do nothing. Although though at that time, miraculous healing was used by God to give credence to the power of God in the gospel and to  to the Lord’s apostles, the early Christians, but their effectiveness in Christian witness was not associated with exemplary health and the ability to impart the same.
  • But, healing of the soul and its sorrows, is an genuine outcome of Christian conversion. Sorrows, grudges, painful memories, and broken, weary souls find their rest at the foot of the cross where the Saviour died. People have peace with God, that gives them as much joy on earth as it will do in heaven. That’s real healing and is worth more than physical healing.

[Principle 6] Rejection of violence. Christians are called to reject all forms of violence, even psychological or social, including the abuse of power in their witness. They also reject violence, unjust discrimination or repression by any religious or secular authority, including the violation or destruction of places of worship, sacred symbols or texts

  • This recommendation is a dangerous one. When the term reject is used, what does it encompass, in a practical sense (since the document speaks of conduct)?
  • The rejection need to involve a response? How does a Christian practically reject “violence, unjust discrimination or repression”?
  • Some groups may ‘reject’ oppression by fighting back in a physical way, and may inadvertently take things into their own hands – this will destroy Christian witness.
  • Some groups may ‘reject’ opperssion by taking it to the law, lawsuits against government (we see this in Malaysia with the ‘Allah’ issue) and public rallies and court cases. How much this lends to the cause of Christian witness, is questionable.
  • Some Christian groups may ‘reject’ the oppression in princple, acknowledging it as wrong, but not resorting to physical violence or legal injunctions and commit the outcome to the Lord. (recommended).
  • Again, when a document is generic and not comprehensive, it can lead to more diversity instead of unity.

[Principle 8, 12] 8: Mutual respect and solidarity. Christians are called to commit themselves to work with all people in mutual respect, promoting together justice, peace and the common good. Interreligious cooperation is an essential dimension of such commitment. 12: Building interreligious relationships. Christians should continue to build relationships of respect and trust with people of different religions so as to facilitate deeper mutual understanding, reconciliation and cooperation for the common good

  • Take out the politically correct language, and the message you get is “Christianity needs to get cozy with other religions, and shed its ‘exclusive’ stand.”.
  • Religious tolerance is a dangerous position to take, because it requires you to, well, tolerate other religions, even though they are the result of hearts and minds that have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator,” (rom 1:25).
  • I agree that we should be sensitive and careful when speaking to people from other religions about the Lord, understanding that people have a strong sense of loyalty to their religion and will be offended when something not nice is brought up.
  • But a Christian does not even need to speak badly about another’s religion. It is enough to tell clearly what Jesus Christ is offering them, and pray that the Holy Spirit Himself will work in their hearts to convict them of the falsehood of their own religion (that’s what happened to me).
  • The problem with this recommendation, is not in the application, but the motivation. The motivation here is ‘common good’. Here we see post modernity creeping in. Christendom needs to be socially accepted, socially active, and socially contributing.
  • Dear Christian, if common good is the chief end of Christian witness, we have lost sight. The only common good for man is salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ that comes from repentance and ‘turning to God from idols’ (1 Thess 1:9).
  • Like it or not, in a multi religious world, Christianity is unique and is therefore exclusive – because Jesus said that He is “the Way, the Truth and the Life”, and that “NO ONE comes to the Father except by Me”.
  • Christianity is exclusive, and gives exclusive benefits – peace with God, joy untold, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, adoption into the family of God, personal access to the True and Living God, … oh i could go on!
  • Exclusive, but its membership is offered free to all who desire it– “whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely!” Rev 2:17

Yes, as with all ambiguous statements, many an argument can be made for and against the points i’ve taken to task above – and that’s exactly my point – if a recommendation can be misunderstood, what good is it? Some of its recommendations can be misread, and misapplied and have the opposite result of the very purpose of this document. Lastly, and probably the most important problems with this document:

  1. None, absolutely none, of the recommendations direct the Christian to the authority of Word of God as the source of Christian teaching and preparation of Christian witness Yes, there is mention of the Word of God in the first line of the Preamble, but the Word of God is not among the ‘recommendations’.
  2. The cross and its offence, is completely left out of the recommendations. The preaching of the cross involves telling people that they are hopeless, wretched sinners, enemies of God, but Christ has died on their behalf, and they can be forgiven if they repent and turn to God. John the baptist told the pharisees, “bring forth fruit worthy of repentance”. The Lord Jesus Himself taught that this is integral to Christian witness, “and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations” Luke 24:47 Repentance precedes forgiveness. If we don’t preach this, all we get are false conversions.

At best, my impressions of this document is that its serves to forward an ecumenical, post modern Christianity that has set aside the authority of the Word of God and the offence of the Cross.

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