I was part of a large group conversation yesterday about non-Christian religions. Someone wanted to know if we should be vocal in condemning them. They specifically mentioned Hinduism. I felt an inward groan which I outwardly commented upon. There has been a trend in the history of Christianity to condemn any religion that is not Christian whether we know anything about that other religion or not. I find that even now, many Christians, both ordained and lay persons, do not know much about other religions. As a student of world religions, I caution against any rush to condemnation. As a Christian, I caution against losing ourselves in political correctness and hiding Christ. Another person then asked if we stop taking “the urgency of the Gospel” seriously if we don’t seek to make all the world disciples of Jesus Christ. And there is one of the often cited reasons to be vocal about conversion: the urgency of the Gospel. The necessity of preaching the Gospel so that others will convert RIGHT NOW.
(Image courtesy of futuristspeaker.com)
I do believe that Jesus means for us to do what he says in the Great Commission:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 NRS).
And he means for us to get started right away. We are not meant to put things off until tomorrow, especially since we do not know how long we have to accomplish what God is calling us to do. You never know when illness will strike, or how imminent your own death may be. Even more, we will, out of our sinful nature, put off our call as disciples, meaning to get around to it, but that day will never come because we are always going to be too busy, too tired, too unprepared, etc. I see a distinct difference between getting to work and expecting the gratification of instantaneous change. The truth is that everyone in ministry will tell you the age old maxim, “Do not be quick to change things, wait until you have built up trust and established a relationship.” So why does this not hold true for evangelism?
Some estimate the breakdown of world religions in the world population as follows, give or take:
(Image courtesy of age-of-the-sage.org)
How much do you know about Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, and Baha’u’llahs? Other world religions lumped into “other” include Taoism, Confucianism, and Jainism. Few people I know can even pronounce Taoism (Dow-ism) much less tell you about it. I’ve studied them, but I was a religious studies major, only one of twenty six in the Religion Department when I graduated. In this country, we do not study other religions, which are intimately cultural, to even know what they believe, much less so in order to be able to converse with the practitioners of other faiths. I think we are saying something very loud and clear to those who practice any faith besides ours: “We don’t care what you believe or who you are. You’re wrong.” Now, don’t you want to be a Christian? We’re off to a great start.
We’re not omniscient like Jesus. We can’t just look at someone and know everything about them, all their hidden secrets and most intimate desires. We have to engage them in conversation and get to know them before they’re willing to open up to us. Why should you believe me when I tell you how amazing God is, or take my testimony seriously when I recount all that Christ has done in my life? We have to build trust and establish a relationship. How have we accomplished that in our personal and professional lives? By getting to know people, seeing them more than once, and cultivating knowledge and sharing ourselves in our encounters over time. Making disciples is not an instantaneous thing, unless you’re Jesus Christ. I know I’m not. Even as a pastor, I have to grow my relationships with my congregation. Then together we can make changes and become partners in the Gospel. But there is something urgent. We have to love others, of all faiths, of no faith. We have to do it now, because it will take time for them to be willing to hear the truth of Christ in my words, see it in my life, and feel it in my deeds. If you urgently love others, they will come to a time and place where they can be open to hearing the truth of Christ. I’m urging you not to be quick to judge, instead be quick to listen, to learn, and to love. But who am I? I’m just a Christian.