Sunday, March 17, 2013

Evangelism and interfaith engagement


I was at a recent interfaith conference and facilitated a session on 'Christian Mission and Interfaith Engagement'. One of the participants of my session was a Roman Catholic priest. I thought it was very interesting to hear him say that Christians are not tasked to carry out Matthew 28:18-20. The priest mentioned that the apostle Paul asked us to share the "good news" but if we seek to evangelise by inviting people to consider Christianity, then that is not good news. 

I disagreed with him respectfully. I remarked that the very word "good news" is 'euangelion' in Greek, and when used in the New Testament it is referring to the message of Jesus Christ. In fact it is from the word 'euangelion' we get 'evangelism', 'evangelical', evangelization', 'evangelist', etc. Besides, apostle Paul's entire life testifies to the mission to evangelise.

I found my encounter very interesting because what the priest said was in direct disagreement with what Pope Benedict XVI wrote to all Roman Catholic bishops September last year:
Jesus Christ desired to entrust the mission of proclaiming the Gospel first of all to the body of Pastors who must work together and with the Successor of Peter (cf. ibid., n. 23), so that it may reach all people. This is particularly urgent in our time which requires you to be bold in inviting people of every state to encounter Christ and to consolidate their faith (cf. Christus Dominus, n. 12).
Between the Roman Catholic Pope and a priest, who is more representative of the Roman Catholic church?

It is perfectly understandable for those who are involved in interfaith engagement to feel compelled to reject the mission to evangelise. But one can see this as the other around too: Those who reject the mission to evangelise are attracted and more enthusiastic to involve in interfaith engagement.

My session was crafted precisely to address the seemingly tension between Christian mission and Christians' participation in interfaith work. Christian mission and interfaith engagement go along hand-in-hand out of our gratitude to God's love for us and our love for others.

Besides the Roman Catholic priest, there were Buddhists, agnostics, Protestant Christians, and others who attended the session. I hope I managed to accomplish what the session was set out to do given the diverse nature of the group. And it was assuring that one of the participants, who was not a Christian, told me that the session was clear.

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