Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Mission and Respect

If you talk to a lot of liberal Christians about mission, you'll notice that they either a. try to change the subject, b. stumble over some words about building hospitals, or c. get really uncomfortable and turn an interesting shade of purplish-red. I must confess that I have gone through such a similar stage myself. The basic problem that many progressives I think have with mission is how do we a. profess the Gospel in very concrete ways that do actually mention Jesus while at the same time b. respecting other's religious traditions and not condemning them to some kind of eternal judgement. I've wrestled with this much, trying to figure out how to strike a balance between the two. Most Episcopalians I know will say, when asked about evangelism and mission, "well, I just try to live a good life and if someone asks me about it, then I'll tell them." Now, there's not necessarily anything wrong with this method. We should all be trying to live our lives as best as we can, and if we're making a decent showing of it people are bound to notice and ask questions. This method, however, doesn't do tons to spread the Gospel. At least it hasn't ever in my experience. But where's Jesus in this whole conversation?

Well, I read something the other day that made sense of the whole situation for me. It's from the book Anglicanism: A Global Communion edited by Andrew Wingate, Kevin Ward, Carrie Pemberton, and Wilson Sitshebo; Church Publishing Incorporated, New York NY, 1998. This particular quote is from Wingate's essay "Salvation and other faiths--and Anglican perspective." He writes:

"We deny the fullness of [God's] love if we deny the truth and goodness which Christ, as Logos, and God by the Spirit, can also inspire in those of other faiths and none. But we believe that God has chosen to provide the fullest revelation of his love for humanity in the cross and resurrection. Hence we naturally pray that God will bring all people, including those of other faiths, to explicit faith in Christ and membership of his church. This is not because we believe they cannot be saved without this--but because this is the truest and fullest expression of his love, and we long for them to share it--as St. John puts in, 'I come that you may have life, and have it abundantly'" (12). (emphasis my own)

Now this is what I think most of us are missing when we think about mission. That quote just made sense out of the whole issue for me...why we pray for people to come to love Jesus Christ, why we pray for the mission of the church, why we spread the Gospel. Not because people can't be saved in other religious traditions. No, not at all. To say so would I think a. deny God's power and b. deny God's grace. But we share the Gospel so that others can be a part of God's "truest and fullest expression of [God's] love."


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