church bell from below

No Other Foundation

Reflections from Fr. Lawrence Farley

I am told on good authority that it is offensive to invite people of other religions to convert to Christianity.  Thus it is offensive to say to a Jew, “Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God and so you should be baptized and become a Christian”.  It is similarly offensive to say to a Muslim, “Jesus is the divine Son of God and Muhammad was not a true prophet, nor is Qur’an His Word, and so you should be baptized and become a Christian”.  It is also offensive to say to a Hindu, “Those whom you worship as Gods such as Vishnu, Shiva, and Krishna are not true Gods, but idols, and so you should be baptized and become a Christian”.

I am unclear whether most Jews, Muslims, and Hindus have insisted that the evangelistic invitation is offensive to them or whether this sentiment comes mostly from liberal Christians deeply committed to inter-faith ecumenism.  It seems clear that the latter group believe the invitation is offensive; what is unclear, to me anyway, is whether they speak for those practicing other religions themselves.

I do understand that no one likes being told that they are wrong about something fundamental to their existence, whether that thing be racial ideology, gender ideology, or religion.  But adults in the real adult world will still debate, exchange ideas, and argue (hopefully peacefully and respectfully).  Such disagreement and debate are the only way to expand one’s mind and to grow.  In the world of adults we often bump into ideas that are unfamiliar and may at first be unwelcome.  Sometimes after extended debate and much thought we come to see that these initially unwelcome ideas were right after all and we change our minds.

All learning and education are based on this presupposition.  When I practiced karate thousands of years ago, we would go through the moves and then wait to be corrected by the sensei so that we could learn to do the moves properly.  That is, the sensei said, “You’re doing it wrong; do it like this instead”, and that was how we learned.  We were not offended when he said we were doing it wrong.  We preferred to learn.  Debates about religion, ideology, and politics are all based on the presupposition that all the parties involved prefer truth to error and are interested in learning.

It is the same with our attempts to convert others to the Christian faith.  If the attempt is made sincerely, humbly, and respectfully, it should not be considered offensive.  Truth, by definition, is true for all, much in the same way as the multiplication table is true for all.  If Jesus is the divine Son of God, then everyone who wants and loves the truth should accept this truth and become Christians.  If this is not true, then no one should be a Christian, including you and me.  We should then look elsewhere for the truth and consider whether or not we should be Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or perhaps atheists.

For Christians, it ultimately comes down to a matter of obedience.  Christ told His Church to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Trinity (Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19).  He did not say, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to those who will not find your message offensive.  For example, don’t preach to those who already have a religion.”  In that day pretty much everyone had a religion so that the Great Commission necessarily involved trying to persuade people to change their religion and adopt another one in its place.  Admittedly the change was less drastic in the case of the Jews, since the Church insisted that being baptized and becoming a Christian involved not the negation of their ancestral faith, but its fulfillment.  But even in the case of Jews becoming Christians (to use modern parlance) some fundamental changes were involved.  That is why some of those not accepting such changes in the first century repeatedly ran St. Paul out of town.

Our mandate is to preach the Gospel to everyone and to invite everyone to become a Christian and find life in Jesus.  For the Christians of the first century their target audience included Jews as well as Gentiles.  Today our target audience is the same as it was in the first century and still includes Jews, as well as Muslims, Hindus, atheists, and anyone else who happens to be breathing.  If Christ died for them, we have good news they need to hear—and water to baptize them.  Whether or not certain people in our audience will find our message offensive and will reject it cannot be our concern.  Our job is to obey our Lord.  Of course those who will reject our message will be hostile to it.  But the hostility of some cannot be allowed to shut our mouths and cause us to disobey the Lord by altering the Great Commission He gave us.

For not all Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and atheists will reject our message.  Jews like Moishe Rosen who accepted the message and founded “Jews for Jesus” in 1970 are happy that we shared our message with Jews.  Muslims like Nabeel Qureshi (d. 2017) who accepted the message and converted to Christianity and became an apologist are happy that we shared our message with Muslims.  Hindus and Sikhs like Sadhu Sundar Singh (d. ca. 1929) who once angrily burned the Bible page by page while his friends watched and who later converted to Christ and became an evangelist to his people are happy that we shared our message with Hindus and Sikhs.

Many Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs will reject our message and perhaps find our Gospel invitation offensive, but some will accept it.  It is for their sake that we preach the Gospel to everyone.  And that is why we strive to fulfill the Great Commission Christ gave us.  What matters is not the offence taken by those who reject our message.  What matters is whether or not we obey the Lord.

Fr. Lawrence Farley

About Fr. Lawrence Farley

Fr. Lawrence serves as pastor of St. Herman's Orthodox Church in Langley, BC. He is also author of the Orthodox Bible Companion Series along with a number of other publications.