Volume 5, Issue 9
I Promise...to be Politically Correct
The Great Commission and Religious Pluralism
By Carl Teichrib, Chief Editor
www.forcingchange.org - Posted 10-10-11
Christian missions are poised to change. Indeed, social forces on many fronts have already impacted missions at various levels. However, if three main bodies in Christendom have their way, Christian missions will shift even more: They will become “politically correct” for a multi-faith, global society.
On July 14th, 2010, I gave a presentation at the Harbour Shores Worldview Bootcamp in Cicero, Indiana. The title of my talk was “Truth Challenge,” and the presentation swirled around an interlocking array of cultural trends, the impact of Masonic and Theosophical philosophies, and socio-religious changes taking place in the Western world – and how these challenges collide with the Great Commission: The proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the making of disciples (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8).
During this talk I spent some time on the anticipated Code of Conduct for Conversion (CCC), a project initially sponsored by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the World Council of Churches. The purpose of the CCC was to develop an agreed-upon ethical code for Christian missions in a multi-faith world. Not surprisingly, the meeting that initiated the CCC project was interfaith in actuality and intent. Here is an excerpt from an early press release,A series of background recommendations flowed from this initial meeting. These points expressed the heartbeat of a longed-for guideline on doing Christian missions that are more in-tune with a multi-religious global society. Recommendations 1, 3, 4, and 10 are reprinted below.
“We, the participants in the inter-faith reflection on ‘Conversion: Assessing the Reality’, met at Lariano (Italy) on May 12-16, 2006. We, 27 of us, belong to Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Yoruba religion. We shared our views and experiences on this important subject over five days of co-living in the peaceful, idyllic and spiritually vibrant surroundings of Villa Mater Dei – a kind of inter-faith pilgrimage, brief but fulfilling.
Our deliberations were intense, and took place in an atmosphere of cordiality, mutual respect and commitment to learn from one another's spiritual heritage, which together constitute the common inheritance of the entire humankind.”1) “All of us believe that religions should be a source of uniting and ennobling of humans. Religion, understood and practiced in the light of the core principles and ideals of each of our faiths, can be a reliable guide to meeting the many challenges before humankind.”
3) “We affirm that while everyone has a right to invite others to an understanding of their faith, it should not be exercised by violating other's rights and religious sensibilities. At the same time, all should heal themselves from the obsession of converting others.”
4) “Freedom of religion enjoins upon all of us the equally non-negotiable responsibility to respect faiths other than our own, and never to denigrate, vilify or misrepresent them for the purpose of affirming superiority of our faith.”10) “We see the need for and usefulness of a continuing exercise to collectively evolve a ‘code of conduct’ on conversion, which all faiths should follow. We therefore feel that inter-religious dialogues on the issue of conversion should continue at various levels.” 
Sadly, Christian missions have had, and continues to have, examples of misconduct and unethical behavior – both when measured against the Biblical standard, and in the eyes of the world . Christian missions, like all endeavors, are touched by human hands. Generally speaking this means that goodness and truth are evident, but sinful actions will also be realized. This is the unfortunate reality of human nature.
However, according to our multi-faith culture, the notion of “sin” now includes those actions that cause division and dissension in a politically correct environment. Proclaiming the exclusive message of Jesus Christ, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me,” is an example of “sin” within the context of our “new world civilization.”
This brings us back to the CCC idea. Essentially, what is being said is this: Christian missions must act according to politically correct standards in a multi-faith context. Fifteen months after the Vatican and the World Council on Churches held their first interfaith meeting on “Conduct,” the World Evangelical Alliance gave notification that it would officially involve itself with the program. WEA General Secretary, Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, “gave his full approval.”
Involvement by the WEA is significant as the organization represents some 600 million people around the globe. This representation comes through national and regional Evangelical bodies, such as the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada – the national arm of the WEA in Canada, and an umbrella group for hundreds of evangelical churches in my country.
The National Association of Evangelicals is the WEA arm in the United States. Furthermore, the WEA is affiliated and partnered to a multitude of para-church groups and missionary agencies.With the WEA on board, the bulk of “Christendom” was now represented through these three Code of Conversion partners; Roman Catholicism through the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the World Council of Churches (which takes in a huge swath of Orthodox, Protestant, and Anabaptist denominations), and the World Evangelical Alliance - entailing the majority of the Evangelical community. According to a Christian Today Australia article, this tripartite partnership represents “more than 90 per cent of the world’s total Christian population.”
During my presentation at the Worldview Bootcamp, I noted that the final Code of Conduct was to be released during 2010, according to the documentation available at the time. I was wrong. The final report was announced in late June of this year, and was hailed as an “historic” development.
Titled, Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World, this short document lays out a framework for “missions” in a pluralistic society.
Upon examining the first section of the report, the text affirms the basis of Christian witness in the context of Jesus Christ – “the supreme witness” – and the sharing of the “good news of God’s Kingdom.” It also contends that, “The example and teaching of Jesus Christ and of the early church must be the guides for Christian mission. For two millennia Christians have sought to follow Christ’s way by sharing the good news of God’s Kingdom.”
Much of the rest of the document then tries to connect this Biblical platform with an interfaith mindset. As point four of the Preamble reads; “Christian witness in a pluralistic world includes engaging in dialogue with people of different religions and cultures.” The Scripture passage used to back-up the statement was Acts 17:22-28, the experience of Paul in Athens.
However, what Paul did in Athens doesn’t reflect today’s pluralistic dialogue. Yes, Paul recognized the spiritual condition of the city, he engaged people in the marketplace and at the Areopagus, and he used the Athenian religious worldview – not to enter into multi-faith “dialogue,” which intentionally refrains from acts of conversion – but as a springboard to present the unpopular gospel message: The character of the true God, repentance, judgment, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This wasn’t “engaging in dialogue with people of different religions,” but proclaiming the message of the true Redeemer. However, how Paul handled this multi-religious Athenian setting was exemplary. He tactfully used his knowledge of the cultural and religious mindset as leverage to present a message that many rejected, and few accepted. There was nothing in this encounter that remotely comes close to our modern, interfaith idea of “dialogue,” where the proclamation of personal repentance and judgment is considered politically incorrect.
While parts of the Preamble sound appropriate, its overall weakness demonstrates that the authors of Christian Witness had a hard time capturing theologically solid points. This was further evident in the Principles section. Here, the wording spoke of “acting in God’s love” and to “love… neighbour as themselves,” and sharing the love of Jesus Christ and “giving glory and honour to God.”
All of this is fine, but missing from the text was a definitive declaration of Christian missions: To make disciples (Matthew 28:19), and to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8) – acts that involve more than factually correct, yet nebulous phrases. Rather, the heart of Christian missions was demonstrated in Acts 2, a direct fulfillment of Christ’s command in Acts 1 to “be witnesses to Me.” In Acts 2, Peter boldly lays out the truth of Jesus’ death (at the hands of those in the audience!), and His resurrection and unsurpassed exaltation. Cut to the heart, the people responded with a question: What should we do? Peter’s answer wasn’t couched in political sidestepping, rather it was bold and straight to the point: "Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:38). Peter then exhorted them, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” (Acts 2:40).
Obviously, Peter and Paul never read Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World, for if they had, they would have realized the intolerance of their approach, as Point 10 in the Principles section tells us “to acknowledge and appreciate what is true and good” in other religions, and to seek understanding of other’s beliefs and practices. Principle 12 further explains:“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.”
Respect is important, as is an understanding of other faiths. Paul provided a good example of this in Athens. But Paul wasn’t involved in missions “to facilitate deeper mutual understanding” or for “the common good.” It was to bring the knowledge of Jesus Christ and a call to repentance.
This brings up an important point. Although the Christian Witness document doesn’t bridge the issue of repentance, except where Christians have employed “deception and coercive means,” it does place a strong emphasis on social activism as “an integral part of witnessing to the gospel.” In other words, the Christian witness in our multi-faith world is primarily about a social platform. Principle 8 tells us,
“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.”
Of course, you don’t have to be a Christian to commit yourself to the above social platform. And that’s the point. This is not the “Great Commission.” It is a broad call for political and social activism within an inter-religious context.
Similarly, the treatment of other religions is couched in a politically correct mindset. Principle 10 tells us,“Christians are to speak sincerely and respectfully; they are to listen in order to learn about and understand others’ beliefs and practices, and are encouraged to acknowledge and appreciate what is true and good in them . Any comment or critical approach should be made in a spirit of mutual respect, making sure not to bear false witness concerning other religions.”Christians should “speak sincerely and respectfully,” and we should listen and work to understand other religions. Personally, my study of other religions, spiritual traditions, and philosophies has been beneficial. I can better understand the worldview of those whom I encounter, what drives them to act in certain ways, and what is meant when they say certain things. Thankfully, there are many helpful, Biblically-based tools you can use to better grasp world religions (one apologetic classic is Walter Martin’s Kingdom of the Cults).
However, the basis of Principle 10 is fallacious. In a “religiously correct” manner, it assumes a measure of validity across the spectrum of beliefs. Are all religions and spiritual paths pure in motive? Are all good? Do all present truth?
While all may contain a premises based on a truth claim, this doesn’t mean truth exists in them. In fact, some religions include purposeful inversions. Here’s one example; “Hate your enemies with a whole heart, and if a man smite you on the cheek, SMASH him on the other!; smite him hip and thigh, for self-preservation is the highest law!” (capitals in original, The Satanic Bible, p.33). Yes, the Church of Satan is a body of religion complete with worship and rites, and its message constitutes a theological position - “I am mine own redeemer.”
And what about “a spirit of mutual respect, making sure not to bear false witness concerning other religions”? At its core this revels in mushiness. Essentially, no one is to rock the boat by testing the underlying truth claims of other faiths, which is typical of the interfaith movement. Therefore, do not contest my conviction that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth and the life,” and I will refrain from testing the truth claims of Joseph Smith, Mohammed, Bahá'u'lláh, or Elizabeth Claire Prophet. What matters is that we refrained from any conversation that might cause tension, and we can walk away feeling good about our mutual "faith encounter."The words of Jesus Christ comes to mind when He spoke with the religious leaders of his day; “Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:33). And Elijah, one of many examples in the Old Testament, demonstrated the antithesis of Principle 10, for in his showdown with the prophets of Baal, Elijah openly mocked them and their deity (1 Kings 18:27).Then, after Baal failed to come through, Elijah had the the prophets seized and executed.
Harsh? Certainly - and I don’t suggest you mimic Elijah’s physical actions as a witnessing model! Don’t forget, Elijah’s showdown was a specific event dramatically authenticated by God as a demonstration to the people of Israel regarding the seriousness of their spiritual situation. But there is a contextual lesson for us: Elihah’s showdown was directly correlated to the question of who is the true God within a multi-faith context. “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21). A New Testament passage comes to mind,All of this brings us back to the document, Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World. Starting with a relatively weak Preamble, the report moves to a set of Principles that sound good yet raise troubling questions regarding the motives of the CCC project. It then concludes with six recommendations that advocate the new and globally accepted direction for “Christian witness.” Each of the six points are reprinted below (bold in original).
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (1 Corinthians 6:14-16).
1) study the issues set out in this document and where appropriate formulate guidelines for conduct regarding Christian witness applicable to their particular contexts. Where possible this should be done ecumenically, and in consultation with representatives of other religions.
2) build relationships of respect and trust with people of all religions, in particular at institutional levels between churches and other religious communities, engaging in ongoing interreligious dialogue as part of their Christian commitment. In certain contexts, where years of tension and conflict have created deep suspicions and breaches of trust between and among communities, interreligious dialogue can provide new opportunities for resolving conflicts, restoring justice, healing of memories, reconciliation and peace-building.
3) encourage Christians to strengthen their own religious identity and faith while deepening their knowledge and understanding of different religions, and to do so also taking into account the perspectives of the adherents of those religions. Christians should avoid misrepresenting the beliefs and practices of people of different religions.
4) cooperate with other religious communities engaging in interreligious advocacy towards justice and the common good and, wherever possible, standing together in solidarity with people who are in situations of conflict.
5) call on their governments to ensure that freedom of religion is properly and comprehensively respected, recognizing that in many countries religious institutions and persons are inhibited from exercising their mission.
6) pray for their neighbours and their well-being, recognizing that prayer is integral to who we are and what we do, as well as to Christ’s mission.
Does this sound like the Great Commission? To make disciples and baptize (Matthew 28:19)? To be a witness to Jesus Christ as exemplified in the book of Acts? To acknowledge the true and living God, as expressed in the Book of Isaiah?“Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; besides Me there is no God.
"And who can proclaim as I do? Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me, since I appointed the ancient people and the things that are coming and shall come....
"Do not fear, nor be afraid; Have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.’” (Isaiah 44:6-8).
The Christian mission should be done in a way that is discerning, tactful, and with sensitivity to the people – including knowledge of the culture and religious context of the community, like Paul in Athens. But it shouldn’t be done in a manner that minimizes the character of the true God, the sinful nature of Man, and the act of redemption through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, the new direction of missions as envisaged by this tripartite project, appears to do just that.
Today’s Christian Witness, as propagated by the Vatican, the World Council of Churches and the World Evangelical Alliance, is not a “new way” of doing missions – it’s simply a politically correct way of walking with the world. FC
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1. Report from inter-religious consultation on “Conversion – assessing the reality,” World Council of Churches, May 16, 2006.
3. A general example of this duality would be corruption: Corruption breaks the Biblical standard, but it’s also recognized by the world as unethical, even as the world employs corrupt practices. This is not to say that Christian missions is corrupt in a general sense, but when specific allegations of corruption come to light, it is viewed by both camps – Christian and non-Christian – as repugnant.
4. “Christian code of conduct on religious conversion wins broader backing,” World Council of Churches, press release, August 15, 2008.
5. Maria Mackay, “Evangelicals, ecumenists and Vatican launch historic joint document on mission,” Christian Today Australia, 29 June 2011.
6. Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct (World Council of Churches, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the World Evangelical Alliance, 2011), p.6.
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