What does a Buddhist, Baha'i, Muslim, Sikh, Jew and Christian have in common?
No, this is not the opening line of a bad joke!
Today, I took the opportunity to attend the 3rd Annual Interfaith Symposium conducted by the Multifaith Association of South Australia. This was my first time attending such an event and it left me with a lot to think about the way Christians interact with people of other faith traditions.
As a full-time Christian minister for 16 years, I have belonged to three different Minister Fellowships/Fraternals and I am currently a member of the South Australian Council of Churches Local Ecumenism Sub-Committee. During this time I have seen first hand the struggle many Churches and Christians have interacting with each other over denominational and theological differences within the same faith, so the interfaith dialogue presents a whole new level of challenge for the evangelical church.
Interfaith dialogue confronts us with the tension between the universality of the Spirit and the particularity of Jesus. While we believe Holy Spirit goes before preparing the hearts and minds of ALL people for Salvation, we also believe that Jesus Christ is the ONLY way to Salvation.
At this Interfaith Symposium I shared in fellowship with various faith traditions who have a mutual desire to understand and experience "God." I heard a Catholic Sister talk about God being bigger than any one belief system, a Baha'i representative describe "manifestations of God" having the sole purpose of revealing God for the progress of humankind, a Buddhist discuss meditation as being a means to lead people towards love and compassion, and a Sikh explain how a Guru shows the pathway towards enlightenment. In this dialogue I was exposed to very real and very different faith journeys, yet the same innate desire to know God.
There is much I've still to learn about interfaith dialogue, but these things I do know! The same Spirit who breathed life into my spirit, breathed life into the Muslim, Sikh and Jew (Acts 2:17) and the same God desires all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
I am becoming more convinced that the various faith traditions I engaged with today are man's attempt to make sense of the partial revelation they have of God (Romans 1:20) and that our role as Christians is to find a point of connection with the revelation they already have. By joining in on the conversation that has begun with the Spirit we open the conversation to a fuller revelation of God through Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:9-10). For me, this changes the traditional evangelical approach that rejects other religions as a threat to Christianity and sees them as an opportunity to advance the journey of faith.
To explore the universality of the Spirit further read my paper on Spirit in Other Religions?