Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Commandments for Mission & Spirituality for Dialogue

An interesting development over at the Christian-Muslim Forum. Today sees the launch of a joint Muslim - Christian document 'The 10 Commandments of Mission'. This is a very good initiative that I wholeheartedly support. I especially like:

We bear witness to, and proclaim our faith not only through words but through our attitudes, actions and lifestyles.

As Christians we need to consider what REAL Christian witness is, so often much of our understanding of witness seems to be rooted in a model of mission that can lead to a betrayal of Christ rather than a witnessing to Christ. A model of mission that is about encountering the religious other in the hope of converting them to the church (however nice we are about it) rather than hoping for mutual transformation in the furtherence of the Kingdom of God. It is an understanding of encounter that presumes our primary task is the verbal sharing of OUR faith, but maybe the best way we share our faith, we witness to Christ is in the willingness to listen and in being prepared to stand in solidarity with others in our 'actions, attitudes and lifestyles.'

Contemporary witness to Christ especially to our Muslim neighbours can be rooted in a confident Christ centred spirituality like that displayed in this quote by the late CMS missionary Roger Hooker, even in the face of the obvious non compliance of our neighbours of other faiths to such thoughtful guidelines as those mentioned above:

Everybody wants to defend something, for most men (sic) today suffer from a deep inward fear and insecurity as the world becomes more and more an unfamiliar place. Very often the more frightened a man is the more aggressive he becomes and the more noise he makes. This attitude is very natural, very human, but is it Christian…..

And so Jesus goes forth defenceless and alone. In the end his very clothes are stripped off him and he hangs on the cross, naked and vulnerable to all abuse and cruelty men want to heap on him. Yet we believe that there and in that way he did his greatest work.

This is of quite fundamental importance for the way in which we approach other men. All our unwillingness to get hurt, all our attempts to argue in defence of our Lord stand condemned. So often, when I have allowed myself to be drawn in an argument, especially with Muslims, I have found that these words of Jesus have come into my mind. ‘Sheathe your sword’. We must be open and vulnerable to the other, even as Christ on the cross was open and vulnerable. Part of being vulnerable is to listen – to expose our hearts and our minds to the full force of what the other is saying even when he challenges our most precious and deeply held convictions, putting faith itself at risk. To close our minds at this point, to refuse the pain of listening, is unbelief.

Dialogue is our primary mission in relation to other faiths and in that dialogue, in the building of relationship, true witness can occur. Drawing on the spirituality of the Sermon on the Mount Raimon Panikkar wrote these wonderfully playful guidelines for dialogue that I love.

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