Friends who most loudly proclaim “Baptist distinctives” also are quite involved in interfaith conversations. Are they hypocritical?
The short answer is no.
Baptists are Great Commission Christians. The commission to share the gospel with the whole world presupposes interfaith conversations.
Baptists affirm religious liberty for all people. We do that because genuine faith cannot be coerced. God does not force himself on unwilling subjects. God persuades us to trust him by his word. Following Christ is a personal commitment made by a free conscience convicted by hearing the good news of the gospel and responding to the gentle wooing of the Holy Spirit.
Sharing the good news
Baptists affirm the priesthood of all believers. Sharing the good news of the gospel is every Christian’s job, not just that of the clergy. Every Baptist should be engaged in interfaith conversations.
Although none of these doctrines are uniquely Baptist, Baptists had the distinction of re-affirming them and re-emphasizing them after centuries of neglect. All are apparent from reading the New Testament. The New Testament itself is filled with meaningful religious conversations between people of different faiths.
A longer response may be called for by the context in which we live.
Christianity had humble beginnings. The first Christians had no cultural influence to use to spread the gospel. They shared their faith through face-to-face relationships and personal testimonies.
Few Christians today testify to their faith through meaningful personal relationships with unbelievers. The majority of people in our society profess to be Christians. Many Christians today think witnessing in our context consists of little more than boldly proclaiming a desire to preserve the accouterments of cultural Christianity in the public square. Others have preoccupied themselves with acquiring the power to exercise dominion over all areas of society.
America has become more secular and diverse
Meanwhile, our nation has become more secular and religiously diverse because Christians have replaced heartfelt and sincere face-to-face conversations about the good news of the gospel with bad news. The public face of American Christianity has become the bad news of spiteful in-your-face moralizing, arrogant demands for ever more privileged status and perpetual complaints of persecution.
Another serious concern has arisen over the last decade. The entire Islamic faith community has been portrayed unjustly by some Christians as waging a holy war against Christianity. Many believe the nations of the world are dividing along religious lines and engaging in a worldwide “clash of civilizations” to determine which religious beliefs will prevail in the future. In such an atmosphere, dialogue with people of other faiths often is viewed with suspicion, at best. At worst, some Christians seem prepared to take up arms and use the might of the military to expand the footprint of their faith.
In times like these, it would be wise for us to renew our commitment to the Great Commission and return to sharing the good news in the courageous, humble, face-to-face manner in which the apostles and our Baptist ancestors shared it.
Bruce Prescott, executive director
Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists
Right or Wrong? is co-sponsored by the Texas Baptist theological education office and Christian Life Commission. Send your questions about how to apply your faith to firstname.lastname@example.org.