What about other religions? In conversation with Lloyd Porter

Posted by on Aug 30, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

In my latest book, When Faith Turns Ugly one of the topics discussed is that of other religions. It is clearly a controversial subject, and some who oppose Christianity, and indeed any form of religion, often point to inter-faith conflict and see it as the source of much of the world’s division. They are consequently suspicious of anything that is seen as missionary activity or the attempt to convert people to faith – be it a conversion to the Christian faith or any other.

Chapter 2 of When Faith Turns Ugly explores both intra-faith dialogue (discussion between different versions of the Christian faith) and inter-faith dialogue, trying to understand what kinds of conversations are healthy and constructive, and under what circumstances they become toxic.

The chapter finishes with a discussion on the topic with Lloyd Porter, which I thought you might find interesting.

Lloyd Porter is the director of Operation Mobilisation in Western Australia, and teaches missiology at Vose Seminary. He and his family worked as missionaries in Russia for 15 years.

Lloyd, some people argue that the missionary attitude of some faiths, including Christianity, does a great deal of damage, and that all missionary activity should be suspended. What is your take on this?

I would have to agree that some missionary activity can cause damage, especially when those sent have mixed motives, or are unaware of the cultural baggage their message is wrapped in.  A quick study of the history of the church reveals that for the gospel to go forward, the cultural baggage has to be stripped away.  For example, for the gentiles to receive the faith, the Gospel had to be de-Judaized.  Later, the gospel had to be de-Romanized and then around the time of the Reformation, de-Latinized.  In our day and age, the cultural baggage of the West needs to be stripped away.  That said, and despite the toxic faith and mixed motives of some, Christianity has been at the forefront of many amazing movements in Christian history that have brought about life and hope for many individuals and communities.  I would argue that missionary activity should continue because as we look at Scripture, we witness a ‘missionary God’ who does everything to restore His creation to a right relationship with Him.  We as Christians are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation and are given a command to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.  As missionaries, we are to bring the message of the Gospel, but it is up to local communities to make Spirit-informed decisions about the outworking of their faith in their own culture.  Missionary activity must be about servant hood and love, and not about manipulation, force and power.

You work with Christians from many different denominations and cultural backgrounds. Are these differences divisive or can they be helpful?

We had the joy of working with the Russian Baptists in Siberia and they gave us deeper appreciation of the cost of commitment as many of them had endured real suffering under the reign of Communism in the Soviet Union.  The result of their faithfulness to Christ under times of severe persecution was a tendency to be very strict about dress codes, music, dance, drink and a separation from the world. Many visiting, short-term missionaries criticized these churches for their lack of joy and freedom.  Yet for these Baptists, their faith was more centred on the suffering of Christ and a desire to abstain from the world and all it had to offer. Such strictness also helped their churches survive the years of persecution.  After meeting a pastor who had spent years in a cobalt mine near the Arctic Circle under Stalin, my own understanding of commitment was challenged.  His joy in Christ, his radiant love for the Lord, and the price he had paid for his faith were all way beyond anything I had experienced in my own life.  Brian’s comment on the Time magazine mosaic is correct in that many of the denominations and movements of the past have been inspired by one particular person or a certain context; they are valid responses to a loving God.  That said, we must be aware that we often only have one narrow view of God and the mystery that surrounds the Trinity and we should continually be growing and learning from the other communities that draw life from Christ.  The Christian communion world-wide is a rich cultural tapestry with varied histories, cultures and preferences in worship which reflect the diversity of Trinity.

Do you think we have anything to learn from other faiths? If so, what are some things you have learnt?

Within the plethora of the world’s faiths and belief systems there are many sincere and devoted people who are searching for meaning and understanding.  Many of these devout people are willing to sacrifice for what they believe. As I look at Russian history, I see that the Communists were just as willing to sacrifice their own lives for their dreams of utopia as the Christians were.  In our Western world, I sometimes wonder if we have forgotten what it means to sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel?  When communism fell in the early nineties, 70,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses went into Eastern Europe on short-term campaigns; the Mormons were also some of the best trained missionaries in Russia – all of them trained in language at Brigham Young University.  Where is our commitment and discipline? What kind of service are we preparing for? What cost are we willing to pay?

What key things should people remember when they talk to people of other faiths?

As we now live in a global village or city, we have the world’s faiths on our door-steps.  We have many opportunities to engage with people from many various backgrounds, but it will mean that we will have to cross a cultural divide to engage at a heart level.  Jesus’s interaction with the despised Samaritan woman is a helpful example of how we should approach people who have a different belief system.  The Samaritans in Jesus’s day were despised, but nonetheless believed in the first five books of the Old Testament.  Jesus broke a cultural taboo to talk to a woman, treated her as an individual within her own context, didn’t make gross generalisations about the Samaritans and spoke to her in everyday words that made sense in her culture.  Jesus also addressed her lifestyle, but offered her hope and an alternative future.  He made himself vulnerable to do so.  As missionaries, we should be bringing a message of hope clothed in Christ’s love, but it is up to local people to decide for themselves whether to accept or reject the message.

As always, nice chatting…

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