Chapter 7: Mission and The World of Religions and Cultures
The problem of the relationship between the Christian Gospel and religions and cultures has been a perennial one in the history of Christian mission. This was so because, as Richard Niebuhr mentions, "Christianity, whether defined as Church, creed or ethics or movement of thought, itself moves between the poles of Christ and culture."1
Christianity was born in the Greco-Roman worlds and within Judaism. Both these worlds played significant parts in shaping its character and influencing its history. To Greece it owed its theological formulations, to Rome its organizational and practical matters, and its religious impulses came from Judaism. As Christianity was born in Judaism, it was natural that the earliest presentation of the Christian faith was expressed in Jewish terms. It was not very long, however, before Christianity crossed the borders of Palestine to the wider area of the Greco-Roman worlds of different religions and cultures and was faced with the question of presenting the Gospel to a culturally pluralistic world and accepting the Gentiles into its fellowship.
The church was then faced with two questions. Firstly, what requirements - both moral and ritual - should be demanded of the Gentile converts? The question was about the nature of Christian fellowship. The expansion of Christianity among the Gentiles meant that the unity of the church, which was based on the ethnic or racial homogeneity of the Palestinian fellowship of Jewish Christians, was radically questioned. This led to the Jewish-Gentile controversy.
Secondly, the mission of the church in the Gentile world raised the question of the church’s attitude to pagan culture and society. While the attitude of the Christians to pagan polytheism and idol worship, in general, was absolutely negative, a creative encounter took place between Christianity on the one hand, and Greek culture and philosophy on the other. While Tatian, Tertullian, and some others took a negative attitude, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and others applied themselves to reconciling the achievements of pagan culture and philosophy with the demands of the Gospel. Logos Christology of the early church was one of the results of such efforts. It was in its encounter with Greek philosophy and culture and also with Indian and Central Asian cultures that the church began to grasp the meaning of the universality of its message.
In the Middle Ages, in the west, it was the encounter with Aristotle, through the work of Muslim scholars that led to the emergence of the great theological enterprise known as Scholasticism. Here a pagan philosophy became an effective tool in the hands of the Dominican Thomas Aquinas to build up a theological edifice, which remained as the official teaching of the Roman Catholic church for centuries. The influence of Aristotle on 13th century thinking in Europe was such that it became necessary to find a way of reconciling Christian theism with the truth of Aristotle.
All through the history of the church, church-in-missions was always faced with the question of the relationship between Gospel and culture. In the case of the modern missionary movement, the question was seriously raised in the mission fields in Africa, and especially in Asia. The coming of the Portuguese at the end of the fifteenth century marked the beginning of a period of western colonialism in Asia and also, on a large scale, of western cultural influences. Christianity, both in its Roman Catholic and Protestant forms, was part of the western cultural influences. The alliance between colonialism and the missionary movement had in many ways influenced the process and the nature of the encounter between Christianity and Asian cultures, and had served to distort the nature of the church and its witness.
The missionary attitude to Asian cultures during the colonial period was not always uniform. In the 17th century, the Jesuits in China and India took an interest in local cultural traditions and practices; so did the Danish missionary, Ziegenbalg in South India in the 18th century. But such missionaries were a minority. On the whole the missionary attitude to Asian religions and cultures was rather negative. There were several factors that brought about such a situation. In the medieval Christendom of Europe there was no room for pluralism of any sort. The missionaries who came to Asia from a church and society of this background were incapable of understanding a religiously pluralistic situation or relating meaningfully to this. Towards the end of the 18th century, Europe was passing through a period of great economic growth, social reform and evangelical revival. The social and economic changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution gave the Europeans a new pride in their religion and culture. In the case of Britain’s relations with India, Britain was looked upon as an advanced and progressive civilization, while India was condemned as being barbarous and superstitious. Nineteenth century Britain was indeed a civilization on the march and the new spirit of self-assurance led to an attitude of aggressiveness in their relationship with India. James Mill in his book, History of British India, was unsparing in his criticism of Indian religions. According to him, the real character of Indian religion was superstition and priestly despotism. In Charles Grant’s view, it was not only the inborn weakness that made the Hindu degenerate but also the nature of their religion. Not only did it fail to teach virtue but also it positively encouraged immorality. In 1813, Wilberforce, the champion of the evangelical cause in England, declared, "Our religion is sublime, pure, beneficent. Theirs (Indian) is mean, licentious and cruel".2
Alexander Duff, a Scottish Presbyterian missionary in India in the middle of the 19th century, whose ideas can be considered representative of the majority of the protestant missionaries at that time, thought that though Hinduism possessed very lofty terms in its vocabulary, what they conveyed were only vain and foolish and wicked conceptions. According to him, Hinduism spread out before us like a universe "where all life dies and death lives". The Christian task for him was to do everything possible to demolish so gigantic a fabric of idolatry and superstition.3
The ideas of James Mill, Charles Grant, Duff and others about Indian religion and society greatly influenced missionary thinking of the period. Missionaries in most of the other countries in Asia also held similar views about the religions of those countries. Missionaries and civil servants who came to Asia with a preconceived idea of the darkness of the Asian world were not able to see anything good in Asian societies. The early protestant missionaries were children of the evangelical awakening of the 18th and early 19th centuries. They came to Asia with a gloomy pietistic theology which divided humankind into two parts: the converted and the unconverted, the saved and the lost. The main object of Christian mission was understood as saving souls of the heathen from damnation and hell. Moreover, there was for a long time, real ignorance on the part of the westerners as well as Asians, of the history and the rich traditions of Asian cultures.
The result of such negative attitudes and ignorance was conflict and controversies between Christianity and Asian religions in the mission fields. The period between 1830 and 1865 was a period of religious conflict between Christianity and Hinduism in India. Missionary publications of this period were mostly Christian apologetics and a large number of them were polemical in character. About this William Buyers, an LMS missionary wrote, "Christianity appeared in this country too much in the character of an Ishmaelite, whose hand is against every man".4 Towards the end of the 19th century, however, there was in evidence a gradual change in this attitude. In this, the work of Western Oriental scholars and the rise of nationalism in Asia were important factors. The Chairs for the Study of Asian Religions and Languages were founded in the universities of the West. The rediscovery of India’s past by Oriental scholars such as H.T. Colebrooke and Max Muller, and the growing pride in the Asian cultural heritage among Asian intellectuals and nationalists helped both missionaries and Asian Christians to develop positive attitudes towards Asian cultures.5 This changed attitude was reflected in the discussions at the Edinburgh Conference.
Timothy Yates points out that in the period up to, and after, the Edinburgh Conference in 1910, mission, as expansion was a dominant understanding, not least in the Anglo-Saxon world. He says that the twentieth century may well be viewed by historians as the American century, as much as the nineteenth had been considered to be the British century. So it should be of little surprise that expansion and extension, so much a part of the American experience as the frontier moved steadily westwards, should have become the staple vision of the Christian mission for men like J.R. Mott. Yates observes that Americans had cultural and historical reasons for viewing mission in terms of extension and expansion, whether as pioneers in an essentially hostile environment to be subdued, or as sharers in the general territorial expansionism of Christendom in the nineteenth century. It was no wonder that the leaders of the Student Volunteer Movement, the YMCA, and the World Student Christian Federation, who were also to be the leaders of the protestant missionary movement in the early twentieth century, had expansion as their chief objective.6
In 1910 in Edinburgh a World Missionary Conference was convened to discuss the evangelization of non-Christian lands. It is important to note that missionaries working in South America were not invited to Edinburgh, as South America was not deemed to be non-Christian. While all conference deliberations were concerned with evangelism, there were two Commissions in Edinburgh, which were specifically concerned with evangelism in the non-Christian world. One (Commission I) was on carrying the Gospel to all the non-Christian world, and the other (Commission IV) on missionary message in relation to non-Christian religions. The main purpose of this Commission (Commission IV) was to study the problems involved in the presentation of Christianity to the minds of non-Christian peoples.7 Before the conference, extensive surveys had been conducted among the missionaries in the field and their responses were made available at the meeting of the Commission. Some of the questions included:
• What do you consider to be the chief moral, intellectual, and social hindrances in the way of a full acceptance of Christianity?
• What attitude should a Christian preacher take toward the religion of the people among whom he labours?
• What are the elements in the said religion or religions which present points of contact with Christianity and may be regarded as a preparation for it?
• Which elements in the Christian Gospel and the Christian life have you found to possess the greatest power of appeal and which have awakened the greatest opposition? 8
The Edinburgh Conference was conscious of the unique opportunity and urgency of carrying the Gospel to all the non-Christian world. The world, it said, was ready for the Gospel. For example, with regard to Japan, it pointed out, "The leaders of the nation and thoughtful men are feeling the need for a new moral basis, and many of them are looking to Christianity to furnish it."9 In the case of India, the conference said that non-Christian religions are loosing their hold on certain classes of people, especially the educated classes. This breaking up of old faiths and their failure to satisfy the deepest longings and highest aspirations of people imposed a serious responsibility upon the Christian church. "The danger is that, released from the restraints of their old religions, these people will give themselves entirely to irreligious and demoralizing practices";10 hence the urgency for evangelism.
The Conference was very optimistic about the success of Christian mission. Not that it was unaware of the difficulties and obstacles which stood in the way of Christian mission. The reports from missionaries from different parts of the world spoke of difficulties and problems. Some of the problems were connected with the revival of non-Christian religions and the rising nationalism in Asian countries at that time. However it was felt that the difficulties could only help the progress of Christian mission. The Conference was confidant that eastern religions and cultures would collapse in the near future and that the Gospel would triumph. This optimism was reflected in the report of Commission I.
Commission I was conscious that the revival of Buddhism in Japan, Burma and Ceylon, and Hinduism in India, meant more opposition to Christian mission. Yet the Commission felt that revival and opposition indicated that the people were getting alarmed at the progress of Christianity and that, in the end, it would only serve to hasten the progress of Christianity, as was the case in the Roman Empire. The Commission saw the new movement in Hinduism being a result of the influence of Christianity and thus preparing the way for the Gospel. With regard to Arya Samaj (a Hindu revival and reform movement in the Punjab), the Commission said that "the ideas which the Arya Samaj raises, without the ability to satisfy them, and the manifest contradiction of its system, mean not a remote collapse into the arms of Christianity".11 Much of Edinburgh’s optimism came from the fact that it was also an age of western imperialism. The Commission I report says, "One of the most significant and hopeful facts with reference to world evangelization is that the majority of the people of non-Christian nations and races are under the sway, either of Christian governments or of those who are not antagonistic to Christian missions. This should greatly facilitate the carrying out of a comprehensive campaign to make Christ known".12 Speaking of India, the report says, "This vast empire is the greatest trust given by God to any Christian nation. Clearly the deepest reason for this gracious responsibility is that the kingdom of Christ may be established in India. It is Britain’s greatest responsibility; and it is likewise the greatest opportunity for the Christian churches of all parts of the world".13 The Edinburgh Conference was only echoing the nineteenth century missionary interpretation of colonialism. In his book, India and the Indian Missions, Alexander Duff asks the question: What is the purpose of God in British colonialism? He answers: "Can it be without a reference to the grand design of providence and of grace that Britain so endowed has been led to assume the sovereignty of India ... A decree hath gone forth and who can stay its execution - that India be the Lord’s".14 Duff further speaks of the colonial wars as being a preparation for the Gospel.
In the history of Christian mission, ‘Preparation for the Gospel’ was a familiar theme. The New Testament writers interpreted Judaism as a preparation for the coming of Christianity. Alexandrian Fathers of the second and third centuries saw Greek philosophy as a preparation for the Gospel. The Edinburgh Conference spoke of ‘preparation for the Gospel’ in two different senses. For several of the missionaries, the missionary work done so far was only a preparation for the rapid growth of the Gospel which was yet to come - missionaries had, so far, been preparing the ground for transplanting the Gospel. By preparation they meant loosening the hold of non-Christian religions on the lives of the people through western Christian influence especially through western education. They meant by preparation, the destruction of Asian and African cultures and religions so that Christianity could be planted in their place. It was in the sense a clearing of the ground for Christianity to come in. The Commission I report says:
While thus far there may not have been many positive results to show, the negative effects have been none the less helpful in spreading the Gospel. They have helped to weaken the strength of heathendom. Even in the most difficult field, such as sections of the Mohammedan and Hindu communities of India, the work of the past one hundred years has been that of disintegration, and today we see the beginning of the breaking up of these gigantic systems. Were the Christian Church now to advance in the spirit and power of Christ, results could be achieved far surpassing anything accomplished in the past.15
This understanding of ‘Preparation for the Gospel’ is made clearer in a statement by an American missionary mentioned in the Commission I report.
As Dr. Fulton pointed out at the Centenary Missionary Conference in China, the work of the foreign missionaries has not been unlike that of the work of reclamation carried out in the recent years by the United States government for the purpose of making productive areas of desert land. The problem has been that of assuring to these lands streams of water that will bring fertility and fruitfulness... So the work of the missionary enterprise hitherto had been largely that of tunneling mountains and constructing reservoirs and canals so as to be able to convey the water in adequate measure and continuity to the great multitudes in the waste and desert places of the non-Christian world. But this all-important preparatory work has now reached a stage where the life-giving streams should be released in far greater measure.16
The Conference addressed ‘Preparation of the Gospel’ in another sense also, in the sense that the non-Christian religions and cultures are themselves a point of contact, a preparation for the Gospel. The Gospel fulfils the longings and aspirations of the non-Christians and the non-Christian religions and cultures are a first step leading to the Gospel. Similarly several participants at the conference spoke of the national awakening that was taking place as a preparation for the Gospel. This approach is clearly seen in the report of Commission IV.
Commission IV on ‘The missionary message in relation to non-Christian religions’, advocates a conciliatory and sympathetic attitude to other religions and cultures. "A supreme need of the missionary teacher is a thorough knowledge of the religions of the people among whom he works. He should find Out the elements of truth and error in each, and seek to understand the beliefs and customs of the people".17 A report from China said. "Accept the good and show how, in Jesus Christ, all its best is met and carried to the highest degree". The preacher should rejoice in the use which the Chinese made of the revelation which God gave to them and which made them superior to others. Christ came not to destroy but to fulfil. On the other hand indiscriminate praise or censure, acceptance or rejection, is to be deprecated by all calm and candid minds,18 Bergen, a missionary in China wrote, "But twenty six years’ experience has led to a better appreciation of the Chinese stand point, and I now regard Christianity as the fulfillment of much that exists only as a promise in China".19 The Commission report mentions Arnold Fraser saying, "In short the missionary will recognize the work of logos in every land; but since the logos has become flesh he must recognize the truth as it is in Jesus Christ as the standard of all".20 Similar views are expressed in reports from Japan. The report from Japan points out that positive statements of the Christian faith and of its lofty principles and splendid hopes will create far more conviction than the criticism of the erroneous tenets of the native religions. It says:
The Christian preacher should constantly take the grand stand that every good teaching in the native faith is a gift of God, the Father of all men, and is a preparation for the coming of His fuller revelation in Jesus Christ. We should show our real and deep respect for the heathen religions; we should take off our hats at their shrines, as we expect them to do in our churches. We should ever insist that Christianity does not come to destroy anything that is good or true in the native faiths, but rather to stimulate, to strengthen, and fulfil it - to give it life and real energy. The trouble with the native religions is not that they possess no truth, but the truth they have is mixed up with folly and superstition that it is lost: it has no power - no life giving energy?21
The report mentioned that there were in Japan well-educated and able Japanese clergymen who hold that non-Christian religions are not wholly of man. At times they think and speak of them as a preparation for Christianity; and sometimes compare them to Judaism, as shadows of the good things to come.22 The Commission report mentions P.G. Kawi of Japan saying that the Christian preacher should remember that in all human nature and in all religions there are elements of good which are a gift of God, and they are not to be despised or neglected but that the truths which already exist in the consciousness of the people should be linked with the higher truths which are revealed in Jesus Christ.23
The report on the Indian situation was also along similar lines. It mentioned that the existence of theism in Hinduism and the development of bhakti (loving devotion to a personal God) as a way of redemption were as preparation for the Gospel. T.E. Slater, a missionary in India wrote that the philosophy of the Gita is essentially pantheistic, but the form of worship presented centers round a divine-human helper, and is therefore the best preparation in Hinduism for the Christian Gospel, since it reveals the hidden craving of the human heart to possess a humanized God, which can only be satisfied in Christ. C.F. Andrews of St. Stephen College, Delhi wrote, "The most important preparatio evangelica is to be found along the lines of Hindu theism."24
Commission IV report says that while for some both Indian theism and philosophy furnish a fruitful point of contact with Christianity, and preparation for it, there are others who take the view that they are fulfilled and superseded by Christianity. Of these Farquhar of Calcutta may be taken as a typical representative. Farquhar points out that the long succession of reforming theisms in India have arisen from the fact that the denial of true personality to the Supreme Being destroyed the possibility of true worship and prayer. The theistic reformers have thus behind them the undying and most sacred instincts of the human soul. But these theisms have failed because they have chosen as the objects of their worship individual Gods of the traditional pantheon. Hinduism has never succeeded in conceiving a universal personality which is the central conception of Christian theism. Farquhar holds that both theism and vedanta (monistic philosophy) provide many points of contact with Christianity, as each represents, however imperfectly, a side of the truth which the other ignores, and that in fact Christianity is the norm and the synthesis of all these several but living elements in Indian religion.25
In discussing the Christian message to non-Christian religions, the Edinburgh conference was not concerned with working out a relationship between Christianity and other religions and cultures, but rather how to win the non-Christians to Christ. Robert S. Speer in concluding the discussion on behalf of Commission IV made this clear. He said that there was unanimity about the finality and absoluteness of Christianity both before and after, the Conference. The conference discussions were not about the finality of Christian faith. The purpose was not to find "on what ground do we believe that Christianity is the final and absolute religion, but how may we induce religious men on the other side of the world to share our conviction"
Speer mentions a second concern of the Edinburgh conference in discussing non-Christian religions. It was to discern the effect of non-Christian religions on our apprehension and conception of Christianity. As we lay Christianity over against the non-Christian religions of the world, we discover truths in Christianity which we had not discerned before, or truths in a glory, in a magnitude, that we had not before imagined. "The comparison does not impoverish Christianity, it does not result in our subtracting anything from the great bulk of Christian faith on which we have laid hold.., but there is a sense in which non-Christian religions, while they are encumbrances upon the religious life of man, are also expressions of that religious life, as we bring our faith over against them. We shall not bring back into our faith what was not in our faith before, but we shall discern what we had not discovered was there before."26 According to Speer only a Christianity understood by universal application to known life can avail to meet the needs of human life in any community or nation. What we need is a world-conquering Gospel. D.S. Cairns also stressed the same point when he asked, "What suggestions have these non-Christian religions to offer us in developing the latent elements of Christianity?" He points out that the situation in which the missionary movement at present faces the non-Christian religions is very similar to the spiritual situation which confronted Israel in the days of the great rise of prophecy. Israel had been getting on comfortably enough with its traditional religion when all of a sudden, it was confronted with the rise of the empires of the Euphrates. A shadow fell upon the whole of Israel’s life. The spiritual leaders felt that in the traditional religion there must be more than they had already attained. "There must be reserve spiritual forces which would enable the chosen people to meet the new and formidable adversary which had arisen, and we see in the long and illustrious succession of the Hebrew prophets, the endeavor of the spiritual leaders of Israel to meet the new emergency by broadening and deepening and the intensifying of the nation’s sense of the living God."
The concern expressed by Edinburgh as to the effect of non-Christian religions on our appreciation and conception of Christianity, is a very important one not only for Christian mission but also for the development of Christian theology. The tendency in the missionary movement as well as churches in general, was to treat the works of pagans with scorn and condescension and to think that the pagans needed to be enlightened as their views on Christianity were false. Christian missionaries and theologians have often forgotten the fact that the non-Christian religions and their interpreters have a mission to Christianity and Christians. It was this fact which the Commission TV of Edinburgh raised very strongly. The early Christian thinkers in the Roman Empire took very seriously the criticism of Christianity by pagan philosophers. The pagan critics and their views helped Christians of the time to see their own position more clearly and to also re-state Christian theology in dialogue and discussion with alternative points of view. Similarly, today Christians need to listen to the voices of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and others and see their theological position vis-à-vis that of others, and thus move away from a theology of ‘self-reference’, and explore a lively theology of ‘cross-reference’. It must be noted that a number of non-Christian leaders in both Asia and Africa, have tried to understand Jesus Christ and the meaning of Christ today; their interpretation of Christianity and Jesus Christ are of utmost significance to the development of Christian theology in Asia and Africa.
After the Edinburgh Conference, the missionary movement paid greater attention to the relationship of Christian faith to other religious traditions. The search begun in Edinburgh to find out what was alive in other living traditions in contrast to what was traditional and formal, and what aspects of the Christian Gospel possessed the greater power of appeal to non-Christians, continued in the pages of the International Missionary Review (IRM) first published in 1912 under the editorship of J.H. Oldham. Several of the articles appearing in the IRM expressed positive attitudes and approaches to other religions and cultures. According to Tasuku Harada of Japan, "it is inconceivable that anyone who has impartially studied the history of religions can fail to admit the universality of the activity of the Spirit of God and the consequent embodiment of a decree of truth in all religions."28 Nicol Macnicol, a British missionary in India, wrote that Hindu seekers are seeking not only God’s gifts but also God Himself; "dare we say that there are no finders?"29 Several of them recalled the example of early Church Fathers in their approach to Greek philosophy and culture. K. Mackichan of Bombay saw gleams of truth in Hindu religion and philosophy which the Christian church ought to be ready to accept as evidence of the "diffused energy of the divine logos".30 G.A. Lefroy of Calcutta found in the Muslim world signs of a spirit naturally Christian.31
But there were others, especially among the Continental theologians, who took a very exclusive view of Christianity. For example, Julius Richter, Professor of Missions in Berlin University, in his inaugural address said: "Christianity is an exclusive religion. Wherever Christian missionary enterprise comes into contact with the non-Christian religions it sets itself to oust them ... in the conviction that this is necessary to the salvation of their adherents"..32 According to Ritchter, the Christian missionary needs to be convinced of the superiority of his religion to all others, "a conviction all the more necessary in view of the prevailing ‘history of religions’ school of the day which threatens to level down the religious conception of humanity to an unrelieved relativism". Similarly Prof. Frick of the University of Geissen insisted that ‘fragile and treacherous’ as the Christianity offered might be, Christian mission must be based upon a conviction of the superiority of their message if they are to remain sound and honest; and so the missionaries and Christians generally may not surrender the conviction of superiority.33
Both these positive and negative views about other religions were also aired at the Jerusalem Conference. In a paper written for the Conference, Nicol Macnicol again spoke of the positive contribution of Hinduism. He said that there is much that is precious and beautiful in the Indian heritage and the Christian missionary in bringing Christianity to the Indian people shall preserve and strengthen all that is noble and destroy only the unworthy and evil. Christ, as He enters the Hindu milieu will make what He finds there that is fair, far more fair, taking away only what is unworthy. He shall not quench the smoking flax. Macnicol was fully aware of the evils of caste, impersonal pantheism and other evils of Hinduism, yet he disliked the talk of Christian superiority.
There were others at Jerusalem who stressed the uniqueness of the Christian Gospel. Nathan Soderblom in his paper pointed out that Buddha, Mohammed and Christ are quite different. But he said that Christianity is unique and, the absolute truth in Christianity has the shape not of rule, law (Dharma), ideas or theologies, but the shape of a man: God reveals himself in a human life. Christ is no avatar, nor a divine messenger, but he is the unique Son of God. "This claim of uniqueness, of absolute truth itself belongs to the originality of the biblical revelation. The claim was inherited from Judaism ... We do not find anywhere in the great religions that claim of being unique which characterizes authentic Christianity from the very beginning. The other great religions are not only tolerant, they are eclectic, in principle if not in fact ...Christianity puts up against all such ideas, its own truth.34
It was recognized at Edinburgh that the following ten years would in all probability constitute a turning point in human history and might be more of critical importance in determining the spiritual revolution of human kind than many centuries of ordinary experience. Undoubtedly they were, but scarcely as the delegates at Edinburgh had expected. The next ten years were to be fateful years for the world and the church. The Western world was facing a crisis of culture, a tragic process of disintegration. It was a world which radically challenged the Christian faith in rival ideologies of Marxism, Fascism and Secularism. The missionary message in relation to non-Christian religions was a concern at the Edinburgh Conference. In Jerusalem, it was the Christian life and message in relation to non-Christian systems of thought and life. When it came to real grips with the problems of non-Christian systems, it was not just Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism that held the attention, but also the materialistic secular civilization that had sprung up in the midst of western Christendom.35
In 1928 the Western world has begun to see itself as the author of great materialistic and industrial forces and inter-racial antagonisms which form in their uncontrolled state a common menace to the world’s life and especially to the life of the Spirit. It seems that its own life is thus certainly not in tune with the Gospel that it has been sending to the world; it is not even wholly sure of the full meaning of that Gospel. Therefore the Western world is itself a mission field.36
At the suggestion of J.H. Oldham, John R. Mott had invited Rufus Jones, an American Quaker, to present a paper. His paper was entitled, "Secular Civilization and the Christian Task". Rufus Jones’ keen analysis of secularism helped the delegates at the Jerusalem Conference to see, with clarity, that mission could not be defined fully in geographical terms. He wrote:
We go to Jerusalem then, not as members of a Christian nation to convert other nations which are not Christian, but as Christians within a nation far too largely non-Christian, who face within their own borders the competition of a rival movement as powerful, as dangerous, as insidious as any of the great historic religions. We meet our fellow Christians in these countries, therefore, on terms of equality, as fellow workers engaged in a common task.37
He pointed out that the greatest rival for Christianity was not Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism, but a worldwide secular way of life and the interpretation of the nature of things. Faced with such an universal phenomenon, the response of the Christians must be to view other religions which secularism attacks, as witnesses of man’s need for God and allies in our quest for perfection. For Rufus Jones, the world conflict was between Christianity and secularism.
The most important action of the Conference was to formulate the Christian message and address it to the world . In the face of non-Christian religions and secularism, the burning question that had to be addressed was: Is there a Christian life and a Christian message that is distinctive, universally valid, sufficient and authoritative ?38 . The Jerusalem Conference did not take for granted the Christian message and motivation for mission, as its predecessor in Edinburgh had. The discussion of the Christian message in Jerusalem centered on two major issues. First was the antithesis between those on the one hand (mainly Continentals) who wanted to stress the absolute uniqueness of the Gospel revealed in Jesus Christ, and those on the other hand (some of the Anglo-American) who had been influenced by the comparative study of religions and did not want to overlook the religious values in the non-Christian religions. The other issue had to do with the difference of opinion over the social responsibility and concern of the church in the world. These differences reflected the outlook of the delegates on the motives, purpose, and goals of mission. In such a situation the drafting of the message of the Assembly was not easy. The task fell on William Temple.39 The Message recognizes divine light in other religions. It says: "We rejoice to think that just because in Jesus Christ the light that lighteth every man shone forth in its full splendor, we find the rays of that same light where He is unknown or even is rejected. We welcome every noble quality in non-Christian persons or systems as further proof that the Father, who sent His Son to the world, has nowhere left Himself without witness".
The message called on all the followers of non-Christian religions to join the Christians in the study of Jesus Christ as He stands before us in the Scriptures, to hold fast to faith in the unseen and eternal in the face of growing materialism of the world; to cooperate with Christians against all the evils of secularism; to respect the freedom of conscience; and to discern that "all the good of which men have conceived is fulfilled and secured in Christ". The Message emphasized the fact that Christianity was not a western religion and called all people to have equal fellowship in Him. To come to Him always involves self-surrender. We must not come in the pride of national heritage or religious tradition. Just because Christ is the self-disclosure of the one God, all human aspirations are towards Him, and of no human tradition is he merely the continuation. He is the desire of all nations; but He is always more, and other than they had desired before they learnt of Him. But we would not insist that when the Gospel of the love of God comes home with power to the human heart, it speaks to each man, not as Moslem or as an adherent of any system but just as men. And while we rightly study other religions in order to approach men wisely, yet at the last we speak as men to men, inviting them to share with us the pardon and the life we have formed in Christ.
The Message made it clear that our message to the world is Jesus Christ. "He himself is the Gospel and the Gospel is the message of the church to the world". As to the motive for Christian mission, it pointed out that the Gospel is the answer to the world’s greatest needs. "Its very nature forbids us to say that it may be the right belief for some and not for others. Either it is true for all, or it is not true at all". In coming into fellowship with Christ, we find in ourselves an overmastering impulse to share Him with others. He has become life for us. We should share that life. We do not go to the nations called non-Christian because they are the worst and they alone are in need. We go because they are part of the world and share with us in the same human need - the need for redemption from ourselves and from sin, the need to have life complete and abundant. Here lies the Christian motive; it is simple. We cannot live without Christ and we cannot bear to think of other people living without Him. "Christ is our motive, and Christ is our end. We must give nothing less, and we cannot give more".40
The years between the Jerusalem Conference, and the next one which was held in Madras (India), were very creative in the field of theology of mission. The discussions on the subject of Christianity and non-Christian religions continued in the pages of the IRM. A number of books on the subject also appeared. However, two events of major significance in the field were the publication of the report of the Layman’s Foreign Missions Inquiry in 1932 under the title: Re-thinking Missions, and Hendrik Kramer’s book: The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World in 1938, written for discussion at the Madras meeting of the IMC.41
The Layman’s Foreign Missions Inquiry was jointly sponsored by eight mission boards in the USA. The chairman of the Commission of Inquiry was W.E. Hocking who was a Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University and a Congregational layman. The purpose of the Inquiry was to review the work of foreign missions in Asia. When the findings of the Inquiry were published in the early 1930s, it led to controversies. As always, there were those who disagreed and those who accepted the findings of the Inquiry.
Robert Speer, John A. Mackay, K.S. Latourette were all very critical of the theological assumptions of the report, especially its Christology. The Inquiry spoke of two ways of understanding the person Jesus Christ. One is that Jesus is a supreme religious teacher and exemplar of a life lived in union with God, whose example provides support for those who subsequently desire to carry out the same ventures. The second view is that Christ who "to many Christians offered a life of fellowship in union with himself and with other Christians in the fellowship of his Church", is in a unique sense the Son of God. But beneath them there are underlying agreements belonging to the essence of Christianity. As Timothy Yates observed it would have been a tragic mistake to shelve the volumes of the Inquiry on the grounds of criticisms of less-than-adequate Christian theology. In its attempt to follow through a comprehensive view of missions, the Inquiry served the missions well with its critique and attempt to apply correctives to existing programs. As part of this, it supplied a searching appraisal of the educational, medical and agricultural responses to human need of missions, which was of considerable value, as was the firm support and backing given to the younger churches in their search for independence and indigenization.42
Chairman of the Commission W.E.Hocking was concerned about the search for a world community in which different religions could co-exist and where each would make its own contribution to the total life. Here, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Confucianist could open to one another the treasures of their discoveries, so mutually advancing in truth and authenticity. For him the ultimate object of all missionary enterprise was the creation of a common spiritual life among men. These ideas of Hocking were included in the final report. It stated that the aim of mission is to seek with people of other lands a true knowledge and love of God, expressing in life and word what we have learned through Christ.43 The Christian will look forward not to the destruction of non-Christian religions, but to their continued coexistence with Christianity, each stimulating the other in the growth toward the ultimate goal, unity in the completest religious truth. 44 The Christian will, therefore, regard himself as a co-worker with the forces within each religious system which are making for righteousness.45 This approach departed sharply from the traditional concept of mission. In such a scheme, conceptions of uniqueness, absoluteness or finality disappear.
Archibald C. Baker, Associate Professor of Missions in the University of Chicago was one of those who welcomed the findings of the Layman’s Inquiry. In 1934, he published a book: Christian Missions and a New World Culture.46 In it he raises a number of questions with regard to the assumptions as well as the practice of missions. He asks: What is the primary aim of missions ? What is the most valuable religious contribution which we can make to the non-Christian world? The Jerusalem Conference had said that our Gospel is Jesus Christ. Baker asks: Is it enough to say that Jesus Christ is our Gospel, and if so, what does that mean? Has the Christian anything unique, absolute and final in his religion, or "are we rather transmitting to the rest of the world the idealised and spiritualised aspects of our Western culture"? What is the relation of Christianity to other religions ? Does the Christian already possess ultimate standards and norms, or must Christians and non-Christians look elsewhere for standards of truth and goodness? Will Christianity overthrow all other religions? Will it be fused with theism in an eclectic world-religion? 47
Baker points out that Christians often apply historical and scientific research to the claims of other religions, but refuse to apply the same method to Christian religion. They insist that there exists, in Christianity, a divine revelation or at least an inner essence of such a nature that lies beyond the reach of critical examinations. They hold it with a finality which permits no questions. They are to be accepted through faith. It is important, he says, that before we go any further, we examine the assumptions upon which we are operating. The religions of the world are related to one another and dependent on each other because of the fact that they all emerge in the same process which has been working through the ages, and according to the same laws of this process. "There is no more reason for the Christian to claim special miraculous origin for his religion than for the Japanese to boast that they are the chosen children of heaven". To admit this does not for a moment require us to hold that one religion is as good as the other. There are striking differences. Each religion - theistic, pantheistic, polytheistic, monistic or pluralistic - may be described as experimenting in its own peculiar manner with the problems of life. Some experiments have been more fruitful than others.48 Yet none can claim absolute finality. The Christian must assume such attitudes towards his own religion and also towards those of other peoples, as are warranted by the great basic facts of common origins and mutual dependence.
Too long have men boasted: "We have Abraham to our father", or Confucius, or Mohammed or Christ. It is just such excessive pull of ancestry in religion, nation and race which perpetuates old delusions, inflates the heart with false conceits, and sets a man against his neighbor. What is called for on the part of Christian and non-Christian is a mutual understanding, an attitude of sympathy and good will, a readiness to give and take, and a willingness to sacrifice when necessary for the larger good.49
Baker mentions that there is no one Christian message, but several, and all of them are only relatively true and final. Throughout the history of the church, the person of Jesus has served as a center of reference and symbol of religious values as these have been recreated by His followers out of their own enlarging experience. Some others prefer to take the more general concept, God rather than the idealized historical figure of Jesus Christ as the center of reference about which their lives are focussed. It is important to note, however, that more important than any particular symbol are the values symbolized. Love, joy, peace, courage, righteousness, the elevation of women, the right of children for a fair start in life, the sense of being at home in the universe - all these hold their worth for the human race whether they bear the name Christian or Buddhist. These priceless treasures are not exclusively the possession, nor the gift, of the Christian religion. "Therefore, so long as human lives are actually being enriched by these values and by this sense of reality, the specific auspices under which this was being accomplished -Christian, non-Christian, or scientific - are matters of secondary importance. So with regard to missionary motivation, he says:
Consequently, the missionary enters heartily into this process of mutual exchange and the stimulation one of another unto good works. He believes that by so doing the possibilities which lie dormant in other people and within himself will be brought to their fullest function. Inevitably this gives rise to a rejection and a selection of the different contributions offered.50
Baker points out that a new school of missionary interpretation is appearing which abandons all claims to absolutism and finality, which trusts less on persuasion, and relies more upon the methods of joint deliberations. Missions become a co-operative quest for truth, a co-operative activity for the good of humankind. "Those who are confident of the truth which they possess are sufficiently confident to place it again in the fiery furnace of criticism. They are ready to meet with all sincere men about the basic issues of life, which are the common meeting grounds for all"51 It is in the light of the relationship of various religions to the common process that uniqueness and universality must be understood, Every personality, every historic event has within it elements of uniqueness as well as of universality. It is in this sense that the uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ is offered to the rest of the world. When such exchange continues, there is the possibility of regional worlds being fused into a planetary world: "that what originates as the special discovery of one people will, by adoption, become the property of all".
But at the same time, and partly by the same process of cross-fertilization new forms of uniqueness will spring up, to preserve the variety so necessary for the progress and for’ the enrichment of life. Consequently there is little warrant for the belief either that Christianity eventually will overthrow all its rivals, that Christianity will remain unchanged in all countries and through out all ages, or that some synthetic religion will in the end cover the earth.52
The views expressed by the Layman’s Inquiry report and that by Baker created great storms in missionary circles. When H. Kramer wrote his book: The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World, he was also responding to the views expressed by the report and by Baker.
Madras (Tambaram) 1938
It was not only Kramer’s book but also his presentation at the Conference on the subject, "Continuity and Discontinuity" which were under consideration in Madras. Hendrick Kramer (1888-1965) was a Dutch missiologist. He worked as a missionary in Indonesia for some time and later became the first Director of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, Switzerland. He was present at the Jerusalem Conference and made valuable contributions to the discussion there. The International Missionary Council invited Kramer to write a book stating "the fundamental position of the Christian Church as a witness-bearing body in the modem world, relating this to different conflicting views of the attitude to be taken by Christians towards other faiths, and dealing in detail with the evangelistic approach to the great non-Christian faiths".53 It was meant to be a preparatory volume for the Madras Conference. As the report of the Madras Meeting states, "What he produced was a searching critique of the entire missionary approach to the non-Christian religions and the world in which they are set, based upon certain clear cut theological positions".54 The book gave rise to widespread discussions all over the world.
Kramer made it clear from the outset that the church’s concern for the non-Christian world was inspired by its prime apostolic obligation of bearing witness to the world; for the essential nature of the church is that it is an apostolic body.
It is this, not because its authority is derived from the apostles, for the apostles belong to the Church, but because in all its words and actions it ought to be a bearer of witness to God and His decisive creative and redeeming acts and purposes. To become conscious of its apostolic character is for the Church the surest way to take hold of its real essence and substance. And this, to take hold of its real essence and substance, has to be the object before us when we are thinking about the Christian message in a non-Christian world or the fundamental position of the Christian Church as a witness-bearing body in the modern world.55
Kramer said that the whole situation, both in the church and in the world, necessitated a re-orientation of the missionary enterprise. The missionary movement needed to recapture the certitude of having the apostolic obligation towards the world of witnessing to Christ and His new Kingdom. "For all subsidiary arguments or motives, that have often usurped practically the place of the primary motive, are smitten to pieces under the hammer of the times ... Sharing religious experiences, even service to men, ‘Christianizing’ the social, economic and political order, although included in the living act of manifold missionary expression, cannot be the real motive and ultimate purpose" 56
According to Kramer, two great evils of our time are secularism and relativism. He writes, "The outstanding characteristic of our time is the complete disappearance of all absolutes, and the victorious but dreadful domination of the spirit and attitude of relativism". 57 Religion, morality, systems of life, standards, spiritual values, normative principles, social orders are all divested of any absolute character or significance. "This, however, is only an addition to a more fundamental uncertainty that eats at the vital centers of human life. The problem of religious certainty is the ultimate problem of modern man. And the problem of religious certainty is the eternal human problem of God; always evaded, yet ever and ever again obtruding itself upon man".58 Kramer says that many people are not aware that the fundamental problem for them is the complete lack of absolutes in their life, their wholehearted surrender to the dominion of their life by relativism, their fundamental and radical uncertainty about the meaning of life.
Certainly there is spiritual hunger, but in most cases it is unconscious... Of course there are ideals. The world bristles with idealisms, noble and ridiculous, pure and demonic, because man cannot live without them... Absolutes however these are not, only pseudo absolutes. Those pseudo absolutes - race, nation, classless society, a "holy" or "eternal" country - clearly demonstrate that man cannot live on bread, on relativism, alone. 59
Human beings long for certainty but it is a fact that she or he cannot produce it by his or her own efforts. Kramer argues that this religious certainty is given only in the Christian Gospel, because it is the work of God. The revelation in Christ hangs entirely upon God’s sovereign initiative. Christian faith rests in the recognition and acceptance of the absolute authority of the word of God as found in God’s self-disclosing revelation in Jesus Christ.
The absolutely distinctive and unique thing about Christianity is the fact of the Person of Christ. God was truly revealed in Jesus Christ. Neither flesh nor blood can reveal it, only God Himself. "If the flesh and blood could reveal it, then it would be no revelation but human intuition or power of apprehension. Revelation in Jesus Christ is a free divine act of redemptive eruption into the life of human being and the world". 60 This is an offence to man, because all philosophy, all idealistic religion, all consistent mystical religion, all moralism meet in one point. They constitute various endeavors for self-redemption, and instinctively reject the truth that God and God alone can work redemption.61
The only legitimate source from which to take knowledge of the Christian faith in its real substance is the Bible; there the witness of the prophets and the apostles is to be found on which the church is built.62 Kramer points out that during the last hundred years the Bible has come under searching and critical investigation of scholars. Efforts have been made to show that Christianity is part of an immanent process of human creativity in the field of religion, to explain it as an outcome of religious development in the Jewish and Hellenistic world and to demonstrate its kinship to mystery religions, all aimed at making Christianity the result of the immanent process of history. "It is one of the most fascinating things to notice that Christianity, the religion of revelation, constantly eludes those endeavors. The origins of Christianity are irreducible. A deeper and purer awareness of the peculiar character and object of Christian faith has been the result".63
The Christian revelation in Jesus Christ is absolutely sui generis according to Kramer. It is the story of God’s redeeming act in Jesus Christ. The Bible consistently testifies to His acts and plans in regard to the salvation of humankind and of the world. It is not a book of religious experiences, though religious experiences are not absent from it. What is central and fundamental in the Bible is the registering and description of, and witnessing to, God’s creative and redemptive dealings with His world. The peculiar character of the Bible is that it is radically religious. The Bible is also intensely ethical, but the ethical is subordinated to the religious. The Bible is also radically theocratic. God, His holy will, His acts, His love, His justice, is the beginning and end of all. Human beings and the world are brought in direct, immediate relationship to this God, who always takes the initiative. The Bible takes, in a radically serious fashion, the fact that God is God, that He is the Absolute Sovereign and the only rightful Lord, with all the consequences that are implied herein for the world, human life and the position of human beings. "In this point consist the originality and uniqueness of the Bible; and also its perennial strangeness and newness to us, however intimate we may be with it. Real contact with the Bible means a constantly recurring process of conversion of our normal thinking and judgements".64 This radical nature of the Bible, Kramer refers to as, Biblical Realism.
For Kramer, God’s revelation in Jesus Christ as recorded in the Bible is the fundamental starting point and criterion of all Christian and theological thinking. It is from this stand point Kramer speaks about the Christian attitude towards the non-Christian religions. For a Christian "the only standard of reference can be the new and unmeasurable world which has been revealed and made real by God in Jesus Christ and His life and work, and which is accessible to faith alone ... Christ, as the ultimate standard of reference, is the crisis of all religions, of the non-Christian religions and of empirical Christianity. This implies that the most fruitful and legitimate way to analyze and evaluate all religions is to investigate them in the light of the revelation of Christ".65 Kramer evaluates other religions in the light of the Christian revelation and poses the question: Does God - and if so, how and where does God - reveal Himself in the religious life as present in the non-Christian religions.66
Human beings, in the light of the Revelation in Christ, are God’s creatures, destined to be His children and co-workers, hence of great worth and possessing great qualities. Human nature and condition, however, has become perverted by a radical self-centeredness, the root of sin and death in the world. The God-rooted origin and end, and the splendid God-given qualities, assert themselves still in ways in which people try to master and regulate life, as manifested in the great achievements in the fields of culture, art, science, political, social and economic life. Kramer says that all religions, high or low, all philosophies, and world views, are the various efforts of mankind to apprehend the totality of existence, "often stirring in their sublimity and as often pathetic or revolting in their ineffectiveness".67 So philosophy is this effort towards apprehension by way of knowledge; religion is the same effort by the way of the heart; theology, as for example, Muslim theology or Ramanuja’s bhakti theology, is an effort to reflect in a system of coherent thinking, the religious apprehension of existence. These universal attempts show that there is an universal religious consciousness among all peoples. But since all these are human efforts, they all also share in the human sin. "This fundamental disharmony is also manifested in all the spheres of life in which man moves, and in his cultural and religious achievements".68 Kramer writes:
In the domain of religious consciousness man’s possibilities and abilities share in the lofty religious and ethical systems that he has produced and tried to live by. The non-Christian world in the past and present offers many illustrious examples. His sin and his subjection to evil and to satanic forces, however, corrupt all his creations and achievements, even the sublimes. in the most vicious way... The Christian revelation places itself over against many efforts to apprehend the totality of existence. It asserts itself as the record of God’s self-disclosing and re-creating revelation in Jesus Christ, as an apprehension of existence that revolves around the poles of divine judgement and divine salvation, giving the divine answer to this demonic and guilty disharmony of man and the world. 69
In the illuminating light of the revelation of Christ, says Kramer, "all religious life, the lofty and degraded, appear to be under the divine judgement, because it is misdirected"70 Kramer is of the view that all non-Christian religions, philosophies, and world ‘views’ are the product of the efforts of various people to apprehend the totality of existence. They are an attempt at self-deliverance, self-justification and self-sanctification. They shed a totally different light on the crucial questions of God, man and the world from what is shed upon them when we start from the person of Christ. Therefore he says that the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is discontinuous even with what is normally held to be "what is best" in other religions.71 In his book: Why Christianity Of All Religions? he wrote:
To put it really in as many words: in the light of Jesus Christ. who does not bring a Revelation from God but is himself the Revelation of God, the main thing about all religions - the heart and soul of them, as it were - is that they are fleeing from God; and I mean here not a generalized Godhead comprising all the different ways of picturing a deity, but quite specifically the God who is the God and Father of Jesus Christ. It is in that sense that, splendid as is the spirit which so often informs them, they are in error. Their natural tendency is all in the direction of self-will, of self-justification, even though it is only in the light of Jesus Christ that this becomes apparent; and thus it is that we come to understand them as a flight from God, a refusal to let God decide what the good of man really is and what it means to be truly man, an iron determination to decide these things for themselves and so to set man up as himself the key to the problem and enigma of man.73
For Kramer, ‘nature’, ‘reason’ and ‘history’ do not afford preambles, avenues or lines of development towards the realm of grace and truth as manifest in Jesus Christ. Therefore, he rejects the attempts to find points of contact between Christianity and non-Christian religions, or to speak of Christianity as fulfillment of the longings and aspirations of the non-Christians, or to consider non-Christian religions as ‘preparation’ for the Gospel.73
The Christian maintains, in the face of the highest and loftiest religious and moral achievements in the non-Christian religions, that they need conversion and regeneration as much as the ordinary sinner needs it; because the meaning of Christ is that He makes all things new, and that, according to Jesus’ words, "the least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than John the Baptist", who was greater than anyone "among the sons of women". 74
Kramer concludes his argument thus:
To sum up, from the standpoint of Biblical realism the attitude towards the non-Christian religions, and likewise the relation of the Christian Church to the world in all its domains, is the combination of a prophetic, apostolic heraldship of truth for Christ’s sake with a priestly apostolic ambassadorship of love for His sake. The, right attitude of the Church, properly understood, is essentially a missionary one, the Church being set by God in the world as ambassador of His reconciliation, which is the truth that outshines all truth and the grace that works faithful love.75
The Debate in Madras
Though Kramer’s book and his presentation at the Conference on "Continuity or Discontinuity" were dominant influences at Madras, there were several among the participants who disagreed with his views. As Timothy Yates observed, the immediate responses varied between William Temple’s Forward, commending it a book likely to remain for many years to come the classical treatment of its theme to C.F. Andrews’ response which was to drop it ‘unceremoniously’ into the waste paper basket.76
H. Hartenstein, the German Director of Missions, was one of those who agreed wholeheartedly with Kramer’s approach. In his paper, "The Biblical View of Religion", he supported Kramer’s thesis by referring to the biblical interpretation of religions. For him, the non-Christian religions highlighted a deep longing and groping of the human soul towards the Holy God, and of his constant running away from God in blindness and rebellion.77
On the contrary, T.C. Chao of China, said:
The all mighty and all-loving God being the creator of the universe, we can safely say that nature and man, in different and progressive orders, reveal God and His divine character and power. Nature reveals his power and intelligence while humanity reveals, especially in the lives of sages and prophets, His love and righteousness. All nations, with their various religions, have seen God more or less clearly, although the forms in which their visions have been clothed are incomplete, in sufficient and unsatisfactory. In them and in Jesus Christ, God has been revealing Himself the same self to mankind.78
While Hartenstein supported Kramer’s position by appealing to the biblical view of religion, Karl Ludvig Reichelt of the Norwegian Missionary Society disagreed with Kramer on the basis of the fourth Gospel. Based on the Logos Christology of St. John, Reichelt pointed out that all that is true, good and noble in all nations and races, in all cultures and religions, have their origin in Jesus Christ. There is a special function of Christ to be styled, Logos Spermatikos. This means that the Spirit of Christ, which like a grain of seed lying behind the religious systems in the non-Christian religions and cultures, is sprouting in faith, sometimes dimly and sometimes in real beauty and splendor, in poetry, rituals, holy scripture and external arrangements. Those who have received the logos-light are born of God and are therefore the children of God. Finally the Logos became flesh. From that hour, we have not only the Logos as a grain of seed or a small beam of light but God revealed in His fullness. For this reason, nobody can be compared to Jesus Christ. Christ has been working everywhere through all ages and we shall gratefully and joyfully use the material that He himself has prepared for the coming Kingdom.79
Walter Marshall Horton, in his article: Between Hocking and Kramer, agrees with Kramer when he says that it is by the revelation of God in Jesus Christ that all man-made religions, i.e., all existing religious movements including empirical Christianity are to be judged. But Horton says, "Hesitation begins when I confront Kramer’s doctrine that the great Eastern faiths are to be interpreted, in the main, as various forms of self-deification, resulting from man’s inveterate propensity to carry his drive for self-realization up to the transcendent level, until at last he claims partnership with gods themselves". 80 He went on:
There is, of course, more than a verbal difference between that high Augustinian School of thought to which Barth and Kramer belong and that more liberal school of theology which, from Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria down to Rufus Jones and Dean Inge, has always believed in the effective presence of the Logos spermatikos among all peoples. I am for Barth and Kramer when they insist that the highest mystical illumination may act as a bar instead of a gateway for the truth as it is in Christ, which is only to be revealed through the lowly gate of repentance. I am against them when they use language that seems to - deny that God’s presence and power are effectively active in the heathen world. 81
Horton pointed out that we do not claim to possess the truth of God in its entirety. When we face the mystery of the future and the mystery of death, we humbly acknowledge that much is veiled from our sight. "When we sit down to speculate on these themes with men of other faiths, we sit down with them as fellow mortals, bound like them by our bins and our finiteness, still wondering and hoping rather than "knowing" as the agnostics and theosophists claim to know" 82
H.H. Farmer, pointed out that for Kramer, the basic relationship in which God stands to human beings was one of absolute sovereign will; it was conceived to be a relationship of complete and unqualified submission and obedience. The personal relationship was not thought of as "Fatherly love". "It is much easier for those who set the personal emphasis on sovereignty to view the religious life of mankind on the one hand and God on the other as standing over against one another in a kind of isolation, than it is for those who set the personal emphasis on fatherly love".83
A.G. Hogg, after stating that religious life in Christian religion was a life ‘hid with Christ in God,’ asks: Can there be, within the non-Christian religions, in those for whom their religion is a living personal possession, a life which, although without Christ, is yet somehow a life ‘hid in God’? Is there any such thing as a religious faith which in quality or texture is not definitely Christian but in the approach to which one ought to put the shoes off the feet, recognizing one is on the holy ground of a two sided commerce between God and man? In non-Christian faith may we meet with something that is not merely a seeking but, on a real measure, a finding by contact with which a Christian may be helped to make fresh discoveries in his own finding of God in Christ? Hogg’s answers to these questions were in the affirmative. He emphatically stated, "It is radically wrong for the missionary to approach men of other faiths under a conviction that he and his fellow believers are witnesses to a divine revelation, while other religions are exclusively the product of a human "religious consciousness".84 He went on to say that Kramer asserted that Christianity was unique because it was created by the occurrence of revelation. Without the revelatory initiative of God, there would be no religion. But, says Hogg, "Christianity is unique because of the unique content of the revelation of which it is the apprehension and product, and fo which it bears witness. And that content must win conviction by its own appeal, by its illuminating and renovating power".85
The Conference, in its Findings, made it clear that Jesus Christ was the way for all people and he alone was adequate for the world’s needs. The Findings said, "Our message is that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. We believe that God revealed Himself to Israel, preparing the way for His full revelation in Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord. We believe that Christ is the way for all, that He alone is adequate for the world’s need. Therefore we want to bear witness to Him in all the world."86
The Findings recognized in other religions, values of deep religious experiences and great moral achievements. However, it said:
Yet we are bold enough to call men out from them to the feet of Christ. We do so because we believe that in Him alone is the full salvation which man needs. Mankind has nothing to be compared with the redeeming love of God in the life and death and resurrection of Christ... We do not think that God has left Himself without witness in the world at any time. Men have been seeking Him all through the ages. Often this seeking and longing has been misunderstood. But we see glimpses of God’s light in the world of religions, showing that His yearning after His erring children has not been without response. Yet we believe that all religious insights and religious experiences have to be fully tested before God in Christ; and we see that this is true as well within as outside the Christian Church. Christ is revolutionary; He brings conversion and regeneration when we meet Him, from whatever point we may have started.87
The Findings saw this to mean that the missionary should take a deep and sincere interest in the religious life of the people among whom he worked, but that the interest in the religious heritage of the nations must not lead to the assumption that the scriptures of these religions could replace the Old Testament as an introduction to the Christian Gospel. Where a church grows up in an environment of non-Christian religions and cultures, it is necessary that it become firmly rooted in Christian heritage and in the fellowship of the church universal. It is necessary that it should also be rooted in the soil of their own country. The Gospel should be experienced and interpreted in indigenous forms, and that in methods of worship, institutions, literature, architecture, and so on, the spiritual heritage of the nation and the country should be taken into use.
Hendrik Kramer’s theology was essentially that of the Protestant Reformers of the 16th century. According to medieval thinking, two types of knowledge of God, the natural and the revealed, compliment each other. This synthesis was broken at the time of the Reformation. For the reformers, these two kinds of knowledge of God were fundamentally opposed. Following Augustine’s lead, Luther and Calvin stressed the negative consequences of the Fall arguing that it had resulted in the corruption of human reason. "Since natural theology resulted from the exercise of fallen human powers of speculation, it became for the reformers a highly suspect enterprise, which, viewed in the light of the cardinal doctrine of justification by Grace, was no more than man’s arrogant attempt to storm the ramparts of heaven... Since all non-Christian religious beliefs were thought to be based on this dubious foundation of natural knowledge, it followed that all the forms of heathenism were bereft of truth, and that no salvation was to be found within them".88 Luther conceded that there was universal knowledge of God among all heathen and that this light could not be subdued or extinguished. He also indicated that this God could not be identified. Reason never finds true God, but it finds devils or its own concept of God ruled by the devil.89 It was this Reformation theology which Kramer applied at Madras to the non-Christian religions. In this he was greatly influenced by the Barthian theology that was popular at that time in Europe.
As C.F. Hallencreutz remarked, "Tambaram 1938 became a heated missiological controversy. The thrust of Kramer’s argument was disputed both in its theological implications and in its distinction between Christianity and other faiths".90
Despite the controversy it aroused, the conference at Madras had great influence on missionary thinking for several decades. In 1988, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Madras meeting, the World Council of Churches organized a consultation at Madras to evaluate the contribution of Kramer. While the consultation was very appreciative of Kramer’s contribution at the Madras meeting, several at the consultation expressed doubts as to the relevance of his theology for today. At that time, Philip Potter, writing in the Ecumenical Review, was very appreciative of Kramer’s insight about the primacy of biblical realism, but added, ". . .but the content of biblical realism ought to take into account the deep intent and scope of God’s purpose for human beings in creation. A true doctrine of the sovereignty of God in creation, redemption and eschatological fulfillment must make room for an anthropology which allows for God to be acting in and through all persons who earnestly seek to be truly human. It is the good news of the humanity of God in Christ which makes exciting the dialogue between Gospel and culture".91
Madras was a milestone in the sense that it made very clear that carrying the Gospel to the non-Christian world was not simply a matter of practical concern (as Edinburgh thought) but a theological one.
After the Evanston Assembly in 1955, the World Council of Churches , launched three interrelated studies on: The Word of God and the living faiths of men; The Lordship of Christ over the church and the world; and Common Christian responsibility towards areas of rapid social change. Philip Potter pointed out that it was the third one, on the Christian responsibility towards areas of rapid social change, which brought out, during the following four years, the actual situation of the people in the third world who comprise about two thirds of the population of the world. It was in the course of this study that the issues of culture, religion, and social change became apparent and raised questions of how the peoples of the world could participate together in promoting human dignity, justice and peace. One place where this was increasingly perceived and carried out was through the study centers on religion and society, particularly in Asia.92
At the third assembly of the World Council of Churches in New Delhi, P.D. Devanandan who spoke on "Called to Witness", raised the question of witness in a world of other faiths. Devanandan (1901-1962) was the Founder-Director of the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and society in India. He was present at the International Missionary Council meeting in Madras. Kramer’s book: The Christian Message meant for him- a personal spiritual experience almost amounting to a conversion from a vague Christian philosophy of religion to the deeper dimensions of ethics and eschatology of radical Christian faith.93 He was, however, very much opposed to Kramer’s negative approach to the non-Christian world and his rejection of the fulfillment theory.
At New Delhi, referring to the new ferment in other religions, Devanandan said, "There can be sociological and psychological explanations for this phenomenon of the renaissance of other religions. But if religious faith is to be regarded also in terms of response it would be difficult for Christians to deny that these deep, inner stirrings of the human spirit are in response to the creative activity of the Holy Spirit"94 He pointed out:
At best, we only confess our inability to understand God’s ways with us men: at worst, we must blame ourselves for our blindness in refusing to believe that God is equally concerned in the redemption of people other than us, who may not wholly agree with our understanding of God’s being, and his purpose for the world of his making.95
A world renewed in Christ, the new creation, is the sum and substance of the message of the Christian witness, he said. He then posed the questions: Is the preaching of the Gospel directed to the total annihilation of all other religions than Christianity? Will religions as religions, and nations as nations, continue characteristically separate in the fullness of time when God would gather together into one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth, even in him? According to Devanandan, in the final gathering up of all that is of this world and of the next, we will not be able to distinguish the New from the Old. As to the fulfillment he said:
Christian faith distinguishes between the Gospel proclamation of the fulfillment of God’s promise of the Kingdom, and the hope in the fulfillment of religious faith, wherever ii is found, that all sincere human striving to reach out to God will indeed find favor with him. Fulfillment in the second sense would mean progressive realization of a more or less continuous creative process in history which can be traced back to the past, discernible in the present, and finally completed in the future. But fulfillment in the former case would mean that, because the final end is so totally assured, the end is in reality a present fact. In salvation-history, to the discerning eye of faith, it is the eternal future that is fulfilled in the contemporary present, not the past perfected in the future. It is in this sense our Lord declared that he had come not to destroy but to fulfil.96
Is salvation-history only confined to the history of Israel and the church? M.M. Thomas pointed out that Devanandan certainly believed that salvation history covered all parts of humanity and that he was prepared to look for salvation history or the new creation in Christ even within renascent Hinduism and secular humanism.97 God has a purpose in history and is working through it and Devanandan saw God working out His purpose in the renaissance and internal reformation going on in other religions. According to him, the Christian message of new creation in Christ ought to be addressed to the process of renaissance and reformation taking place in other religions. "If God’s redemptive activity in Jesus Christ is a fact with which we should reckon in every human situation, it is not so much by total destruction that he manifests his power but by the radical renewal of what we cherish as valuable. That is why the Gospel we proclaim is the Good News of the Resurrection, the hope of the New Creation."98
At the New Delhi Assembly, the report of the section on witness mentioned that there were different opinions in the group about the proper understanding of the relation and response of people of other faiths to divine reality. This question was referred, for further investigation, to the study group on the ‘Word of God and the living faiths of men’.
In 1967, the World Council of Churches held a consultation in Kandy, Sri Lanka on ‘Christians in Dialogue with men of other faiths’. In the Kandy statement, dialogue was understood as an authentic style of living in pluralistic milieu, which transcended simple co-existence. It meant "a positive effort to attain a deeper understanding of the truth through mutual awareness of one another’s conviction and witness.99 The Uppsala Assembly in 1968 in its report on Renewal in Mission spoke of the necessity for dialogue with people of other faiths, or no faith, arising out of the common humanity which we share with others. It stated:
The meeting with men of other faiths or of no faith must lead to dialogues. A Christian’s dialogue with another implies neither a denial of the uniqueness of Christ, nor any loss of his own commitment to Christ, but rather that a genuinely Christian approach to others must be human, personal, relevant and humble. In dialogue we share our common humanity, its dignity and fallenness, and express our common concern for that humanity. It opens the possibility of sharing in new forms of community and common service. Each meets and challenges the other; witnessing from the depths of his existence to the ultimate concerns that come to expression in word and action. As Christians we believe that Christ speaks in this dialogue, revealing himself to those who do not know him and correcting the limited and distorted knowledge of those who do. Dialogue and proclamation are not the same. The one compliments the other in a total witness. But sometimes Christians are not able to engage either in open dialogue or proclamation. Witness is then a silent one of living the Christian life and suffering for Christ. 100
While such discussions were taking place in the World Council of Churches, similar initiatives and encouraging developments were taking place in other centers, especially in the Roman Catholic Church and in the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA). More than half the world’s population lives in Asia; the majority of them belong to Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Inter-religious and inter-cultural questions are crucial ecumenical issues for the churches in Asia. The EACC (later CCA), from the very beginning of its formation, was aware of the world of religions as a missionary frontier. But as the churches have grappled with the question of participation in nation building, development, and modernization, it has become increasingly clear that it is important that people of different religions not only talk together but also work together for justice and peace in the world. In the 1960s, EACC under the leadership of D.T. Niles was very conscious that the being, the functions, and the forms of the church should be seen within the setting of Christian solidarity with all others in the larger human community. Community with people in recognition and realisation of their common humanity is the only true Context for meaningful dialogue and therefore of Christian mission. M.M. Thomas was only voicing the thinking of the Asian churches when he said:
One thing is absolutely clear. Participation in the struggle of Asian peoples for a fuller human life in state, society and culture, in a real partnership with men of other faiths and no faith, is the only context for realizing the true being of the Church and exercising Church’s ministry and mission. Whether we speak of the evangelistic mission of proclaiming and in other ways of communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ, or of the meaning of Church’s social service and prophetic ministry or of the worship and fellowship of the Christian congregation or of the larger unity of the Church, it has sense and makes sense only within this context of participation and partnership. Therefore the life and mission of the Church should be so patterned as to make such participation effective and responsible, and an expression of Christian discipleship. 101
In 1964, EACC undertook a study of ‘Christian Community within Human Community’.
The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was an event of great significance in the life of the Roman Catholic Church and in the ecumenical movement as a whole. The Council issued comprehensive and systematic statements dealing with the matters of theology and practice of mission. In this, the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (Lumen Gentium 1964), the Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity (AD Gentes, 1965), and Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (1965), are of special importance. In relation to the non-Christian religions, the Council said:
The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often shed a ray of that truth which enlightens all men. Yet she proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (John 14.67). In him God reconciled all things to himself (2 Cor. 5:18-19), and in whom men find the fullness of their religious life.
The Church, therefore, urges her sons to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions. Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, also their social life and culture.102
The Roman Catholic Church is much more open to dialogue with people of other faiths than the Protestants. The Declaration of the Second Vatican Council, and the writings of Roman Catholic theologians such as Karl Rahner on the subject, had widespread influence in the ecumenical movement as a whole.
Ajaltoun Conference 1970
Since the conference at Uppsala, the World Council of Churches has treated dialogue with people of other faiths with serious concern. In August 1968, Stanley J. Samartha was appointed Associate Secretary in the Department of Studies in Mission and Evangelism. His primary responsibility was to pursue the study on the ‘Word of God and the living faiths of men’, and to encourage and coordinate the work of the Study Centers related to the Division of World Mission and Evangelism. At the initiative of Samartha, a consultation with adherents of other religions was held in March 1970 in Ajaltoun (Beirut). Its purpose was "to gather together the experience of bilateral conversations between Christians and men of other faiths, to experiment with a multilateral meeting, and see what could be learned for future relations between people of living faiths". Samartha speaks of the Ajaltoun meeting as a new beginning. "With this consultation, dialogue made a provocative entry into the agenda of the World Council of Churches and became a continuing ecumenical concern for the churches affiliated to the Council".103 The Ajaltoun meeting brought together for the first time people of four different faiths - Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims - under the auspices of the WCC. It also brought together for the first time Roman Catholic theologians to join Orthodox and Protestants to meet neighbors of other faiths.104 Though the consultation was tentative and experimental in nature, it was recognized that something very new had been embarked upon and that what was experienced together was very positive and something to be carried forward urgently.105
David Jenkins, a British theologian and the Director of Humanum Studies of the World Council of Churches at the time was a participant at Ajaltoun consultation. He observed:
The pre-supposition of the Consultation on "Dialogue between Men of Living Faiths" at Ajaltoun was that a living commitment to a living faith within a particular religious tradition did not forbid dialogue on the grounds of disloyalty to the exclusive claims of that faith nor render dialogue impracticable because the object of the commitment was experienced so differently as to make dialogue impossible. The experience of the actual dialogues possible at Ajaltoun confirmed this pre-supposition.106
According to him, the questions of absoluteness, uniqueness, conversion, mission, evangelism, and a host of others have arisen, and will continue to arise. The pre-supposition, experience, and the conclusion of the Ajaltoun consultation was that whatever the views that had been expressed, the fact remained that men of commitment and faith in different religious traditions can and do find, by virtue of that commitment, that they share aspects (only) of a common beginning, a common situation and a common end. Jenkins made it clear that he was not saying that all religions truly arise from a common source, see the world in a similar way and have a manifest common aim., "The factual and primarily significant element is that men of living faiths can help one another to catch glimpses which hint that in their highly varied, incomplete and perfect ways they are to some extent drawing from a common source, living in a common world and seeking a common fulfillment, and that they do this through their very varied religious traditions and the varied and imperfect ways in which they seek to express thc commitment required in response to that with which traditions are concerned".107
Jenkins stressed that dialogue must be concerned not only with possibilities of common exploration but also with possibilities of common action. The dialogue needs to expand, not into a competition for the souls of people, but into a competition for the pooling of resources for the task of serving people and glorifying God. "We need to be together with all men of living faith and living concern for the sake of the world, so that unity of mankind and sustaining of mankind can be promoted, and for the sake of entering into the fullness of Christ, i.e., of discovering and being part of the realizing of all that is involved in Christ, the Son and the Word of God"108 This is an urgent mission demanding a variety of forms of exploration, activity and sustenance. "But the object of mission is not primarily conversion to membership of the Christian church or acceptance of a specifically Christian commitment but a moving onwards into the possibilities of God which constitute man’s future and his fulfillment".109
Samartha explained that one of the lessons which people of different faiths were learning was how much they were dependent on, and involved in, the on going history of one another. He said, "...our calling today is less to be the bearers of a particular "mission" and more to be participants in the total life of all multi-religious communities, to be a pilgrim people contentedly together in motion responding to the initiatives of God".110 This sense of dependence and involvement calls for a new understanding of the nature and function of Christian communities in multi-religious societies. Samartha very rightly asked: Does Christianity have the resources to solve all the problems people face elsewhere, particularly when there is a crisis of faith in the Church itself ?111 Ajaltoun was a new theologizing experience for many and they looked forward to more of such experiences, partly because of a sense of incompleteness and mutual need, though not necessarily because of deficiency in one’s own religious position. The thinking behind that being that the very adequacy and relevance of one’s commitment called for opening oneself to new dimensions of thought and experience.
Following the Ajaltoun consultation a group of twenty three Christian theologians - Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant -met together at Zurich in May 1970, to evaluate the Ajaltoun consultation and to see what lessons could be learned from such meetings for Christians in their continuing dialogue with people of other faiths.112 The report of the consultation made clear the position of the World Council of Churches with regard to dialogue. With regard to the mission of the church and dialogue, the report pointed out that there were those Christians who feared that dialogue with people of other faiths was a betrayal of mission; conversely, there were people of other faiths who suspected that dialogue was simply a new tool for mission. The report went on to say that there was an understanding of mission that neither betrayed the commitment of the Christians nor exploited the confidence and the reality of people of other faiths. Dialogue demands openness on both sides. It repudiates certain one-way patterns of mission in which those who speak and act in the name of Christ fail to listen to, and learn from, those to whom they are sent. Dialogue cannot either be a new tool for the old forms of mission which involve dominance, nor a dishonest means of getting into contact with a view to a conversion which does not take the other partner seriously. Nor can it be a betrayal of Christian mission. For dialogue between Christians and people of other faiths, being understood within the context of God’s mission to all people, stems from love and is seeking the fruit of love. True love never only gives, it is also concerned always to receive. For love is a relationship and a power of mutual respect. It is concerned always with reality, the freedom and the fulfillment of the other.113
"Dialogue with People of Living Faith" was the theme for the Central Committee meeting of the World Council of Churches in Addis Ababa in January 1971. After extensive discussion, the Central Committee adopted "The Interim Policy Statement and Guidelines on Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies". It also established a separate sub-unit on Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies and appointed Stanley Samartha as Director. This action gave the concern for other religions an independent status, and a visible presence, among other sub-units in the Unit on Faith and Witness.
By 1970, there was an increasing awareness in the ecumenical movement that Christians, in today’s increasingly pluralistic world, must go beyond considering people of other religions as objects of Christian mission to treating them as partners in a global community confronting urgent issues of peace, justice and the survival of humankind in the world. This was a decisive shift away from the position taken by Kramer at Madras. The dialogue program became a search for new relationships between people of different faiths and ideological convictions.
As mentioned earlier, the Bangkok Conference on ‘Salvation Today’ put great emphasis on the cultural identity of Christians and Christian communities. It emphatically stated that culture shapes the human voice that answers the voice of Christ. It pointed out that the universality of the Christian message does not contradict its particularity. Christ has to be responded to in particular situations, and in a variety of ways. As the concerns for religions and cultures developed, the evangelical criticisms of the World Council of Churches also intensified. Many Evangelicals saw in the dialogue program of the World Council, a loss of missionary commitment and they feared that dialogue would lead to syncretism.
At the Nairobi Assembly, the program of dialogue with people of other faiths was considered by section III on Seeking Community: The Common Search of People of Various Faiths, Cultures and Ideologies.114 In introducing the report, the moderator of the section, Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios reminded the Assembly that Christians, even if united, would be a minority within humanity, and that the wider human community really did matter. The questions, therefore, for the Christians are, firstly, what in our faith makes it possible to say that God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, is working within the whole of creation and humanity? Secondly, what is the right relationship between Christians and people of other faiths and ideologies? And thirdly, with cultures interacting, how do we find a world in which all cultures learn to make a common response to the problems confronting humanity?
During the discussion that followed, several (mostly of evangelical persuasion from Europe) opposed the report and believed that it would be interpreted as spiritual compromise or opposition to the mission of the church. It was surprising that instead of centering on the main substance of the report, namely the need for a common search for community in a pluralistic global society, the debate was on questions such as: Does dialogue lead to syncretism? Does it compromise the uniqueness, supremacy and the finality of Christ? Does it betray Christian mission?
Some speakers from Asia defended the report. Russel Chandran (Church of South India), speaking in favor of the report, said that the search for human community with others and dialogue with them was not simply the consequence of human considerations of tolerance, religious harmony, and peace. On the contrary, it was deeply rooted in our confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and our commitment to the trinitarian faith. We have not yet fathomed the depths of the unsearchable riches of Christ and our knowledge of him must never be absolutized. In a genuine sense, our knowledge and experience of Christ is enriched by the response of the people of other faiths. Witnessing to Christ is, therefore, a two-way movement of mutual learning and enrichment.115 With regard to the danger of syncretism voiced by several, Lynn A. de Silva of Sri Lanka pointed out that dialogue, far from being a temptation to syncretism, is a safe-guard against it, because in dialogue we get to know one another’s faith in depth. One’s own faith is tested and refined and sharpened thereby. The real test of faith is faiths-in-relation. 116
However, the mood of the Assembly was such that the objections were thought to be serious. The report was revised in the light of the criticisms raised and a preamble added. In the preamble it is said:
We are agreed that the Great Commission of Jesus Christ which asks us to go out into all the world and make disciples of all nations, and to baptize them in the triune Name, should not be abandoned or betrayed, disobeyed or compromised, neither should it be misused. Dialogue is both a matter of hearing and understanding the faith of others, and also of witnessing to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We are all opposed to any form of syncretism, incipient, nascent or developed, if we mean by syncretism conscious or unconscious human attempts to create a new religion composed of elements taken from different religions.117
Speaking of starting points in the search for community, the report stated:
Many stressed that all people have been created by God in his image and that God loves all humanity. Many believed that in a world broken by sin it is the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ which provides the basis for the restoration of the creation to wholeness. Others would seek this basis for community in the trinitarian understanding of God. Still others find theological meaning in the fact that history has moved and is removing geographical and cultural barriers which once kept us isolated and so is moving us towards one interdependent humanity... It would appear, however, that in practice in particular situations men and women of various cultures, faiths, and ideologies can enter into community together, although their own understandings of their motivations will vary.
The question was asked whether we can posit that Jesus Christ is at work among people of other faiths. Here opinions differed. Some stated as their conviction that Jesus Christ as Savior is not present in the other religions, although they accepted the idea of a natural knowledge of God. Others acknowledged the presence of the logoi spermatikoi (scattered seeds of truth) in other religions but stressed that only in Jesus Christ do we receive fullness of truth and life. Others gave first hand testimony that their own faith in Jesus Christ had been greatly deepened and strengthened through encountering him in dialogue with those of other faiths. The point was also made that the spirit works among people outside Israel and outside the Church, and that this spirit is one with the Father and the Son.118
The Assembly at Nairobi in 1975, failed to take a firm stand on many important issues. It was very indecisive and therefore failed to give clear directions for future work. Many from Asia, who lived and worked among people of other faiths were very disappointed with the discussions at Nairobi. They felt that it was a set-back for the development that had taken place since the Uppsala Assembly. Stanley Samartha noted, "While the representatives of churches gathered in Nairobi, had both the freedom and responsibility to raise questions fundamental to the integrity of the Christian faith, they took no notice of the considerable amount of work done from 1968 to 1978 - the Word of God studies, the various bilateral and multilateral meetings, and the serious theological reflections that had gone on, the reports of which were all available in the form of books and many articles".119 It is important to state an observation made by a guest (a Hindu) present at the Assembly. He wrote:
The problems that threaten world community are not merely political and economic; they also arise from certain religious and spiritual attitudes. May I submit that it is the way that the gospel is presented that poses serious problems to world community, and not the gospel itself. It is the manner in which Jesus Christ is communicated that creates religious dissentions, and not Jesus Christ. It is the exclusive and imperial attitude of some Christians that threatens the human community; it has even alienated its own young people in the Christian world. If the faith and integrity of other persons are not respected, human community can at best be only a dream.120
Nairobi was definitely a set back, but it did not stop the ecumenical movement from its search for a wider human community. The sub-unit on Dialogue, under the leadership of Samartha, continued the search. A consultation was held in April 1977 at Chiang Mai in Thailand. A group of about eighty five Christians - Protestants, Orthodox and Catholic - from thirty six countries met to reflect on what it meant, theologically and ethically, for Christians to seek community in a common search with people of various faiths, cultures and ideologies in a world torn by tensions and conflicts. The consultation turned out to be a landmark "in the history of the ecumenical movement in its struggle to come to terms with people of other faiths in God’s oikoumene".121 It prepared a theological statement on dialogue and guidelines for dialogues. According to Samartha, Chiang Mai helped to overcome some of the pain and doubts after Nairobi and gave a certain direction to the continuing work of dialogue in community.122
One of the high-lights of the consultation were the Bible Studies. The title of the Bible study led by Kristen Stendahl (based on Acts 10: 11-11:18 and Ephesians 2:11-22) was : "It took a miracle to launch the mission to the Gentiles". Stendahl pointed out that the whole of the New Testament was written either within, or for, primarily Gentile congregations. Paul was the first to see that "the Jesus movement" was to be a Gentile movement. But it took divine intervention with various and divinely scheduled coincidences. Even more important, the regular timetable "of baptism plus the reception of the spirit (Acts 2:38) was revised, with the spirit coming first (in a second Pentecost" for the Gentiles), so that Peter was led to say, if they have received the spirit "just as we have", what could prevent us from baptizing them (Acts 10:47). According to Stendahl, the book of Acts describes the slowness and resistance of the church in responding to the new ways God is leading her to go beyond the confines to which one is accustomed. Ephesians 2:11-22 then reflects, in theological terms, on what was actually happening in the experience of the early church. It describes a new chapter in human history, namely, the overcoming of the hostility between Jews and Gentiles, a destruction of the wall between religious divisions of human kind. The inherited division was overcome and the two were reconciled into one. Stendahl then made two important points:
1. The question of dialogue with people of other faiths was not in the minds of the biblical writers. Nevertheless, the new questions arising in new situations, for which there are no precedents, can be valid and important. A Christian theology of religion cannot be pieced together by direct biblical quotations. It is a new question.
2. The ‘Cornelius’ story shows that it is not easy for God to teach the church that He does not practice partiality. Let us not be jealous because He is generous.123
During the decade following Chiang Mai, a number of important developments took place in the life of the church. The Vatican brought out several substantial documents relating to the relation between Christians and people of other faiths. A number of programs in this area were undertaken by the CCA during the 1970s and 1980s. The World Council of Churches’ Commission on World Mission and Evangelism issued an ecumenical statement on ‘dialogue, witness and mission’. In preparation for the Canberra Assembly of the World Council of Churches, a dialogue consultation prepared a document on the work of the Holy Spirit in the world with special reference to people of other living faiths.124
The ecumenical discussion was not simply on dialogue with people of other faiths, but also included culture in general as the context for mission. The Bangkok conference on ‘Salvation Today’, had already raised this question sharply. The Assembly at Vancouver spoke of culture as the context for Christian mission. It was aware of the richness and variety of cultures and the crucial importance of culture. "Culture is what holds community together... It constitutes the collective memory of people and the collective heritage which will be handed down to generations still to come".125
Vancouver Assembly 1983, and Canberra Assembly 1991
The sixth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Vancouver in 1983 had as its main theme: Jesus Christ - the Life of the World. In discussing Christian witness in a divided world, the Assembly recognized culture as the context for Christian witness. The Assembly report on ‘Witnessing in a divided world’ said. "Culture is what holds a community together, giving a common frame work of meaning. It is preserved in language, thought patterns, ways of life, attitudes and symbols and pre-suppositions. and is celebrated in art, music, drama, literature and the like. It constitutes collective memory of the people and the collective heritage which will he handed down to generations still to come".126 While affirming and celebrating cultures as expressing the plural wonder of God’s creation, the report also recognized aspects within each culture which deny life and oppress people. Hence thc report suggested the need to look again at the whole issue of Christ and Culture in the present historical situation. It recommended that steps be taken for a theological understanding of culture. It said, "In the search for a theological understanding of culture we are working towards a new ecumenical agenda in which various cultural expressions of the Christian faith may be in conversation with each other". The report pointed out that in contemporary societies there is an evolution of a new culture due in part to modernization and technology. There is a search for a culture that will preserve human values and build community. Hence the need to reassess the role played by, in particular, secular and religious ideologies in the formation of culture, and the relationship between this process and the demands of the Gospel and our witness to it. The report affirmed that the Gospel message becomes a transforming power within the life of a community when it is expressed in the cultural forms in which the community understands itself.127 Vancouver did not say anything about dialogue with people of other living faiths.
In between Vancouver and the next Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Canberra in 1991, a number of important discussions took place about Gospel and culture. There was the Commission for World Mission and Evangelism Conference in San Antonio in 1989. There was the Asian Mission Conference in Indonesia in the same year under the auspices of the Christian Conference of Asia and the WCC committee at Baar in 1990. At the Asian Mission Conference, Kim Yong-Bock of Korea in his keynote address pointed out that the most basic theological affirmation is that the peoples of Asia are the children of God. God the creator is God of the suffering and struggling peoples of Asia, no matter who they are in terms of religion, political ideology or cultural differences. In Asia, however, Christian churches have constricted Jesus Christ to exclude peoples of Asia from the category of the people of God.128
The World Council of Churches’ consultation at Baar was the conclusion of a four year study undertaken by the sub-unit on Dialogue, entitled, "My Neighbor’s Faith and Mine". The report of the consultation 129 states that our theological understanding of religious plurality begins with our faith in the one God who created all things, the living God, present and active in all creation from the beginning. He guides the nations through their traditions of wisdom and understanding. God’s glory penetrates the whole creation. The consultation unambiguously stated that people at all times and in all places respond to the presence and activity of God among them, and have given their witness to their encounters with the living God. In this testimony they speak both of seeking and of having found salvation, or wholeness, or enlightenment, or divine guidance, or rest, or liberation. The consultation explained the plurality of religious traditions as the result of both the manifold ways in which God has revealed to peoples and nations, as well as the manifestation of the richness and diversity of human kind.130 "We affirm that God has been present in their seeking and finding, that where there is truth and wisdom in their teachings, and love and holiness in their living, this, like any wisdom, insight, knowledge, understanding, love and holiness that is found among us, is the gift of the Holy Spirit. We also affirm that God is with them as they struggle along with us, for justice and liberation".131 The report went on to say that since God is the creator and is active in the plurality of religions, it is inconceivable that God’s saving activity could be confined to any one continent, cultural type, or groups of peoples. A refusal to take seriously the many and diverse religious testimonies to be found among the nations and peoples of the whole world amounts to disowning the biblical testimony to God as creator of all things and father of human kind. The spirit of God is at work in ways that pass human understanding and in places that to us are least expected. In entering into dialogues with others, Christians seek to discern the unsearchable riches of Christ and the way God deals with humanity. The consultation saw the realm of religious plurality not as an obstacle to overcome but as an opportunity for deepening our encounter with God and with our neighbors.
The consultation also pointed out that any affirmation of the positive qualities of wisdom, love, compassion, and spiritual insight in the world’s religious traditions must also speak with honesty and with sadness of the human sin and folly that is present in all religious communities.132 The consultation at Baar had a more positive approach to other religions than any other World Council of Churches’ consultation held before. It was a bold affirmation of God’s universal work in the life of His creation.
In the Canberra Assembly of the Council in 1991, the question of Gospel and culture became a very controversial one. The occasion was the speech by Chung Hyun Kyung of Korea on the theme of the Assembly, ‘Come, Holy Spirit - Renew the Whole Creation’. In her address, she invoked the presence of the spirits of Hagar, Uriah, Joan of Arc, the people who died during the crusades, the indigenous people of the earth, the Jewish people killed in the gas chambers in the holocaust, Mahatma Gandhi, Steve Beko, Martin Luther King Jr., the Liberator, our brother Jesus, tortured and killed on the cross and so on. "I come from Korea, the land of spirits full of Han", she said. "Han is resentment. Han is bitterness. Han is grief. Han is broken-heartedness and the raw energy for struggle for liberation. They are all over the place seeking the chance to make the wrong right. Therefore the living peoples’ responsibility is to listen to the voices of the Han-ridden spirits and to participate in the spirit’s work of making right whatever is wrong. These Han-ridden spirits in our people’s history have been agents through whom the Holy Spirit has spoken her compassion and wisdom for life. Without hearing the cries of these spirits we cannot hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. These spirits are the icons of the Holy Spirit who became tangible and visible to us. Because of them we can feel, touch and taste the concrete bodily historical presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst. 133 Speaking of the image of the Holy Spirit from her Korean cultural background, she said:
For me the image of the Holy Spirit comes from the image of Kawn In. She is venerated as Goddess of Compassion and Wisdom by East Asian women’s popular religiosity. She is a bodhisatva, enlightened being. She can go into nirvana any time she wants to, but refuses to go into nirvana by herself. Her compassion for all suffering beings make her stay in this world enabling other living beings to achieve enlightenment... She waits and waits until the whole universe, people. trees, birds, mountains, air, water, become enlightened. They can then go into nirvana together where they can live collectively in eternal wisdom and compassion. Perhaps this might also be a feminine image of Christ who is the first-born among us, one who goes before and brings others with her.134
Several at the Assembly, found Chung’s address very disturbing. The Orthodox participants were alarmed at the presentation and said that some people tend to affirm with very great ease the presence of the Holy Spirit in many movements and developments without discernment. "We must guard against a tendency to substitute a "private" spirit, the spirit of the world or other spirits for the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son. Our tradition is rich in respect for local and national cultures, but we find it impossible to invoke the spirits of "earth, air, water and sea creatures". Pneumatology is inseparable from Christology or from the doctrine of the Holy Trinity confessed by the church on the basis of divine revelation".135
Similarly the Evangelicals who were present in Canberra pointed out:
As the Assembly discussed the process of listening to the spirit at work in every culture, we caution with others, that discernment is required to identify the spirit as the spirit of Jesus Christ and thus develop criteria for and limits to theological diversity. We argued for a high Christology to serve as the only authentic Christian base for dialogue with persons of other living faiths... At present, there is insufficient clarity regarding the relationship between the confession of the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the Scripture, the person and the work of the Holy Spirit, and legitimate concern which are part of the WCC agenda... This theological deficit not only conspires against the work of the WCC as a Christian witness but also increases the tensions among its member churches.136
The World Mission Conference, Salvador 1996: The Gospel in Diverse Cultures
If there was a world missionary conference specifically on Gospel and Cultures, it was the world mission and evangelism conference of the World Council of Churches held in Salvador, Brazil from Nov. 24- Dec. 3, 1996. Its main theme was ‘Called to One Hope: Gospel in Diverse Cultures’. There were five hundred and seventy four participants from churches, mission agencies and groups on the frontiers of mission coming from about hundred countries. It was a well-prepared conference and was the conclusion of a four-year study process in Gospel and Cultures undertaken by the CWME. There were two plenary presentations on the main theme and two theme panels with four speakers each. The conference worked in four Sections: Authentic witness in each culture; Gospel and identity in community; Local congregations in pluralist societies; and Gospel and diverse expressions.137
The Conference report when it speaks of culture has a wide understanding of culture and refers to all aspects of human activity and belief including religion. There is no way of being human without participating in culture, it says, for it is through culture that identity is established. Language, thought forms, and expressions, are shaped by culture. The question of culture in the missionary movement in the past was discussed mainly in relation to the churches in the mission field. Musimbi R. A. Kanyoro of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya pointed this out in her plenary presentation. After mentioning that Gospel and culture has been an issue of concern for the church since the beginning, she said,
Yet in missiological discussions a kind of dualistic thinking developed in which culture was for a long time simply seen as a concern of the South. Discussions about inculturation, indigenization and contextualization, wherever they took place, were aimed mainly at addressing issues and theologies of the former missionized churches. It is interesting for those of us who come from these churches to see the issues of culture now being brought to the forefront of global church discussion. Not only are we reminded of the various condemnations of our cultures through out history which stripped us of our very identity, but we vividly remember the WCC seventh assembly in Canberra (1991), where the key note address Prof. Chung Hyun Kyung of Korea sparked controversy".138
In the past, the Gospel had been identified with western culture and quite often the culture of the western missionary was imposed upon the converts. In many churches, the rite of baptism was seen as an act of separation of the baptized from her/his culture. K.M. George raised the same point when he said that in the reassertion of new cultural contexts for interpreting the Bible and doing theology, one can sense the search for a new time and space. The present time and space have been shaped by a conquering and possessing civilization. Peoples of different cultures have been denied their own time and space, so essential for genuine growth and freedom. Facing up to this need is the missionary challenge of the new century.139
Shift in Missionary Theology
One of the achievements of the Salvador Conference was that it recognized this challenge and brought the issue of culture to the forefront of the ecumenical discussion. Christopher Duraisingh sees a major shift in missionary thinking in Salvador. According to him it is a shift in mission thinking and practice from colonial to post-colonial and Euro-centric to polycentric.140 It shows that churches around the world have reached a critical point in the movement from being more or less homogenous in faith, worship and life to a situation of theological and liturgical heterogeneity, rooted in a profound contentment to express Christian faith and witness in terms of particular local cultural idioms. At Salvador, "many participants felt that a dominant trend at the conference was resistance to articulating the Gospel in monolithic and homogenous formulation, which led to abstract, general and universal. Salvador held forth the practice of diversity, multiplicity and heterogeneity born out of Christian experience in concrete, specific and particular contexts". 141 Duraisingh explained that the term "polycentric" pointed not only to the reality of the existence of many churches around the world but also to a systematic principle of differentiation - diversity in life and witness, theological formulation, and dialogue and communion. It signified a refusal to accord epistemological privilege and adjudicating power to any single church, whatever its intellectual, economic or political strength, however rich its historical background and heritage.142 This polycentric reality was clearly demonstrated by two theme panels - one on interpreting the Bible across cultures and the other on Evangelism in cultures.143 The shift in its missionary theology is reflected in the conference’s act of commitment.
We affirm that the spirit poured out on the day of Pentecost makes all cultures worthy vehicles of the love of God and that no culture is the exclusive norm for God’s relationship with the humans. We also affirm dialogue as a vital mode of developing relationships, cultivating understanding and growing towards the unity to which all creation is called in Christ.144
The conference spoke of the creative activity of the Holy Spirit in all cultures. The triune God has not left His creation without a witness. The question was asked ‘To what extent may other religions be acknowledged as being the expression of God’s mercy and grace found in Christ?’ For some, the people of other faiths experience salvation similar to what Christians experience salvation in Jesus Christ; for others, this was doubtful. The Section I Report points out, "The Christian faith affirms that God is one, and therefore the spirit present in the cultures and religions of humanity in mercy and judgement may be said to be none other than the Holy Spirit, that is, the Spirit of God who is eternally united to the Son and to the Father. Such convictions led some to ask whether the triune god is redemptively present even where the Gospel is not preached and Jesus Christ is not named as Savior and Lord"145
The conference also spoke of the ambiguity of culture. In each culture there are signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit, but sin has influenced all things human including culture. All cultures share in the brokenness of human life and there are life-denying and oppressive elements in cultures which run counter to the fundamental values of human relationships. God is present in cultures in both judgement and mercy in the midst of pain and suffering. The ultimate goal of God’s activity in cultures is to bring about liberation, life and knowledge of God for all. Hence the vocation of the church to preach the Gospel.
Implications for Christian Mission
1. Authentic witness within each culture.
This was the subject of discussion in Section I. The authentic witness is witness from within a culture. We are accustomed to treat culture as something fixed and outside the Gospel, an alien world into which the Christian mission goes - like a divine intervention -in order to confront and convert it by the proclamation of the Gospel. According to Duraisingh, "Witness from within" is the only mode of evangelism which corresponds to belief in a God who does not control human history from without but rather enters into it, suffers with it and transforms it by participating in it fully and really".146 The section report made this very clear. It said, "It is the life of Jesus the incarnate, lived out in the realities of a particular context, that illuminates the very nature of God’s way of salvation, the Gospel".147 Hence the incarnation of Jesus Christ, as testified to in the Gospel according to St. John (1:1-14) is basic to an understanding of the dynamic interaction between Gospel and cultures.148
In Gospel-culture encounter two things happen. Within the mutual interaction between Gospel and cultures, the Gospel functions as the new and inspiring principle, giving rise to the renewal of cultures through the transforming work of the spirit. Transformation means that the Gospel becomes incarnate in cultures in which it is proclaimed, just as the Word became incarnate in human flesh. Transformation brought about by the Gospel may be described as a lamp that gives light to all that is in the’ house. In turn, culture illuminates the Gospel. The Gospel may be made more accessible and given a deeper expression through human cultural activities. "To affirm that cultures illuminate the gospel is to hold that culture, manifested in art and other forms of human activity, enlightens and enhances our understanding of the gospel".149
Witness from within implies neither displacement of the other nor elimination of all that is not Christian, but "enfleshment from within". It does not seek the disappearance of another culture or religion but rather a "community of communities" which does not do away with differences but "holds them together within the living structure of a differentiated unity". "This approach", says Duraisingh, "demands a culture of dialogue, a dialogue in which Christians may give an unequivocal witness to God’s love in Jesus Christ".150
The conference also recognized the situations of unauthentic witness. This is where the Gospel is domesticated and made captive to serve the interest of the culture. Similarly there are situations where the Gospel has been abused for political purposes or to exploit people.
In authentic witness, honesty and openness are integral and vital. It must be culturally sensitive. Metropolitan Kiril of the Russian Orthodox Church, in his plenary address, complained about proselytism. He said that as soon as freedom for missionary work was allowed in Soviet Union, hordes of missionaries rushed in and behaved as though no local churches existed, and no Gospel was being proclaimed. In most cases the intention was not to preach Christ and the Gospel but to proselytize. "It is primarily an expression of cultural and ideological clashes, as newcomers try to impose their own culturally conditioned form of Christianity on other Christians".151 Similar expressions of mission lead to unethical forms of coercion and proselytism which neither recognized the integrity of the local churches nor were sensitive to local cultures. The Conference message pointed out that the catholicity of a church is enhanced by the quality of relationships it has with churches of other traditions and cultures. Competitiveness is the shortest way to undermine Christian mission. "Equally, aggressive evangelism which does not respect the culture of the people is unlikely to reflect effectively the gracious love of God and the challenge of the Gospel". The Conference committed itself to promote common witness and to renounce proselytism and all forms of mission which destroy the body of Christ.152 According to K.M. George, the only way out of proselytism is to be consistently genuine and transparent.153
2. Mission and structural dimensions of culture.
This was the subject of consideration of Section II: ‘Gospel and Identity in Community’. Culture is not only a vehicle of meaning but also a structure of symbols through which people express relationships of power and status. It gives identity to people and groups as well as it defines community. Salvador heard stories of how cultures were used to justify oppressive practices, to crush identities of groups, and how they provided powerful symbols for liberation. Among the questions addressed by Section II were: "What are the structural factors in societies that lead people to lose hope? What role does the search for local or narrow group identities and the possession of globalization play in promoting the fragmentation of human community on the one hand and the destruction of local cultural identities on the other? How many Christians witness to the gospel of Christ as the power of God which frees and unites? How may they proclaim the gospel as the relevant word of life to the public structures of society?"154
Power has often been misused to crush the identities of marginalized and excluded persons and groups. Marginalization through economic, political, cultural and religious forces is a reality in all societies. People are marginalized and their identities crushed because of, for example, their age, gender, caste, race, ethnicity. Speaking of African women, Kanyoro said:
For generations, African women have unquestionably obeyed all that society prescribes for them in the name of culture. Child marriages, female circumcision and the rites of passage from birth to death, whether useful or harmful, are imposed on African women simply because it is "our culture". This might be taken to mean that what is culture is natural, good and unavoidable. Culture has silenced many women in Africa. It has hindered them from experiencing Jesus’ liberating promise of abundant life for all (John 10:10). Cultural hermeneutics seeks to demystify the abstractness of "culture" by calling for analysis of and reflection on culture and its effects on people.155
Among those who experience mutilation of their identities are: Indigenous peoples, Africans in the diaspora, women, children, migrants, refugees, religious minorities and others.
The conference noted that increasingly tensions arise between different ethnic groups in a multicultural and multi-ethnic context. This sometimes lead to identity politics and violence with disastrous consequences. Identity politics exist when elements constituting one segment of a society are used as leverage for political power and socioeconomic advantage over other segments. In some instances, "violent struggles for separate states based on ethnic identity has led to a crisis in ‘governability’, challenging the viability of nation states".156 Ethno-cultural definitions of nationality have led to the oppression of religious minority groups in many parts of the world. The churches have themselves given uncritical support to ethnic nationalism and violence. The conference also recognized that "globalization" was a serious threat to the identity of groups and peoples. The report of Section II says:
Economic globalization promotes a single economic community focussed on the accumulation of wealth - creating increasing poverty and unemployment and leading to the further marginalization of the poor and the exclusion of many. Economic globilization seeks to impose a single consumer identity throughout the whole world through corporate control, the media and technology. This process leads to a loss of self-identity. This form of homogenizing economic community which enriches the few and excludes many is contrary to the values of the Gospel.157
What is the mission of the church in such a situation? Kanyoro in her address mentioned that neither Gospel nor culture was good news until it liberated. The section report said that Christian mission proclaims God’s intention that all - with their languages and their cultural and spiritual heritages - should be affirmed as people of worth. Christian mission also has to do with identifying and even suffering with those whose identities have been denied. The liberating message of the Gospel is not only that the identity of each is affirmed but that all are taken beyond their own identity into the one new community of the spirit (Acts 4: 32-35).158 Speaking of the response of the conference to ethnic violence and identity politics, Duraisingh said:
So the conference asked how Christian witness to the gospel can be an articulation of a counter-culture in the face of a culture of violence and the exclusion of those who are ethnically, racially or religiously different. If racism is a cultural construct for the subjugation of one group by another, how may the gospel challenge racial assumptions, which many Christians are often unaware that they hold?
Salvador high lighted inter-ethnic conflicts and identity politics as aspects of a new missionary imperative of the churches, and exhorted them to seek adequate symbolic representations of the ‘other’ in the light of the Christian faith and ways of being credible signs and instruments of God’s purpose to bring about a common humanity in justice and peace.159
3. Local Congregations in Pluralistic Societies.
The presence of a plurality of cultures, the tensions and conflict arising out of the situation, and the transforming power of the Gospel are all felt and expressed at the local congregation. What are the ways to further the equipping and nurturing of local congregations for witness to the reconciling love of God in Christ? This was the concern of Section III. The report pointed out that for many people, acceptance or refusal to become members of a church was linked to positive or negative experiences in or with a local congregation, which could either be a stumbling block or an agent of transformation. What is the role of the local congregation in ‘inculturating’ the Gospel, making the Gospel meaningful in its own context and experiencing the inclusive nature of God’s mission in the world?
Many local communities are unable to cope with the demands of cultural pluralism. The ethnically and racially "other" is threatening, frightening, and not welcome. Duraisingh pointed out that strangers and aliens were key concepts in the biblical heritage. "The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you, you shall love the alien as yourself". (Lev. 19:34). Further, it was often the stranger who was God’s messenger, bearing gifts from God. Kosuke Koyama argued that the Gospel is essentially "stranger centred", that an inclusive love for the other is at the heart of the biblical faith and is the defining characteristic of the early church’s understanding of the person and work of Christ. Yet many churches are unable to deal creatively with strangers or engage in serious theological reflection on "the other" in the light of the Gospel.160
The section report suggested the need to explore the relation between worship and cultures. "In the church’s liturgical life, culture and gospel interact and transform, illumine and challenge each other, shaping people for mission". In many congregations there exist power structures that diminish the place and influence of women, youth, children, so-called lower classes, ethnic and immigrant groups. It is essential for the church’s renewal that steps be taken towards the empowerment of those people. Individuals and groups need to feel that they are fully respected as the persons they are and that their identity is affirmed - particularly when they are different from the majority in a local situation. In this the church is challenged as to whether its raison d’etre is more its mission of sharing and living the Gospel, which includes serving the needs of humanity or rather preservation of its own identity. The report suggested that when distinct communities existed along racial or ethnic lines within a local congregation, they should be encouraged to cultivate together the multicultural richness of the church as a privilege, and as a gift of God. The emphasis should be on the local congregations becoming signs of God’s inclusive love in the world.
Local congregations everywhere find themselves in religiously plural societies and are called to give account of the hope of a restored human community in Christ. Christian faith is communitarian at its core and it binds people in a community of love. How can we testify to this Gospel? It is important to build up creative and responsible relationships with people who belong to different religious traditions. This calls for dialogue with people of other faiths. Another issue is how do local congregations recognize that living in a dialogical relationship with people of other faiths is a fundamental point of our Christian service within the local community and a response to the command "to love God and your neighbor as yourself’? The Section report highlighted the fact that genuine sharing could only take place when partners in dialogue encountered one another in a spirit of humility, honesty and mutual respect, ready to take risks in becoming exposed to one another and sharing one another’s view of life, its meaning and purpose. The report made it clear that relevant education for mission at various levels of the church was crucial in order that Christians may indeed live and witness to the inclusive communities of love and reconciliation.161
4. One Gospel and Diverse Expressions.
Today, the Gospel is lived out and witnessed to, and in, more diverse languages and cultures than ever before. In the ecumenical movement, many consider diversity not as a problem but as a gift from God for the church. But for others, this diversity is unsettling and they fear the danger of disunity and syncretism. Hence the question of unity that binds the diverse expressions of the Gospel and the limits to diversity has been a serious concern at Salvador. Section IV162 approached this question from the point of view of interrelationship between catholicity and contextuality. Any authentic understanding of the Gospel is both contextual and catholic. The Gospel is contextual in that it is inevitably embodied in a particular culture; it is catholic in that it expresses the apostolic faith handed down from generation to generation within the communion of the churches in all places and all ages. The report mentioned that the early church manifested the catholicity of the faith through their diverse cultural resources and identities and through their communion with one another. According to Section IV, identity and context on the one hand, and communion and catholicity on the other are not opposed to each other but are complementary. Cultural contextuality in the Christian sense does not mean isolated and self-contained expression of the Gospel but affirmation of the gifts of each culture for the proclamation of the Gospel in communion with other contexts. Similarly, catholicity does not mean a universality that sweeps away particular identities, but is the expression of the fullness of truth that can be experienced in each particular context. Catholicity is not the destruction or overwhelming of the local; it is the local in communion. The section report mentions certain criteria for testing the appropriateness of the contextual expression of Gospel: faithfulness to God’s self-disclosure in the totality of the Scriptures; commitment to a life-style and action in harmony with the reign of God; openness to the wisdom of the communion of saints across space and time; and relevance to the context.163
Dynamic interactions between the Gospel and cultures inevitably raise the question of syncretism. For many in the West, syncretism is a frightening word. Evangelicals often criticized the World Council of Churches for its syncretistic tendencies. But for many others, particularly from the South, syncretism is a normal, even essential part of rooting the Gospel in the particular cultures They identify such creative process of syncretism within biblical corpus itself. Leonardo Boff, a Roman Catholic theologian in Latin America, finds syncretism as a normal step in any creative encounter of the Gospel in a local context. He writes:
The value of syncretism depends on the view point of the observer. If the observer sits in the privileged places within Catholicism - understanding it as a signed, sealed and delivered masterpiece - then he or she will consider syncretism to be a threat to be avoided at all costs. If, however, he or she is situated on a lower level, amid conflicts and challenges, in the midst of people who live their faith together with other religious expressions, on a level that understands Catholicism as a living reality and therefore open to other elements and the attempt to synthesize, then syncretism is seen as a normal and natural process. ... Our understanding of syncretism has come from those who have been afraid of it: the defenders of theological and institutional knowledge. 164
Duraisingh explained that where a religion was reduced to a set of beliefs and fixed liturgical practices, so that the emphasis was on clearly identifiable content, syncretism is seen as an unhealthy amalgam of two or more desperate religions which denies the authentic content of one’s own faith and practice. But those who see the dynamics of religion primarily as a process of "integration" between a religious tradition and its cultural ethos - which is itself dynamic and changing - accept syncretism and the process of integration, as a necessary element in the development of religion. Such a process has gone on throughout the history of Christianity.165 It is important to recall here the call of M.M. Thomas at the Nairobi Assembly for a Christ-centered syncretism. Of course, not all integration is wholesome. "What is important is for the churches to commit themselves irrevocably to mutual accountability and critique, to open themselves to each other across cultures so that they may "share a rich diversity of the Christian faith; discover the unity that binds these together; and affirm together the Christological center and Trinitarian source of our faith in all its varied expressions ".166
The emphasis of the Salvador Conference on the interrelationship between catholicity and contexuality is a very important one for our understanding of ecumenism and mission. Mission is people’s corporate response to challenges of the Gospel in constant dialogue with the religious and cultural situations in which they live. Catholicity is not the destruction or overwhelming of the local. It is the local in communion. Ecumenism is not a kind of internationalism where ‘local’ is submerged under the ‘international’ and which speaks of ‘center’ and ‘primacy’ existing elsewhere. As Nathan Soderblom said at the Jerusalem Conference, the propagation of Christian fellowship creates its own centers. This was so in the history of the early church, and this should be so in our days; the nations, civilizations, and churches outside Western Christendom should not be treated as insignificant colonies of the confessions and institutions of Western Christendom. It is important to note that Salvador refused to accord epistemological privilege and adjudicating power to any single church, whatever its intellectual, economic, or political strength, and however rich it historical background and heritage.
1. H.R. Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, New York, Harper & Row, 1975, p. 11.
2. T.R. Metcalf, Aftermath of Revolt, Princeton University Press, 1964, p.25.
3. Alexander Duff’s speech at the General Assembly in Scotland in 1835, quoted by Lal Behari Day, Recollections of Alexander Duff, pp. 100-101.
4. T.V. Philip, Krishna Mohan Banerjea, Madras, CLS, 1982, p. 69.
5. In India, William Miller and A.G. Hogg of the Madras Christian College, J.N. Farquhar. S.K. Datta, and K.T. Paul of the Indian YMCA, Susil Rudra and C.F Andrews of St. Stephen College. Delhi, were some of them.
6. Timothy Yates, Op.cit., pp. 8-12.
7. World Missionary Conference, 1910, The Report of Commission IV: The Missionary Message in Relation to Non-Christian Religions, p. 6.
8. Ibid., p. 2.
9. World Missionary Conference 1910, The Report of Commission I: Carrying the Gospel to all the Non-Christian World, p. 6.
10. Ibid., p. 13.
11. Ibid., p. 18.
12. Ibid., p. 6.
13. Ibid., p. 136.
14. Alexander Duff, India and Indian Missions, pp. 25-29
15. The Report of Commission I, p. 42.
16. Ibid., p. 42.
17. The Report of Commission IV, p. 53.
18. Ibid., p. 52.
19. Ibid., p. 53.
20. Ibid., p. 54.
21. Ibid., p. 95.
22. Ibid., p. 95.
23. Ibid. p. 97
24. Ibid., p. 177
25. Ibid., p. 181 In 1913 Farquhar published his famous book: Crown of Hinduism. It was Krishna Mohan Banerjea of Calcutta who in 1881 first developed a theory of the relation between Christianity and Hinduism. He points out that the biblical doctrine of salvation by the sacrifice of Christ finds a remarkable counterpart in the Vedic understanding of salvation by the self-sacrifice of Prajapati. Then he shows that Jesus, Jesus alone fulfils what Prajapati stood for in the primitive Vedic tradition and Jesus is the true Prajapati. Just as the Jewish Christians argued for a historical continuity between Israel and the Christian church, Krishna Mohan argues for a historical continuity between Vedic Hinduism and Christianity in India. (See T.V. Philip, Krishna Mohan, Banerjea, pp. 116-125).
26. The report of Commission IV, p. 326.
27. Ibid., p. 293.
28. IRM vol. 1 (1912), p. 91
29. IRM vol. 5, no. 18 (1916), p. 219.
30. IRM vol.3, no. 10 (1914), pp. 247-248.
31. IRM vol. 4, no. 14 (1915), pp. 319-320.
32. IRM vol. 3, no.7, (1913), pp. 521-528, quoted in Timothy Yates, Op.cit., p.96.
33. Timothy Yates, Op.cit., p. 97
34. Report of The Jerusalem Meeting, Vol. III, pp. 144-146.
35. Basil Mathews, Road to the City of God, New York, Double Day, Doran & Company, 1929, p. 20.
36. Ibid., pp. 211-22.
37. Report of The Jerusalem Meeting, Vol. I, p. 273.
38. Basil Mathews, Op.cit., p.31.
39. Report of the Jerusalem Meeting, Vol. I, pp. 490-494.
41. Re-thinking Missions: A Layman’s Inquiry After One Hundred Years, New York, Harper & Brothers, 1932. H. Kramer, The Christian Message in a Non-Christian, World, London, The Edinburgh House Press, 1938.
42. Timothy Yates, Op.cit., pp. 92-93.
43 Re-thinking Missions, p. 326.
44. Ibid., p. 44.
45. Ibid., p. 327.
46. Archibald C. Barker, Christian Missions and a New World Culture, New York, Willett, Clark & Company, 1934.
47. Ibid., p.x.
48. Ibid., p. 291.
49. Ibid., p. 294.
50. Ibid., p. 308.
51. Ibid., p.300.
52. Ibid., p. 315.
53. International Missionary Council Meeting at Tambaram, Madras, December 12-29, 1938, London, Oxford University Press, 1939, vol. 1: The Authority of Faith. Vol. 1 contains the findings of the Conference on The Faith by which the Church Lives (section 1 report) and The Witness of the Church in Relation to the Non-Christian Religions (section v report)..
54. Kramer, Op.cit., p.v.
55. The Authority of Faith, p. IX.
56. Kramer, Op.cit., p.2.
57. Ibid., p. 6.
58. Ibid., pp. 59-60.
59. Ibid., p. 6.
60. Ibid., p. 70.
61. Ibid., p. 8.
62. Ibid., p. 70.
63. Ibid., p. 61.
64. Ibid., p. 62
65. Ibid., p. 63
66. Ibid., p. 111.
67. See Chapter 4.
68. Ibid., p. 112.
69. Ibid., pp. 113-114.
70. Ibid., pp. 284 - 286.
71. Ibid., pp. 113-114.
72. Hendrik Kramer, Why Christianity of All Religions ?, London, Lutterworth Press, 1962, pp. 95-96.
73. Ibid., p. 95.
74. Kramer, Christian Message in a non-Christian World, p.128.
75. Ibid., p. 129.
76. Timothy Yates, Op.cit. p. 47.
77. The Authority of Faith, p.142.
78. Ibid., p. 40.
79. Ibid., pp. 91-92.
80. Ibid., p. 157.
81. Ibid., p. 157-158.
82. Ibid., p. 158
83. Ibid., p. 174.
84. Ibid., pp. 103-106
85. Ibid., p. 125.
86. Ibid., p.211
87. Ibid., p. 201.
88. Peter Harrison, Religion and the Religious in the English Enlightenment, Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 8. He refers to Calvin’s Institute of Religions.
89. Ibid., p. 8.
90. S.J. Samartha (ed.), Living Faiths and the Ecumenical Movement, Geneva. WCC, 1971, p. 59.
91. Ecumenical Review. vol. 41, no. 1, January 1989, p. 10.
92. Ibid., p. 6.
93. M.M. Thomas, The Christian Response to the Asian Revolution, Lucknow, Lucknow Publishing House, 1967, pp. 99-100.
94. Ecumenical Review, vol. 14, no. 2, January 1962, p.160.
95. Ibid., p. 160.
96. Ibid., p. 163.
97. M.M. Thomas. Op.cit., p. 101.
98. Ecumenical Review, January 1962, p. 162.
99. CF. Hallencreutz in Living Faiths and the Ecumenical Movement, Op.cit., p.66.
100. The Uppsala Report, Op.cit., p.29.
101. M.M. Thomas, Op.cit., p. 104.
102. Austin Flannery (ed.), Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, Vatican II:The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents, revised edition 1988, pp. 738-742.
103. Stanley J. Samartha, Between Two Cultures, Geneva, WCC Publication, l996, p.49.
104. Ibid. p. 49.
105. Samartha (ed.), Living Faiths and, the Ecumenical Movement, p. 78.
106. Ibid., p. 109.
107. Ibid., pp.110-111.
108. Ibid., p. 116.
109. Ibid., p. l17.
110. Ibid, p.105.
111. Ibid., p. 107.
112. For the report of the Zurich Consultation, see IRM. Vol. LIX, no.236, October 1970. also Living Faiths, Ch. III.
113. Living Faiths, p. 38.
114. Breaking Barriers, Op.cit., pp. 73-85.
115. Ibid., p. 71.
116. Ibid., p. 72.
117. Ibid., p. 73.
118. Ibid., p. 76.
119. Between Two Cultures, Op.cit., p. 106.
120. Ibid., pp.107-l08.
121. Ibid., p. 129.
122. See S.J. Samartha (ed.), Faith in the Midst of Faiths : Reflections on Dialogue in Community, Geneva, WCC, 1977
123. Between Two Cultures, Op.cit., pp. 119.120.
124. Ibid., p. 128.
125. David Gill (ed.), Gathered For Life (Official Report of the VIth Assembly). Geneva WCC, 1983, p.32.
126. Ibid., p.32
127. Ibid, pp. 32 -33.
128. Peoples of Asia, People of God, Report of the Asian Mission Conference, 1989, Christian Conference of Asia. 1990, pp.12-13.
129. Michael Kinnamon and Brian B. Cope(eds.), The Ecumenical Movement, An Anthology of Key Texts and Voices, Geneva, WCC publication, 1997, pp. 417-420.
130. It is in a similar way, the pagan philosopher Celsus, in the second century, argued to reconcile unity and plurality.
131. Ibid p.418.
132. Michael Kinnamon and Brian Cope (eds.), Op.cit., p. 418.
133. Ibid. p.232.
134. Ibid., pp. 231-237.
135. Ibid., p. 238.
136. Ibid., p. 238.
137. For the official report of the Conference see, Christopher Duraisingh (ed.), Called to One Hope: The Gospel in Diverse Cultures, Geneva, WCC publications, 1998.
138. Ibid., p. 102.
139. Ibid., p. 143.
140. Ibid., p. 194.
141. Ibid., p. 194.
142. Ibid., p. 195.
143. Ibid.. p. 195.
144. Ibid., p. 27.
145. Ibid., p. 33.
146. Ibid., pp. 103-104.
147. Ibid., p. 34
148 Ibid., p. 34
149. Ibid.,p. 35.
150. Ibid., p. 205.
151. Ibid., pp. 90-92.
152. Ibid., p. 27.
153. Ibid., p. 140
154. Ibid., p. xi.
155. Ibid., p. 104.
156. Ibid., p.45 - 46.
157. Ibid., p. 40.
158. Ibid., p. 41.
159. Ibid., pp. 205-206.
160. Ibid p.206
161. Ibid., p. 64.
162. Ibid., pp. 64-70
163. Ibid., p. 67.
164. Quoted by Christopher Duraisingh, Ibid., p. 209.
165. Ibid., p. 209.
166. Ibid., p. 210.