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'Those beautiful words about Jesus…'

ACC reflects on Christian witness in a multi-faith world.

Lloyd Ashton for Anglican Taonga  |  05 Nov 2012

What does it mean to witness to your Christian faith in a multi-faith world?

That was the topic of last evening’s public presentation at the ACC, the last of the three for this Auckland gathering.

An audience of about 200 heard presentations from three speakers:

• The Rev Bruce Keeley, who is co-vicar of All Saints' Howick in Auckland, and who spoke of living in a society where Christianity is still the major religion;

• The Rev Peter Koon, who ministers in Hong Kong, where Christianity is a minority faith, amidst a large variety of religious groups; and

• The Rev Canon Dr Dickson Chilogani, who is from Tanzania, where about half the population are Christian believers while the rest are either Muslims or subscribe to African tribal religions.

The theme of the evening was the challenge of presenting effective, respectful, loving Christian witness to people of other faiths – and of how Christians in the West had to recalibrate their thinking and their efforts on that score.

Bruce Keeley, for example, spoke of growing up in a New Zealand “where it was generally assumed that most Kiwis were Christians. 

In the days of his childhood, he said, it was assumed that Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims dwelt only in distant lands, “and it was the task of Christians in this country to pray for their conversion to Christ, and to send missionaries to those countries to help our prayers be answered.”

The scene in New Zealand had, Bruce said, changed radically since then.

He spoke of moves to rethink things in the light of New Zealand’s new religious diversity – and he gave a poignant account of a friendship he has “with a learned and saintly Iranian friend” which includes regular theological discussions.

“He got very excited when I read to him from the first chapter of Colossians:

He is the image of the invisible God,

The first-born of all creation,

For in him all things in heaven and earth were created…

He himself is before all things and in him all things hold together.

“Not long after, I received an urgent email from him: 

‘Bruce, help me – I’m in Iran. I’m about to give a lecture and I can’t remember the reference for those beautiful words about Jesus.’ 

“Now, I don’t know what those words actually meant to him.

“That’s God’s business.

“But just as my life and faith have been immeasurably enriched by dialoguing with him, I suspect, and trust, it has been the same for him.”

New document on witness

The later part of the evening was devoted to a new document called: Christian Witness in a Multi-religious World – which is a joint production from the World Council of Churches; the Roman Catholic Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue; and the World Evangelical Alliance.

This starts with the conviction that true mission is God’s mission – and not ours – and of the need to show respect and sensitivity in the outworking of God’s mission.

Sue Parks, from the Anglican Communion Office, delivered a Powerpoint presentation about that document.

“It doesn’t draw boundaries for witnessing to Christ,” she said, “But it helps people to discover them for themselves within their own context.”

She quoted further from the document: “It is essential that every Christian be involved in God’s mission.” And “we witness Christ in every context, but conversion is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit.”

 • • • •

In the wake of last evening’s presentation, this morning the ACC passed Resolution 15:24. 

ACC15:

  1. endorses Christian Witness in a Multi-religious World and encourages all Provinces to study it, to assess their current practice of Christian witness, and develop practices to suit their local contexts in the light of its recommendations and of ‘Generous Love.”
  2. recommends that that Provinces encourage discussion of Christian Witness with other faith communities and, where possible, to do so ecumenically.

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