What Is

Inclusive Christianity

and

Interfaith Ministry ?

This article is

It is a fact that we live in a religously plural world and more and more people, in their daily lives, are interacting with people of faiths that differ from their own. The following questions are of major concern and interest to many people of all faiths, and especially to Christians, living in our world today.

"Does God reveal himself exclusively through one religion, or does He manifest Himself in other ways?"

"How does Christianity relate to other religions?"

"Are all peoples of other faiths eternally lost?"

We hope to answer these and other related questions below.


Introductory

"Inclusive Christianity" affirms the presence of God's will and power to save in non-Christian religions while still maintaining that Christ is the definitive and authoritative revelation of God. It couples the Christian's confession of Jesus Christ with genuine openness to the truth and goodness found in other religions. God being revealed definitively in Jesus Christ does not imply that He is not working in the wider world and in other religions.3

Interfaith individuals, ministers, and ministries are advocates of the absolute right to freedom of religion. They affirm the truth in all religions, faiths and spiritual traditions. They are each rooted in their own faith, yet recognize the universality of the teachings, values and, above all, the experience of the Sacred common to all authentic spiritual traditions, and which are at the heart of true service.

The Rev. Carol E. Parrish, speaking of "Interfaith Christians," has stated it this way:

"An Interfaith Christian stands clearly within one's own faith, but respectfully honors all other world religions for contributions they make to the lives of humanity.

Building upon the area of sameness, we discover that, rather than amplifying the differences, we grow in an appreciation of the different histories, art, music, and culture.

We realize once again God loves to garden and creation blooms in a wide variety of ways."5

What is Inclusive Christianity?

(Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible)

Peter opened his mouth and said, "Truly I perceive that God doesn't show favoritism; but in every nation he who fears [reverences] him and works righteousness is acceptable to him (Acts 10:34-35).

"Inclusive Christianity" is the view upholding Christ as the Savior of humanity but also affirming God's saving presence in the wider world and in other religions.2

Some Inclusive Christians see a distinction between believers and Christians. All Christians are believers but not all believers are Christians. Believers are those who are saved because they have faith in God. A Christian is a believer who knows about and participates in the work of Christ.

Also, many Inclusive Christians believe that an act of faith, i.e. trusting God, is essential for salvation. they believe that God is working toward the salvation of all people and makes salvation universally accessible even though not all hear about Jesus before death. "If the redemption procured by Jesus objectively provides for the salvation of every human being, and if God intends this salvation to be genuinely universal, then it must be possible for every individual who has ever lived personally to receive that salvation regardless of the historical era, geographic region, or cultural setting in which these people have lived." 4.

To state it another way, Inclusive Christians believe that the living God saves all who believe in him and that the specific content of saving faith may vary so long as it is grounded in an essential trust in God.

J.N.D. Anderson says: "Where in Scripture do we have the exact amount of knowledge require (for salvation) set out? For assurance, no doubt, knowledge is required, but for grace it is not so much knowledge as a right attitude towards God that matters" ("Christianity and Comparative Religion", Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter Varsity Press, 1977, p. 99).

John Milton, said: "The ultimate object of faith is not Christ, the Mediator, but God the Father . . . So it does not seem surprising that there are a lot of Jews, and Gentiles too, who are saved although they believed or believe in God alone, either becasue they lived before Christ, or because, even though they have lived after him, he has not been revealed to them. In spite of this they are saved by means of Christ" (John Milton, "Christian Doctrine")

The early Church Fathers were aware of the plurality of religions surrounding them, and yet they did not shy away from claiming that the god of the pagan was the same God the Christians worshiped. (Even Augustine stated that "their God is also our God" City of God, 19:22) They did criticize many of the worship practices of the pagans, however; not all ways of worshiping God were considered edifying, holy, and legitimate. These early Christians rejected many of the ways the pagans worshiped but not who they worshiped. 4

Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote in his book, "Dear Mr. Brown, Letters to a Person Perplexed About Religion", pp. 110-113, the following:

Let's see if we can agree on certain basic attitudes toward the problem presented by the world's various faiths. First, you would agree, would you not, that we cannot accept the traditional, orthodox notion that, if Christianity is true, then all other faiths are false? This white vs. black division of the world's religions -- Christianity true, all the others false -- is faced at once by the question, which Christianity are you talking about? Roman Catholicism or Christian Science, Eastern Orthodoxy or Mormonism, Anglicanism or The Society of Friends, and so on through more than two hundred Protestant sects in the United States -- which kind of Christianity is the one true religion? . . . .

Moreover, this attitude -- Christians saved, all others damned -- runs into head-on collision with the whole concept of God in the New Testament as the merciful Father of all mankind whose will is that not a single "one of these little ones should be lost." I remember sermons in my boyhood whose logical conclusion would be that Socrates and Plato, Moses and Jeremiah, Buddha and Confucius, were all in hell. That seems to me stark blasphemy against the character of God. . . . . . .

Fosdick goes on to write:
Having written this, however, I wonder whether we can now agree on a second matter -- namely, that what we have said does not mean that one religion is just as good and true as another. No one could think that unless he first believed that the whole realm of spiritual truths and values is illusory, so that it makes no difference one way or another what anyone thinks about it. Here, let us say, is a primitive tribe where illness is attributted to demonic possession or witchcraft, and where cure is sought by magic spells. Is that just as good as modern scientific medicine? Or here is a primitive agriculture, faithfully carried on in utter disregard of soil conservation, rotation of crops, and all modern techniques. Of course, that is not just as good as scientific agriculture. That is to say, wherever we think we are dealing with realities, we do have to distinguish between better and worse ways of conceiving them and dealing with them. So, because God and man's spiritual life are so real to me, I cannot suppose that utterly different ways of conceiving them are equally true. This need not involve any arrogant supposition that I know the whole truth, nor any unfriendly condescension, but it does mean the necessity of discrimination between better and worse in religion.
Clark Pinnock wrote in "A Wideness in God's Mercy," page 105:

According to the Bible, persons can relate to God in three ways and covenants: through the cosmic covenant established with Noah, through the old covenant made with Abraham, and through the new covenant ratified by Jesus. One may even speak of salvation in the broad sense in all three circumstances. That is, insofar as salvation connotes a relationship with God, there is salvation for people in all three of the covenants. Of course, there is a more complete saving knowledge of God in the new covenant than in the old, and more in the old than in the cosmic covenant, but a relationship with God is possible in the context of all three covenants. In all three, God justifies Jews and Gentiles on the ground of faith, the condition for salvation in all dispensations (Ro 3:30).

Faith is what pleases God. The fact that different kinds of believers are accepted by God proves that the issue for God is not the content of theology by the reality of faith.


BY FAITH ... Abel ... Enoch ... WITHOUT FAITH IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO BE WELL PLEASING TO HIM, FOR HE WHO COMES TO GOD MUST BELIEVE THAT HE EXISTS, AND THAT HE IS A REWARDER OF THOSE WHO SEEK HIM.

BY FAITH, Noah ... Abraham ... Sarah ... Jacob ... Esau ... Joseph ... Moses ... Rahab ... Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets ... These all, having had testimony given to them through their faith, didn't receive the promise, God having provided some better thing concerning us, SO THAT APART FROM US THAY SHOULD NOT BE MADE PERFECT. (See Hebrews 11)

Therefore let us also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, LOOKING TO JESUS, THE AUTHOR AND PERFECTER OF FAITH ... (Heb. 12:1-2)

Common Objections Briefly Answered

There is salvation in none other, [human] for neither is there any other name UNDER heaven, that is given among men, in which we must be saved! (Acts 4:12)

It is true that there is no other name UNDER heaven in which we must be saved, but there is also God IN heaven that anyone can call upon in faith and be saved.

Peter opened his mouth and said, "Truly I perceive that God doesn't show favoritism; but in every nation he who fears [reverences] him and works righteousness is acceptable to him (Acts 10:34-35).

Without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing to him, for he who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him. (Heb. 6:11)

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, but by me" (John 14:6)

Robert Brow, an Anglican (Episcopal) Priest and an Inclusive Christian, was asked, "How can you believe the exclusive words of Jesus: 'no one comes to the father but by me' (John 14:6)?

He replied:

"Before explaining how I understand those words, I have to reject what is often added to this statement. Some evangelists tell us that no one can be saved unless they hear about the death of Christ, believe he died for them, repent, and make a decision to accept Jesus as personal savior. If that was true then we would have to consign to eternal damnation Abraham, newborn children, retarded persons, the ignorant, and all people born into other religions. None of them could make a decision to accept Jesus as personal saviour.

"What the text actually says is that every single person who is taken through death to enjoy the Father's heaven will discover that he or she only got there through the personal intervention of the Son of God." [See his complete answer by clicking here]

As Jesus stated, "No one comes to the Father but by me" is true. Anyone that comes to the Father, anyone that has access to the Father, is by FAITH and is assured by the universal result of Christ's redemption for EVERYONE. "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, WHO GAVE HIMSELF A RANSOM FOR ALL; the testimony in its own times" (1 Tim. 2:5-6)

Jesus told us to believe in Him, but He told us to have faith in God.

Don't let your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me (John 14:1).

Jesus answering said to them, "Have faith in God" (Mark 11:22).

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men (Titus 2:11)

When all things have been subjected to him, then the Son will also himself be subjected to him who subjected all things to him, that GOD MAY BE ALL IN ALL (1 Cor. 15:28).

What is Interfaith?

Interfaith is a bridge.. that allows members of all religions and spiritual teachings to reach out across the waters of life, in understanding and communication with each other. Interfaith affirms and supports the underlying goodness of each person, the healing of our planet.

Interfaith does not seek to homogenize religious differences. Rather, it honors the sacredness and uniqueness of each faith, and then creates ways by which the many paths can meet on common ground or unite in a new and sacred creative form.. Differences between various religions and philosophies need not divide and separate but can instead enrich our lives and deepen our capacity to love.

Interfaith provides a structure whereby individuals of different faiths can dialogue and share their experiences, making a safe place to accept and learn about each other. As fluid, mobile societies and instantaneous communication change the cultural landscape of our world, this structure becomes vital.

Interfaith also speaks to those who feel alienated from mainstream religions. By providing a spirit of openness and resources for change, interfaith encourages these individuals and groups to discover new ways to worship and to participate in the meaningful ceremonies of life.

The pace of social and personal transformation quickens as our world approaches the Millennium. We all have a part to play in the unfolding story. Through interfaith, each person contributes to the whole while fulfilling their own unique role. 1


Notes

  1. From the Association of Interfaith Ministers
  2. See Clark Pinnock's, "A Wideness in God's Mercy," page 15.
  3. See Clark Pinnock's, "A Wideness in God's Mercy," pages 83, 93.
  4. See John Sanders', "No Other Name : An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized"
  5. Ponder This