The Cape Town Commitment 13

The second part of the Cape Town Commitment [The Cape Town Commitment: A Confession of Faith and a Call to Action (Didasko Files)], is a call to action, and its focus is on the world we serve.

Here are the themes of the second section, the section that calls for commitment to these elements: truth, peace, living love, discerning God’s will, humility/integrity/simplicity and partnering.

Our section today is about living the love of Christ among people of other faiths. Our neighbor includes those of other faiths; sometimes martyrdom happens for those who love their neighbor in missionary work; we are committed to a life of grace; the CTC is sensitive to “insider movements,” folks who have not cut themselves off from their former religion as much as some might like; it cares about scattered peoples. And the CTC urges us to work for the religious freedom of all peoples.

IIC. Living the love of Christ among people of other faiths

1. ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ includes persons of other faiths

In view of the affirmations made in The Cape Town Confession of Faith section 7 (d), we respond to our high calling as disciples of Jesus Christ to see people of other faiths as our neighbours in the biblical sense. They are human beings created in God’s image, whom God loves and for whose sins Christ died. We strive not only to see them as neighbours, but to obey Christ’s teaching by being neighbours to them. We are called to be gentle, but not naïve; to be discerning and not gullible; to be alert to whatever threats we may face, but not ruled by fear.

We are called to share good news in evangelism, but not to engage in unworthy proselytizing.Evangelism, which includes persuasive rational argument following the example of the Apostle Paul, is ‘to make an honest and open statement of the gospel which leaves the hearers entirely free to make up their own minds about it. We wish to be sensitive to those of other faiths, and we reject any approach that seeks to force conversion on them.’[67] Proselytizing, by contrast, is the attempt to compel others to become ‘one of us’, to ‘accept our religion’, or indeed to ‘join our denomination’.

A)    We commit ourselves to be scrupulously ethical in all our evangelism. Our witness is to be marked by ‘gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.’[68] We therefore reject any form of witness that is coercive, unethical, deceptive, or disrespectful.

B)    In the name of the God of love, we repent of our failure to seek friendships with people of Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and other religious backgrounds. In the spirit of Jesus, we will take initiatives to show love, goodwill and hospitality to them.

C)    In the name of the God of truth, we (i) refuse to promote lies and caricatures about other faiths, and (ii) denounce and resist the racist prejudice, hatred and fear incited in popular media and political rhetoric.

D)    In the name of the God of peace, we reject the path of violence and revenge in all our dealings with people of other faiths, even when violently attacked.

E)    We affirm the proper place for dialogue with people of other faiths, just as Paul engaged in debate with Jews and Gentiles in the synagogue and public arenas. As a legitimate part of our Christian mission, such dialogue combines confidence in the uniqueness of Christ and in the truth of the gospel with respectful listening to others.

2. The love of Christ calls us to suffer and sometimes to die for the gospel

Suffering may be necessary in our missionary engagement as witnesses to Christ, as it was for his apostles and the Old Testament prophets.[69] Being willing to suffer is an acid test for the genuineness of our mission. God can use suffering, persecution and martyrdom to advance his mission. ‘Martyrdom is a form of witness which Christ has promised especially to honour.’[70]Many Christians living in comfort and prosperity need to hear again the call of Christ to be willing to suffer for him. For many other believers live in the midst of such suffering as the cost of bearing witness to Jesus Christ in a hostile religious culture. They may have seen loved ones martyred, or endured torture or persecution because of their faithful obedience, yet continue to love those who have so harmed them.

A)    We hear and remember with tears and prayer the testimonies of those who suffer for the gospel. We pray for grace and courage, along with them, to ‘love our enemies’ as Christ commanded us. We pray that the gospel may bear fruit in places that are so hostile to its messengers. As we rightly grieve for those who suffer, we remember the infinite grief God feels over those who resist and reject his love, his gospel and his servants. We long for them to repent and be forgiven and find the joy of being reconciled to God.

3.  Love in action embodies and commends the gospel of grace

‘We are the aroma of Christ.’[71] Our calling is to live and serve among people of other faiths in a way that is so saturated with the fragrance of God’s grace that they smell Christ, that they come to taste and see that God is good. By such embodied love, we are to make the gospel attractive in every cultural and religious setting. When Christians love people of other faiths through lives of love and acts of service, they embody the transforming grace of God.

In cultures of ‘honour’, where shame and vengeance are allied with religious legalism, ‘grace’ is an alien concept. In these contexts, God’s vulnerable, self-sacrificing love is not something to be debated; it is considered too foreign, even repulsive. Here, grace is an acquired taste, over a long time, in small doses, for those hungry enough to dare to taste it. The aroma of Christ gradually permeates all that his followers come into contact with.

A)    We long for God to raise up more men and women of grace who will make long-term commitments to live, love and serve in tough places dominated by other religions, to bring the smell and taste of the grace of Jesus Christ into cultures where it is unwelcome and dangerous to do so. This takes patience and endurance, sometimes for a whole life-time, sometimes unto death.

4. Love respects diversity of discipleship

So called ‘insider movements’ are to be found within several religions. These are groups of people who are now following Jesus as their God and Saviour. They meet together in small groups for fellowship, teaching, worship and prayer centred around Jesus and the Bible while continuing to live socially and culturally within their birth communities, including some elements of its religious observance. This is a complex phenomenon and there is much disagreement over how to respond to it. Some commend such movements. Others warn of the danger of syncretism. Syncretism, however, is a danger found among Christians everywhere as we express our faith within our own cultures. We should avoid the tendency, when we see God at work in unexpected or unfamiliar ways, either (i) hastily to classify it and promote it as a new mission strategy, or (ii) hastily to condemn it without sensitive contextual listening.

A)    In the spirit of Barnabas who, on arrival in Antioch, ‘saw the evidence of the grace of God’ and ‘was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord,’[72] we would appeal to all those who are concerned with this issue to:

  1. Take as their primary guiding principle the apostolic decision and practice: ‘We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.’[73]
  2. Exercise humility, patience and graciousness in recognizing the diversity of viewpoints, and conduct conversations without stridency and mutual condemnation.[74]

5. Love reaches out to scattered peoples

People are on the move as never before. Migration is one of the great global realities of our era. It is estimated that 200 million people are living outside their countries of origin, voluntarily or involuntarily. The term ‘diaspora’ is used here to mean people who have relocated from their lands of birth for whatever reason. Vast numbers of people from many religious backgrounds, including Christians, live in diaspora conditions: economic migrants seeking work; internally-displaced peoples because of war or natural disaster; refugees and asylum seekers; victims of ethnic cleansing; people fleeing religious violence and persecution; famine sufferers – whether caused by drought, floods, or war; victims of rural poverty moving to cities. We are convinced that contemporary migrations are within the sovereign missional purpose of God, without ignoring the evil and suffering that can be involved.[75]

A)    We encourage Church and mission leaders to recognize and respond to the missional opportunities presented by global migration and diaspora communities, in strategic planning, and in focused training and resourcing of those called to work among them.

B)    We encourage Christians in host nations which have immigrant communities of other religious backgrounds to bear counter-cultural witness to the love of Christ in deed and word, by obeying the extensive biblical commands to love the stranger, defend the cause of the foreigner, visit the prisoner, practise hospitality, build friendships, invite into our homes, and provide help and services.[76]

C)    We encourage Christians who are themselves part of diaspora communities to discern the hand of God, even in circumstances they may not have chosen, and to seek whatever opportunities God provides for bearing witness to Christ in their host community and seeking its welfare.[77] Where that host country includes Christian churches, we urge immigrant and indigenous churches together to listen and learn from one another, and to initiate co-operative efforts to reach all sections of their nation with the gospel.

6. Love works for religious freedom for all people

Upholding human rights by defending religious freedom is not incompatible with following the way of the cross when confronted with persecution. There is no contradiction between being willing personally to suffer the abuse or loss of our own rights for the sake of Christ, and being committed to advocate and speak up for those who are voiceless under the violation of their human rights. We must also distinguish between advocating the rights of people of other faiths and endorsing the truth of their beliefs. We can defend the freedom of others to believe and practise their religion without accepting that religion as true.

A)    Let us strive for the goal of religious freedom for all people. This requires advocacy before governments on behalf of Christians and people of other faiths who are persecuted.

B)    Let us conscientiously obey biblical teaching to be good citizens, to seek the welfare of the nation where we live, to honour and pray for those in authority, to pay taxes, to do good, and to seek to live peaceful and quiet lives. The Christian is called to submit to the state, unless the state commands what God forbids, or prohibits what God commands. If the state thus forces us to choose between loyalty to itself and our higher loyalty to God, we must say No to the state because we have said Yes to Jesus Christ as Lord.[78]

In the midst of all our legitimate efforts for religious freedom for all people, the deepest longing of our hearts remains that all people should come to know the Lord Jesus Christ, freely put their faith in him and be saved, and enter the kingdom of God.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • John M.

    This document is one of the most clear and profound statements of biblical Christianity I have ever read. It should be required reading for every follower or Jesus on the planet, particularly those in North America. Thank you for posting this each Sunday Scot.

  • Ann F-R

    This entire section, IIC., seems to me to be one of the most difficult, counter-flesh things we’re called to do, today. It’s just plain hard to teach this, and if we’re not walking it, mere words will fail. Even irenic words w/out the incarnate truth, love and integrity of Christ-in-us will end up being impotent against the haranguing din of unhealthy media and human communications in the 1/3 world. Is violence any less violent for being verbal and not physical? Our sermon was on James 3 this week!

    We must also distinguish between advocating the rights of people of other faiths and endorsing the truth of their beliefs. We can defend the freedom of others to believe and practise their religion without accepting that religion as true.

    Phew. Thank you for blogging through this Commitment, Scot.