Interfaith Relations and Christian Living

Session One

Prepare your meeting room

1. Prepare the boxed quotations in this session so they can be read by all participants. Box 1 should be quietly displayed on a board or flip chart from the time participants enter the room. The quotations in Box 2 can be distributed on paper or put on a flip chart.

2. Put the quotation from Hesdie Zemuel on a card and ask a participant to be prepared to read it.

3. Have Bibles distributed for use.

Prepare for issues you may face during discussion.

1. Read a commentary on each of the two Matthew passages, but plan to guide group discussion rather than making a presentation.

2. Consider how you can avoid turning the discussion of the Zemuel quotation into an either/or choice between Christian witness through living together or Christian mission seeking conversion.

3. Be prepared to talk about the importance of Christian discipleship as living on behalf of others, remembering that Christians in multifaith contexts always experience the importance of their style of life as a form of Christian witness.

4. Set a group standard that allows opinions to be expressed in mutual trust. Do not seek conformity of viewpoints. Be comfortable with the fact that participants may not fully agree about what our Christian faith calls us to do in relation to other peoples.


What Shall We Ask About Living With People of Other Faiths?

Participant goals for this session

• To get to know each another

• To be oriented to the study series

• To explore biblical passages about Christian discipleship in light of religious diversity

• To identify the questions and concerns we want to examine in our own religiously plural society

Opening (20–25 minutes)

Begin with a brief act of worship—perhaps a prayer and the singing of a hymn. Select materials that help participants affirm their Christian discipleship in the world.

Ask participants to introduce themselves by giving their names and sharing one of the reasons or questions which brought them to this study (one minute per person). Be sure leaders engage in this activity as part of the group.

Tell participants that the study’s general objective will be to explore what is involved in living as Christians with Muslims, Buddhists, Baha’is, Jews, and people of other faiths in today’s world. The study will allow them both to think about their own experiences and to explore scripture and the Christian tradition. It will use the NCCC policy statement, Interfaith Relations and the Churches, as a major resource.

Present a brief overview of the study, as your planning group has organized it.

Exploration and Reflection

1. Biblical Perspectives (30 minutes)

Tell the group: Religious diversity is part of the context in which God’s people have lived in many times and places. The study of biblical passages may help us think about what it means for Christians to live faithfully in a religiously plural society. In this first session we begin with two of the many passages in which Jesus teaches about discipleship.

Read together the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:1-16. What do these words teach us? What is the significance of the salt and light images for Christians?

Read Matthew 25:31-46. What are the marks of faithful living in this passage? Why does Jesus emphasize these marks?

What insight do you have about the Matthew 5 passage when you consider it in light of Jesus’ call to care for "the least of these" in Matthew 25?

While you are still discussing the last question above, at an appropriate moment request that the assigned participant read this comment from the Rev. Hesdie Zemuel (Director of the Moravian Theological Seminary, in Paramaribo, Suriname). Ask, How does the comment help us think about the two biblical passages in terms of a Christian’s relations with people of other religious traditions? What questions or insights do these passages raise regarding our Christian vocation?

"Of whom is Jesus talking when he says "there are other sheep not of this flock" [John 10:16]? Or consider, "You are the salt of the earth." When the salt is added to the soup it disappears, but you can still taste it. Is this a metaphor for what it means to be a Christian in society? Giving taste to a society is different from converting people. Maybe being salt is a way of carrying out mission. Giving away our life is perhaps the way of being the church of Christ." (from a discussion during a 1995 Ecumenical Study Tour)

2. From the Policy Statement (5 minutes)

Provide the material in Box 2 for participants’ reading. Ask them to consider the quotations in silence as background for further thinking:

Reflection (10 minutes)

Ask participants to break into pairs. Ask the partners to take turns answering the question, What are the one or two most important questions, concerns or interests that you have about relations with people of other religious faiths? (The readings from the Bible and the policy statement will have helped people’s thinking but their answers to the question do not need to be limited to ideas directly related to the readings and discussion.)

Request that each person make every effort to hear what the partner is saying, without arguing or commenting. After 5 minutes, remind pairs to change the speaker and listener roles so that each person has equal time to share.

Response (10-15 minutes)

As a group, quickly identify some of the questions about Christian practice and people of other faiths that you most want to consider in the course of the sessions to come. These may be:

Factual or informational

Theological

Relational, about particular issues or cross-cultural interaction

Other

Record the group’s questions on a flip chart or board as they are shared. It may be helpful to group the questions using the categories above. Keep this list of questions, so that the group can come back to them in Session IV.

For Next Time

In preparation for the next session, make an assignment to group members: Recall people and institutions of other religious traditions of which you are aware in the places where you live and work. We will begin to make a "map" of religious diversity and of interreligious relationships in our geographical area.

Remind participants of the schedule. Clarify any questions about what is planned and expected

Closing

Take a few minutes for comments. What did you learn that was a surprise?

Close with a prayer or hymn.

Box 1

12. Although this [religious] situation in which we live may seem to be new, it has many parallels throughout biblical history. In the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures, God relates to the Jewish people against a backdrop of religious diversity . . . The life, death and resurrection of Jesus took place in one of the most religiously complex environments of the ancient world.

13. The church of Christ has always lived among peoples of many different cultures and religions. Thus we join Christians of many times and places when we ask, How do we live in faithfulness to the Gospel when our friends and neighbors, colleagues and associates, parents and children are members of other religious traditions . . . ?

Interfaith Relations and the Churches

Box 2

The National Council of Churches policy statement on interfaith relations describes one of our tasks as we consider relating to others:

15. Theologically … we ask new questions about our religious identity: How do we understand our relationship to God, to other Christians, and to those of other religious traditions? How do we understand the relationship between these men and women and God? Practically, we ask about Christian discipleship: How can we best live a life of faithful witness and service in a multi-faith context?

The policy statement makes the following affirmation:

35. We recognize that scripture speaks with many voices about relationship with men and women of other religious traditions. We need to devote further attention to issues of interpreting scriptural teaching. But as to our Christian discipleship, we can only live by the clear obligation of the Gospel. When Jesus was asked, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" he, referring to his Jewish tradition, answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:25-27). Love of God and love of neighbors cannot be separated. We rejoice in our common conviction that Jesus calls us to ministries of reconciliation.

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