Different religions and the Gospel


Does the Gospel concern Christians only?

According to the words of Christ, the Gospel is for all humanity: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). But the idea of mission is embarrassing to many. Must the entire world adopt the Christian religion? Does not missionary activity conceal a desire to dominate? The expansion of Christianity sometimes went hand in hand with wars of conquest. Jesus sent out his disciples “like lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3), and yet at times Christians have behaved like wolves in the midst of lambs.

Perhaps for this reason, many Christians have become prudent. We have learned not to judge other religions. And we Christians are the first ones who have to take the Gospel seriously. So some people even ask themselves: since world peace depends in part upon a respectful coexistence of different religious communities, would not the best thing be for everyone to keep their beliefs to themselves and let others find their way in their own respective traditions?

The Gospel, in the original meaning of the term, is not a religious teaching. Gospel means “good news”. News is not something that is taught, but rather communicated. In the ancient world, for example, the birth or inauguration of a new emperor was proclaimed as “good news”. In the Bible as well, the Gospel announces the beginning of a reign. But here, the king is God. Jesus and his apostles proclaimed the reign of God. The Gospel is “the good news of [God’s] reign” (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14).

God rules: this is good news promising a future of peace for all the nations of the earth. If God is king, then the law of the jungle and despair will not have the last word. God’s reign is a mystery (Mark 4:11), but not an abstract concept. The first Christians recognized it in Jesus who gave his life on the cross. “From now on the reign belongs to our God and the authority to his Christ” (Revelation 12:10). God’s reign is the love with which Jesus loved. It is the Spirit of God who sends this same love into human hearts (see Romans 5:5). The Gospel assures us that, in spite of short-term appearances, the future belongs to those who love and who forgive.

This hope concerns all humanity. That is why the early Christians could not keep it for themselves. They were public witnesses “before governors and kings” (Mark 13:9) and “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Proclaiming the Gospel does not mean spreading a religion that is superior to other ones. It simply means not keeping silent about our hope of peace.

What attitude towards other religions does our Christian faith require of us?

Today, many Christians live side by side with members of other faith communities. When a village, a town or a whole country was Christian, the relationship with other religions was primarily a theoretical question. Now, the question is more and more relevant in daily life.
During the time of the apostle Paul, the Christians of Rome did not live in a Christian society either. He wrote to them, “Live in peace with all if possible, to the extent that it depends on you” (Romans 12:18). These words encourage us to do all we can to defuse tensions and to avoid conflicts. Peaceful coexistence never depends on just one of the parties. But Paul insists that, with a view to peace, Christians should at least do what depends on them.

To live together in lasting peace, tolerance is not enough. Respecting others does not mean just leaving them alone. It means also being interested in them. To affirm that everyone has their own beliefs that are not open to discussion can be a subtle form of contempt. Is an authentic encounter really possible if each person excludes from it what is most precious for them? We share with our friends what causes each one of us to hope and to live. Christians cannot keep silent about the fact that Christ is their hope and their life. “Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you the reason for the hope that is within you” (1 Peter 3:15).

Since each religion deals with the absolute, and since this absolute varies from one religion to another, religions contain a potential for conflict. So should we try to harmonize the different religions for the sake of peace, taking from each of them only those elements about which everyone can agree? A concern for harmony is not foreign to the Bible: “Be concerned with what is good in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17). Interreligious dialogue contributes to this search for the common good. When there is trust between the leaders of different religions, they can work together against violence and injustice.

But dialogue would not be sincere if it required the partners to give up the absolute which characterizes religions as such. With respect to Christians, we cannot deny the fact that at the center of our faith there is Jesus Christ, “the unique mediator between God and human beings” (1 Timothy 2:5). But far from making true dialogue impossible, this absolute commits us to it, since what makes Jesus unique is his humility. He became the servant of all. He took the last place. That is why we can never, in his name, lord it over others but only welcome them and let them welcome us.

Letter from Taizé: 2005/3

Last updated: 11 May 2005