Bishops highlight unchanging duty to share the Good News
The Church of England’s long history of witnessing to the unique significance of Jesus Christ is a duty that continues in today’s multi-faith environment, reiterates a new report.
Following a debate in February 2009, the General Synod asked the House of Bishops to produce a report on “their understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in Britain’s multi-faith society [and to include] examples and commendations of good practice in sharing the gospel of salvation through Christ alone with people of other faiths and of none”. A small group led by the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent; the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler; and the Bishop of Birmingham’s Adviser on Inter Faith Relations, the Revd Dr Toby Howarth, drafted the document, which was subsequently commended by the House of Bishops at its recent meeting.
The report affirms that missionary activity has always been a hallmark of the English Church’s life, whatever the country’s social and political context, and should continue to be so.
While acknowledging the “shadow side” of some historic evangelistic endeavours, the report’s foreword notes that: “…the fear of getting it wrong should never obscure the Christian’s commitment to the good of all and to making Christ the centrepiece of that good. Too much reticence is as untrue to our history and our vocation as too much stridency.”
The document draws on case studies from across the country, including Leicester and Bradford, where dioceses and parishes are actively engaged in inter-faith dialogue by expressing a “sensitive confidence” about the Christian faith. The report suggests that the experience of initiatives such as these is that there is a real desire among people of other faiths to hear about the beliefs which motivate Christian action and witness.
Within this context, the report urges caution about the language of ‘market choice’ when used in the context of religious belief. The foreword summarises this idea with the reminder that “it is not we who bring others to Christ but God working in them”, suggesting that “when our encounters with our neighbours, of other faiths and none, are distinguished from exercises in salesmanship, we can be confident that we are sharing God’s love rather than marketing another lifestyle choice.”