Every once-in-a-while, in our normal communications in daily life, it is worthwhile to stop and remind ourselves that every one, no matter how adamantly irreligious they may profess to be … everyone has a faith position. It is also liberating to know that the point of contact between our own faith position and theirs is a head-on-collision. That doesn’t mean that we become hostile or unpleasant—not at all. That is the nature of our being faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ in this very real world. It should, in fact, be our delight.

Yes, if Jesus lives in us by the Spirit of God, then then the love and compassion for those who are (to use the Biblical term) lost, or are “like sheep without a shepherd”, or are walking in darkness, or are “without God and without hope in the world” should be those toward whom we should move. Jesus came to bring light into the darkness, and we are his children of light.

If we were to live in other parts of the world, we would be in the context of other religions, and faith positions, maybe Hindu, or Islamic, or Buddhist. In the West one likely encounters those who profess to be atheistic or agnostic, or just ‘spiritual’. More likely we encounter those whose faith is something like a dismissive disinterest, or “who cares?” Folk are more hedonistic, or pleasure seekers, or consumed with careers. These are the things that dominate their lives, as innocent as they may seem to them. But they are very real faith positions. When one lives in an academic setting, it is quite common to get into intellectual and philosophical arguments. These are normal in that setting. But when pressed to get real about ultimate reality that encounter is a head-on-collision. In corporate life, faithfulness to the the corporation is frequently the religion.

In the New Testament accounts, Jesus prefaced his call to believe in himself and his teachings with the requirement to repent. What that meant was that those who would come to him must embrace a whole new frame of reference. That is actually what Jesus meant when he told Nicodemus (John 3) that he needed to be ‘born again’. Nicodemus was a highly respected leader in the Jewish-temple establishment, a righteous man, but he was formed by an understanding of faith that was based on the Jewish law and its traditions. He had faith … only it was an incomplete faith that made him dependent on his own efforts at pleasing God. Jesus loved him, and gently told him that he needed to be responsive to a whole different understanding of how one enters into God’s New Creation. He needed a whole new frame of reference.

Paul reminded the followers of Jesus in Rome that they always needed to be on their guard that they not be conformed to the world and its faith-positions, but to be continually transformed by the renewing of their minds. As the Christian faith entered into the Grecian and gentile world, it entered into a scene of many faiths and philosophies. In so doing it learned to understand the faith positions of those devotees of idols, or of major philosophers, and boldly but lovingly engaged in the encounter of faiths as they articulated their confidence that in Jesus of Nazareth, the secret hidden for the ages was made known, that he was the very Word of God made flesh and blood. They were often laughed to scorn, and persecuted. Ah! But some believed and the message of God’s love moved out into all the world. They became a transformational and reconciling witness to the gospel of peace.

Be comfortable with this in your encounter and conversations. We don’t convert people. Rather we are the demonstrators and articulators of God’s love in Christ. God does the converting. He opens minds and hearts. Every follower of Christ is part of the missionary arm of the Holy Trinity. It makes every day to be one of anticipation. And while you’re engaging in this point of contact, you can pay for their Coke. Stay tuned …

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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2 Responses to

  1. Andrew says:

    Great post! FYI, the link at the bottom does not appear to work.

    • rthenderson says:

      Andrew: Yea, the link should read homebrew-churches (not singular). Thanks for the response. That awareness certainly has set me free to engage in conversation with all kinds of wandering or hostile souls.

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