A few years ago I was at a civic gathering, with local politicians and leaders from different faith groups. When it was my turn to speak I made a point of emphasising that I was committed to my faith, which hopefully was not a surprise. I went on to say that part of that commitment was passionately wanting other people, including those from other faiths, to become followers of Christ.
I unashamedly stated that the Christian faith is a proselytising faith – this is something we are to have confidence in – and I would attempt to persuade them of the truth and goodness of Christianity. The other side of this, and this I made clear, is that I wanted them to be free to try and persuade me of their religious beliefs. This is what religious freedom is all about, we contend for the right of all people to hear the good news of Jesus Christ, and to have the freedom to accept or reject that message.
The Good News is at the heart of the Evangelical Alliance and we are committed to helping the Church in the UK keep it central to its work. Introducing people to the good news of Jesus and discovering saving faith has to be core business to the church.
This mission has taken Christians to every corner of the globe. The missionary endeavours of previous generations took the message of Jesus – often at significant personal cost – to places where His name had not been heard, to people from major religions and innumerable belief systems.
The zeal of foreign mission certainly was not without its flaws and its legacy is complicated – often infused with Western cultural practices as much as the transforming message of Jesus. It was also the practice of relatively few Christians, who would often buy a one-way ticket to untraveled lands.
We live in a different world today. Not only is travel much easier, and the task of overseas mission practically less challenging – although there remain places where to speak of Jesus’s good news places the bearer of that message in considerable peril – our neighbours are often from the places our ancestors took their missionary message. The world is on our doorstep.
This has meant that some of our most passionate churches in the UK are from the places missionaries planted the seed of the gospel, and their role in proclaiming Jesus’ name in our communities provides a much-needed infusion of energy and belief into our society that might otherwise find it even easier to sideline God from day-to-day life.
In other ways religious belief is also harder to ignore. We are used to seeing mosques, temples and gurdwaras in our neighbourhoods, and the impact of belief on global politics has rarely been more central. Despite the fervent wishes of some, our society is catching up with the rest of the world, and religion is becoming more important.
The task in front of us as we talk about Jesus and encourage people to place their faith in him cannot be detached from engaging with people from the religions. It is not enough to reach out to those who have no or little belief (although that is essential), we must introduce people to Jesus who have never thought that learning of his life and message, and believing in his death and resurrection, could have any meaning to them.
Growing up I heard about Hudson Taylor, Jim and Elizabeth Elliot, and countless others who were heroes of our faith. I look forward to sharing stories of new heroes who commit their lives to telling their neighbours from diverse beliefs and backgrounds that Jesus’s good news is for them, and trusting in him brings salvation and abundant life.
It is time for us to reach the world on our doorstep.
This article first appeared as the foreword to The World on our Doorstep, produced by the Evangelical Alliance to help Christians engage in mission to people of other faiths. In this book Dewi Hughes outlines the intricacies involved in mission towards people of other religions. The book looks at theological, pastoral and cultural issues involved, and provokes us to a fresh missionary effort.