Living as Jesus did
“Interreligious dialogue is not just a method of mission; it is mission itself. Witnessing to Jesus is not just talking about Jesus but also living as Jesus did and taught, embracing the other,” says Danang Kristiawan.
What does Scripture say?
“In the Old Testament, Israel thought of themselves as living as a witness nation for the nations around them,” says Kevin Gunther Trautwein.
Zechariah calls for people to love peace and truth in society (Zechariah 8:19-23).
“This is a beautiful image of what witness looks like,” says Kevin Guenther Trautwein.
“Isaiah prophesied the coming of the Prince of Peace for all mankind on earth without exception (Isaiah 2:2-4),” says Paulus Hartono. Later, the prophet writes those “who join themselves to the Lord” include the foreigner and eunuch; “I will gather others to them besides those already gathered” (Isaiah 56:3-8).
And in the book of Psalms, the psalmists invite God’s people to seek peace as a way of living in the world.
Harry Huebner’s favourite place to begin with the parables. “It’s amazing how Jesus holds up the Samaritan. It’s not because he’s better theologically (Samaritans were considered a different religion than the Jews), but that he lives a life that is more in keeping with teachings of Jesus than Jesus sees among people of his own faith.”
The parable of the lost son also contains lessons. “Father God has two children: insiders and outsiders. It gets all confused because the insider becomes the outsider and outsider becomes the insider.” It’s a warning against becoming comfortable in an identity as religious people. “There are people who think differently who are also God’s children. If you are going to exclude yourself from them, you are doing something God is not pleased with,” says Harry Huebner.
Many of the epistles also address breaking down barriers between insiders and outsiders. “The apostle Paul advised God’s people to live witnessing in peace to all people (Romans 12:18),” says Paulus Hartono.
“Jesus’ story is the basis of our mission in multi-religious contexts,” says Danang Kristiawan. “Jesus proclaims liberation for people from their weakness. It means the good news is holistic. So, to follow Jesus is to embrace the other, to bridge the gaps among people.”
As Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord’s favour in Luke 4:18, he says the gospel frees us from barriers. “The gospel brings truth, love, peace, justice and the integrity of creation (Mark 1:14),” says Paulus Hartono.
“The sermon on the mount (Matthew 5) is Jesus’ call to all creatures, including those of different religions, to bring peace so that salt and light can be seen in the world,” says Paulus Hartono.
“You are the light of the world,” Jesus says in Matthew 5:14. “We are called to shine in the world where darkness prevails,” says Paul Phinehas. “Witnessing to Christ is the most important thing in the life of a Christian believer.”
“We are clearly different; yet we are all God’s children in that none have been rejected from the domain, sovereignty, lordship and love of God,” says Harry Huebner.
What can we learn about God from other religions?
“The fact that God allows religions to proliferate in the world says something about who God is,” says Kevin Guenther Trautwein.
God is the director of a drama where faith in Jesus is a specific role among the parts of the play in Nicholas M. Healy’s concept of theodramatic ecclesiology. This places the emphasis on God’s action, not individual Christians nor even the church.
“This takes Christian specificity seriously while also taking specificity of other faiths and religions seriously,” says Kevin Guenther Trautwein. “We don’t need to reduce them all to different versions of the same good.”
Many in Anabaptist churches have Muslim neighbours. “Islam places great emphasis on obedience and fidelity to Allah which is expressed in prayer five times a day,” says Paulus Hartono.
“I learn from their spirituality,” says Danang Kristiawan. “Spiritual discipline should not be seen as a burden, but a sign that we want to have an intimate relation to God.
“From mystical Islam (Sufi), I can learn about life surrendered to God. All reality is seen as God’s love. Nature is a window to come to the Lord. This is also related to Asian religious view of reality.”
Harry Huebner has been impressed with the “enormous emphasis on the mercy of God and love of God” as he has dialogued with Muslim clerics. For example, Mahnaz Heydarpour “talks about the essence of God being love. The essence of God is unity. God does not desire conflict and destruction of the other. God desires the reconciliation and peace of all people, all of God’s creation.”
“Islam also emphasizes ‘Ukhuwah’ or living in brotherhood with fellow people, fellow nations, fellow human beings,” says Paulus Hartono.
“From my experience with Muslim community, I can learn that God is love. I think this is our meeting point,” says Danang Kristiawan.
Islam also teaches respect for the Torah, and the Gospels. “So basically, Muslims want to know a lot about Jesus,” says Paulus Hartono.
“My overwhelming surprise has been that when I teach Muslim students or faculty, their openness to Jesus is astounding. It is at least as great as when I teach about Jesus at Canadian Mennonite University,” says Harry Huebner. “Muslims love Jesus.”
Other religions may help us see the sovereignty and transcendence of God better, says Kevin Guenther Trautwein.
“Hinduism and Buddhism emphasize loving all beings and the universe. Life returns by way of incarnation, therefore to live in goodness is obligatory,” says Paulus Hartono.
“And Confucianism emphasizes living in pursuit of virtue. Respect older people and love younger ones. Live healthy, prosperous, peaceful and long life,” says Paulus Hartono.
“It’s okay that religions are different. We are different individuals even within faith….We can talk about our differences of justice without having to threaten or kill each other. That is what we need to teach the next generation, to train ourselves and each other. We must train for peacemaking,” says Harry Huebner.
Principles to guide Christian witness
Enter into an exchange
Listen as well as speak.
“We need to make friends and be friendly to people. Interreligious relations shouldn’t just be a program, but should be our way of life to build friendship to the other,” says Danang Kristiawan.
“We can be open to the other if we empty ourselves. This is hospitality (Philippians 2:5-11),” says Danang Kristiawan.
“Yet, our witnessing is not always accepted by the other, even as we offer peace as our message. To be open means we are ready to be hurt, rejected and ignored. This also happened to Jesus.
“Openness is not only in our action to relate the other, but also in our mind: no prejudice, no judging; respect and willingness to learn and listen to the other,” says Danang Kristiawan.
“It’s tempting to want to do all the roles. But our role in the process is limited. We are invited into God’s conversation with the other person. Our job is to play our role and get out of the way,” says Kevin Guenther Trautwein.
“The advocate comes and testifies and convicts the world of sin and justice (John 16:5-15). It’s not us. We are to be witnesses,” says Kevin Guenther Trautwein.
“To be faithful Christian witnesses in a pluralistic society, we have to have commitment to Jesus – not in an abstract concept, not only in emotion, but in action by living and following Jesus in daily life. Without commitment, our witness will be just chit-chat, nothing can we share. Commitment to Jesus means committing to love, and love always pushes us to relate to the other,” says Danang Kristiawan.
“Fulfilling Jesus’ call to be his partner in this world means continuing his vision and mission in presenting, living and teaching the values of the gospel of the kingdom of God,” says Paulus Hartono
Treat others with respect
“Remember that the people we’re dialoguing with are loved by God. Don’t reduce or diminish them or their ideas. Listen for what they are saying in its best light,” says Kevin Guenther Trautwein.
“I speak out of my faith: I don’t speak as someone who comes neutrally. We are different, but we don’t need to hurt each other,” says Harry Huebner.
“Use words, images and language from the Bible rather than ‘Christianese’ or theological vocabulary. (e.g. ‘God is faithful’ instead of ‘God is immutable’),” says Kevin Guenther Trautwein.
“Don’t try to generalize or speak for all – even in your own tradition. And don’t ask for your dialogue partner to speak for others,” says Kevin Guenther Trautwein. Share when asked about your own specific practices and beliefs.”
Speak of what you know
“God is the truth, so we testify to the truth. God is love, so we can witness to his love in real terms. God is peaceful, so we bring his peace. God is justice, so we uphold justice in the world. God is the creator of the universe with everything in it, so we are called to care for and manage it,” says Paulus Hartono.
“If my life causes others to ask ‘why do you live that way’ or ‘why do you have hope or joy or peace,’ that leads to witness. It’s relaxing into humility that it’s not my job to make you change – that’s God’s job,” says Kevin Guenther Trautwein.
As a professor, Harry Huebner is frequently invited to speak about Christian faith: “What is it but evangelism? I speak of the power of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected. The great commission isn’t something in addition to that. It is that.”
“This is God’s process, God’s timeline. God is patient with us (2 Peter 3:9); we should be patient with others,” says Kevin Guenther Trautwein.
Remember to be rooted in prayer, Paul Phinehas says.
And be grateful. “By the grace of God through Jesus Christ he has made us his children. So, we live to witness his love,” says Paulus Hartono.
The following interfaith dialogue practitioners shared their perspective with MWC:
Danang Kristiawan is pastor at GITJ Jepara (Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa), Indonesia. He leads an annual friendship camp with Christian and Muslim youth and organizes regular celebrations with the church and Muslim leaders.
Harry Huebner is a member of Charleswood Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He is professor emeritus at Canadian Mennonite University and has been involved in Shi’a-Mennonite dialogue since 2007.
Kevin Guenther Trautwein is a pastor at Lendrum Mennonite Church, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He is part of Phoenix Multi-faith Society for Harmony.
Paul Phinehas is director of Gilgal Mission Trust, Pollachi, Tamil Nadu, India.
Paulus Hartono is a pastor at GKMI Solo (Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia), Central Java, Indonesia. He is founder and director of Mennonite Diakonia Service.
The patient work of the Holy Spirit in interfaith relationship
After an economic crisis followed riots which had damaged much of the city of Solo, Indonesia, in 1998, local leaders formed The Interfaith Committee (IFC). Paulus Hartono was asked to represent the church association on the IFC. He managed the humanitarian aid program that distributed 7 200 000 kg of rice to 12 000 households (60 000 people).
“This program laid the foundation for the continuation of the peace program in Solo,” says Paulus Hartono.
One of the people he worked with on the committee was Dharma Saputra, a Buddhist. Through their work together, they build a relationship with respect and appreciation for each other’s beliefs.
In 2014, Dharma Saputra invited Paulus Hartono to visit him in his final days in hospital.
“Please pray for me, sir. Pray as a pastor and friend not as the head of the IFC institution,” Dharma Saputra said.
“Would Pak Dharma be willing to pray in the Lordship of Jesus that I believe in?” Paulus Hartono asked. “I am willing,” he replied softly.
At Dharma Saputra’s request, Paulus Hartono prayed for Jesus as God to guide him and forgive him.
“It is the guidance of the Holy Spirit who has worked in the journey of humanitarian and peace work for more than 10 years.”
This article first appeared in Courier/Correo/Courrier April 2021.
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