Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bridging the Divide: how to talk to evangelicals

Bridging the Divide: how to talk to evangelicals
by Abu Daoud

A reader of Islam and Christianity recently asked the question of how he, an Orthodox Christian, could talk to his Baptist neighbor to convince him that he was in fact a genuine Christian. The Baptist was off to Russia, if I recall correctly, to evangelize the unsaved Orthodox. How can our Orthodox (or Catholic perhaps) friend convince his neighbor that he is in fact a fellow brother in God's family and not just an unsaved soul who needs to be born again? Here are a couple of pointers:

1) Read the Bible and let him know about it: evangelicals have a special devotion to the Bible, just like many Palestinians have a special devotion to Saint George or Mexicans have for the Virgin of Guadalupe. The Bible plays a very central role, as it should, in their lives in areas like Bible memorization and daily devotionals. Once he understands that you read the Bible and believe in it he will take your faith more seriously.

2) Use words he knows: when talking about the hierarchy, unless it is very important to specify, please feel free to use the word "pastor" instead of the various and sometimes convoluted titles that have developed through the ages. Pastor is a helpful word because it is what he calls the leader of his church. Other examples: sermon, not homily. Worship and Communion, not Holy Liturgy and Eucharist.

3) Acknowledge your faults: people generally have a fairly good reason for thinking that Catholics and Orthodox are nominal and that they are not fully converted. Acknowledge that and admit that your church really does need to do a better job teaching youth about the Christian faith and the Bible and the virtuous life. There are so many people who are technically Christians (they have been baptized) but who are unevangelized. Your evangelical friend understands that nominal Christians are unsaved, and one can make a strong case that in a sense of the word they are correct.

4) Pray with him: ask him to pray for you, ask him how you can pray for him. Evangelical Christianity rightly understands that prayer is a mark of God's grace in the life of the believer. That you would pray for him and ask him to pray for you shows that God's grace is active in your life.

Well, those are a few pointers. Sooner or later, if you are good friends and communicate often, then you will be able to get into deeper questions about differences in practices. theology, and so on.

But given the specific instance mentioned above, what would I have done? (And I'm not Orthodox btw.) I would have told him that he has an important job to do, to disciple the Russians and teach them the Bible and call them to a living and strong faith in their Lord. I would say that the Russian Orthodox Church has a great history of missions but after Communism it became weakened and many of our Orthodox brothers there have no knowledge of the Bible or the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to free them from addiction, alcoholism, and sickness. Then I would say a prayer with him and ask God's blessing in his mission to Russia.

[originally posted HERE.]


Fred said...

These suggestions are a good start. Growing up in Baptist Missouri I learned to call Mass "services," to call priests "pastors," etc.

Over the years, I learned the Biblical roots of many Catholic (and Orthodox) practices. For example, repetitive prayer is taught in Luke 18 - the Eastern Jesus prayer has its roots firmly in the entirety of that chapter. And the spirit of that chapter is expressed in the 150 repetitions of "pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death" of the Rosary.

I also have learned that traditional Christianity (East and West) offer distinctive charisms as well. Dialogue is not just about mutual acceptance or tolerance but also a sharing of gifts, of bringing each gift into relationship with the whole (cata holos).

Abu Daoud said...

Hi Fred,

Good comments. I agree that we must have a goal that goes beyond tolerance, especially between Christians. I do think that simple changes in terminology can actually help a lot.

NancyS said...

I followed your comment on unsolvedministries.blogspot to here and read a few entries. This one intrigued me. I appreciated your reasoned advice. That attitude of "going to save the lost Orthodox" (or whoever) can be so harmful. It needs to be addressed through a screening process and training by the group facilitating the ministry.

David said...

A couple of years ago, I had an evangelical friend who expressed a similar concern for the "unsaved Russians." My approach was a little different than the one you suggest here. I told him about the persecutions of Christians in Russia under the Soviet state (which he didn't know about) and introduced him to a few of the more famous of them, such as the Patriarch St. Tikhon. I also explained to him that the Russian Church is working from within to renew Russian spirituality, and cited the rise in church attendance and the (re)opening of incredible numbers of churches and monasteries in Russia under Patriarch Alexy. In the end he agreed that it was better to let the Russian Church handle re-evangelize Russia and the best thing he could do was pray for their work. There was no need to mention the differences in belief and practice (thank goodness!).

I think that most American Christians have the same view of missionary work as Americans tend to have of everything: If America ain't doing it, it ain't being done right. Just let them know that it is, and they're pretty receptive.