Spener is concerned about the way Christians conduct themselves with unbelievers and heretics. I think he also has wise words for Christians as they relate to other believers, and those of other faiths. Spener holds to orthodox Christian teaching. We must “strengthen and confirm ourselves in the known truth,” and we must “protect” each other from every kind of seduction. And so:
- We pray for each other.
- We seek to be a good example towards others and not offend.
- We present the truth to others in ways that are modest and humble.
- We engage in conversations from a point of heartfelt love
- We seek to avoid argumentation
We live in such a contentious time. Our sisters and brothers in our congregations are lining up in Us vs. Them stances just as we are seeing in the larger society. We need, in our churches, to learn how to listen and speak civilly with each other, to recognize what pushes our buttons and what luggage (baggage!) we bring to the conversation, to really learn from each other, to gather around Scripture and hear it together, and to leave friends even if when we disagree.
Followers of Christ must always approach other Christians, those of other religions, and those of no faith with a sense of convicted humility. There are matters of faith that we hold to with conviction, but we are always modest and humble in our pronouncements, simply because we know that we are dust. We wrestle and contend for the truth, but there must be a lightness to our grip.
We gather others around us, a community of learners, who together pray, and search the Scriptures. We ask the question the early Mission Friends asked: Where is it Written?
This convicted humility gives us a sense of freedom. It does not allow us to believe anyway we desire. We are bound to each other, and under the Word. In all this there is freedom. Here is how the Evangelical Covenant Church describes one of its Affirmations:
We affirm the reality of freedom in Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1, TNIV). This freedom is a gift of God in Christ, and it manifests itself in a right relationship with God and others. It is not a private gift to be used selfishly, but is given to serve the community and the world. For Paul, this freedom means that we are set free from the power of those things that on their own tend to divide. United in Christ, we offer freedom to one another to differ on issues of belief or practice where the biblical and historical record seems to allow for a variety of interpretations of the will and purposes of God. We in the Covenant Church seek to focus on what unites us as followers of Christ, rather than on what divides us.
Krister Stendahl offers three rules for engagement with people of other faiths. These are good guidelines for us as we speak with other believers too.
- When trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.
- Don’t compare your best to their worst.
- Leave room for “holy envy.”
Spener emphasizes the importance of love. This should be our stance. We hold to convictions about our beliefs–but we do it in a spirit of love. We seek to live out this sense: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and, in all things, charity.
When it comes to relating to people of other faiths, we must again seek to be Christ-followers who are characterized by love. We listen; we learn; we find “holy envy.” And we look for opportunities to share the hope that we have within us (1 Peter 3:15). And we do this with kindness and respect (v. 16).
As we share the gospel, as we seek to see how the gospel relates to our current contexts, as wrestle with truth, may we do so with a sense of love. This practice renews the church, and transforms us.