Is it defensible for a Christian to set aside the Great Commission in support of ecumenism toward the world's other religions?

I’m not a Christian myself and don’t really understand just how widely held is the desire of Christians to spread faith in what they believe to others. Perhaps it is only a “calling” of those who consider themselves to be missionaries? But I’ve had encounters with Christians who just seem unwilling to agree to disagree while respecting each others point of view. Given the direction the world is going it seems unlikely that one religion will win out over all the others. In the end a policy of acceptance and respect for differences would seem to be something better to aim for.

As an outsider it is hard for me to appreciate just what the theological difficulties are for a Christian in balancing a desire to share what they hold dear while at the same time applying the golden rule toward those holding other beliefs dear. If anyone can help me understand to what extent this really is a dilemma for Christians, I would be grateful. Perhaps it is more or less an issue depending on denomination?

The Christian faith, and those who are serious about their faith being more than just a Sunday morning thing or a nominal “cultural” thing do not see themselves as being excused from the Great Commission, whether anybody refers to them as “missionaries” or not. All of us are missionaries. But that said … and even among those of us who consider ourselves serious Christians, I think it fair to observe that there is theory, and then there is practice.

Bringing up religion cold (like to a stranger who is our captive seatmate on an airplane – unless they bring it up first) seems pretty “taboo” to a lot of westerners because our culture has become hypersensitive to (in the micro-aggression levels of sensitivity – even ‘nano-aggression’?) anything that looks like proselytizing. This is why so many, even among Christians, have become suspicious of aggressive tactics and try to just live out our faith in our lives, doing our best to practice what we preach, and then let the Spirit do its work. But we are (or should be) always on the look out for opportunities to be a positive witness for our faith because we want others to have the benefit of what we have too. It truly is good news even if a culture is largely numbed against such things through innoculating exposures.

In short, hang out here at your own risk. Because yes – I do think about sharing and passing along treasure that has blessed me, and in turn fully expect that I may learn things of Christ from others, even non-Christian others (which may help me grow in Christ in new and different ways). But none of this [should] surprise you, I hope. I’ve always thought that the bumper sticker admonishing religious people to “curb your god” is an amusing admonition – not in the way its writers intended, but for the astonishingly naive misunderstanding it portrays on the part of those who imagine such a thing to even be possible.

Now to dig out some of those old Chick tracts and see if I can trick you into giving me your mailing address …
^that was attempted humor, BTW!

Additional thoughts below:
I realize that I failed to address the ‘as it relates to world religions’ part of your question above. Maybe can pursue that more later. But meanwhile I’ll share a link that I’ve shared in these forums before: here is a sermon series by a Christian pastor of a large church in the Kansas City area. I think he deals with it very well. Just listening to the first couple out of the 6 sermons will give you a good taste of where he goes with it. But all 6 sermons are worth listening to. Scroll down past the initial video trailer on your screen until you see “The Wise men” (the first message), followed by the others of the six also linked.


Maybe you’ve seen this, and it probably doesn’t answer the question, but I find this video from Penn Gillette interesting since, even as an atheist, he seems to understand that if you really believe someone is in danger (of eternal punishment), you wouldn’t let a little social awkwardness get in the way (though this is just a short snippet of a longer video).

It’s worth noting that the Great Commission involves the command to “make disciples” which many understand to be much broader than simply “winning souls,” and therefore find many ways to fulfill it, such as teaching (in a church, school, home, etc.), mentorship, engaging in community Bible study, parenting, friendships, etc.

When it comes to proselytizing/expressing faith (and many in my circle will probably disagree with me), I do agree with you, @MarkD, that there should be some consideration of the golden rule. For example, I don’t think that overt political activism from Christians is a wise thing when it involves trying to remove rights from other people and religions simply because they represent something other than Christianity – I think too often this kind of activism is viewed as a badge of honor for the faith. On the one hand, to have strong faith generally includes believing that your beliefs are correct, even if they require other beliefs to be wrong – but at the same time, trying to strip others of the same rights we enjoy (in the realm of both freedom of religion and separation of church and state) does seem hypocritical to me (and hopefully I haven’t waded too deeply into political territory here!).


I think it is depending upon a true acceptance of just how miserable a person we begin, and how far we develop in admitting the difference.

Remember the Pharisee who prayed, “Lord I am thankful I am not as other men, or as this Publican, I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all…etc”
And the Publican would not so much as lift his eyes toward heaven, but prayed, “Lord be merciful to me, THE SINNER.”

Al the translations with which I am familiar, leave out the article, and read “Lord, be merciful to me A sinner.” THAT mekes me one among many, therefore, not so bad after all, but to acknowledge “Lord, in this association, I am THE SINNER and YOU are THE GOD.” makes a world of difference in how far you have come, and how much further you will be lead.

Judeo-Christianity is the ONLY WORLD RELIGION that has a God who can tell hundreds of years before events, names and places that will be involved in otherwise insignificant events, but when comprehended for what it is, they serve as testimony to the ONLY God capable of such activity.

God told the prophet that over two hundred years in their future, Israel would be in captivity, and that the king of the land of their captivity, will send the Israelites back to their homeland to repair the walls of the city and of their temple, and further, that the foreign king will bear the cost. Then He named the foreign King. Cyrus.

Over two-hundred years later, Cyrus, king of Persia sent captive Israel back to their homeland to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and of the temple; and he bore the costs of all of it.

Any God who can do that deserves my best efforts, And I will do all within my humble power to convince others of the truth of this God over all imitations.

I listened to the first one including the video snippet at the end with the Hindu/Christian couple. The pastor speaking describes a variety of stances available for a Christian to take between universalism (all paths lead to the same place) to exclusivism (everyone goes to hell except for those who proclaim faith in Jesus). He seems critical of both extremes. He says they are not all saying the same thing but at the same time something to the effect that grace can be extended to those who never accept Jesus in life. He gives the example of a good friend who is a jew who he imagines accepting Jesus after death. That did make me wonder how readily he would accept Allah after death or, more to the point, how he would respond to someone who suggests the same thing to him in reverse.

I find this guy insufferable in the same way I find Lawrence Krauss, both seem empathically impaired. Of course if a car is barreling down on me, please, feel free to push me out of the way. I will understand and thank you. But if you see the unseeable differently than I do and feel similarly compelled to push me toward what you see to be safety … then I’ll thank you for your concern but “no thank you” still means “no”.

Did not know that. So making disciples may mean tutoring those who already believe to invest more of their time in building community among those who believe as you do?

I appreciate hearing that. Thank you.

Hmm, I know what you mean about Krause, but have never felt that way about Penn.

I don’t think he suggested more than this. He only referred to “telling” people about one’s concerns, as opposed to remaining silent.

I think you’ve pointed here to a tension that has existed within Christianity since the beginning. The tension lies between honouring the core teachings of Jesus and honouring the many religious and cultural traditions that existed in Jesus’ time and that continue to exist to this day.

Jesus’ core teachings include love your God, love your neighbour, love yourself, practise forgiveness, practise healing, practise a thinking faith, but don’t let go of your core self (your soul) or your relationship with God in order to appease those who’ve chosen not to love God.

If one holds tightly to Jesus’ core teachings, it’s quite easy to see all human beings, regardless of religion or cultural tradition, as equally worthy of God’s love, and equally worthy of our respect as human beings. It’s not required or necessary to love all your neighbour’s belief systems – and, in fact, if you try to appease your neighbour by saying that love of God isn’t necessary, you’re choosing your neighbour’s core belief system over your own faith. So a clear line has to drawn at this point if you want to be a Christian as Jesus taught.

On the plus side, if you accept Jesus’ core teachings, it’s open to you to believe that underneath the belief systems that cause so much suffering during your neighbour’s human life (e.g. religious discrimination against women and children, justification of slavery, hatred towards those from different clans or races or religions), there’s a core self who’s worthy of love and forgiveness. Just as Jesus taught.

There are many theological tensions that arise from this understanding of Jesus’s teachings. In particular, it creates a whole host of problems within the orthodox Western understanding of Christianity, an understanding that evolved largely from Paul’s interpretation of Jesus. But Christians who place love of God above laws and rules and traditions (and there are many Christians who do) know that God is always calling us to use our hearts and minds and souls and courage to approach life’s difficult questions with discernment and humbleness and openness to change.

So, in the end, there’s no single universal answer to your question. Each person who wants to be in relationship with God has to decide for him/herself how to treat his/her fellow human beings.

Religion may or may not help with this decision. The only honest response, in my view, is to say it’s a matter of conscience.

Edited for typos.

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Yeah, and I’d agree if that was the case – not respecting someone else’s “no” goes beyond proselytizing into harassment. I guess I see why you could interpret what he says that way, but I also don’t think he meant the analogy to be that extreme. In the longer version of the video he relates a brief exchange he had with a proselytizer whom he described as being very polite and respectful, so that context helps, I guess.

Yeah, I think that’s how a lot of people see it. More as a life-long process with a smaller group of people than just a one-time event with many – teaching and learning with others about the basics of the faith and how to live it out (I often hear it referred to as “spiritual growth” or “discipleship”). Of course, evangelism is included in all of this too, and many people feel more “called” to that particular area, but all of it is important.

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My short answer would be, no it’s not defensible to set aside the Great Commission to be ecumenically palatable. But like Elle said, it’s also not defensible to ignore the “love your neighbor as yourself” commandment in order to “evangelize.” I think most Christians who are jerks about “sharing their faith” are insecure and threatened by people who see the world differently. And fear is always a bad place to share your convictions from. The Bible says that as far as it depends on us, we are to live at peace with everyone. I think living at peace is different than ecumenicalism. We don’t have to all agree to see things the same way. We have to agree to make the most of the common ground we do have to live peacefully together.



And to add on to that, evangelism can be seen in the narrower “popular” sense, exemplified by people going door-to-door for religious purposes. Or it an be seen in a broader sense of "Here’s this really cool thing that really interests / motivates / helps / … me - you gotta check this out! Sorta like you sharing with a friend a great new brand of drink you found at a local grocery or a clever trick for improving something around your household or workplace. This is the kind of evangelizing we all do whether we think ourselves religious or not. Nobody gets their knickers in a bunch if I declare allegiance to sports team A with full knowledge that some in my audience are die-hard team B fans. No – we get into playful friendly banter about it. We may be quite serious about our choices, and yet we generally have no problem (and even rather enjoy) being in the company of some who would push back. And we would consider it the height of silliness for anyone to fearfully carve out some sort of “safe” or “secular” space where all of us must leave behind all the most important issues and opinions we most care about, lest we forfeit the general good graces of others. I know some will resent having religion being compared with mere preferences like it was a brand name, and I’m not suggesting that all those things have equal importance to religion. I’m only saying that all of us, atheists and believers alike are in the end, evangelists whether we will own the term or not. And that is as it should be. If you, @MarkD , have great ideas and good thoughts to share with me that improve my life, I would hope you felt free to promote them a bit – it’s what a caring person would do with their friends. And that even extends to your religious beliefs (or rejection thereof). Those are pretty important things, and I can’t reasonably expect you to stop exerting influence toward things you feel important any more than you should expect it of believers in other things.

There. Elle said all that pretty clearly with a few words. I feel one of my gifts is to repeat the same thing with many.



Elle and Mark

I’m not trying to make waves here, but in my understanding of the gospels, making disciples and, “winning souls” is pretty much the same thing. Jesus does call us to be disciples, right?

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Point taken at least when it comes to straightforward things involving safety, comfort or enjoyment. But in the realm of values or the sacred it just seems presumptuous to assume the other person has less investment in their own positions than you do in yours, doesn’t it?

I suppose so – I guess I was using “winning souls” in sort of a “hit and run” sense – I was thinking altar calls, “getting people saved,” evangelistic crusades, since I encountered a lot of those in my own faith tradition growing up – those sorts of things can work to lead people to Christ (though I have mixed feelings about some of the methods), but the process of discipleship is a lot more than simply making a “decision for Christ.” I realize proselytizing can take different forms though – it can be one friend to another rather than a big, hyped up gathering.

I can’t really answer, Richard. I’m not in the Christian tradition except culturally so I was really just trying to understand how and to what degree the theology compels a believer to proselytize. I don’t think most people who are not Christian don’t have their own commitments where faith in what is held sacred is concerned. So I"m just trying understand how one reconciles the way they would like their own beliefs to be respected in the light of what the Great Commission calls them to do.

Taken down by poster to think more. :slight_smile:

I haven’t read all the responses, but just some thoughts:

It seems to me that there is a false dichotomy here between “a policy of acceptance and respect” and “spread[ing] faith in what [Christians] believe to others.” One does not have to hold others’ beliefs in disdain in order to proselytize. Certainly, many people DO hold the beliefs of others in disdain while proselytizing, but I don’t think it’s necessary, strictly speaking. Neither does one have to disrespect the decisions of others. As Christians, we can and indeed should continue to demonstrate love in the face of the rejection of one’s gospel. That is what it looks like to follow our God, who causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust, n’est-ce pas?

One does not even necessarily have to ask people to shift their cultural allegiance toward the West in order to proselytize them. There is an entire framework within missiology that seeks to introduce people to Jesus and the gospel within their cultural and even religious framework, and then leaves it up to the Holy Spirit working in them to convict them whether or not this means abandoning the fabric of their religious life. There are Muslim-background believers, for instance, who call themselves “Muslim followers of Issa” (the Qur’an’s name for Jesus) because they understand “Muslim” to mean “submitted to God.” While these believers feel a certain broad fellowship with “Christians,” they associate the name “Christian” with “loose-living Westerner” so they prefer not to embrace it but to follow Jesus without that label. Of course, for as many missionaries as there are of this sort, there are as many who anathematize this sort of approach as syncretism. My point here is not to take sides in this sensitive matter but rather to point out that there are ways of evangelism which do less “violence” to the belief systems of the other, but seek rather to introduce people to the person and teachings of Jesus and then let Him take it from there.


Building on @Mervin_Bitikofer’s observations about the evangelizing we all do in our own way, I think it’s important to ask about the other side of the question, which involves our ability to discern when to stop evangelizing.

Christianity has gone through some pretty rough patches when Christians thought it was up to them (not to God) to push the evangelizing agenda to extremes that led to unwonted violence, oppression, and suffering for a lot of people. (Obvious historical examples include Crusades to both the Holy Land and to Christian regions where theologies had “wandered” from mainstream orthodoxy).

One of Christianity’s great strengths, in my view, is its ability to step back from periods of unloving evangelizing and say “enough is enough – the cost to my relationship with God is too high, so I’m going to hand the situation over to God.”

No matter what people’s sacred belief systems are, I think they’re called to ask themselves what inner tools they have available to them to know when the line has been crossed.

The importance of knowing there’s a line, and trying to use all the spiritual tools at our disposal to try to avoid crossing the line, is something Christianity should never have to apologize for.


A similar question I have is that is it sinful for and believers to visit places sacred to other religions, provided it is not for spiritual purposes? I think the Angkor Wat, Prambanan Temple, Parthenon, Pantheon (which I have visited) and other places are amazing works of architecture, but abhorrent otherwise. Part of me thinks (If I do decide to remain a Bible believer) that I should never lay eyes on anything vile (Psalm 101:3), but part of me also realises that God cares more about ‘why’ you do things than what you do, since he searches out the heart and mind (Psalm 26:2).

I can understand why visiting places like that might make a believer feel ill at ease, or why one would avoid them all together. But as long as you’re not worshiping, I have to wonder if it’s more of an issue of wisdom vs. folly than outright sin. This reminds me of the story of Naaman and Elijah in 2 Kings 5, after Naaman had been healed. He asked Elijah this after Elijah refused to accept gifts for healing him:

17 “If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. 18 But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”

19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said.

It’s interesting that Elijah doesn’t condemn him even for bowing, because he realizes that the simple physical act is not a heart act for him – I guess you could argue it’s a different matter since it seems Naaman really has no choice – but I think you’re right that the “why” is more important than the location.

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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