By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
When dealing with people of other faiths sometimes we as Christians struggle with the right way to approach them and more importantly how to treat them. In America, we are a country that gives people the freedom to practice any religion they choose as long as they are not being harmful to anyone in the process. It is written into the Constitution that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.
As Christians, I think sometimes we forget this because we want things to bend in the direction of our beliefs. So, what is a good way for Christians to engage people of different faiths? And is there a proper way to share the gospel with them? I want to share with you four important things to remember when you are engaging people of other faiths.
1. Respect their decision to believe.
The freedom to choose is a God-given right. God gives everyone the right to choose the direction they want to walk in. Even if that means walking away from him or in a different direction than God would want them to go. Ultimately it is each person’s own decision. You have to respect their decision to believe as they choose.
It doesn’t mean you don’t try to reach them with the gospel, but it means you must respect if they choose to walk another way. By showing them the proper respect, even if you disagree, you are able to demonstrate what it means to love your neighbor.
So often we want people to be accepting of what we believe. If that is what we desire...than that is what we must also be willing to give.
2. Understand where they are before telling them where to go.
In the zeal to win someone to Christ, we will often disregard a person’s situation to get to the gospel. After all, I have to tell everybody about Jesus.
While the excitement and urgency are wonderful (especially if properly channeled) there is something to consider: you should always try to understand where a person is before you try to tell them what they should do or why they need to come to Christ.
The best way to do this is to ask questions. Here are two that work well:
Why did you choose to follow this path or religion? By the way there are some people in Christian churches who can’t answer this question.
Have you found fulfillment or do you feel like there is something missing?
It’s wise to recognize that if a person is satisfied where they are, it is very rare they’re going to feel the need to change what they’re doing. If you find a person in this situation, don’t try to convince them why they are not seeing things correctly. That rarely works. Simply pray for them, love them, and ask God to begin to open their hearts to the truth.
Too often we want to beat people over the head with the gospel and then wonder why it doesn’t work.
Understanding where they are will require you to learn about their religious system or beliefs. Again, the goal is not so you can form strategy, but so that you can begin to develop empathy and compassion for where they are.
Often what you will find in many other religions is that a personal relationship with God doesn’t really exist. There may be difficulty in relating to God as a loving father. You may also discover that the assurance of salvation and the hope of heaven are generally absent.
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Here’s a perspective on three different religions:
Islam: They have a monotheistic view of God, meaning God is one, not one God revealed in three persons. Though they approach God in prayer, it is not from a perspective of building a relationship. They want to do their best to try to please God. Also at the end of life, they believe men are judged on the scales, and then it will be determined if you will go to heaven or hell. They never know if they have done enough in this life to enter heaven.
Hinduism: Hindus believe in the soul, or true self. It is a pantheistic religion which believes in many gods. In Hinduism, the soul never dies but goes through a continuous reincarnation. This is a cycle of rebirth of the soul into a new body after death. A person’s rebirth is affected by the accumulation of good and bad deeds in this life, which is also known as karma.
The concept of sin is foreign in Hinduism. Your good deeds impact your next life favorably and your bad deeds can lead to suffering in your next life. Because of the law of karma there is no room for forgiveness because the result of what you do, good or bad, will be reflected in the next life.
Jehovah’s Witness: Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in the Trinity and do not see Jesus as being fully God. He is not seen as divine. They believe Jesus came and died—but on a stake, not a cross. In this faith, salvation can only come by believing in Jesus...but not Jesus as God. You must trust in this lower version of Jesus. In addition, you must do good works or your salvation won’t be complete. This is one of the reasons they spend so much time witnessing.
Let me ask you, does knowing these simple little truths give you a better idea of where someone in a different religion is coming from? I hope so. By understanding what someone is being taught in their faith you may gain insight into what is driving their behavior.
You may also begin to understand why they think the way they do. Knowing these things can help you relate to them better. If you ever have the opportunity to share the gospel with them, at least you will know where they are coming from.
3. Remember, you are not trying to win an argument—you are trying to win a soul.
Let’s assume you’ve taken a step forward and you decide to share the gospel with your friend, neighbor, or relative who is of a different faith.
Let me remind you of one thing, you are not trying to win an argument. In fact, I would encourage you to stop looking at people of other faiths as checkmarks. Remember they are people first, who are loved by God. They have goals, dreams, and ambitions. They love their families and want many of the same things you do.
When I lived in New York City, I used to engage in discussions with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I would invite them into my home and we would sit and have conversation. My goal back then was to try to show them the error of their ways and hopefully win them to Christ. After many conversations, I was highly unsuccessful. They later blacklisted my house and stopped ringing my doorbell.
As I reflected on those times, I realized that while my motives were good, my tactics were all wrong. I was so focused on proving my point that I forgot about them in the process. I recognize now my zeal (and maybe my ego, as in ‘I’m right and you’re wrong and I am going to show you’) were in the way.
I don’t think I ever once asked them about their famiIy, goals, dreams, or anything to truly get to know them because I was determined to prove my point. No wonder it didn’t work. I needed to follow Jesus’ model who would take time to have a meal or engage someone. Jesus would ask questions that would cause them to think about their situation and their condition. You must do the same. That’s why those first two questions I shared with you earlier are so important.
Before you can have a conversation about change, you need to make sure they are open to it or are looking for it, or the conversation is useless. You may not understand this if you are trying to win an argument...but you will understand it if you are trying to win a soul.
People don’t change until they realize they need to change. That’s why we need the Holy Spirit to make them aware of their condition and to open their eyes to the truth of the gospel. Without him working in their heart, you may indeed win the argument—but you won’t win the soul.
If they don’t want to change at least you haven’t ruined a relationship in the process. And who knows what the value of that open door will be at a later point.
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4. It’s not about removing or disparaging faith, it’s about transferring faith.
One of the things you must realize is that people of other faiths actually have faith. They believe in something. It may be different than you, but they believe.
When you engage with them, especially if you are going to share the gospel, your job is not to get them to lose their faith, you want them to transfer their faith. You want them to move from what they truly believe and transfer that to the one true and living God.
For this to happen, you must be willing to be in it for the duration, not just hit them with the gospel, run away, and hope it works. You must understand that it is a big step for someone to shift their belief system. Imagine the process you would go through to change what you believe and then place your hope in something else. That is not easy, yet it is what we are asking them to do.
If this is going to happen, that person is going to need someone to walk them through this process. Someone to answer their questions, listen to their concerns, and help them know they can really trust this Jesus. This is the reality of the work. And it is the kind of work required to truly help someone transfer their faith. It’s not easy, but if you love someone and respect someone then it should be work that you are willing to do.
As a final word, love people.
As you engage people from other faiths, remember more than anything: they are people, too. You have a responsibility to love them, try to understand them, and—when appropriate—share Jesus with them.
However, you must realize that you will never get to share Jesus if you don’t respect them and meet them exactly where they are. After all, isn’t that what Jesus would do? Let’s follow his model and engage people the way he would.
I think we would see much better results in the process.
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, author and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He has spent more than 30 years serving the body of Christ in various capacities and has just released his first book, The Pursuit of Purpose. If you have ever struggled trying to find God’s will, this book will help you discover the different ways God leads you into his perfect will. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.