Thursday, January 04, 2007

"Teach all nations ..."

One of the New Testament passage that stands out prominently in the recent writings, addresses, and homilies of Benedict XVI, as it did in John Paul II's pontificate, it is 1 Peter 3:15-16:
Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.
Pope Benedict recently referred to this passage in speaking with the German Bishops about their dialogue with Muslims. Our Islamic brothers and sisters, Benedict asserted, "have the right to receive our humble and firm testimony on behalf of Jesus Christ," testimony that we must have the courage to deliver "with persuasive force."

The more one learns about the violence and ferocity of Muhammad and about the unalterable Qur'anic legacy he left for his later followers, the more one realizes that the greatest act of real charity a Christian can perform for his Muslim brothers and sisters is to try – with charity and all due respect – to convert them to Christianity; that is to say: to speak the truth to them. It is passing strange that so many Christians have come to believe that it is more charitable to reassure Muslims (condescendingly) that theirs is a religion of peace, one that is presumably in no need of what Christian faith has to offer above and beyond its fawning admiration and uncritical acceptance. At least our Muslim brothers and sisters do us the favor of trying to convert us, albeit too often menacingly, with violence or the threat of violence.

I’ve had major city taxi drivers urge their Islamic beliefs on me with a fervor that would cost Christians their lives in Saudi Arabia and other places in the world. In these tyrannical societies, therefore, one can hardly fault Christians for using discretion with regard to Jesus’ command to “go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Christians in Islamic societies imperil their own lives when they try to follow this central tenet of their faith, and they endanger the lives of any Muslims they might succeed in converting. The comparable failure of Christians in the West is less respectable. Our efforts at inclusion are virtuous only up to the point where they violate our responsibility as Christians.

Writing about the controversy following Pope Benedict’s Regensburg University lecture, a writer for the Asia Times, quoted in the November 2006 edition of Touchstone Magazine [p. 59] argues that jihad “is the fundamental sacrament of Islam, the Muslim cognate of the Lord’s Supper in Christianity, that is, the unique form of sacrifice by which the individual believer communes with the Transcendent. To denounce jihad on theological grounds is a blow at the foundations of Islam, in effect a papal call for the conversion of the Muslims.”

That is a truly charitable position for a Christian to take, and most serious Christians know so in their heart of hearts. But it is not an easy position to take, shorn as it is of the feel-good acceptance of the conspicuously unacceptable, which amounts to declaring the innocuous superfluousness of Christianity.

Sadly, most Christians lack the faith required to re-evangelize themselves, their children, and their perfectly harmless fellow backsliding Christians. How can they be expected to evangelize others until the cooling embers of Christian faith are stirred again to flame?

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