Are interfaith ministries appropriate?
An interfaith ministry refers to multiple religious groups partnering together in an organization or on a project. These can include a variety of Christian groups as well as those of Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, or other backgrounds. There are many things to consider in determining what kinds of interfaith ministries are appropriate for Christians.
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Some interfaith groups have as their goal to spread a message of unity and "tolerance." However, the message of the gospel is exclusive. There is only one Savior—Jesus (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5–6). Clearly Christians should not be involved in organizations whose intention it is to speak a message of universal salvation. The most unloving thing a Christian can do is dilute the gospel and withhold the truth that "there is salvation in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
That being said, there are many interfaith ministries that are designed to provide practical aid to people, such as fighting against human trafficking or providing disaster relief. Recognizing that Christians are called to provide practical help to others (James 2:14–17) and that resources are limited, it is sometimes wise for Christian groups to join with others in seeking to provide aid. At the same time, even in providing that aid, the message of the gospel is not to be compromised.
The key issue in any interfaith connection must be to consider whether the partnership would compromise key biblical convictions. For example, a Christian group would not share in a prayer gathering with a Muslim group (since each group would be praying to a different God). A Christian group would also not want to be officially affiliated with a group whose name might communicate the wrong message or a group that requires signing of certain agreements that would require the Christian group to hire persons who disagree with the Christian faith. Christian groups would also not want to be legally bound against sharing the good news of Jesus with those they serve. Practical aid is vitally important, but it can never come at the cost of the gospel. Practical aid assists with life on earth; the gospel brings eternal life.
Another thing to consider is whether a larger scale effort is necessary. At times it is best when several groups join together to work toward a specific goal. Other times smaller scale relief is more efficient. Aside from ideological considerations, Christians should also think of the logistical matters and seek to be faithful stewards of all their resources.
One example of an interfaith ministry that may be beneficial could include efforts to serve the poor in one's community. Every person needs food, water, clothing, and shelter. Christians should feel free to work together with people of any faith or no faith at all to meet these basic human needs. A second option would be care for orphans and widows. James 1:27 teaches, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." This could also include any child in a single parent family or any elderly person. A third option could include community services that help children in need, such as after-school care, tutoring, or sports. Jesus taught, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:14).
Other options to consider could include serving immigrants, refugees, prisoners, those in the hospital, hospice care, clean water initiatives, mental health counseling, the disabled, anti-trafficking efforts, those serving in the military or law enforcement, and disaster relief. These and similar ministry efforts fit what Jesus describes as serving the "least of these" in Matthew 25 as well as helping those in need as in the account of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25–37.
In addition to serving people in need, such partnerships can impact unbelievers to consider or reconsider the good news of Jesus. In fact, Jesus taught, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:14–16). Sometimes our efforts to meet needs, and to do so in partnership with others, can serve as an evangelistic outreach. Showing our love for others in tangible ways may help them see and accept the love of God.
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