08-02 On Removing the Confusing and Theologically Incompatible Call for Presbyterians to Engage Other Faiths
Source: Presbytery Sponsor:
Yukon Presbytery
Committee:
[08-02] Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations
Type:General Assembly Full Consideration
Topic:Unassigned
http://pc-biz.org/Explorer.aspx?id=3101
ASSEMBLY ACTION
On this Item, the General Assembly, acted as follows:
Approve as Amended
Voice Vote
COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATION
On this Item, the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee, acted as follows:
Approve as Amended
[Counted Vote - Committee]
Affirmative:35
Negative:18
Abstaining:0
Final Text:
1.   Amend the second paragraph of Recommendation 1 as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with brackets and with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown with brackets and with an underline.]
“ ‘3.  Build on this understanding by calling for further dialogue among Jews, Christians, and Muslims, viewing each other [as equals] [with equal respect], and learning from one another to”
2.   Amend the fourth bulleted item of Recommendation 1 as follows:
“ ‘•  recognize differences[, celebrate diversity] [respect diversity];”
3.   Amend the third paragraph (bulleted item) of Recommendation 2 as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with brackets and with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown with brackets and with an underline.]
“ ‘• To encourage congregations of these faiths to celebrate religious holidays together, setting aside days of worship during which there can be congregational suppers, and dialogue groups. [To encourage congregations of these faiths to set aside times to come together for meals, dialogues, and to plan ways they can work together.’ (Minutes, 2008, Part I, p. 507).]”
RECOMMENDATION

The Presbytery of Yukon respectfully overtures the 219th General Assembly (2010) to remove (or rewrite) the confusing and theologically incompatible language noted below in the Call for Tolerance and Peaceful Relations Between the Christian and Muslim Communities, approved as Item 07-01 by the 218th General Assembly (2008) by taking the following actions:

1.   In Section three of this item, strike the phrase “celebrate diversity,” to help clarify our understanding that, as Christians, we are called to bring all people into the church. [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through.]

“3.       Build on this understanding by calling for further dialogue among Jews, Christians, and Muslims, viewing each other as equals, and learning from one another to

“•   promote peace, resolve conflict;

“•   ensure human rights, prevent discrimination;

“•   develop dialogue, emphasize commonality;

“•   recognize differences, celebrate diversity;

“•   advocate justice, oppose bias” (Minutes, 2008, Part I, p. 507).

2.   In section four, remove the following bulleted point since it is not our belief that it is possible, or desirable, to share religious holidays with Muslims and Jews, and sustain the faith that each hold dear [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through.]:

“4.       Commend the First Presbyterian Church of Rockaway and other Presbyterian congregations that have initiated dialogue with Muslim and Jewish communities, and to encourage other congregations to initiate three-way dialogues among Jews, Christians, and Muslims consistent with the Presbyterian Principles for Interfaith Dialogue.

   To encourage congregations of these faiths to celebrate religious holidays together, setting aside days of worship during which there can be congregational suppers, and dialogue groups.” (Minutes, 2008, Part I, p. 507).

RATIONALE

In accordance with Scripture and our Reformed faith we base this upon the following:

We believe that it is not possible to “…celebrate religious holidays together…” or set aside “days of worship…”. Common worship among these faiths is not compatible, nor do common aims exist to undertake this endeavor since the one triune God, revealed through Jesus Christ is the only true object of Christian worship (Minutes, 2008, Part I, p. 507).

We further affirm the uniqueness of Christian worship which is centered in Jesus Christ alone as affirmed by the revelation of God in Holy Scripture and attested to in our Book of Order and The Book of Confessions, that:

Jesus said, “‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (Jn. 14:6). See also the following passages of Scripture: Jn. 4:23, Rom. 10:14, Acts 4:12, Jn. 10:1–9, 1Tim. 2:5.

“c.    Jesus Christ is the living God present in common life. The One who is proclaimed in the witness of faith is:

“(1)   the Word of God spoken at creation,

“(2)   the Word of God promising and commanding throughout covenant history,

“(3)   the Word of God
“(a) who became flesh and dwelt among us,
“(b) who was crucified and raised in power,

“(c) who shall return in triumph to judge and reign” (Book of Order, W-1.1003c).

“… In Christian worship the people of God
“(1)   hear the Word [Jesus] proclaimed,

“(2)   receive the Word [Jesus] enacted in Sacrament,

“(3)   discover the Word [Jesus] in the world, and

“(4)   are sent to follow the Word [Jesus] into the world” (Book of Order, W-1.1004).

“… In the name of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Christian community worships and serves God”(Book of Order, W-1.1005b).

“And those who are such in the Church have one faith and one spirit; and therefore they worship but one God, and him alone they worship in spirit and in truth, loving him alone with all their hearts and with all their strength, praying unto him alone through Jesus Christ, the only Mediator and Intercessor; and they do not seek righteousness and life outside Christ and faith in him. Because they acknowledge Christ the only head and foundation of the Church, and, resting on him, daily renew themselves by repentance, and patiently bear the cross laid upon them …” (The Book of Confessions, Second Helvetic Confession, 5.135).

See also The Book of Confessions: 3.16, 5.023–.025, and 5.134.

We believe that Jesus is not merely one of several viable understandings of how God has been revealed and how humankind can approach God in worship. As the Theological Declaration of Barmen states: “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death” (The Book of Confessions, The Theological Declaration of Barmen, 8.11).

“He is the image of the invisible God … For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:15a, 19–20).

“He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being …” (Heb.1:3).

Worship is a central expression of faith and shapes the identity of each religious community. The mode and meaning of worship for each faith, respectively, are determined by each faith’s foundational beliefs, which are not consistent among Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

As Christians we believe:

•     that true worship of God is worship in and through Jesus Christ alone (Jn. 14:6);

•     the everyday practice of praying “in the name of Jesus” is the foundation of Christian worship;

•     it is the exaltation of Jesus Christ as Lord of all and the One through whom we have access to God the Father that launched the early church into the discussions that grew into the Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds, the standard-bearers for Christian belief;

•     that the identity and centrality of Jesus Christ as God incarnate and the only Savior in worship are core beliefs, and these beliefs have distinguished Christianity from both Judaism and Islam.

The encouragement for Christians to worship together with Muslims is particularly troubling because, as a faith tradition, Islam:

•     is very self-conscious regarding its beliefs about the person of Jesus;

•     through the Qur’an, makes it clear that Jesus, while a prophet, is not and could not have been the eternal Son of God (Allah);

•     through the Qur’an, clearly rejects Christian worship (through Jesus) as dishonoring to God (Allah), and is even a form of unbelief.;

Given these foundational differences in our faiths, over the last fourteen centuries, since the emergence of Islam, Christianity and Islam have not been able to affirm common worship, because we hold very different beliefs about the nature and identity of God, the means of salvation, and what kind of worship honors God.

Nevertheless, in this action, the General Assembly has encouraged Presbyterians and Muslims to worship together. Such worship could only be accomplished by seriously compromising the Essential Tenets of Reformed Faith. It would require removing the centrality of our affirmation of the triune nature of God and the uniqueness and centrality of Jesus Christ as the only true Lord and Savior of humankind. Such worship would be contrary to our faith.

While we affirm the value of seeking “… new opportunities for conversation and understanding with non-Christian religious bodies in order that interests and concerns may be shared and common action undertaken where compatible means and aims exist” (Book of Order, G-15.0104, emphasis added).

COMMENT
COMMENT
ACSWP Advice and Counsel

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) advises the 219th General Assembly (2010) that Item 08-02 be disapproved.

Rationale

Item 08-02asks the 219th General Assembly (2010) to remove or rewrite perceived “confusing and theologically incompatible language” from the Call for Tolerance and Peaceful Relations between the Christian and Muslim Communities statement approved by the 218th General Assembly (2008). The rationale presented by this resolution interprets the Call as a mandate for Christians, Jews, and Muslims to celebrate worship together and affirms foundational differences in our faiths. The Call, in fact, does not mandate but encourages congregations of these faiths to celebrate religious holidays together, setting aside days of worship during which there can be congregational suppers and dialogue groups.

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) advises that the Call statement is consistent with the actions affirmed by the 211th General Assembly (1999) through its approval of the policy statement on Building Community Among Strangers. That assembly:

… believing that the Holy Spirit is at work in our interactions with people of other faiths, affirm[ed] that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has no place for arrogance toward people of other faiths … urge[d]the General Assembly, middle governing bodies, sessions, and church-related entities to encourage witness and evangelism based upon sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with respectful humility toward those of other religions … (Minutes, 1999, Part I, p, 404).

GAMC Comment

The GAMC advises the 219th General Assembly (2010), in response to Item 08-02, to reaffirm Respectful Presence: an Understanding of Interfaith Prayer and Celebration from a Reformed Christian Perspective (commended to congregations and governing bodies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), by the 209th General Assembly (1997)) as a guide for prayer or celebration with neighbors of other religious traditions.

Some confusion has arisen in light of language that was included in actions taken by the 218th General Assembly (2008) related to Christian-Muslim relations. Acting on 2008 Item 07-01, that assembly affirmed “… that, as children of [a] loving God, we [Muslims and Christians] share the commandments of love for God and neighbor …,” and called on Presbyterians to “… build on this understanding by calling for further dialogue among Jews, Christians, and Muslims, ... learning from one another to promote peace, resolve conflict; ... recognize differences, celebrate diversity; advocate justice, oppose bias…” (Minutes, 2008, Part I, p. 507). It also encouraged congregations of the three faiths “… to celebrate religious holiday’s together, setting aside days of worship during which there can be congregational suppers, and dialogue groups” (Minutes, 2008, Part I, p. 507; language in italic is that quoted in the Item 08-02, an overture to the 219th GA (2010)).

Similarly, in response to 2008 Item 07-07, the 218th General Assembly (2008) acted “… to encourage and provide resources to presbyteries and local congregations to improve good relations and mutual understanding between Presbyterians and Muslims ... Practices might include participation in sacred and holy observances in each other’s traditions, shared meals ....” (Minutes, 2008, Part I, p. 526, language in italic is that quoted in 2010 Item 08-02).

It is not clear what actions are intended by these references in terms of worship or mutual participation in sacred observances.

The substantial concerns of 2010 Item 08-02 are addressed in Respectful Presence (Minutes, 1997, Part I, pp. 435–440). This resource is available at http://www.pcusa.org/interfaith/study/presencesans.pdf. Respectful Presence helpfully outlines how Presbyterians might engage with our interfaith neighbors in a way that is both hospitable to interfaith neighbors and faithful to the God we worship in Jesus Christ. (Numbers relate to paragraph numbers in Respectful Presence.)

That document makes clear that participation of any kind in prayer or celebration with neighbors of other religious traditions is not to be confused with Christian worship. It notes that “Christian worship is a gathering within a community committed in response to God’s goodness in Jesus Christ…” (Respectful Presence, 138). It makes clear that:

There are limits to interfaith prayer, celebration, and worship for Presbyterians. These have been expressed in very general form in the paper, “The Nature of Revelation in the Christian Tradition from a Reformed Perspective” (Minutes, 1987, Part 1, pp. 437–453)…

a.     We must not bend or trim our faith in God’s revelation in Jesus Christ in order to achieve an artificial agreement with the doctrines of other religions....

b.     We may learn from [other] religions insofar as what we learn can be incorporated into, and enrich, our personal and corporate relationship with the God of Israel who is revealed in Jesus Christ ...

c.     Entering into interfaith dialogue in no way diminishes our calling to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all people, with all due respect for every good thing that God has given them in their religion. Indeed, expressing one’s own faith is a necessary condition of genuine interreligious dialogue.... (Minutes, 1987, Part I, p. 452, 28.276; Respectful Presence, 129)

Apart from Christian worship, however, Respectful Presence also suggests that “… there are three forms of interfaith prayer and celebration:

1.             when people of other faiths are present in Christian worship;

2.             when Christians are present in worship activities of other faith communities;

3.             when people of different faiths are together in interfaith prayer, celebration, or worship” (Respectful Presence, 140).

In these situations, it recommends that Presbyterians exercise “respectful presence”: “… Christians can be authentically open to the intimations of the Spirit’s presence in the midst of an interfaith gathering and, at the same time, deeply committed to their faith in God through Jesus Christ. They can share with others with integrity, aware that God is present and active in all creation…” (Respectful Presence, 139).

This General Assembly might do well to remind the church of the distinctions and possibilities that it has acknowledged in Respectful Presence, in order to make clear that the church does NOT recommend “common worship,” or the inter-mingling or confusion of Christian tradition with other traditions, but does see great potential benefit in the receiving and giving of hospitality that includes the respectful presence of Christians with others in the sharing of prayers, readings, and liturgical expressions of one another’s traditions.

CONCURRENCE
Presbytery of Redstone