Witness and Dialogue Part 4 of 5 — Synthesis

Jesus in dialogue with scholars in the temple at Jerusalem, Stained-glass window, St Saviour’s, Pro-Cathedral, Nelson.
By on April 30, 2024

Jesus calls us to carry his good news to the farthest comers of the world, making disciples, “among all nations.” In every age, his people have responded to this commission by sending messengers to previously uneducated peoples, with the intent of founding new communities of Christian believers in every part of the inhabited earth. This movement began on Pentecost morning, and the book of the Acts of the Apostles tells us of the expansion of the early church from a pitiable remnant hiding in an upper room. Beginning in Jerusalem, “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

Then Philip, Peter and others took the message to the countryside and the towns of Judea, like Gaza and Joppa. Very soon, there were also believers in Damascus. Paul, who set out to arrest these people, soon became the most ardent of the messengers, not only to the Jewish diaspora, but to anyone else who would listen as well. At the same time, the first martyrs, like Stephen and James, showed the depth of their faith and prayed for the forgiveness of their tormentors. The pattern was set, and over the next centuries the message spread to India and Ethiopia as well as most of Europe.

There were occasional, serious disappointments. Internal division was the principal factor in such major setbacks as the utter collapse of the North African church, and the drastic reduction in numbers in Palestine and western Asia after the invasion of the Crusades, while Anatolia gradually slipped away as Turkish settlements spread throughout the peninsula. At times, the messengers may have burdened the news with their own cultural accretions and independent denominations often sought to distill the essence for local consumption. Of late: secular sophistication has sapped the church of much of its following and influence in the lands of wealth and technology, but there are everywhere signs of a persistent remnant, imbued with fresh commitment and awareness. In any case, Christian communities now exist in every region of the globe. Virtually without exception they owe their origins to the perseverance of foreign missionaries and their continued development to the zeal of indigenous leaders.

Most Christians live in constant dialogue with people of other faiths. In their daily lives, they are also in a state of permanent witness. Whatever they say or do is observed by their neighbours as an indication of Christian behaviour and attitudes, or as an aspect of witness. At the same time, insofar as their action is taken as witness by someone from outside the church, it is also part of dialogue. Aggressive and insensitive proclamation is certainly an unpromising form of dialogue, because it is likely to offend the prospective interlocutor. But by the same token, such an inconsiderate approach is also an inappropriate method of witness, because it will usually alienate those it is meant to attract. An honest, open lifestyle marked by a profound respect for every child of God and manifestly guided by faith in the redemptive grace of Jesus Christ provides both the foundation of a vigorous witness and the framework of a constructive dialogue. In our modem societies with their cultural diversity, Christian witness has to include an honest esteem for each and every person and an absolute respect for the sensitivities and concerns of all others. Thus, a dialogical attitude is part of responsible witness. At the same time, meaningful dialogue must have at its root an earnest religious conviction that serves as the primary motivation for a person’s comportment in worship and in social interaction. So it becomes impossible to sever witness from dialogue, because each of these attitudes or activities is an integral part of the other, for better or worse. Our witness and dialogue will both be impersonal and importunate, or they may alike be imbued with the Spirit and tempered by our love for others.

Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14)



  • Stuart E Brown

    The Rev Dr Stuart E Brown is a retired priest, formerly the Principal of the Kootenay School of Ministry

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