Editor’s Note: America has quickly become a religiously diverse country. How should Christians think about the religious pluralism of America? What is the right way to love our neighbors in this context? This article is adapted from an answer Dr. Horton gives in Episode 65 of the Core Christianity Radio Show.
It can sometimes be overwhelming when we think of how America's religious landscape has changed in a relatively short period of time. And sometimes that makes us feel like circling the wagons and just avoiding the religious “other,” but that's not the way the apostles taught us to live and think. The apostolic church, when you think about it, was completely separated not just by diversity, but by outright opposition and even hostility sometimes leading even to martyrdom.
But even in this context, believers were called to love their neighbors, to offer them assistance to be a friend to them, and to share the gospel with them, not to return evil with evil. And that's how the church grew–Jews came to faith, Greeks and Romans and barbarians who worshipped animals and the Emperor, living lives of debauchery, were converted.
When Rome fell to the Barbarian invaders in the fourth century, two church fathers, Augustine and Jerome, had very different reactions. Jerome cried, what's to become of the church now that Rome has fallen?
I think that's how a lot of Christians are behaving today as if the kingdom of Christ depends on America and who's in the White House and who controls the Congress as if “the barbarians” are those outside who are immigrating to the US, especially those who are non-Christians.
But Augustine had a very different reaction. He said, now God's brought the mission field to the missionaries. I think that's how we have to think about it. So many Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, noness–people who say that they don't identify with any religion–are moving into our neighborhood. What do we do about that? Well, we're told in Romans 10:13-17, “everyone who calls the name of Lord will be saved. How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed and how are they to believe in Him, of whom they have never heard and how are they to hear without someone preaching and how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Good News.”
To hear the gospel it has to be announced to them. We have to all be heralds of the gospel right where we live. Pluralism is not something we should be afraid of, we should embrace it. It's good that we come in contact with different people from different religious backgrounds. And for us who believe the gospel, it's an opportunity to share what we've received.
The America of our imagination was basically a white, middle-class culture with the veneer of Christian civil religion. A lot of people tipped their hat to the unknown God but they didn't really understand the gospel. Donald Gray Barnhouse, almost a century ago, said, “What would it look like if Satan took over Philadelphia? Here's what it would look like I think. It would be white picket fences, everybody would mow their lawn, kids would say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no ma'am,’ everyone would have manners, there would be no spitting on the sidewalks or chewing gum, no drinking, no smoking, and everyone would go to church every Sunday where Christ is not preached.”
That's what we should be afraid of. Not the mission field coming to the missionaries, but the missionaries not being ready. And the de-evangelizing of our churches by not preaching Christ. That's a real challenge in our day. So, now we actually have to teach and preach the Christian faith, we can't assume anything. We can't assume that even people in our churches really know what they believe and why they believe it. Not just going with the flow of happy, self-confident moralism. Our neighbors probably haven't even ever heard the gospel. That's what we're finding more and more in my own neighborhood. A lot of people just have never heard it.