The Only Basis of the Christian Missionary Effort and Dialogue: Jesus Christ as the One Savior of the World
by Inos Biffi
L'Osservatore Romano, August 8, 2014
That the Church not only prays for but also dedicates her total commitment to the conversion of all men to Christ is part of her essential mission. After his Resurrection Christ entrusted to his Church a precise command: “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
This Christian discipleship, evangelization in every place, of “all peoples” and of all creatures, this is the mindful intention of Christ, and in fact from her very beginnings the Church has understood herself in terms of this radical missionary effort.
This permanent and universal mission to the world is part of the Church’s very nature. If this were in any way diminished, she would no longer be the Church of Christ. To announce the Gospel means to proclaim that only in the Gospel message and its acceptance is it possible for one to be saved. The words of Jesus are peremptory: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16, 16). To affirm that someone in good faith who adheres to a religion can be saved means instead to recognize that the will to universal salvation operates in the life of those who carry out the good by heeding an upright and clear conscience.
Whatever truth or holiness there is in every religion is objectively the imprint of Christ and a desire for Him. Therefore this shows how misleading it is to hold , in order to show respect to all religions, that one must avoid the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only Savior, and, if anything, one need only to see to it that someone remain in a full and coherent fidelity to his own “credo”.
Certainly religions are to be respected. No one can be forced to believe in the Gospel. God Himself is the safe-keeper of interior religious freedom. But this does not entail making all religions equivalent to the Gospel or the obfuscation of Christ as the only Savior for all time and for everyone.
The passionate desire of the heart of Christ was that the sons of Abraham would welcome Him as the Messiah. In fact Christianity is founded on the faith of the Jews who did believe in Christ, as his mother, Mary, Joseph, Zachery, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, Simeon and Anna, the Apostles and the whole Church of God, (Galatians 1,13), from the beginning, those who saw in Jesus the fulfillment and the telos of the Law (Romans 10,4). All too often we forget that this “Church of God” is born from the faith of Jews who believed in Christ, and that these are not limited to Paul alone. If they had not welcomed Jesus as the Messiah, Christianity would have been extinguished at the very beginning.
And we see here the reason for which the relationship between Christianity and Judaism is not comparable to the relationship of Christianity with other religions. The God of the Christians is the same God of Genesis, who “in the beginning created heaven and earth”(Genesis 1,1) and who in Jesus has been revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And He is the God that the Church proclaims to all men, preaching Jesus, the only-begotten Son, the one Savior of all. In this proclamation the Church follows the same mission of Christ and therefore the deep purpose of Revelation begun with Genesis. She has the awareness that, if she were to admit other saviors along side with Christ, she would be placing her own faith in idols; and that if she turned her back on the full revelation of God who created heaven and earth in the Trinity shown forth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, she would reject God the Creator himself. The origin, cause and the content of the missionary purpose of the Church came about in this way. And the Church is called to answer only to Jesus Christ, and to share with him the work of evangelization.
This does not mean that the Church rejects “dialogue” with religions. Whatever the purpose of this dialogue is, it will never be able to destroy the belief of the Church that only in the Gospel, in the same way for all, is there salvation.; that the command received from Christ is to proclaim the Gospel as necessary and not prescindable for every man. Nor can it ever be put into doubt that the Church herself in every time and place must use all of her strength to make all men disciples of the Lord. Moreover, this is how it has always been from the very beginning of the life of the Church.
If a “weak” proclamation of the Gospel had prevailed; or if Christians had worked to help the building of pagan temples with their gods; or if they had been satisfied to seek out what united them at a minimalistic level with other religions without a clear stress on the “differentness” of being a Christian, we would not have had the witness of the martyrs. Dialogue does not entail the risk of martyrdom, which, surely, is always in its own way a tragic instance. But together with this we would no longer have either the Faith nor the Church, if she were to water down the Faith and become a mere ghost of herself in an act that leads to death, when the missionary effort that is at the heart of her life becomes exhausted, when her missionary effort becomes a source of anxiety, when she loses that certainty that there is “only one God” in confronting those who say that there is space for many gods who are in the end just idols, when she falters in proclaiming that there is “only one Lord”, the Son of God, who the Church in her very being is called to preach to the whole world.
Translated by Rorate's Father Richard G. Cipolla