Church Mission in the Context of Religious Pluralism

The Church by its very nature is missionary according to the plan of the Father, it has origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The church received this task from the mission mandate of Jesus, when he said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”As we all know that India is a multi- religious and multi- cultural nation where the Christians constitute just above two percent of the total population. In this context the Church mission that is to proclaim Christ means a lot. India as cradle of all the major religions in the world; Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Islam, Christianity and tribal religions is having a lot of problems among the religions.
In this regard mission in India is the greatest challenge for the Church. For Christians in India “to proclaim Christ” in the midst of our neighbors of other faiths and persecutions will be the tremendous task. Here the questions arise,
(a)    What is the mission of the Church among other religions that are in conflict?
(b)   How does the Church approach the Fundamentalists and Fanatics movements?
            In order to explain these present issues on mission I have divided this paper into three parts. The first chapter deals with the basic understanding of mission which highlights the Historical and theological foundation of the Church mission, and its expansion are explained with suitable sub topics.
            The second chapter deals with the Teachings of the Church on mission. Here the various encyclical letters from different Popes, the Vatican Council Decree (Ad Gentes Divintus) and the apostolic exhortations which strengthen the mission aspect of the Church are explained with accuracy.
The third chapter deals with the Church mission and religious pluralism in India. As it is the heart of this scientific paper conceived with the challenges of mission in the pluralistic religious society and its role towards the other religious are stressed strongly.
The main aim of this paper is building up the new human community, which is rooted in God and characterized by love, freedom, equality, justice and peace and which lives in a critical and creative harmony of all religions and cultures and in communion with nature.
1.1 Term Meaning
             Strictly, it means being sent to perform a certain work, such as the mission of Christ to redeem mankind, the mission of the apostles and the church and it members to perpetuate the prophetic, priestly and the royal mission of Christ. First, the term is used for the redemptive task of Jesus and of the church in the world. In the second place it refers to the official resignation of individual’s o congregations to carry the Good News. The third use applies the word “mission” to an intensified free period of pricing and pastoral activity.[1]
1.2 The historical foundation of Christian Mission
            Christianity has expanded in a serial way, i.e. when it lost ground in those regions where it was most strong and secure; it won new followers from those people who seemed to threaten its existence. The survival of Christianity has depended upon its ability to adapt to new and hostile cultures.[2]
1.2.1 Jews and Gentiles
            The first Christians were Jews who had experienced in Jesus the fulfillment of their nation’s hope. The Gospel was the good news of the messiah for God’s people, the Jews. Then at Antioch some rather uneducated Jewish Christians from the country areas started to tell Greeks, completer outsiders, about the good news of Jesus (Acts 11.20). Jews had never thought that Gentiles could become God’s people unless they were circumcised like Jews, I.e. by first becoming a Jew. But, within a generation the majority of Christians in the world were not Jews but Greeks. If the situation had not been like this, it is hard to see how Christianity could ever have survived the Roman invasion of Judaea in A.D 70. The original (Jewish) church vanished; yet the church was stronger and bigger than ever.[3]
1.2.2 Greeks and Barbarians
            In the seventh century AD the Greek- and Latin- speaking Church in North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean seemed to be strong and secure. The only people they feared were the savage barbarians who threatened them from Northern Europe. When the Church was destroyed by the brotherhood of Islam. The Church remained, stronger, and bigger than ever in the culture where it was threatened.[4]
1.2.3 North and South
            After the changes caused by the advance of Islam, the church did not expand very much for several centuries. But movement began again in the eighteenth century, the era of Constantine, the emperor who made the Roman Empire Christian, has ended and we can no longer think in simple terms of lands which have been mission fields and those which have not. The Gospel is no longer given by the rich to the poor or by rulers to their subjects. On the contrary, like evangelists in the New Testament, those who are bearers of the Gospel today will bring no gifts with them except the Gospel itself. The Church’s new centre of gravity can be found in Latin America, Africa and the Far East, and perhaps we stand at the beginning of a new era of cross-cultural mission. Many lands which until recently were communist are now open to the Gospel, and it may be that the Islamic world will also open up, just as Muslims have flooded into the lands of Europe which were once Christian.[5]
1.3 The Theological Foundation of Mission
            The Church is in its nature missionary, ‘It exists by mission, as fire by burning.’ Moreover, mission creates the Church, so it comes before the church’s doctrine and theology. Theology only exists to serve the church in the mission of God. Mission bridges the gap between the Church and the kingdom of God. The goal of the church is not its own good but the Rule of God; the Church was founded for a future in the kingdom of God and so it is for all humankind.
1.3.1 Karl Barth’s View of Mission
            It is not only Roman Catholics who teach that mission belongs to the very nature of the Church. Swiss Protestant theologian Karl Barth also pointed out that the Church does not exist for itself. It is always free from itself; it is not churchly but worldly. Its mission is not additional to its being. It exists as it is sent and active in its mission.[6]
1.3.2 Attitude and Activity
            At times the Church engages in activities which are deliberately missionary. These may involve conversion, Church planting, social work, political action, etc. this is one reason why missions of this sort often fail. Perhaps we ought to ask questions about the missionary activities of our Churches, and measure them against the presence of the missionary attitude. Think that if you renew the Church you are engaging in missionary activity. Christians who thinks in this way may fall into the trap of being satisfied that they have got a missionary attitude- but never actually doing any kind of missionary activity at all! Mission is an attitude of mind which should be at the heart of the Church’s life and work, just as it is at the heart of God, both as He is in Himself and in all He does. The deep change in the church’s attitude towards other religions is flowed from the renewed theology of Vatican II.[7]

            By mission Ad Gentes the council means the missionary activity of the Church by which she aims to proclaim the word and to implant the church among peoples and groups where the Gospel was not yet preached on missionary activity reveal the interpretation of the concept in various epochs according to the signs of the times.
2.1 Encyclical Letters
2.1.1 Probe Nostis (15.8.1840)
            In this encyclical letter Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846 AD), spoke of the needs to defend the Church and to propagate the faith through the proclamation of the Gospel. The Church toils tirelessly to go into the mission lands to preach the Good News to the people who have not heard of Christ and where the church is not ecclesiastically organized. Particularly dear to his heart are the apostolic mission in India and America.[8]
2.1.2 Ad Extremas (24.6.1893)
Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) dedicated this apostolic encyclical to the missions in India. Pope emphasized the need for pious and zealous priests of native origin in order that the Church may set firm roots in India. He noted that the preservation of the Christian faith among the Hindus would be precarious and its propagation uncertain as long as there was not a native clergy properly trained for priestly duties, not only to assist foreign priests, but also to be in proper charge of the administration of the Catholic Church in their cities. The Pope stated that in India the native clergy could ‘live among Hindus without causing any suspicion and it is, indeed difficult to say how important this is especially in times of crises.[9]
2.1.3 Rerum Ecclesiae (28.2.1926)
            Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) through Rerum Ecclesiae expressed his two objectives concerning missionary activity. This encyclical proposed the creation of mission stations in the mission countries for better coordination of missionary activity. Missionaries were encouraged construct hospitals, institutions for the care of sick and for the distribution of medicines, elementary schools for the young, who do not intend to take up agriculture, schools for higher education, especially in the arts and sciences and in the professions.[10]
2.1.4 Evangelii Praecones (2.6.1951)
            Pope Pius XII (1939-1958 AD) published this encyclical. The purpose of the missions, he said, was to bring the light of the Gospel to new peoples and to form new Christians, with the ultimate goal establishing the Church on sound foundations among non-Christians peoples and placing it under its own native hierarchy and indigenous clergy.
            Pope Pius XII stated his desire for schools for the young to create an advantageous relationship between the missionaries and the non-Christians of every class, and to help docile young minds understand, appreciate and embrace the Catholic doctrine.[11]
2.1.5 Redemptoris Mission (7.12.1990)
            The encyclical Redemptoris Mission was promulgated by Pope John II (1978-2005). John Paul speaks of an urgency of missionary activity. The mission, Christ the redeemer entered to the Church is still very far from completion. The urgency of missionary evangelization stems from the face that it is the primary service which the Church can render to every individual and to all humanity in the modern world.
The document speaks of three types of situations in Church’s mission. The first is the mission. Here the Church addresses peoples, groups, and socio-cultural contexts in which Christ and his Gospel are not known. The second is of well-established Christian communities. The third is the re-evangelization done mainly in countries with ancient Christian roots where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or perhaps no longer even consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel. John Paul concludes by saying that the responsibility for this mission belongs to the universal Church, to the particular churches and to the whole people of God. Being missionary by nature, the Church is both evangelized and evangelizing.[12]

2.2 Vatican Council Decree, Ad Gentes Divinitus (7.12.1965)
            The second Vatican Council was the beginning of a new Pentecost in the Church and the realization of a world Church. The Council’s decree on missionary activity brought the mission of evangelization to the heart of the Church. The mission has two dimensions 1) the stage of missionary activity to non-Christians who have not yet heard of Christ; 2)missionary activity in new churches which are in the process of maturation and which have not yet reached the fullness of maturity. The church is only beginning her missionary activity by sending her heralds who preach the Gospel by word and by the witness of their lives.[13]

2.3 Apostolic Exhortations
2.3.1 “Evanglii Nuntiandi” (8.12.1975)
Pope Paul VI speaks about the evangelization in the modern world, “to make the Church of the twentieth century, every better suited to proclaim the Gospel to the people on earth, the Christians and non-Christians, believes and non-believers, and the secularized world”.[14]  The various means of evangelization are: witness of an authentic Christian life, preaching through images, the liturgy of the word, the Eucharistic celebration of sacraments, the catechetical instruction, methods of social communication, person-to-person transmission of faith, popular piety, etc.
2.3.2 Ecclesia in Asia (6.11.1999)
            Pope John Paul II speaks about the issue of the encounter of Christianity with ancient cultures and religions are a pressing one. This is a great challenge for evangelization, since religious systems such challenge for Hinduism clearly have a stereological character.
Evangelization in Asia, says the Pope, is the proclamation of Jesus Christ in a multicultural and multi-religious context. The Church considers with great respect all other religions. The proclamation of Jesus as the only Savior in the multi-religious context of Asia has brought serious challenges. He goes on saying that, today the Church Asia like St. Paul in aeropause. (Acts 17:22-31). The document emphasizes inculturation as an effective means of evangelization.[15] 

3.1 Religions in Conflict
            At the purely religious level the groups tend to be exclusivist or fundamentalist. Because one group believes that its view of the world represents the world as it really is, ignorance, if not falsity, is attributed to the others. Some religions try to proselytize. They are aggressively missionary. Others may tend to marginalize those who differ from them. Even Hinduism that prides itself of its tolerance had actively opposed Buddhism and Jainism in the fast and opposes Islam and Christianity as ‘foreign’ in the present. Aggressive proselytism may lead to self- defensive reactions from other groups. In recent times religions have also reacted in a fundamentalist way when they feel marginalized by aggressive secularization and by a perceived discrimination by the state. Exclusivist in religion gives rise to ignorance and prejudice concerning the others, apart from more negative attitudes that consider others as untrue and immoral, of course, from one’s own point of view. The binding force of religious identity, because of its strength and integrative power, is often used as the basis of group power in situations of social conflict.[16]
            Analyzing the Hindu- Muslim conflict in India, for instance, sociologists point out how the Muslims recall the golden age when they were the rulers. They may look down upon the Hindus as cowardly, promiscuous and weak. They may feel that their own fall from power is due to their infidelity to their religious observance. They feel marginalized and seek to assert their identity around the shariat. The Hindus seek to assert their majority status and their glorious historical past. They consider the Muslims violent, dirty (not observing all their purity/pollution laws), sexually aggressive and religiously intolerant and narrow. Such prejudices can reach deep unconscious levels when the spirits that possess the Hindus turn out to be Muslims who urge them to indulge in behavior like meat - eating that are abhorrent to the Hindus.[17]

3.2 The Church with Other Religion
The Church attitude was apologetic and missionary; she defended her uniqueness and invited other to join her, co-existence, collaboration and solidarity in the common struggle against atheism and evil materialism in an effort to build a better world were not within her scope.[18] The Church as well as the other religions is pilgrims towards this future consummation. This vision has been spelt out in terms of universal harmony. Our approach to their religions has so far been a priori. Our starting point has been that we have the truth about God and the appropriate means to reach God and be saved. Salvation is the context in which we have looked at other religions. The new starting point is the affirmation that in virtue of creation , especially of the humans as images of God, God is in contact with the humans, as individuals and as groups, as befits the social nature of the humans. Our quest for the Kingdom of God therefore calls us to collaborate with the believers of other religions and all people of good will. As a matter of a fact, the Church does affirm the need for such collaboration in the pursuit of a just society on this earth. John Paul II, speaking to leaders of other religions in Chennai, in Feb.1986, said: As followers of different religions we should join together in promoting and defending common ideals in the spheres of religious liberty, human brotherhood, education, culture, social welfare and civic order. Since Kingdom is the goal of mission, then collaboration with the other religions and with all people of good will is the way of mission.[19]

3.3 The Role of the Church towards Mission
            The primary task is to contribute to the building up of a human community of freedom and fellowship, equality and justice. This has economic, political and religious dimensions. Love, justice and care for the poor characterize this universal fellowship. The church itself is a group of people sent into the world to be the symbol and the servant of this Kingdom. Even in this task the church is only collaborating with the spirit who is already present and active in the world carrying on God’s cosmic project.
            The mission of the Church then is universal reconciliation. But there are forces in the world that keep hindering such reconciliation: exclusivist, egoism, quest for power and domination, injustice, exploitation of the other for one’s own benefit. The disciples of Jesus are called to struggle against these forces and the oppressive structures they have created.[20]
3.3.1     A  Multi- Religious Society
From the religious point of view we are now faced with two different ideologies in the country. On the one hand we have the secularists, who seek to privatize religion and to build up a community that will be based on modern, scientific principles. On the other hand, we have the proponents of the Hindutva, who seek to build the unity of the country by asking everyone to identify with an Indian national culture, which is interpreted as rooted in Hinduism.
            We must consciously build up a multi-religious society, in which every religious community is recognized, accepted and respected and has an opportunity to collaborate in the building up of the national community. We have to evolve a new kind of democratic order in which numbers are not important and a majority does not impose its will on the minorities. This new order will be respectful of diversity and participative, allowing each group to contribute its riches to the good of all.[21]

3.3.2        Peace Makers
            Religious conflicts have often economic, political and social causes. These need to be identified and addressed in an effective way. Conflicts also have sources in prejudice and ignorance. These can be dispelled through mutual discovery programmers, participation in festivals, etc. Fundamentalist currents also need to be tackled at the strictly religious level. I think of much these can be done in the context of multi- religious groups of people who are committed to the promotion of justice, equality and peace in the community. Christians could take it as their special mission to organize these committees and animate them. Collaborative action and conversation can help in freeing people from communalism.[22]
3.3.3 Inter- Religious Dialogue
            Inter- religious dialogue is not opposed to welcoming people who wish to become disciples of Jesus Christ and collaborate with him in his historical project, inspired or attracted either by the person and teachings of Jesus or by the witness of his disciples. If we join all believers in promoting social justice and equality for all then we may discover that people are not interested in getting converted anymore for socio-economic reasons.[23]
The mission of God makes our mission automatically dialogical. There is no dialogue without witness, but the witnessing should not be aggressive, though we have to take great care to keep it so in the pluralistic context of India. In a conflictual situation dialogue is difficult and is seen as much broader than merely religious. Religion is only one dimension of human life in society and it cannot be isolated. Though we have talked about the multi-religious situation in the Indian context, once we start forming wider communities that transcend local and limited identities then the search for community will transcend national boundaries and reach out to the whole universe.[24]

The Church is the community of Jesus’ disciples who are called together by his word and animated by his spirit to continue his mission and carry it out in all the nations and among all the peoples of the world. The Church’s mission is none other than that of Jesus himself. He went about doing good and proclaiming the good news that God is powerfully present and is transforming this world, gifting his rule  to all and in particular to the poor, oppressed, week, marginalized and outcaste.
We also recognize the fact that India is a multi religious and pluri-cultural country. Such diversity is its divinely bestowed blessing and grace. The Church’s mission in this context calls for it to be a truly dialogical community.  The dialogical mission of the Church also implies that it becomes an agent of reconciliation and peace among the various groups. It has to keep in mind its vocation to be the “light of the world” and “salt of the earth.” We have to create a common forum of dialogue and liberalize action through which mutual misunderstanding, hatred, discord and discrimination could be opposed, and we could together build up a nation with justice, peace and harmony.
The Church should also make all efforts to remove every trace of triumphalism, exclusivist and any attitude of superiority in its teachings, structures, evangelizing activities and the style of the functioning of its institutions. Particularly, it has to ensure that its educational enterprises, charitable activities, health care services and social involvements are geared to the genuine promotion of people`s well-being and progress and not in any way to conversion from their religions. However, it should be pointed out that the Church always defends the right of individuals to profess the religion of their choice. All the same, it denounces proselytisation using questionable means, such as, fraud, force and allurement.
The main aim of this scientific paper is to create a common forum of dialogue and liberative action through which mutual misunderstanding, hatred, discard and discrimination could be opposed, and we could together buildup a nation with Justice, peace and harmony.

[1] Michael Glazier and Monica K. Hellwig, The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia (Bangalore: Claretian Plublications, 1997), 575.
[2] Roger Bowen, So I Send You a Study Guide to Mission (London: ISPCK Publication, 1996), 7.  
[3] Francis Sullivan and Sue Leppert, eds., Church and Civil Society, ATF Series No-8 (Adelaide: ATF Publication, 2004), 82-84.
[4] Roger Bowen, 8.   
[5] Roger Bowen, 9.
[6] Roger Bowen, 12.
[7] Gregory Karotemprel and Jacob Marangattu, eds., Evangelizing In The Third Millennium, Series No-1 (Rajkot: Deepti Publication, 2006), 62.
[8] Shaji Jerman, Mission:  Missiological and Canonical Perspectives (Alwaye: Pontifical Institute Publication, 2005), 104-105.
[9] Shaji Jerman, 108.  
[10] Shaji Jerman, 114-115.
[11] Shaji Jerman, 122.
[12] Julian Saldana, Mission Today: Themes and Issues (Bangalore: Claretian Publications, 2006), 20.
[13] Julian Saldana, 15.
[14] Shaji Jerman, 140-142.
[15] Shaji Jerman, 150.
[16] Amaladoss, “Our Mission in India Today”, Vaigarai 6, no. 2 (September 2001): 12-15.
[17] Thomas Malipurathu and L. Stanislaus, eds., A Vision of Mission in the New Millennium (Mumbai: St Paul’s Publications, 2001), 68.
[18] Gregory Karotemprel and Jacob Marangattu, eds., 55.
[19] Thomas Malipurathu and L. Stanislaus, eds., 75.

[20] Gregory Karotemprel and Jacob Marangattu, eds., 17-29.
[21] Thomas Malipurathu and L. Stanislaus, eds., 77.
[22] Thomas Malipurathu and L. Stanislaus, eds., 78.
[23] Joseph Puthenpurakal, ed., Mission Today, vol-1 (Shillong: Vendrame Institute Publication, 1999), 49-50.
[24] Thomas Malipurathu and L. Stanislaus, eds., 81.

Bro. M. Francis Amaladoss
Theology I Year
St. Joseph Seminary,  Mangaore

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