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What Kind of Spirit Are We Really Of? A Pentecostal Approach to Interfaith Forgiveness and Interreligious Reconciliation

Christians, including Pentecostals, who expect justification or forgiveness from all sin for Christ’s sake, ought also to be forgiving of others’ sins. In other words, the forgiven ought to be forgiving. While we have no responsibility or right to pronounce whether or upon whom God’s forgiveness finally falls, we can say that as we ourselves experience forgiveness we also are enabled to forgive others their sins against ourselves (Eph 4:32; Col 3:13).12 Furthermore, the height of arrogance and ignorance would be assuming we Christians do not also need forgiveness from others for our sins against them. As stated, this applies not only individually but institutionally. Christianity, out of the overflow of its own understanding of its redemptive experience of God’s justifying grace in Christ, ought to extend forgiveness to Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism for real or perceived transgressions against its rights or interests. Forgiveness necessitates a release from further culpability into restoration of conciliatory relationship. Forgiveness is an entry point into peaceful coexistence, into a reconciled relationship, both between God and Christians (Rom 5:1) and therefore between Christians and others, including other religions. Christianity is called to be a peacemaker (cf. Matt 5:9). Christianity, to be consistent with its own inherent ethos, is responsible for promoting peace with and among others. The Christian message and ministry of reconciliation, though firmly focused in evangelistic outreach through the gospel of Christ (2 Co 5:11-21), ought never to exclude any part of a process that promotes peace between all peoples (Rom 12:18; Heb 12:14).

The forgiven ought to be forgiving.

Such forgiveness and reconciliation among the religions will hopefully at the least hinder and eventually halt the use of aggression and violence by religious extremists who are intent on furthering their own radical agendas. They cannot continue to act or exist in a context of interreligious reconciliation. More optimistically, interreligious forgiveness and reconciliation may allow cooperative efforts on humanitarian causes to proceed more effectively. World religions can become partners for good rather than “partners in crime”, so to speak. And even more hopefully, the religions may one day learn to live in mutual respect and appreciation for one another. While discerning disagreement may not pass away among us, dialogue and dedication may help us to recognize the valuable contributions of each religious faith when it is true to its own innermost impulse. However, for the sake of honesty and transparency, I stress that Pentecostals will undoubtedly always sense a strong need to maintain our own distinctiveness in relations with both other Christians and with non-Christians. Nonetheless, I am optimistic that Pentecostal commitments can be maintained in an amicable environment.

Significantly, Pentecostals stress the importance of forgiveness in the context of repentance. My own classical Pentecostal denomination, the Church of God (Cleveland, TN USA), states in its formal “Declaration of Faith” that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God and that repentance is commanded of God for all and necessary for forgiveness of sins.”13 Its original “Teachings” also stressed “Restitution where possible”.14 These two statements say much. A doctrine of sin excepting none from culpability and responsibility is assumed. The reality of the possibility of forgiveness for all is proclaimed with the necessity of repentance. The importance of penitents acting practically to make wrongs right as an expression of true repentance is underscored. However, limitations of completely making up for whatever wrong has been done are conceded. Deeds done cannot be undone. Repentance is an essential part of the original message of Jesus Christ regarding the Kingdom of God (Mk 1:15) that has universal application (Lu 13:5). I therefore feel obligated to insist that forgiveness and reconciliation in interreligious relationships requires repentance on the part of all parties implicated (i.e., everyone!). “Repentance” (metanoia) implies not only an awareness of wrongdoing and regret for it, but also a willingness to make radical changes in one’s behavior. In fact, the test for genuine repentance is demonstrated in transformation of behavior (Matt 3:8).15 I reject as inadequate and impotent any version of interfaith forgiveness and interreligious reconciliation that does not give appropriate attention to the importance of repentance. While we must beware of playing the “blame game,” which of course leads to nowhere we wish to go, we must not avoid the hard, honest work of admitting mistakes and making things right.

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Category: Ministry, Spring 2009

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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