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

The possibility of forgiveness for all is proclaimed with the necessity of repentance.

We cannot reasonably expect non-Christians to repent in the Christian sense before offering them forgiveness and entering reconciled relations with them. That is not at all the reason for my remarks. Rather, I suggest that we all—they and we—may repent in a practical and relational way for the wrong we have done each other; in fact, I insist it is necessary for forgiveness and reconciliation between us. To be real and lasting forgiveness and reconciliation must be much more than simply saying, “I’m sorry” and “Let’s be friends”. Actions must be attached to the words. Otherwise they are artificial and superficial. At the very least this requires cessation of sinful behavior. Even better it leads to benevolent and positive actions toward the religious other. As to what constitutes “sinful behavior” or “benevolent and positive actions”, I am confident that true dialogue in the best tradition of each religion can find common ground when economical and political agendas are interpreted in the light of the values of faith rather than the converse. I am sure themes of justice and peace will be in the forefront of each faith’s value system. I am personally persuaded that religion is a force for peace rather than a weapon of war.

Religious extremists cannot continue to act or exist in a context of interreligious reconciliation.

In a Pentecostal context of discussing forgiveness and reconciliation among the religions I am outlining a process in which reconciliation occurs as a fruit of forgiveness and forgiveness occurs as a result of repentance. I also add that forgiveness and reconciliation ought always to be pictured against a backdrop of grace and faith (Eph 2:8-9). Faith, of course, ultimately has God as its object. However, faith is not only divine-vertical but also human-horizontal. In interreligious forgiveness and reconciliation both directions are applicable. Without intending at all to impose Christian convictions on religious others, I still must maintain that forgiveness and reconciliation occur in a context of faith that the Divine or Ultimate is actively involved in the process. A Power greater than us or our organizations is at work bringing about the interreligious reconciliation for which we yet yearn. Forgiveness and reconciliation are the work of God, and will be successfully wrought between us only when we willingly allow God to so work. But in addition to faith in God, faith in our fellow human beings is also absolutely essential. An attitude of trust must replace the politics of suspicion if we are to really experience together genuine forgiveness and reconciliation. This interreligious trust may eventually be broadened and deepened through probationary trial and error encounters over prolonged length of time; that is, hopefully we will eventually prove ourselves trustworthy to one another. Yet its initiation must begin out of an affirmation of free grace that extends at least a tentative trust to those with whom and for whom the results are risky. Trust is a worthwhile risk; but, though we often carnally declare “trust is earned not given” the truth is faith is a free gift.

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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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