A highly respected chaplaincy source explained to me the difference between multi-faith and inter-faith. Multi-faith allows freedom of religion for all faiths and recognises that a prison chaplaincy provides an interface for this to happen – the chaplaincy is like a prison’s religious ‘web-site’.
But inter-faith goes deeper. It occurs when an attempt is made to adjust, combine or dilute the teachings of one religion by absorbing or importing teachings from another religion, producing a hybrid. That is always to be resisted.
The multi-faith approach for a cosmopolitan prison has become a reflection of today’s world, but one need not sacrifice one’s own Christian position.
On the other hand, while inter-faith’s compromises give an appearance of unity between religions, the reasoning behind it is utter nonsense. Is there really any world religion that does not claim it is different from the others? Perhaps only the convoluted ‘logic’ of a New Ager would claim so.
While the Christian gospel is not about depriving people of freedom of religion, it is about presenting Christ to sinners needing forgiveness – that is to everyone, whatever their religious background.
We realise in this fallen world that not everyone will accept the truth of the Bible as God’s Word or the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Saviour from sin and judgement. Even some who call themselves Christians have not arrived at an unshakeable faith in the Bible – many see Jesus as just one important religious leader amongst the world’s gurus.
Where does this leave conservative Evangelicals who preach the gospel in prison, be it as a chaplain or as a member of an interdenominational or local church group? In the case of DAYLIGHT Christian Prison Trust we are able to follow the approach outlined below.
First, we seek to show respect, courtesy and politeness to everyone. Those whose beliefs we think are wrong are nevertheless treated with Christian grace and kindness. Constructive conversations about our differences can arise in an atmosphere of light, rather than heat.
Second, we make it known that we believe in the right of a person to choose his religion and be respected in that choice, provided it does not prejudice or harm others. He obviously has the right to disagree with us.
Third, we expect to have the same right as others to respect, courtesy and politeness, and to hold and teach what we believe is true, even if it puts us at variance with others.
Fourth, when we present our message – which is uniquely God-given because it comes from the Bible – we do so without apology, but with as much winsomeness as we can.
Fifth, we explain our position as clearly as we can. I often say something like this: ‘As a criminal lawyer, if I was conducting a legal argument in court I would not say to the court, “I have a bright idea and you should accept what I say”.
‘Rather I would turn to an accepted authority such as a decided case, or a quotation from Archbold’s Criminal Practice or the current Stones Justices’ Manual. If my authority is good, my case is good.
‘When it comes to questions of life and death and heaven and hell – which by definition cannot be decided by reference to human experience alone – I want to know if there is an authority on which I have solid reason to trust. I have that authority. He is God in human form, fully God and fully man.
‘He lived a perfectly righteous and sinless life. He performed amazing yet well-testified miracles in public. He died on a cross, unjustly as a criminal, bearing our sins and God’s wrath against them. Amazing things happened, for all to see, when my Creator became my Saviour on that cross.’
‘His resurrection from the dead, three days later, and his ascension to heaven were testified and corroborated by many credible, first-hand witnesses, in completely different situations. Some of them were put to death rather than deny that they had seen him alive again.
‘He is my Authority. He is the Lord Jesus Christ. So when he says, “I am the way, the truth and the life: no one comes to the Father except through me”, I have to say to you, in the most respectful and courteous way I can, that I am convinced that only faith in Christ can take a condemned sinner to heaven, forgiven for his sins.’
Please pray for us as we take this gospel message into our multi-faith prisons.