In a time of limited resources, many churches and Christian organizations seek ways to make an impact by working with other organizations on a wide array of issues such as disaster relief, poverty and education. But many have concerns regarding our responsibility to defend “the faith . . . once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Is cooperating with a non-Christian group acceptable, according to the Bible? Can a Christian organization join forces with a Muslim or Hindu group to minister to others? What sorts of interfaith ministries are appropriate?
Let us be clear: Christians are to care for the needy in tangible ways (Luke 10:25–37). But what is the best way to go about providing that care? Are interfaith ministries and cooperation with other religions necessary or effective? Is an interfaith alliance to feed the hungry tantamount to ecumenism and doctrinal compromise?
When considering interfaith ministries, a primary question to consider is, “Will this particular partnership cause me to compromise a core Christian belief?” If God and His Word are to be honored above all, we must be able to clearly answer this question. Regardless of the social good that could result from a partnership, if a Christian or a church is forced to accept a different view of God, Jesus Christ, Scripture, salvation, or other essential teaching of Scripture, then that partnership is unacceptable. The deed should not undermine the creed.
For example, some social organizations will not accept a group unless it adopts a policy of non-discrimination in hiring, promotion, and firing, including a statement that it does not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, age, nationality, or marital status. In other words, in order to cooperate, a church would be required to employ anyone who applies, even those in disagreement with the church’s beliefs.
Another policy sometimes forced upon a church concerns the use of “coercive practices,” such as requiring clients to participate in religious classes. Agreeing to an interfaith ministry’s “non-coercive” program would be difficult for most Christian organizations seeking to honor God’s Word. If a Christian rescue mission cannot evangelize those who enter its doors, then that mission will not be effective. Churches should be wary of any affiliation that requires the signing of such a policy.
Another question to consider is, “Will this particular partnership honor God?” Participating in an interfaith ministry may not require acceding to a different belief, but it could associate a Christian organization with those who dishonor God. Even if a church is allowed to maintain its own doctrinal statement and hiring policy, it may need to think twice about inferences others make based on the partnership. Sometimes the particular name of a project could raise questions; if a Bible-believing church joins “The Ecumenical Consortium of the Friends of Allah,” then there is a problem. Honoring God must remain top priority, and our testimony is important.
A third important question concerning interfaith ministries is, “Will our work be better together in this matter?” Some projects work better with one group in leadership. A smaller scale is sometimes more efficient. Other projects require a large group from a wide variety of backgrounds. This is more a matter of logistics than of doctrine, but is important to consider as the goal is to help others, not simply to partner for the sake of unity.
So, as long as biblical doctrine is not compromised, Christian testimony is not sullied, and resources are not squandered, then, yes, a Christian organization is free to partner with other groups in interfaith ministries to accomplish a God-honoring project.
Our goal must always be to love God and love others. If an interfaith ministry can help in this mission, then there is no reason not to at least consider it. No single group can do all things, but together much good can be accomplished. In certain social issues, such as fighting poverty and providing disaster relief, there are many opportunities to cooperate with other groups to help those in need. When we do, we honor our Lord, show love to others, and make a meaningful difference in the lives of many.
As Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).