Mahatma Gandhi was one of the greatest non-Christians of the last century. He was educated in England and became a very serious student of the Bible. He loved Jesus and yet he chose not to become a Christian and remained a Hindu. Why? Because he was generally not impressed by what he saw in the lives of most Christians he knew.
Gandhi developed a deep friendship with E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973), a Christian missionary to India. In Chapter 29 of Brian McLaren’s book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World, he wrote, “Like other great Christian missionaries in India, Jones neither watered down his deep commitment to Christ, nor did he set out to knock down the world’s third-largest religion so he could replace it with Christianity. He looked for a way that Christ could enter, incarnate himself within, and bless Hinduism just as he had done in sectors of Judaic culture, Greco-Roman culture, Celtic culture, Anglo-Saxon culture, and many other cultures through history. He envisioned a time when a new movement of Indian followers of Christ would model a new, non-Western kind of Christian faith, one that respected the Hindu roots in which it grew and one that brought blessing to its Hindu and Muslim neighbors.”
Jones asked, “I am very anxious to see Christianity naturalized in India, so that it shall no longer be a foreign thing identified with a foreign people and a foreign government, but a part of the national life of India and contributing its power to India’s uplift and redemption. What would you suggest we do to make that possible?”
Gandhi gave Jones some deep and sincere advice to Christians who might seek to redirect believers in other religions to turn to Christianity. His advice is summarized in Chapter 29 of McLaren’s book:
- Begin to live more like Jesus. “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23, NKJV) Gandhi didn’t see in the Christians he knew a serious commitment to self denial and to pursuing the unique mission Jesus had given to them. And he didn’t see clear evidence that they were following the kind of direction(s) that Jesus would likely give to them. Jones saw the hundreds of millions of people of India speaking to him through Gandhi’s eyes, and saying, “If you will come to us in the spirit of your Master, we cannot resist you.”
- Practice your religion without adulterating or toning it down. Gandhi saw in the Christians he knew a tendency to water down the Gospel and to back off from talking about things that non-Christians might not understand or might take offense to. The tragedy is that, according to Jones, Christians are “inoculating the world with a mild form of Christianity, so that it is now practically immune against the real thing.”
- Put your emphasis on love, for love is the center and soul of Christianity. Gandhi loved Jesus because he saw that Jesus’ focus was on love. Gandhi had encountered many Christians who focused on preaching a message of dealing with sin through confession and repentance as a means of avoiding divine judgment and condemnation. Jones noted, “He did not mean love as a sentiment, but love as a working force, the one real power in a moral universe, and he wanted it applied between individuals and groups and races and nations, the one cement and salvation of the world.”
- Study the non-Christian religions and culture more sympathetically in order to find the good that is in them, so that you might have a more sympathetic approach to the people.
In his book, Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions Can Come Together, the Dalai Lama stated in his concluding chapter, “This book has traced the journey of a Buddhist monk who has had the precious opportunity to glimpse the vast expanse and multifaceted richness of the world’s great religions. This journey has, without doubt, enriched my practice within my own Buddhist faith. In particular, the profound convergence of all the major religions on compassion has reinforced my conviction of the centrality of compassion as a universal spiritual value.”
If Christians take the time and energy to learn more about the beliefs and practices of the religions people they meet are trying to follow, this will do much to convince those people that Christians care about them, rather than their getting the sense that Christians see no real value in alternative faiths.