What is your neighbour’s religion?

Jim Ramsay

So where do you live? Is it in a block of town-houses, a villa, a suburban house or a tent? Unless you're on a 1,000 hectare farm my guess is that just outside your front door you can see other front doors. A wide ranging bunch of people live behind them.  Moreover, it's more than likely they have no happy certainty for eternity.

What's their religion? Start guessing now. You may not have seen them heading off to a temple and they don't perform animal sacrifice under a full moon, so it may be hard to pick. Maybe they are some of the recently proclaimed, and rapidly growing, "No Religion' group identified by the recent national Census.

Perhaps after you engaged them in conversation they spoke about "Baptist' or "Roman Catholic' links and you were somewhat relieved to drop them into the appropriate slots. Even if they don't practice at least it's a safe religion. Big mistake!

Asking "What's your neighbour's religion?' is not the same as asking "What's your neighbour's denomination? Or "What are your neighbour's religious affiliations?' In reality that requires very little effort on our part. To be more accurate, identifying someone's religion is like identifying their theology or their belief system. It's trickier but ever so much more helpful.

Why go down this path? Simply because we love people. Think of the people Jesus meets in the gospel narratives. With the exception of the occasional feral Gentile the bulk of them were Jewish. Did these men and women always express the same "theology'? Not at all. Their views of God, His character and purposes, varied from person to person. Just as we might ask "What did Jesus' contemporaries think God was like?" so we might ask the same of those around us.

Does my neighbour think God is benign? Are my work colleagues hoping that God will suspend justice and overlook their behaviour? Do my mates think they will be reincarnated by an eastern god? There is a whole spectrum of belief systems in our neighbourhoods. Surprisingly they can be owned by people of the same or similar denominational background or affiliation. If I want to share the gospel of Jesus with them it will be important to understand them. I will need to be ready with the correct information and material that addresses their concerns.

After all, if we were to go overseas as missionaries we would have to do months of preparation in order to understand the people to whom we were going. Is it not strange that we don't at least put some effort into understanding people with similar beliefs (or theology) just because they live next door or share an office with us?

So the question is what is your neighbour's religion? How will you find out? you will have to listen far more attentively to find out. Have a think about it before you next get a chance to talk with them. In your prayers for them ask God to address the particular issues that they have and see if He helps them change their religion.

Jim Ramsay is the CEO of Evangelism Ministries, the outreach arm of the Sydney Diocese. Click here to visit the Evangelism Ministries web site.