I recently read a story of an ecumenical conference where the discussion related to how respective denominations would respond to demon possession. It was suggested that:
Methodists would sing them out;
Pentecostals would shout them out;
Catholics and Greek Orthodox would incense them out;
Baptists would drown them out;
and Presbyterians would freeze them out!
As a Presbyterian, I get a little tired of the frozen chosen jokes but I get the point! The point of that illustration is to cause us to think about doing pastoral ministry — true to the Scriptures, to the Great Commission, and even to our distinctive and unique contributions to the body of Christ — in a pluralistic setting.
However, I want to go beyond this hypothetical, tongue-in-cheek gathering into the very real world we live in today. The setting is no longer just Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals, and Presbyterians. The setting is more like what I saw when, two years ago, I stepped foot onto the soil of India to preach and teach in Chennai and in Dehradun — a world of Hindus, Buddhists, Islamic sects, cults who operate in the name of Jesus, as well as atheists and agnostics, secularists, and materialists, all mixed into a religious soup, that was as spicy as their food. Add to that Judaism of every brand and Christian groups of every kind. When I returned to my own nation, I wondered, "Did I just see a snapshot of America and Great Britain fifty years from now?" Is this now our cultural soup?
Yes. Increasingly, that is our world today, not only in metropolitan areas, but in almost every community in America,
even in rural areas where plurality once meant (and still does in some communities) a Baptist Church, a Methodist Church, maybe a Presbyterian or a Pentecostal congregation, and an Independent congregation.
Of course, there were always those “contemptible” few who dared not claim any of those, as in the rural south where I grew up (these, the “no preference” people, are now the fastest growing group identified in the “American Religious Identification Survey” of 2001
). Today those same places are home, in an increasing way, to Muslims, various Eastern cults, Mormons, and of course, there seem to be more secularists and atheists. These are the teachers, the coaches, the students, and the next-door neighbors. Our nation, once ostensibly monochrome – the word used by the late English missionary and Bishop of South India Lesslie Newbigin to describe old Christendom – is now pluralistic.