Thursday, November 08, 2007

Inter-faith Relations, One of Many Ways to God or an Abomination to God? (Part 3)

Interfaith relations have to be about discerning and understanding different world views. Each person has their own worldview. For simplicities sake, it is important for the followers of Christ to have a basic understanding of the world view put forth by the world’s main religions. Each person may shape that “religious” world view to fit their own beliefs and thus it is important to deal with individuals as individuals.

Let me give an example of what I am saying. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints officially believes and teaches that Mormons who fulfill all of the requirements of the Book of Mormon, The Doctrines and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price will be allowed into the highest of three heavens. At that time the men will become gods and be able to call their wives to join them. They will receive their own plant which they will populate from the spirit children they have. While serving a PCUSA church in Moses Lake, Washington, it was common place for my kids to hear the Mormon kids to talk about this belief on the school bus. These children were as young as second grade. Moses Lake has a HUGE population of Mormons. Many years later in Graham, Washington, many of the Mormon kids at the junior high school did not know the official teaching of the LDS church on becoming gods! A year later, these kids where taught that doctrine in their “seminary” – classes before school. We have known Mormons who do not accept their church’s teaching on becoming gods. So, their individual world view had modified the world view taught by their church. It is for this reason that Christ’s followers should know the basic world view taught by each of the world’s main religions and discern the individual world view of each person that we know.

I taught the world religions class at Sheldon Jackson College. The best book on world religions is The World’s Religions by Huston Smith. Huston’s book is very detailed and not an easy read. There are many other good books on the subject (such as World Religions, by Warren Matthews or A History of the World’s Religions by David S. Noss and John B. Noss).

I continue to be amazed at how self centered Americans are—this includes American Christians. We live in our own little world and fail to make even a token effort to learn the basic world views of people around the world.

Let’s return now to the idea of inter-faith relations in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

It is important that someone in the denomination be an advocate for learning about other faiths. The purpose of this exercise is to gain knowledge so that communication can take place. A Mormon believes that Jesus is the Son of God. Their definition of “Son of God” is very different from an orthodox definition of “Son of God.” The LDS church believes the Elohim (the god of this world) had sex with one of his god-wives. Thus, Jesus is the Son of God. They also believe that Jesus and Lucifer are brothers! It is impossible for there to be clear communication between orthodox Christians and Mormons unless we understand the basic Mormon world view! The same can be said for every major religion.

I do not believe that the PCUSA need to produce books or lessons for inter-faith relations. There are wonderful books available-no need to reinvent the wheel.


At 7:51 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is the problem with your analysis. As a non-Mormon, you do not participate in the culture and do not have a first-hand experience of their religious views. Any attempt you have made to understand Mormonism comes with your desire to pick apart its theology to tell others about how wrong it is. You read everything through the lens of Nicene Christianity and are totally unable to grasp their theology with any degree of objectivity.

For example, most Mormon scholars will readily point out that few if any doctrines that are the subject of your mocking are actually contained in the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price or Doctrines and Covenants. In fact, many teachings have come out of sermons of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and the other apostles. But the LDS church believes in continuing revelation. Therefore, God may bring about a new teaching at any time through the voice of Spirit. Many of the so-called sources that are quoted to mis-label Mormon beliefs hold only minimal instruction value in the church.

You feel free to mock the Mormon understanding of cosmology, yet, I don't think you have the capacity to understand it. Who cares what kids hear (supposedly) on the school bus? How is that making an honest attempt to understand? It is almost like you have the arrogance to tell Mormons what they believe because you have taken ten minutes to read about it in your precious textbook.

The fact is as a Christian you will have a tremendous difficulty understanding any world religion that is not your own. You will always be looking to the outside. You can talk all day about the Hindu gods or Buddha, but if you have not spent your life reared in the teaching and ritual of these religions you will never understand. In the same way, your simplistic 'cuz the bible says' theology is gibberish to anyone for whom that book is foreign. No one can comprehend the doctrines of Orthodox Christianity by simply reading the Bible. It is a complicated mess of anachronism and jumbled theologies about God and Hebrew culture. The only thing that girds your theological loins is the collected wisdom of teachings by church leaders who have gone before you. Many of the doctrines you believe are found nowhere in the bible, but instead come to you from the creeds and confessions written by fallible human beings.

You presupposition that there is only one way to God clouds your entire enterprise. Sadly, you will not only fail in your own attempt to understand, but also lead your followers to be hateful bigots who disparage other faiths.

At 9:47 AM , Blogger Pastor Lance said...

Dear Anonymous,
You are correct in that I am not a Mormon. My intention is not to “pick apart” or degrade any belief system.

I taught the World Religions course at a College for several years. During that time I had numerous Mormons take the class. They confirmed that my basic understanding of the Mormon faith was correct. I have served as a pastor in two communities that are heavily Mormon and have had my understanding of the Mormon faith confirmed by people who had been Mormon.

Yes, things change in the Mormon faith due to progressive revelation. I do not believe that the Mormon beliefs on Jesus, Lucifer, levels of heaven, baptism, marriage, etc. have changed. The Mormon beliefs in those are very different than what the Christ church has ever believed. If the Mormon Church is indeed “Christian” then I would accept your invitation to go into the Mormon temple in Bellevue, Washington (the closest to my home) or Salt Lake City to witness the rites of baptism and marriages that are taking place.

Please do not think that I am picking on the Mormon Church. There are those within the Presbyterian Church who do not hold beliefs that are consistent with the historic church beliefs! I point out those beliefs on this blog.

I find it fascinating that people who have beliefs that are significantly different from historic Christianity feel the need to be considered “Christian.” Any church can call itself anything it wants--that is why I have said that we need to understand each person’s world view. Concerning religions, people (and churches) us the same “words” and there are times when the definitions of the “word” are very different. The term “Christian” in the United States means almost nothing. A neo-Nazi calls himself a “Christian.” A person who hasn’t stepped in a church or read the Bible for thirty years calls himself a “Christian.” A person who has blended Christian beliefs with those of Buddhism calls himself a Christian.

I believe that understand world views is more helpful. World views cut through “words” and looks at the beliefs behind those words.


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