Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Inter-faith Relations, One of Many Ways to God or an Abomination to God?

The October 29th edition of Presbyweb carried a link to the Presbyterian News Service article on John Butt. The Reverend John Butt is a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-worker in Thailand. He has served in Thailand for thirty years. The Rev. Butt has been very active in the inter-faith arena in Thailand, teaching at Payap University and becoming the Director of its Institute for the Study of Religion and Culture.

We talked about the great religions of the world, and he said that each of us should consider our own religion to be one piece of the puzzle of “human religiousness”. I lamented the narrowness of religious fundamentalism, and its divisiveness. A well-known quotation by the President of the United States came to mind, “You’re either with us or against us”. While made in a political context, it also appears to apply to many who espouse very conservative religious viewpoints. John says that religious fundamentalists believe that their religion is the “whole puzzle” rather than one piece of the puzzle. It is an “arrogance” that divides rather than unites. He encourages his students to closely examine their beliefs, to discard those that are built on sand and replace them with those of substance.

-Chiang Mai Mail, Vol. IV No. 46.

Butt acknowledged that “reinterpreting” the Christian message in the context of today’s religious world is “risky and it's scary, but it’s also, I think, necessary.”

The point is to build on more solid foundation that is closer to the truth, he said. For example, people should start thinking of terms like Christian, Muslim and Buddhist as adjectives and not nouns, Butt said.

Encountering other religions can help get to the truth, he said.

“We need to learn to respect and appreciate the faiths of our neighbors,” and use it as a way of deepening and enriching our own faith, Butt said.

-Presbyterian News Service, October 26, 2007.

In many instances the Ecumenical Movement has morphed into the Inter-faith movement. Associated Ministries of Tacoma-Pierce County (Washington) is an example of that shift. Their Thanksgiving Eve Worship Service brings together “people from varied faith traditions” to gather together “to pray, to reflect God’s blessings and simply to celebrate being brothers and sisters. Make no mistake, this is a worship service! Faith traditions that participate are “Protestants, Catholics, Latter Day Saints, Bahá’ís, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, members of Unity, Unitarian Universalists, and Christian Scientists.”

Is the Christian faith only one of many ways to God? What does the Bible say about the uniqueness of the Christian faith? What are the ramifications of having “recognized” PCUSA ministries that believe that the Christian faith is but one of many ways to God? Is there a difference between “understand” another religious tradition and “accepting” it as a way to God? And now the toughest question… Has the PCUSA become apostate because it sanctions worshipping other Gods?

The next several posts of this blog will look at the issue of inter-faith relations, paths to God and whether the PCUSA is an abomination in the sight of God.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Blessings and Challenges of Ministering in the Small Church (Part 9) – The Conclusion.

Serving as a pastor of any congregations demands gifts, passion and calling.

Not all persons serving as pastors are “gifted” to be pastors. We have all met people who have a heart for God but do not have the gifts necessary to be a pastor. Unfortunately, some (maybe many) of these folks are serving as pastors of churches. One particular pastor I know loves the Lord dearly and has effectively killed two churches. The person is as inspiring as a potato. The person is unable to be an effective leader. Yet, that pastor loves the Lord dearly. I believe that to pastor a smaller congregation a person needs to have a gift set that matches the needs of smaller churches.

Not all persons serving as pastor have a “passion” for what they are doing. People know when a pastor does not have passion for serving their church. Two pastors come to mind when I think of pastors without passion for serving a particular church. One of those pastors watched as church attendance plummeted. People stopped coming because they sensed that the pastor didn’t care about them or their church. The second pastor watched as the congregation shrunk due to the astronomic “aging” of the church’s membership and all of the associated issues. Both of these pastors had lost the passion for their current church. I believe that the pastor of a smaller congregation must have a passion for their current church. It can be difficult to maintain that passion, after all, there may not be “fabulous” programs that keep one excited and jazzed. Yet, it is imperative that a small church pastor keep the passion at a high level.

Not all persons serving as pastors have a “calling” from God to be a pastor. It is too easy for a caring pastor-want-to-be to mistake the desire to live for God as a calling to be a pastor. It is up to the larger church to assist a person in determining their calling. Let’s pause and think for a moment… When was the last time you were at a Presbytery meeting and voted to not move a person from being an Inquirer to being a Candidate? (for those who aren’t Presbyterian, those are required steps in the process of becoming a pastor) When the last time a Candidate at a Presbytery meeting was was not allowed to receive a call to a church as a pastor? To be sure, there is a “committee” that is suppose to be working with these folks to help determine a person’s calling. People still make it through the process and receive calls to churches who do not have a calling by God to be a pastor! I believe that it is imperative that a small church pastor have a calling by God to be the pastor of that particular church.

Being the pastor of a smaller congregation can be a blessing. Being the pastor of a smaller congregation is filled with challenges that are specific to smaller congregations. Blessed are the congregations who have a pastor that has the gifts, passion and calling for their particular ministry situation—large church or small church!