Friday, November 09, 2007

Inter-faith Relations, One of Many Ways to God or an Abomination to God? (Part 4)

There are HUGE differences between the major religions of the world. A person faced with this fact has several choices in what to believe:
  • Religion is made up by human beings and there is no God.
  • There is one true God and all of the other gods are false.
  • There is one God and all religions point to that one God.
  • There is one God and some of the religions point to that God and the other religions are wrong.
  • There are many gods and they are in competition with each other.

The Christian faith, Reformed Tradition and the Presbyterian Church have held that there is one God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), known and revealed through Jesus Christ and God’s written word (the Bible). THIS MEANS that the other religions of the world do not lead to God. Following these other “gods” results in breaking one of the commandments.

The Bible is clear in what will happen to a person who does not worship the one true God. Jesus called us to go to take the gospel to all ethnic groups and make disciples of them--failure to do so is going against Jesus’ direct command. We must remember that Jesus said that not everyone who called him “Lord” would be allowed into his kingdom! The implications are clear—do what he says or you (or I) may not find ourselves in the Kingdom of God for all eternity.

Here is the challenge—how does a church or the PCUSA enter into inter-faith relations and still recognize that we are to be about the process of leading the followers of those other faiths to Jesus Christ?

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.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Inter-faith Relations, One of Many Ways to God or an Abomination to God? (Part 2)

“I am convinced that for a person to be fully conscious intellectually he should not only be able to detect the world views of others but be aware of his own—why it is his and why in the light of so many options he thinks it is true.”
-James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door, 1976, preface of the book.

In his classic titled "The Universe Next Door", James Sire writes about world views. A person may be asking, “What is a world view?” or, “Why is it important for me to understand world views?” Sire argues that everyone has a world view and that world view is the lens through which they view everything in life. So, what is a world view? Sire defines a world view as, “…a set of presuppositions (or assumptions) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously) about the basic makeup of our world.” [Sire, page 17, parenthetical phrases are Sire’s and in the text of the quote.]

Words and phrases are important to many people. Some people insist that they are “spiritual” but that they have no “religion.” An atheist claims to have no “religion” but clings to that claim as firmly as another person clings to his/her religious belief. Rather than saying that the “religion” of a person who doesn’t believe in the existence of God is “atheism” (like a recent article in the Tacoma New Tribune when talking about China) it might be helpful to use a different phrase or term—like “world view.”

Sire says that a world view answers the questions of:
• “What is prime reality—the really real?”
• “Who is man?”
• “What happens to man at death?”
• “What is the basis of morality?”
• “What is the meaning of human history?”

Sire recognizes other issues that often arise. Some of these are:
• “What is the nature of the external world?”
• “Who is in charge of the world—God, or man, or man and God, or no one at all?”
• “Is man determined or is he free?”
• “How can we know and how can we know that we know?”
• “Is man alone the maker of values?”
• “Is God really good?”
• “Is God personal or impersonal?”
• Or does he exist at all?”

Every person has a belief system that answers the above questions—that belief system is his/her world view. An atheist has a belief system that answers these questions. A person who practices Mahayana Buddhism has a belief system that answers these questions. A person who practices Shintoism has a belief system that answers these questions. George W. Bush has a belief system that answers these questions. Clifton Kirkpatrick has a belief system that answers these questions. Madonna has a belief system that answers these questions. Every person has a world view!

Look once again to the quote at the beginning of this post. Sire argues that a person must be able to detect their world view and the world views of other people. True communication is only possible when we understand the world view of the person with whom we are seeking to communicate. This is true even within a particular “religious” system. Not every Christian has the same world view! The person who believes in the “health—wealth” gospel does not have the same set of beliefs as the Christian who believes in liberation theology. The Roman Catholic Church’s teachings are different from the teachings of the Church of the Nazarene. John Shuck (of the blog “Shuck and Jive”) has a very different world view than Toby Brown (of the blog “A Classical Presbyterian”). Using the idea of a world view it is possible for us to use a consistent set of questions to understand what a particular person believes (or what a particular “religion” teaches).

The Apostle Paul was an expert in distinguishing particular world views. Read through the Book of Acts. Notice the different ways in which he communicated to people. He would use his understanding of the other person’s world view to shape his presentation of gospel to that person (or group of people).

Interfaith relations have to be about discerning and understanding different world views. More on this topic tomorrow.