ONE GOD, MANY RELIGIONS, PART 2
OCTOBER 14, 2007
WESLEY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
“Jesus, name above all names,” we have just sung. The Scripture lesson, Philippians 2.9-11, proclaims, “Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” But, what about other religions? Is Jesus above Buddha, Islam and Judaism? Are the other religions wrong? Are Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Jews all going to hell?
Several weeks ago, I advocated the Partner stance toward other religions. There is the Melt-Down Mush position where differences are ignored, and sincerity is the test. “If you’re sincere, it doesn’t matter what religion you have”, even if you are sincerely wrong! There is the Adversarial position, believing that one of the religions is superior and is the only way to God. The adversarial position is out of control. Thursday, in northern India, a bomb exploded at a Muslim shrine where worshipers were observing Ramadan. Two Muslims were killed and seven injured. Sisters and brothers, all religions, and let’s begin with ours, must denounce the adversarial position.
Instead of melt-down mush and the adversarial positions, I suggest the Partner stance, where we appreciate other religions, learn from them; cooperate in tackling the gigantic problems facing the world today, while at the same time, sharing our faith, telling them about Jesus; respecting other religions, while sharing ours.
Jesus told us, commanded us, to witness. Acts 1.8, “You will be my witnesses.” Jesus told us to make disciples. Matthew 28.19, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus sent his disciples on missions to heal the sick and proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. Jesus told us to witness.
What does this mean to us today? Christianity is proactive. Jesus did not call us to be submissive, reactive, or to deny the world and live in isolation, retreating from life. Jesus calls us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, welcome the strangers, visit those in prison, heal the sick, fight injustice, and witness. Witness means to share our faith, to tell others about Jesus.
Do we tell them that Jesus is above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord? Let’s look again at the methods of Bible study. Ask the historical questions—who, what, when, where and why—and determine the type of literature used. No one takes poems literally. Poems use figurative language, like trees clapping their hands. When we look closely, we see that the Philippians passage is a poem; actually scholars think it was a hymn poem. It is a poem that exudes praise language. Praise language is used when you run out of words to describe the experience. We exaggerate, exude, enthuse with poetic license and beauty. As a grandfather, I exude, “My grandchildren are the best in the world.” You excuse me because you understand I am enthusiastic, I am proud of my grandchildren, I can’t contain myself and I can’t find words to express my feelings. So, you nod your heads, accept my praise language and mutter, “Sure, he’s a grandpa!” Now, what you won’t tolerate is for me to go a step further and proclaim, “Not only are my grandchildren the best in the world, but they are better than yours.” Now, we have a fight on our hands.
Similarly, we Christians can’t contain our enthusiasm for Jesus and our salvation. We sing, “Jesus, the name above all names.” “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” That’s praise language. That’s appropriate. What is not tolerable, what is fighting words, is to go another step and say, “My religion is better than yours.” Or, “Jesus is better than Buddha.” Do you hear the difference?
We also need to remember the context in which the hymn was originally sung. The common religion of the gentiles (non Jews) was the worship of gods and goddesses. The official religion of the Roman Empire was Emperor worship. The emperor was acknowledged as Lord. Christians were forced to say, “Caesar is Lord.” Those who refused, those who insisted that Jesus, not the emperor, is my Lord, were put to death, martyred for their faith.
In the midst of the Roman Empire, worshiping in houses and in catacombs, Christians boldly and courageously sang, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus (not Caesar) is Lord.” Don’t you admire their faith and their courage?
Today we live in a different world. I believe there is one God and many religions. The apostle Paul and the disciples of Jesus never met a Buddhist or a Hindu. They were breaking out of Judaism, fighting for their lives in the Roman environment, witnessing to their faith in Jesus.
Are Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Jews going to hell? I don’t know, and neither do you. Are you going to hell? I don’t know, but you do. All I know for certain is that I am not. I know that I am going to heaven. I know because Jesus is my Lord. Jesus bought the ticket. I have committed my life to Jesus. I know that I am created by the Creator, redeemed by Jesus and powered by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives me the assurance, the blessed assurance, in my heart that I belong to God. That’s what I know. I am not better than you. I am not better than a Buddhist or a Hindu, or a Catholic or a Mormon. All I know, and all I can witness to, is that by believing in and following Jesus I have found God. I don’t judge other religions. Who gives you or me the authority to judge the other religions?
We dare not judge other religions because we don’t have absolute sure knowledge about God. We have ideas. We have our experience. We have the Bible, which we seek to understand with finite minds. We have faith, but we humans do not have an absolute understanding of truth. We cannot insist that our faith is the absolute truth for everyone. Pope Benedict, the current Pope, has declared, again, that the Roman Catholic Church is the one true religion. The edict comes from Salt Lake City that Mormons know the absolute truth that Mormonism is the one true religion. But, I don’t dare go there. I don’t dare declare that my Methodist faith and my knowledge of the Bible are the absolute truth. We don’t judge.
But, we are called to witness, to share our faith. To whom? People who are in need. We are surrounded by people who need your witness. You know folks in your workplace, in your neighborhood, in your family who are struggling, trying to live their lives, and frustrated in doing so. Some are frightened. Some are suicidal. Some are dying without hope. Some are confused, bewildered. Some are lonely, sad. Some are on alcohol or drugs. Some have lost their way. Turning your backs on them is what is wrong. What is right is for you to befriend them, invite them to share, listen to them, and when it is appropriate, say, “Let me tell you about my faith. Let me share with you how I have found hope, courage and love by believing in Jesus, and by participating in my church.”
Not the pronoun “I”. Keep it personal. Share your experience. Don’t tell them what they should do. Don’t tell them their religion is wrong. Talk about yours. Don’t witness to them because they are Muslim or Buddhist or Catholic or Mormon. Witness to them because you believe they can be helped by what you have to offer. Do you hear the difference? Don’t feel superior. Don’t judge their religion. Don’t feel that you must convert them. Conversion is up to God. Perhaps the sharing of your faith will help them become stronger in their own faith. Perhaps they will become stronger, happier Buddhists because you have told them about Jesus.
Let me summarize. This is the message in one sentence: Jesus calls us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, house the homeless, fight injustice, and share our faith—witness--without judging or feeling superior to them or to their religion.