Comparative religion, with me coming from a charismatic church setting, is not a subject one is going to learn in a Church situation in most cases, or as a pastor, from an educational background except in a few courses. However, the older I’ve become, or should I say more mature, I realized that to be an effective witness to a diverse background of people it serves one well to know something about the religions one will encounter. Most atheists I’ve had the opportunity to speak with have more knowledge of the Word of God than the average Christian.
I realize that the academic discipline of comparative religion is vast. Any short article can only scratch the surface of but a few of the 45 religious practices in the world. God knew exactly whom to call to preach the Gentiles into the body of Christ in the person of Paul. The point man for the Jewish opposition to this new heresy the Way, Paul over saw the stoning of Stephen who gave the Sanhedrin one incredible performance on Israel getting it right the second time. His first sermon was also to be his last.
Undoubtedly, Paul was the first scholar who wrote on Religious Diversity. Paul was a highly educated Jewish Rabbi trained under Gamaliel. As a Roman, Paul had an excellent education in philosophy, music, poetry and science, etc. Here is an almost complete artistic expression of Paul, “He wrote his epistles by inspiration. As the channel of a great river is used to pour its flood from the mountain to the sea, so the Holy Spirit used the channel of this great soul to pour the divine message from the mountains of God to sea of human life and need.” (Hall and Wood 18)
I mentioned Paul for this reason. After Jesus partially blinded Paul and his Temple guards on the Damascus Road, he wrote some of the greatest literature ever written through the Holy Spirit. He was also one of the greatest supporters of the faith. Paul identified and either removed or corrected the Judaizers, those who practice occultism, other gods and those who were later to become the first Gnostic's.
If Paul walked with us today, he might compare religious diversity to a veiled attempt to modify or replace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. While this subject may be a viable for academics, to my knowledge, not one of the founders of the Christian church wrote anything positive about religious diversity. It is useful to determine what religious diversity means, words for which there is no real consensus. However, here is one that seems to contain many of the facets of what describes religious tolerance:
Religious diversity means inclusion, the worldview according to which one's religion is not the sole and sole source of truth, and thus that at least some truths and true values exist in other religions. It also includes religious tolerance, the condition of harmonious co-existence between adherents of different religions or religious denominations. Also, religious ecumenism is the promotion of some level of unity, co-operation, and improved understanding between different religions or different denominations within a single religion. Religious diversity also means in a given society there exists a multiplicity of religions together. (Basinger, “Religious Diversity”)
Basinger, in his paper Religious Diversity (Pluralism), and Section 2. Possible Responses to Religious Diversity, attempts to explain all religions lumped into three degrees of accuracy claims: religious exclusivism, nonexclusivity and pluralism. Of the three, most passionate Christians would fall into the politically correct term of religious exclusivist. Jesus Christ, when he returns, will also be classified in this same category.
On the objective of ecumenism Got Questions Organization states,
The ultimate goal is God’s glory and the evangelism and discipleship of the lost. The ecumenical venture must be structured in this way. Thus, those we join with must believe the biblical definition of the gospel, and they must also be about seeking the same goal of God’s glory and the salvation of the lost. (S. Michael Houdmann, “Is Ecumenism Biblical?”)
For we who have accepted a literal hermeneutic of the Word of God, religious tolerance presents a difficult problem; the Word of God. God spoke from heaven and said, “Listen to Him” in reference to Jesus Christ. (NKJV Matthew 17.5) Jesus Christ said to Thomas, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14.5, 6) This statement, augmented by several more like it, invalidates those religions that are not Christocentric. Christ at the center of everything I do is something I want to do consistently.
Christianity, unlike some other belief systems, demands a commitment. When one gives his or her life over to the Lord Jesus Christ, each must be prepared to meet the insults of characterizations: narrow mindedness, homophobia, intolerance, bigotry and any of many other judgmental tags. However, this does not appear to match the injustice, demeaning, scornful, cruel and disrespectful actions of the Jewish majority against Jesus Christ during His walk on earth.
I somehow feel that I have not subjected religious tolerance to in-depth thought. We know that one of their stated goals is inclusion. There is nothing wrong with Biblical inclusion. Jesus Christ said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11.28) Jesus was practicing Biblical inclusion when He stated “all you who labor and are heavy laden”. When Jesus proclaimed “all”, this would encourage every person who labors and are heavy laden in the world, whether Islamic, Hindu, heathen, atheist or any other sinner. There are many with labels unknowingly hiding behind the mask of eternal damnation.
However, Inclusion Theology, when practiced, places the Koran next to the Bible in a Christian Church pew and becomes pure evil. Inclusion as a theology cannot be found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It does not honor God when one places any other doctrine next to the Word of God. We, as Christians, are as religiously tolerant as those who do not understand the Word of God as a reality. However, we are not going to reassure anyone who worships a false god by telling them that they are alright. Instead, we are going to love them, and make sure ones actions show them that God is real, and make them jealous for Him.
Not all parts of religious tolerance are inherently evil. However, I believe as stated in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, it is an attempt by scholars to try to replace the Word of God in the name of diversity that we, as Christians, must be aware just as Paul was in his time. It would be easy to call me a biblical conscientious objector to most man-made philosophies. We have a perfect example to follow in knowing how to respond to differing religions and their application to the truth; His name is Jesus Christ. He is the one to emulate.
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Basinger, David, "Religious Diversity (Pluralism)", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 25 May 2004, Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Web. 3 July 2013.
Houdmann, S. Michael . "Is ecumenism biblical?" Bible Questions Answered. N.p., 12 June 2002. Web. 4 July 2013.
Scofield, C. I.. The Scofield Study Bible, New King James Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Oxford University Pub., 2002. Print.