We lie when we claim we understand other beliefs, faiths and world views. We need to stop saying things like, “I understand Islam,” or, “I know what a Muslim thinks/believes.” Do you want someone saying that they understand your faith experience because they once lived in a Greek Orthodox neighborhood? Do you think a Muslim would accurately understand your beliefs because they read a book about Christianity (particularly one written by Muslim scholars)? Belief systems are extremely diverse (heck, in Christianity there are hundreds of Protestant denominations alone, before we even talk about Orthodox, Coptic, Armenian, Syrian, Palestinian, just to scratch the surface). Other religions are just as diverse. Further more, faith experience can be as specific as a neighborhood, family or individual.
The truth is I don’t understand a lot about other religions and people. But I do know that Jesus does, and that Jesus is the answer; and that it is Jesus who saves, not me, so I need to just relax and live my belief for others to see, to allow God to work in and through me.
“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. “So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.”
So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:16-17, 22-31
We are living in a society that presents many different options about life and how to live it. There are movements afoot, and have been for a long time, that seeks to redefine basic understandings. The Ontario Human Rights Code lists 5 gender identities (not including male and female), using the phrase “may include”. This means there are at least seven ways to identify gender in Ontario, but the code is open for more, presumably, as they are discovered or identified. Immigration continues to be the bulk of our growth in Saskatoon and the province. With that growing population comes the different cultures and religions that come with the people. Where we are going is a pluralistic society that looks at every opinion and option as valid. The absolute truths we grew up with as a church, as Christians, are not recognized by many of the people we encounter day to day. We live in a pluralistic society, where saying, “The Bible says…” does not provide the basis of an argument to people. With this context let us continue on from where we have been over the last few weeks.
In the series on evangelism we have been working through Tony Kriz’s “Lies of Evangelism” article. Today we find ourselves with lie number 5 – we lie when we say we understand someone else’s religion. He goes on to say that the details of anyone’s belief system is different from everyone else’s, including Protestants. He argues that even within Islam there are regional and even family differences in terms of application to their faith, where, because we are looking from the outside in, we tend to paint with one broad stroke. Our Muslim neighbor probably lumps us with Pentecostals, Catholics, Orthodox, Mormons and JWs – seeing only one faith.
While I can accept that statement of diversity within a religion/faith, Tony has failed to recognize that we don’t just understand other religions by guessing, but by people who have come out of those religions and teaching about their experiences. A couple years ago we were involved in Impart 11, a conference that helped us understand the Muslim mindset. The keynote speaker was a man who had come out of the Sudan, finding Christ in the process. There is nothing wrong with reading books that talk about other faiths and religions – we should be reading those books. But the first thing we should be doing is engaging in conversation those people of other faiths, trying to see them as people like us, only with a different background and upbringing which has led to different beliefs. We post a monthly information sheet on Muslim ministry across Canada on the mission’s bulletin board in the lobby. There is a local ministry that plans teaching sessions on how to speak and understand Muslims, and that is good. Not everyone here will have a vital ministry to Muslim people, but if God leads you in that direction you need to go. What would we believe if we grew up in a Middle East country, where Islam was the culture? How open would we be to the Gospel? We need to see those of other faiths as people just like us, people who God died for just like us, people who need to hear about Jesus.
We aren’t lying when we try to understand them, as Tony seems to say. We need to be global Christians, able to accept people as they are, and try to understand them. In the midst of that we live lives that reflect the character of God. We love our neighbour as ourselves, and in doing they will see Jesus. In our commitment to God, in loving Him with everything we have, they will see a God who is worth any price we could pay. When we read through Acts and the New Testament, we find that people became Christians because God used how Christians lived to draw people to Himself. As I have said before, the biggest witness you or I could ever have is a transformed life.
The truth is I don’t understand a lot about other religions and people. But I do know that Jesus does, and that Jesus is the answer; and that it is Jesus who saves, not me, so I need to just relax and live my belief for others to see, to allow God to work in and through me. As we look at the passage we read earlier, we find Paul engaging people on their level of interest. Yes, He understood the Gospel as the story of God in time and space. But in his learning he also understood and engaged the people in the market place on the level of discussion. Some people thought he was a little “off” because he believed in the resurrection of Jesus, but ultimately people heard and many responded and got saved. If we truly believed that it is Jesus who saves, we would be less concerned about converts and conversions, and more concerned about speaking the “truth in love”. We need both – to be able to adequately share what Jesus is doing, and then live the transformed life that we say Jesus came to produce in us. We believe that Jesus saves us from sin, but how often do we go running back to that same sin. Jesus saved us not just from the guilt of sin, but from the power of sin. Sin no longer has mastery over us. So the lives we live in the power of the Spirit, are lives lived in holiness, in the perfect love that reveals agape love to our neighbours.
The challenge today is to know your faith. Know why you believe what you believe, having an answer that sets you apart from the Muslim, the Buddhist, and every other religious person. Seek to understand why you are right in your spirituality.