During these recent weeks of poring world's religions, we've tried to be fair. We haven't pretended to be comprehensive, just honest.
It's time to summarize our findings. It's also a good time to think strategically: how can we best represent Christ as we continue to interact with followers of other world faiths? That's the purpose of today's bulletin. By the way, I've certainly appreciated all the feedback on the series. Please know that your feedback is valued.
Conclusions: World Religions
Once we've explored and compared the major faith traditions of the world, several general observations emerge. (They're based on the previous bulletins, so for some readers it might be helpful to review the earlier material at this time. Other readers may wish to study further before weighing these conclusions.)
All have something to say about life's basic existential questions (purpose, meaning, morality, ethics, identity, relationships, origin, destiny), yet it's the Bible that gives the most reasonable answers. My favorite analogy:moonlight (reflected) vs. sunlight (incandescent). The truth of God is reflected, if only dimly, in all religions. Yet for the truth itself/Himself, we must come to the true God.
The differences between religions greatly outweigh the similarities. And the greatest difference? In his grace, the Almighty God bridges the gulf between us and him -- personally. This happens through Christ's incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and the gift of the Spirit.
God is the just judge. He will unfairly condemn no one. While as Christians we believe Jesus' affirmation that he is the only way to the Father (John 14:6), we leave final judgment in God's hands.
We ought to respect all persons, regardless of religion -- or lack of religion. We have something in common with everyone, but increasingly so with those who share more of our convictions about spiritual reality.
Increasing degrees of commonality
We have something in common with all fellow human beings. Made in God's likeness, he or she is a potential brother or sister. All humans are God's "children" (Acts), though they may not necessarily be sons or daughters in a right relationship with him (John 1:12-13).
We have more in common with believers. We should always genuine respect faith, since it entails humility, seeking, purity, and so on. Thus at some level we relate more to polytheists and even animists -- all acknowledge a spiritual reality -- than we do to agnostics or atheists.
And we always have much more in common with our fellow monotheists. Their numbers are growing. Take a peek at the likely scenario in 2050.
Among the monotheists, we have a great deal in common with those in theChristian bloc, regardless of denomination. We may be keenly aware of what separates us (differing views on grace, free will, the Spirit...) The watching world often struggles to grasp some distinctions we hold so sacred.
Yet we have the most in common with true disciples (John, , 15:8) -- those living under the Lordship of Christ. We all agree on the standard of truth, and together are striving to live in a way that pleases the Lord.
Be informed; be respectful.
Our fourth conclusion (on respect) deserves further comment. The apostle Peter, writing to believers suffering amidst the diversity and worldliness of Graeco-Roman paganism, offers invaluable guidance:
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience... 1 Peter 3:13-16a
The world isn't always friendly to faith. In the face of hostility, we may give in to fear (see also 3:6). The context of the passage is opposition (also 4:12-16). Faced with mocking and persecution, Christians may be tempted to back off their commitment. The key to courage despite hostility and suffering is to remain conscious of Christ's presence (his power, example, and message).
We need to speak out of preparation. When it comes to religion (like politics), there are a lot of opinions flying around. Some are based on facts. Most are simply a homespun blend of rumor and caricature. This is not the way the Lord wants us to speak about, or with, Muslims, Hindus, and others -- especially when they're not part of the conversation or able to defend themselves.
Gentleness and respect are crucial. Spiritual power doesn't consist in out-shouting one's opponent, or living a more "radical" life. The world is full of groups and individuals deeply committed to what they believe true. Spirituality, like leadership, requires the humility of Christ (Matthew 5:3-9; 11:28-29). We must never resort to words or actions that violate our conscience. Whether engaged in dialogue, evangelism, teaching, preaching, or even everyday conversation, let's remain above reproach. The world is watching!
Share in the mission
Our God is completely able to draw all men to himself -- not just lapsed Christians or exceptionally wide-open seekers. "All" includes every faith tradition. That is the only way Revelation 7:9 will ever become a reality. The good news: Vast numbers of Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists are being baptized into Christ. Jews, Sikhs, Jains, Mormons, and New Agers are coming to faith. The Christian gospel is for everybody.
God works through people to reach people. If you want to be part of this exciting process, then confidence is a valuable asset. Not a confidence based on strong opinion or ego, but the confidence that comes when we revere Christ as Lord in our hearts. As intimidation gives way to love, preparation and genuine respect pay off.
Hopefully our world faiths series has boosted your confidence, reminded you of the uniqueness of Christ, and emboldened you to stand firm in your faith. Let's join together in building bridges, since Christianity is a truly global faith. Question for self: Am I a globally minded Christian?
Next week we'll begin to tackle a couple of questions related to modern Israel. Particularly, to what extent -- if at all -- does God still have have plans for national Israel? Are there any unfulfilled prophecies? Should we be paying better attention to current events? This will form a brief interlude before the following series, on how to respond to atheists and their reasons for rejecting faith.