Coexistence and the Gospel
In Defense of the Faith
Friday, June 10, 2016
We've all seen the Coexist car bumper stickers. It's still considered cool to have one. Just don't tell anyone displaying the sticker that the T at the end is The Only Truth.
Each letter symbolizes a religious faith or ideology. There are different versions, but common interpretations of the symbols are: C for Islam; O for Wiccan Pentacle (also peace); E for male-female (or scientific equation); X for Judaism; I again for paganism; S for yin-yang (New Age) and T (t) for Christianity.
COEXIST has its own website promoting global harmony. It's a noble ideal. They may have to come up with another word and letter to include the new narrative - "intersex." But that's another story.
Notice that there's no letter "F" in the word "Coexist." F is for fundamentalism. Coexist cannot exist with fundamentalism. What does the word fundamentalism mean? I know what it means to me. As a Christian, I relate my fundamentalism to an uncompromising position regarding the gospel and God's word.
But I'm more concerned with how leading global religious leaders - who call for "Interfaith Dialogue" - define Christian fundamentalism. The problem is that clear definitions are rare. Comments denouncing fundamentalism are generally ambiguous.
In 2015 Pope Francis said that fundamentalism is a sickness found in all religions. In that context, he said we should be "living together in friendship" with other religions. He noted that;
"In the Catholic church we have some - many - who believe they possess the absolute truth and they go on sullying others through slander and defamation and this is wrong. Religious fundamentalism must be combated." (Emphasis mine)
As an example, the pope has mentioned his friendship with a Muslim. He affirmed that their values were the same and that they both prayed. This is in keeping with previous comments by the pope asserting that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. In fact, the pope's Muslim friend would deny that Christ is the God-man who came to die for our sins (Phil 2:5-9).
Who wouldn't agree that we should respect and love people of other faiths - even the faithless? If the pope is talking about loving those who disagree with us, then we (Christian fundamentalists) agree with him. The real issue concerns the truth of the gospel and our Christian commission.
The National Catholic Reporter article informs us that:
"It [religion] is about what God does for us: his mercy, his love, his care for us. Religion is not about doctrine. Fundamentalists often become rigid and demand strict orthodoxy, yet even most Catholics often don't know well the details of their own religious doctrine."
The writer suggests we don't know enough to condemn elements of faith others subscribe to. We don't have a "corner on the truth" and we "see through a glass darkly" (1 Cor 13:12).
We may see through a dark glassy in some areas, but Scripture makes it abundantly clear that salvation is through faith in Christ alone (Matt 7:13; John 3:16-17, 14:5-6; 1 Cor 15:3-4). We are clearly told that the wages of is death (Rom 6:23).
Good works cannot replace faith. The kindest work the pope (or anyone) can do for his Muslim friends is to humbly lead them to Christ. Was Christ's death on the cross for our sins just a divine afterthought? If this wasn't such an important issue then why did the Father bother to send His Son to die for us?
If one denies the role of faith in Christ for salvation, then one denies Christ. Deny Christ's relationship to the Father and you deny Christ (Luke 12:8; 1 John 2:22-23).
Please don't think I'm witch-hunting the pope. He's got plenty of company. It's just that he's at the forefront of the interfaith movements. These movements focus on getting along with other faiths in order to address the world's social problems. Proselytizing has no place in interfaith dialogue.
There are many Protestant denominations which downplay the cross in favor of attracting crowds. The popular American Emergent church movement hasn't gone away. It may resist classification but its ideas have gained traction among millennial Christians. Its leaders and writers reject the idea that the Bible can be used to proclaim all truth.
We're often advised to avoid "idolizing the Bible" and the word "humble" is used liberally in their writings. They claim one should be humble as one cannot know if the entire Bible is valid. This agnosticism extends to Christ's penal substitution. The idea of the cross is considered repugnant or "child abuse" by the Father. Their litmus test of biblical truth is whether it aligns with contemporary cultural thinking and social justice issues.
Being humble and proclaiming biblical truth regarding salvation aren't incompatible concepts. In fact, we're commanded to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19). God's word was given as a standard for all men, not for men to set the standard.
At the end of their book which addresses the Emergent Movement, Why We're Not Emergent, DeYoung and Kluck appropriately include a chapter on the seven letters to the churches in Revelation. I don't know about you but I get nervous reading through those letters. Jesus seems to expect much more from us than many of our religious leaders do.
I see a disturbing development where prominent Christian leaders are discouraging Christians from rocking the boat by proselytizing. We've seen the eradication of Christianity from public institutions. Perhaps the question isn't whether the gospel can coexist among pagan faiths. Rather, will the Great Commission be tolerated by a unified faith system?
In his book, A Testimony Of Jesus Christ, Tony Garland cites Alva McClain:
"Various astute rulers in the long history of human government, rightly estimating the tremendous power of religion over the minds of men, have been greatly intrigued with the idea of some kind of union between church and state, in which the government would establish and support some widely accepted religion and this religion in turn would lend its influence to the state. All such alliances thus humanly originated have been based on selfish motives and opportunist policies on both sides, and hence must always break down in the end." ~ The Greatness of the Kingdom
The Bible speaks of a future Harlot system (Revelation 17) which seems to fit the description. While the identity the Harlot has been debated by scholars, its treatment of the saints is not in dispute (Rev 17:6, 19:2).
Are we currently seeing movements aimed at amalgamating religious faiths with governments in an attempt to solve problems such as climate change, terrorism, and hunger? Will this process pave the way to a global faith system?
Any system focusing on coexistence cannot tolerate the proclamation of the rigid gospel of the cross to a world which has rejected God. Jesus Christ is a dividing line. The gospel gets in the way of unification.
What do you think that will mean?
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Rev 21:4
About Alf Cengia
Last week: Remembering MacGyver
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