As we talk about Christian ethics, life and death are pretty straightforward. But today, we turn our attention to a new conversation in ethics, and this one is...a lot harder. It's going to take more than one day to try to unpack this idea, and I'm going to do my best to make it as untangled as possible, though it is, by nature, just that complicated. I tell you that to tell you this: if today's post upsets you, just hold on for a bit - you may get less (or perhaps, more) angry as we continue deep into this topic.
The foundational idea is this, and it is one that has been creeping into the church for a couple of decades or so now: today's Christian should be an interfaith Christian.
We are called, they say, to "stand with" our "brothers and sisters" of other faiths, to pray together with them (each of us in our native prayer language), to fight for their right to worship freely. We are to not only befriend them, but support them and even encourage them to speak in our public squares. We are called to validate the spiritual experience of all who journey, no matter what path they are on, and to celebrate the notion of god wherever we find it in the world.
This has arisen really out of two directions. First, it has arisen out of a fear that we have in America that one day, our religious freedoms are going to be restricted or even repealed. That one day, our country is going to tell us that we cannot worship freely. We believe that if we do not fight for the right of everyone to worship freely, then it won't be long before our own doors are shuttered by the state.
Second, it comes from a correction we've tried to make to the criticism that the church is "too exclusive." That we are arrogant in thinking that we are the only ones who have it right. That the world bristles at our message that Jesus is the only way to Heaven. In a world in which truth is relative and pluralistic, in which reality is whatever someone believes it to be, how dare the church claim to hold an exclusive truth! So we have toned it down a bit and said, sure, it's okay to worship some other way.
We are told that our willingness to be an interfaith people makes us good Christians. Our willingness to stand next to our "brothers and sisters" of other faiths makes us good representatives of our own. We love how cooperative it makes us look, how compassionate, how gracious. We love that we are seen as accepting and affirming.
The trouble is...it's not what Jesus said. Ever.
Jesus said, plainly, that He is the way and the truth and the life. Jesus said, clearly, that there is only one way to the Father, and it is through Him. Jesus said there is only one legitimate God, and it is the God who sent Him.
The Bible is full of stories about pagan worship, about shrines on hills and idols in homes and the sacrifices made to lesser gods - and at every single mention of these, God condemns them. At every single word, God grieves the men and women involved in this stuff. God constantly warns His people of how illegitimate this other worship is and how dangerous it is to the soul not just of persons, but of a people.
God never once tells His people to go join the Philistines at their worship sites. He doesn't tell Paul that the best way to fit in in Ephesus is to buy some of the statues of the gods that the people invest their lives in creating. God never says that the best mark of His people is that they are affirming of all of the other gods in the world. This is not a Christian virtue.
So how did it come to be one? In a rather roundabout way, actually. We are living in a culture that demands this of us, and so, we have obliged. It makes us a responsible part of the dialogue. It gives us an opportunity to continue to present our own faith as an option in the world. It makes us, we say, good citizens - and God calls us to be good citizens of the land where we live.
But let us not forget that our highest call is as citizens of Heaven.
(Like I said - if you're angry right now, if you're upset, just hold onto that. This is by no means a complete discussion on this point, but merely an introduction. We'll dive a little deeper tomorrow and talk about Paul - because you know he has something to say here. You might already even be thinking about what that was.)