Friday, September 30, 2011

IS GANDHI IN HEAVEN? (Christianity and Other Religions)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with
God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through
him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come
into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all
people. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.

You shall have no other gods before me. You shall
not make cast idols. You shall not bow down to their gods, or
worship them, or follow their practices. Take care that you are
not snared into imitating them, after they have been destroyed
before you: do not inquire concerning their gods, saying, 'How
did these nations worship their gods? I also want to do the same.'
And when you look up to the heavens and see the sun, the moon,
and the stars, all the host of heaven, do not be led astray and
bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God
has allotted to all the peoples everywhere under heaven.

For the customs of the peoples are false: a tree
from the forest is cut down, and worked with an axe by the hands
of an artisan...

If you turn aside from following me, you or your
children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that
I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship
them, Then they will say, 'Because they have forsaken the LORD
their God, who brought their ancestors out of the land of Egypt,
and embraced other gods, worshiping them and serving them; therefore
the LORD has brought this disaster upon them.'

The Lord said: Because these people draw near with
their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts
are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment
learned by rote;

For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its
god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever
and ever.

Do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow,
or shed innocent blood... do not go after other gods to your own
hurt. They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images
resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals
or reptiles... they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and
worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who
is blessed forever!

'And you know the way to the place where I am going.'
Thomas said to him, 'Lord, we do not know where you are going.
How can we know the way?' Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and
the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through

Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid
the profane chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called
knowledge; by professing it some have missed the mark as regards
the faith. I am saying this so that no one may deceive you with
plausible arguments. Holding to the outward form of godliness
but denying its power. Avoid them!

If anyone says to you, 'Look! Here is the Messiah!'
or 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false messiahs and false
prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead
astray, if possible, even the elect.' He opposes and exalts himself
above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes
his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them,
'Rulers of the people and elders... Let it be known to all of
you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing
before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead... There is
salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven
given among mortals by which we must be saved.

John 1:1, 3, 14; Exodus 20:3; Exodus 34: 17; Exodus
23:24; Deuteronomy 12:30; Deuteronomy 4:19; Jeremiah 10:3; 1 Kings
9:6,9; Isaiah 29:13; Micah 4:5; Jeremiah 7:6; Romans 1:23,25;
John 14:4-7; 1 Timothy 6:20-21; Colossians 2:4; 2 Timothy 3:5;
Matthew 24:23,24; 1 Thess- alonians 2:4; Acts 4:8,10,12.


'God is dead, Marx is dead, and I don't feel too
good myself!'

In a pluralistic culture we are more aware of others'

A missionary in Nigeria visited a young man in back
street of Lagos. On his bedside table were the Bible, the Book
of Common Prayer, the Koran, three copies of Watchtower (magazine
of the Jehovah's Witnesses), a biography of Karl Marx, a book
of Yoga exercises, and How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by
Dale Carnegie.

These days we travel more, TV shows documentaries
of foreign cultures, students study abroad, multicultur- alism
in the West is here to stay...

Intolerance is increasing too. Militant Hindus have
a motto 'Save India from Christian imperialism!' Many Moslem countries
make it a punishable offense to proselytize. Then there's Lebanon,
and Northern Ireland... Religion and politics can be volatile
subjects, particular- ly when they mix.

Something else has happened that has never happened
before. People (to paraphrase T.S.Eliot) have left God not for
other gods, they say, but for no gods; and this has never happened
before. It is possible both to deny gods and worship gods - gods
like rationality, money, power, sport etc. And it will all lead
to an age advancing progressively backwards...

Of all the world's religions, Christianity has the
greatest number of followers (33%), followed by Islam (18%), Hinduism
(13%), and Buddhism (6%).

What is religion? Definitions are legion: 'what we
do with our solitariness'; 'how we relate to others'; 'our answer
to fear'; 'an ultimate attempt to enlarge and complete one's personality
by finding the supreme context in which we rightly belong'. Everyone
is religious, in some sense.

Although Freud termed religion 'mass neurosis' --
religious believers were infantile, unable to break outgrown ties
with their parents -- Carl Jung said of his patients over thirty-five,
'all have been people whose problem in the last resort was that
of finding a religious outlook on life.'

There is an increasing hunger for religious reality.
'Baby-boomers' under 45 are not in church as often as their elders,
but they claim to be as religious. They read Shirley Maclaine
and play around with the New Age movement. In a noisy world people
searching for 'God who is Sound and Silence' as the Maitri Upanishad
puts it are going in larger numbers to Buddhist monasteries and
Hindu ashrams -- places of quiet serenity, simple life-style,
meditation, brief talks and questions. More young people are reading
the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, the Chinese I Ching, or do Yoga, transcendental
meditation or Zen courses.

Let's ask the hard questions in order: 

Was Ghandi a Christian? No, as we saw in the movie, Ghandi, although he admired
Jesus, he lived and died a Hindu. But E. Stanley Jones said of
him: 'He taught me more of the spirit of Christ than anyone in
East or West.'

A harder question: Is Ghandi in heaven? Christians
offer three broad answers: (1) Conservative Christians have their
doubts. The principle of Karma (cause and effect - paying off
your own guilt) is poles apart from grace (God's free forgiveness,
which you don't deserve). Augustine's theology inspired western
Christians to believe that those outside the church are dammed.
A more refined view might be Karl Barth's 'Religion is unbelief',
or Hendrik Kraemer's conviction that non-Christian religions were
not means of salvation in any sense.

However, others would argue, what kind of God would
organize for most of his human creatures to burn in hell forever
- many of them because, by accident of birth, or the disobedience
of the Christian minority to evangelize, they had never heard
the gospel? Is he not the Father of Jesus, who prayed for those
who crucified him? Does he not want all to be saved and come to
know the truth (1 Timothy 2:3,4)?

(2) More liberal Christians would answer: 'Be tolerant.
There's value in all religions. They all lead ultimately to God.
Of course Ghandi is with him!' The problem with this view is its
failure to take seriously the question of truth. If the original
Christians were 'liberal' there would have been no mission, no
univeral Church.

(3) Is there a way between these two extremes? Yes,
the more cautious say 'Only God knows: our eternal destiny is
in his hands alone'. With evangelicals like Howard Guinness (The
) or JND Anderson (Christianity and Comparative Religion)
they ask: Does God 'accept' only people within the 'covenant community'
- whether Jewish (in the OT) or Christian (in the NT)? No: what
about Melchisedek, Rahab, and Cornelius? Certainly Jesus Christ
is unique, and Divine: he alone was God in human form. We are
not to take everyone's views, mix them up, and get an identikit
picture of God. Jesus is the only way to God. But that may not
mean that only Christians are saved (see Romans 2:11-16).

Roman Catholics, at the Second Vatican Council, moved
from extra ecclesiam nulla alus (outside the Church, no salvation)
to 'The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy
in other religions.' Devotees of non-Christian religions may be
'implicit believers' or, in Karl Rahner's phrase, 'anonymous Christians'.
Hans Kung says these religions may provide ordinary, whereas the
Christian Gospel provides extraordinary means of salvation.

Don Richardson (Eternity in Their Hearts), says God
has revealed himself to more people than we might imagine. The
one invisible God is resident in many folk religions. Christianity
doesn't replace this revelation, he says, but completes it. Pachacuti,
King of the Incas, led a religious reform in the 1400s encouraging
his people to worship Viracocha, the Creator, rather than Inti,
the sungod. His hymns to Viracocha sound like the Hebrew Psalms.
When missionaries came to the Santals in India in the 1800s, they
found a tradition about Thakur Jiu, 'the Genuine God'. Many became
Christians. The Chinese had Shang Ti, the Lord of heaven. The
Karens of Burma believed in Y'wa, the true God.

Non-Christian religions are a testimony to people's
search for God. They may be far from the God of Jesus, but God
is not far from any one of them. God cares for all his human creatures
with a love we who are biassed in favour of those who are like
us can't imagine. His rain falls on the just and the unjust...

All religions have good and evil elements. As novelist
Mary McCarthy observed: religion makes good people good and bad
people bad. Christians have burnt heretics, Jews robbed Palestinians
of lands and homes, some Hindus still burn widows (sati), tribal
witchdoctors put curses on people, Moslems wage religious wars.
(An eminent Egyptian scholar said privately to Hendrik Kraemer:
'I no longer believe in Islam but, if anyone were to attack the
prophet publicly, I would kill him!'). Never forget that Jesus
was rejected and sent to his death by people who belonged to a
highly moral and spiritual religion. But, you say, well, Christianity
has sanctioned evil, but in essence it is good. True: people from
other religions say the same of their faiths too.

Christianity, said Karl Barth, stands as much under
the judgment of the Gospel as other religions. Roman Catholicism
will be judged for the Inquisition; and the Protestant John Calvin
for standing by as Geneva burned the 'heretic' Servetus...

Will everyone be saved? George Macdonald says all
answers to such a question are deceptive. Two things are certain:
all who are saved are saved through Jesus Christ. And a merciful
God can handle the judgment of his loved creatures without our
help! Jesus said everyone's going to be surprised at the last
judgment. We should aim to be secure in our own faith, and be
open-minded about matters that are God's prerogative.

So why evangelize? To get them into heaven? Yes,
but there are better motives: the glory of God, obedience to Christ,
and sincere love for others. Although Christ is not known everywhere,
he is everywhere. We are called to make him known, not to make
him present.

Some don'ts and do's in evangelism: Don't major on
the faults in other religions: the faults in your own are bad
enough. Don't argue: you may win the argument but lose the person:
today the world is a conference table not a lecture hall, so learn
to listen as well as you talk. Above all, be compassionate: Jesus
preached judgment on Jerusalem when it rejected him, but he also
wept for the city. Share your faith, as a beggar sharing bread
with another beggar. Ask 'what are my friend's felt needs?', and
start there. (An African proverb says 'Hungry people have no ears!').
Invite overseas students home: perhaps your family could 'adopt'
one. (Most in the Book of Acts were converted while away from
home). Teach English to some one. Encourage your church to translate
the service into another language, or host an ethnic church.

And, beyond all that, remember Jesus' approach to
Nicodemas. This cultured man wanted to talk about the contrasts
between Jesus' teaching and that of Judaism. The conversation
started courteously enough, but very soon Jesus said to him 'You
must be born again!'

That is still the essence of the good news - even
for the very religious.


Good teaching is found everywhere. In every religion
there is something good, but good teaching alone cannot give life.
Life is only to be had throught he giver of life, not through
the pages of books.

Sadhu Sundar Singh, Alys Goodwin, Sadhu Sundar Singh
in Switzerland
, Madras: Christian Literature Society, 1989, p. 49

Where is the truth in other faiths? There are three
bad ways to solve this problem. One is to lump all religions together
and dismiss them all. As G.K. Chesterton once observed, to stop
believing in God does not mean that people will believe in nothing.
They may substitute a nationalistic for a religious faith, and
be more fanatical than before. Another is to affirm that each
religion is part of a whole. 'There is only one religion, though
there are a hundred versions of it.' (George Bernard Shaw). The
third is to be absolutist: only people like me have the truth!
Amos (9:7-9) thundered against the exclusivism that believed God
only cares for people 'like us'. 'People of Israel, I think as
much of the people of Sudan as I do of you...'

Rowland Croucher, from an unpublished sermon, 'Do
Other Religions Also Lead to God?'

God comes to us in Jesus who is the way. We are like
people who have fallen into a pit and in that fall have been injured.
Our legs and our arms are broken. For anyone to lower a ladder
into the pit and say, 'This is the only way out, climb it,' only
adds to our desperation. But if the ladder is lowered not for
us to climb out, but for one to climb down and lift our broken
body into his arms, carrying us upwards and to safety -- that
is good news indeed!

Henk Booy, quoted by A.M. Watts, 'Christian Claims
in a Pluralist Society'

The neutral observer... looks at the plurality of
religions from the outside: for him or her the existence of more
than one true religion is self-evident... The committed believer
looks... from the inside...: what is the true religion for me?
...I confess openly that my standpoint is that of a Christian.
I am convinced that Christianity is the true religion. I cannot
prove it -- faith can never be demon- trated -- but I can offer
good reasons, which convince me... We come to a third and ultimate
perspective...: there is a vertical dimension, that of the Absolute.
As Christians we do not believe in Christianity but in God. Christianity,
as a complex of dogmatic teachings, liturgical rites and codes
of behaviour, does not escape the ambivalence of our human, historical
condition. As Karl Barth used to say, religion is always a shaky
and relative thing: not religion as such, but the absolute Being
to which it is directed is the true absolute. This is the primordial
and ultimate reality which we call God, which the Arabs call Allah,
which Jews and Indians decline to name, but worship none the less.
In relation to this ultimate and absolute reality of God, even
the true religion is relative... Even Christianity is in via:
ours is a Church on pilgrimage, on the way, which has not yet
arrived at the goal of seeing God face to face. To admit this
is neither liberalism nor relativism nor syncretism; it is faith,
pure and simple.

Hans Kung, 'Ecumenism and truth:the wider dialogue'

In the past we have sometimes been guilty of adopting
towards adherents of other faiths attitudes of ignorance, arrogance,
disrespect and even hostility. We repent of this. We never-theless
are determined to bear a positive and uncompromising witness to
the uniqueness of our Lord, in his life, death and resurrection,
in all aspects of our evangelistic work including interfaith dialogue.

The Manila Manifesto

Krister Stendahl is fond of saying that no interfaith
conversation is genuinely ecumenical unless the quality of mutual
sharing and receptivity is such that each party makes him- or
herself vulnerable to conversion to the other's truth.

Leonard Swidler, 'Interreligious and Interideological

The other religions are not to be understood and
measured by their proximity to or remoteness from Christianity.
They are not beginnings which are completed in the Gospel... To
fit them into this model is to lose any possibility of understanding
them. Moreover, what do the concepts of 'near' and 'far' mean
in relation to the crucified and risen Jesus? Is the devout Pharisee
nearer or further than the semi-pagan prostitute? Is the passionate
Marxist nearer or further than the Hindu mystic? ...Is the Gospel
the culmination of religion or is it the end of religion?

Lesslie Newbigin, The Finality of Christ

It has become customary to classify views on the
relation of Christianity to the world religions as either pluralist,
exclusivist, or inclusivist... [My] position is exclusivist in
the sense that it affirms the unique truth of the revelation in
Jesus Christ, but it is not exclusivist in the sense of denying
the possibility of the salvation of the non-Christian. It is inclusivist
in the sense that it refuses to limit the saving grace of God
to the members of the Christian church, but it rejects the inclusivism
which regards the non-Christian religions as vehicles of salvation.
It is pluralist in the sense of acknowledging the gracious work
of God in the lives of all human beings, but it rejects a pluralism
which denies the uniqueness and decisiveness of what God has done
in Jesus Christ.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

People are saved by faith even though the informational
level varies... Paul had a great deal more insight into the way
of salvation than Abraham did... but Abraham was not less saved
than Paul was... This does not make the pagan who responds to
God, as Jethro did, a Christian. We should not call him even an
'anonymous' Christian. It would be reasonable to consider him
a pre-Christian perhaps. The main thing is that such a person,
though for the moment lacking Christ through no fault of his own,
and thus I suppose 'lost', is not going to be damned, because
he cried out to the merciful God in the only way he could and
was heard.

Clark Pinnock, 'Can the Unevangelized be saved?'

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things
Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either
be a lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is a poached
egg - or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your
choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a
madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you
can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his
feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising
nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left
that open to us. He did not intend to.

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

A world of nice people, content in their own niceness,
looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately
in need of salvation as a miserable world - and might even be
more difficult to save.

C S Lewis, in Charles Colson, Against the Night,
London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990, pp.139.


Lord God, Creator of the universe, who has revealed
your loving nature and purposes for our lives in Jesus, help us
to love you, to obey you, to honour you, to adore you. We have
not loved you as we ought, and we are sorry. We have not obeyed
Jesus' command to take the good news to everyone, and we are sorry.
We have not honoured you by honouring others; rather we have felt
superior to them, and we are sorry. We have not adored you, but
rather our mental caricature of who you are - a god created in
our image - and we are sorry.

Help us to abandon any religion that is immature,
destructive or unloving. Help us to see you as the Father of all,
to whom all are dear, and whose patience and long-suffering are
everlasting. May we regard the truth we have received in Jesus
as a precious resource to be given away, not hoarded. Remind us
constantly that there is much, much more that we do not yet know,
and to be very humble when in dialogue with others whose lives
have followed the beat of a different drummer.

In the name of Christ, your Son, Amen.


A Benediction:

And now may the Spirit of Jesus, the One who hugged the demoniac, touched the leper, accepted the worship of a prostitute, and who honoured Samaritans, infect our thoughts and attitudes, so that the God who is not far from any one of us, will touch the lives of others we meet this day, for the honour of his name. Amen.


Henk Booy, quoted by A.M. Watts, 'Christian Claims
in a Pluralist Society', Christian Century, March 1, 1989, p.223.

Rowland Croucher, 'Do Other Religions Also Lead to
God?', a sermon preached in various churches and campuses.

Hans Kung, 'Ecumenism and truth: the wider dialogue',
The Tablet, 28 January 1989, pp. 92-93.

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, New York: Macmillan,
1960/1978, p. 56.

The Manila Manifesto, Lausanne II Conference of Evangelicals
in Manila, 1989.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Finality of Christ, London,
1969, p.43f.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society,
Grand Rapids Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1989, p.182-3.

Clark Pinnock, 'Can the Unevangelized be saved?',
The Canadian Baptist, November 1981, p.9.

Leonard Swidler, 'Interreligious and Interideological
Dialogue', in Swidler, L. (ed.), Towards a Universal Theology
of Religion
, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988, p.38.


Further reading: Ajith Fernando, The Christian's
Attitude toward World Religions
, Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale, 1987;
Ian Gillman, Many Faiths One Nation: A Guide to the Major Faiths
and Denominations in Australia
, Sydney: Collins, 1988; David Johnson,
A Reasoned Look at Asian Religions, Minneapolis: Bethany House
Publishers, 1985; Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, Concise Guide
to Today's Religions
, Amersham-on-the-Hill, Bucks: Scripture Press,
1983; Vinay Samuel & Chris Sugden (eds), Sharing Jesus in
the Two Thirds World
, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1983.

Rowland Croucher

No comments:

Post a Comment