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|5th March, 2000|
This week Sydney's Mardi Gras filled the newspapers. The Roman Catholic and Anglican Archbishops joined in declaring the Mardi Gras is not worthy of the presence of Christians. They said that while individuals may not be responsible for their homosexual condition, "homosexual practises are contrary to the moral law and homosexual people are required to exercise self-discipline and to avoid such conduct." The Mardi Gras itself was described as "gross exhibitionism that promotes a homosexual lifestyle." I supported them.
Then a High Court Justice, Michael Kirby who had disclosed he is living in a sexual relationship with another man gave a talk to boys at St Ignatius' College. He spoke of his own life experiences and thoughts which were printed under the heading, "It's OK to be Gay." Justice Kirby said, "I think I am a good man. I respect and uphold the human rights of others. I do not think it is too much that others will respect my human dignity for who I am. "
Here you have two irreconcilable viewpoints by eminent scholars. Their different conclusions come from the fact that they start from different positions. The view of the Archbishops start from a belief in truth that has been revealed by God and found in the Bible. This truth is God's will and must be followed. It forms a moral law. It would be impossible to say of a person, that he is a good man if he deliberately and frequently violated those commandments. Those commandments are objective and are to be applied to all.
Justice Kirby is speaking from a viewpoint of his experience. To him, his actions are blameless. Therefore he can consider himself a good man even though he may commit acts that others find wrong. His standard of judgement is subjective. His experience is for him, the moral law equal to any other moral law. Although the issue in this illustration is homosexual practice, it could be any of a dozen different issues. We are today increasingly facing different belief systems and various basis for making judgements. This is called pluralism.
1. A world of pluralism
Pluralism is a demographic term used to describe the varieties of countries represented in Australia today. A second use is to describe the multitude of cultures in our social diversity. Both of these uses are acceptable by Christians. But there is a third use of pluralism that is not acceptable, even though some Christians use it. That is, pluralism describes all religions as being equal. It is not saying we should not be tolerant of other religions. With that I agree. But it is saying that all religions are equally valuable and true, all leading to the same God.
Australia is a very religious country. When St Paul came to Athens he said: Acts 17:22 "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious." Paul could also say that of Australia today. Contrary to all that is said about us being a secular, humanist nation, in fact we are very religious and very superstitious. First, there are cults such as Hare Krishna, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Mormons, the "Moonies", the Scientologists, founded by science-fiction writer, Ron L Hubbard in the late 1950's and a score more.
Second, non-Christian religions are growing in Australia because of immigration from Eastern and Middle Eastern countries. Since 1947 we have admitted an average of 100,000 immigrants a year for 50 years. They have brought their religions with them from 120 countries. They have ended the Anglo-Celtic nature of this country and given us multi-culturalism. Today 3.6% of the population belong to non-Christian religions. This is a worldwide trend. Because of immigration, there are more Muslims in Britain than Methodists.
Third, superstitions and New Age religions are attracting adherents. They promise hope, healing and understanding of your self. The New Age is a syncretism of religious beliefs, superstition, astrology, self realisation, emphasis on health, wealth and positive thinking. The New Age religion is like a piece of religious velcro dragged across the cultures of the world picking up pieces of theological fluff. Fourth, secular religions like atheism, Marxism, secular humanism, existentialism, and post-modernism, all have their small circle of believers who now register on the Australian census.
How do Christians relate to all these religions? Should we hope to give our convictions to non-Christians? If it is possible, is it desirable? Should we even try? We are kindly, tolerant people who want all people to live in peace and harmony. We abhor the religious fighting in Northern Ireland and between Serbs and Croats, between Muslims and Christians, Jews and Arabs. We are tolerant and look for a wideness in God's mercy. Tolerance is a key virtue of the post-modernist outlook. We can accept the live and let live approach.
Some people say: "Yes, we are Christians, but other cultures profess some other religion. Who are we to disturb them? Why not live and let live? We are all going in the same direction." Such talk betrays a fear: "Maybe we Christians are not right after all." Such talk is based on shallow reasoning. The nature of truth repels it. Two opposites cannot both be true. By definition, one is false. Jesus claimed to be the only way to the Father. Either his claims are true, or they are false. If His are true, all contradictory ones are false. Other religions contain bits and pieces of wonderful truth, but only one way leads to the Father.
Such talk assumes all people experience the same God, when this is not true. Christianity and Islam cannot both be true at the same time. Neither can Mormonism nor Buddhism both be correct simultaneously. If all religions point to the same God, they would say basically the same things about God. But different religions are fundamentally opposites. The holy books of eastern religions teach God is in every material thing. Christianity says God transcends every thing and is Spirit not matter. Some religions teach God is impersonal, but Judaism, Christianity and Islam teach God is personal. It is stupid to say all religions are equal when they are contradictory. They all may be wrong, but certainly they cannot all be right, for the claims of one will exclude the other. But do all religions lead to God? When religious pluralists make these statements they indicate they are tolerant and accepting, but they stupid and illogical. Such trendy theologians who accept such non-Christian beliefs, stand for nothing and fall for anything!
2. The Uniqueness of Jesus
Jesus' claim "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything, to the very end of the age" Matt 28:18-20 shatters the attitude that any religion is good so long as its adherents are sincere. Jesus claims the authority of being the only way to God. This claim is exclusive to Christianity. Salvation is obtained only by putting one's trust in this Jesus.
How should Christians respond to competing religions? Christians should be the first to show people of other religions respect and courtesy. We can never seek to impose our faith, and when the church has, it is been wrong. But we should also say Christianity has the final truth. That is not politically correct, for pluralists believe that truth is a social construction of our cultural tradition. They say there is no objective truth, merely what works for us. Therefore we must not try to convert anybody as they have a truth that works for them. To change them is intolerance. Further, religious pluralists deny all personal transcendencies, including personal rights, reason and objective truth. They say you are no more than the product of your society. Instead of an objective truth, all that matters is your "story" and your "faith journey". These terms are precious to religious pluralists. There is no right or wrong, there is only what you feel. There is no objective truth revealed in the Bible. There is only what you understand is good for yourself. All beliefs are equally valid for the person who believes them.
That is why some who claim to be good and Christian can be defiantly immoral. Give away a revealed faith and objective truth and you are able to believe and behave as you like. If you believe all religions are equal, and any religious path will lead to God so long as you are sincere, you overlook the fact that there are many are sincerely wrong. This is McDonald's religion. It's fast food religion: you find a religion, choose what you want and hope it will satisfy.
People choose religious views according to taste, not according to truth. The question of truth hardly ever arises. What matters is "just try it!" But if you encourage people to try particular religions, try transcendental meditation, yoga, Hindu philosophy, Zen philosophy, scientology, you may end in disaster. The real issue is whether your religious beliefs are true or not, not whether you like them or not. There is no PIZZA RELIGION with bits and pieces of different religions put on a plate of piety! Spiritual junk food, empty of religious calories, does not meet your spiritual hunger. You must seek what is true.
That is why the person who holds the Bible is authoritative, the truth is in Jesus, and behaviour must conform to Christian principles is regarded as the great enemy. For we challenge this definition of tolerance and this understanding that truth is merely a social construction. Religious pluralism believes that no one can be ever wrong. The outworking of this is chilling. Ask the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust! Religious pluralists are also anti-intellectual. For if there is nothing objectively false there is no point in the search for truth.
This attitude inhibits any true dialogue about human rights and spiritual understanding. The end result of these innocent sounding words about tolerance, acceptance of all beliefs as equal, faith journey and personal story is a chilling rejection of truth, morality and other people. We need to respond with intellectual vigour, be willing to use Scripture and speak of our personal knowledge of Jesus Christ as our Friend. Christianity is not a way of life. It is not Western culture. It is not conformity to a standard of living. Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
Jesus is the only way to God. Thomas asked Jesus: John 14:5-6 "How can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Jesus did not claim merely to know the way, the truth, and the life as a formula He could impart to the ignorant. He actually claimed to be the answer to human problems. Jesus' solution is not a recipe but a relationship with Him. Jesus, the unique Son, was the sole means of access to the Father. As John said John 1:18 "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." Jesus is the only authorised revelation of God in human form. Jesus is the only authorised representative of humanity to God. Hence salvation focuses on what God has done in Christ to deliver human beings from the powers of death, sin, and hell. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross for you. No other religion can point to a moment in history and say - this is what God has done for you! Religion is our attempt to find God. Christianity is God's attempt to find us. In a pluralistic world, Jesus is unique!
The Interfaith Movement. H J Pollitt Banner of Truth 1996
The Myth of Christian Uniqueness. J Hick, P F Knitter Orbis Books 1987
The Truth about Jesus. P Barnett Aquilla 1994 Jesus Under Fire. M J Wilkins Zondervan 1995
The Bible and People of Other Faiths. W Ariarajah WCC 1985
Understanding the New Ager. R Chandler Word 1988
International Bulletin of Missionary Research. Vol 13, no 2, 1989
The World's Religions. N Smart Cambridge 1989
With Other Faiths. J Baldock World Conf. Religion & Peace 1996
The Finality of Christ. L Newbigin John Knox Press 1969
Belief in a Mixed Society. C Lamb Lion 1985 A Wideness in God's Mercy. C H Pinnock Zondervan
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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