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Re. Evangelization and Tolerating other Religions

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  • Raji Johnson, Austin, Texas
    Mr. Paul Varghese has asked a question which I also had been plagued with for many years of my youth. I had many non-Christian friends who were/are very pious
    Message 1 of 2286 , Oct 28, 2002
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      Mr. Paul Varghese has asked a question which I also had been
      plagued with for many years of my youth. I had many non-Christian
      friends who were/are very pious and who lead model lives
      (in the sense their religions taught them - which is to be good).
      Recently out of the blue my eight year old asked me an urgent
      question if her friend (whom she loved) is going to go to hell
      just because she is not a Christian, and "should I talk to her
      about Jesus"? I could not answer her question immediately - so
      I decided to look up some literature to see what Christian scriptures/theologians have to say about this issue.----

      Orthodox Christianity holds that someone's eternal resting place,
      that is, heaven or hell, is determined by faith in Jesus. To that
      end, missionaries were sent worldwide to "convert" the heathens
      (meaning anyone who didn't believe like they did). Paul's journeys
      were for the distinct purpose of spreading the gospel to all
      people. The early church presented the gospel wherever it could
      get a hearing. Acts 2 records Peter sharing the gospel with a
      crowd who'd gathered outside the house the disciples were staying
      in. In Acts 8 we read of Philip teaching a traveling Ethiopian who
      had asked about the meaning of scripture. In Athens, Paul addressed
      a crowd at a temple and shared the gospel by comparing
      God to one of the Athenian gods (Acts 17). On another occasion,
      Paul was imprisoned and had the opportunity to share the gospel
      with King Agrippa (Acts 26). But in each case, the gospel story
      was this: Jesus is the messiah, the son of God, and people should
      repent of the sin in their lives and do good deeds.
      It wasn't: Believe or else. . .

      However, the methods used to share the gospel changed dramatically
      by the Middle Ages, the church had sent pilgrims to Jerusalem to
      slaughter the Muslims, thus beginning the Crusades. In the twelfth
      century the inquisition began and over the next 700 years the
      church killed thousands who didn't believe "correctly." All this in
      the name of conversion to orthodox Christianity. Since then, human
      rights have come to outweigh the demands of orthodoxy and conversion
      methods changed. However, the motivation to convert people to orthodox Christianity remains the same: without belief in Jesus there can be no
      eternal life. This doctrine provides the drive to challenge the belief
      systems of others "for their own good". There are others who are
      uncomfortable with the Orthodox Church's belief. They look at scripture through different eyes and with a different interpretation.
      They take the words of Paul to heart when he says,
      "For what can be known about God is plain to
      (those who have not heard/accepted the gospel], because God has shown it
      to them. Ever since the creation of the world God's eternal power and
      divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen
      through the things God has made" (Romans 1.19-20). In other words, we can
      and do know God apart from the scriptures. Further,Paul wrote in
      Romans 11 that all those of the Jewish faith shall be saved, for
      "as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their ancestors;
      because the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable"(Romans 11.28b-29). Thus, there is more than a single way to be faithful to God.
      Those who look at these and other passages, at the content of the ancient church's preaching, and at the teachings of Jesus himself, conclude that we cannot know everything there is to know about God or about "salvation."
      And so they share the gospel with those who are interested and/or with
      those who are receptive.

      Jesus commissioned his disciples to go and make more disciples.
      It is a mandate all Christians carry. How can we fulfill that commission
      if we don't know anyone who's interested in Christianity, let alone the
      Church? It's a sad fact that many Christians don't have any friends
      who aren't already Christians. It has long been a custom of Christians
      to associate only with other Christians
      (sectarian too- Indian Orthodox with Indian Orthodox,Syrian Orthodox
      with Syrian Orthodox, Marthomites with Marthomites, Pentecostals with
      strictly Pentecostals) .
      But clearly, that was neither the instruction nor the example of Jesus.
      Jesus told his followers they were to make a difference in the world:
      "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste,how can
      its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything,but is
      thrown out and trampled under foot. No one after lighting a lamp puts
      it under the bushel but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all
      in the house"
      (Matthew 5.13-15). If non-Christians are to see that "light" then
      Christians have to be out where they can do the most good. In the
      same manner, salt is only useful if it's mixed in with food . Salt in
      the salt shaker is worthless. Jesus was trying to get across that his followers were to get out and mingle. By his example, Jesus showed his disciples exactly what he meant. Jesus took his followers with him to
      parties where prostitutes hung out. He visited in non-Jewish homes.
      Similarly Christians should take the initiative to go meet the
      outcasts of the society.Just by saying Hello! To one of them we are
      sharing our faith.

      High morality is advocated by almost all religions on the earth, they
      teach people to be good, to be gentle, kind, ecologically-minded, and tolerant/protectors of all life. The philosophy of being good and "doing no
      harm to others" is very different from the teachings Jesus taught of
      "love God" and "love your neighbor." Doing no harm to another is a
      passive act while loving another is active. Indeed, Jesus told a story
      that lambasted those who did no harm, but did no good either
      (Luke 10.30-37). Jesus was very specific that those who chose to follow
      him were to be active in the world-and ecological conservation, or being
      kind to "mother earth," wasn't on his agenda, though appropriate
      stewardship of resources is a by-product of loving and honoring God.
      Jesus told his followers to get busy "making disciples, baptizing them,
      and teaching them to obey all of His commandments" (Matthew 28.19-20,)
      Jesus, was very specific in naming God as a "personality." Jesus taught
      that God was the God who created the universe, not the God who is a
      part of the universe (eg. god of rain, god of wealth, god of sun and son,
      god of "good hair days" etc.) Paul wrote "God gave them up . . . because
      they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served [creation] rather than the Creator . . . " (Romans 1.24-25).
      Yet many of the finer points of the teachings of the denominations are
      focused on obscure, relatively unimportant ritualistic points. Churches
      wanting their Head in Antioch or Head in India may be important, but surely they should not be the primary focus of the church - should they? And yet, whole denominations have been created and others divided based on these very issues. Is sprinkling water atop the head of someone being baptized really worth fighting about? But the church/denominations has fought over these and still continue to fight over many of these trivial pursuits rather than spreading the gospel to the ends of the world.

      Raji Johnson
    • Mark Sadek
      You cannot destroy the passions on your own, but ask God, and He will destroy them, if this is profitable for you. St. Anatoly of Optina. ... My soul yearns
      Message 2286 of 2286 , Nov 22
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        "You cannot destroy the passions on your own, but ask God, and He will destroy them, if this is profitable for you."

           St. Anatoly of Optina.


        "My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness."  Isaiah 26:9


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