Monday, May 27, 2013

Jesus Mandates That We Coexist

            I’m sure many of you have seen some version of this bumper sticker.  Many people recoil at seeing it because it contains symbols of various faiths, religions, and philosophies.  I especially see objections to it from Christians.  But to be fair, I live in the US where Christianity is prevalent and widespread.  But often when I see people object to “COEXIST”, I question…why do you object to that?

            To answer that question, first let is look at the ideology that fuels that particular point of view from the Christian point of view. 

1) John 14:5-7 – Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so 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. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

            This verse has often been used mistakenly to infer that Jesus is the absolute authority on everything in the world and that followers must be hostile to other philosophies.  Now in the context of the Christian Walk, this verse says that to follow Christianity, you must follow me.  And to follow me, you follow The Father who resides in me.  It’s a confusing verse and definitely warrants additional study to really get into the meat and potatoes of what Christ is trying to say.  But, it’s definitely clear that this verse is not calling for Christians to be hostile to other faiths, religions and philosophies.  Christianity has had its share of cross-cultural pollination.

            I'm sure this may get me in trouble for inferring that Christianity isn't the only way to "salvation", but, here's my honest opinion.  If your only concern is what's happening after you die, then you are not serving for the right reasons, and your works are useless.  Your works express your faith and the Love of Christ.  To do good because you want to avoid pain means that you serve out of coercion and fear, not out of a genuine heart of service.  Who cares about the end, when the Message of Christ is always concerned wit the here and now.

Matt 6: 25-34 (Heavily paraphrased)
            Worry not about tomorrow, for today has enough worries of it's own.  For if the Lord provides for the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and every little thing that crawls upon the Earth, how much more shall he provide for you?

2) 1st Corinthians 15:33 – Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 

            Again, this verse is often used to justify hatred or loathing or distrust of those following other religions.  Paul was speaking to the Corinthians who were quite the party-goers and really didn't have or care to have any self-control or restraint when enjoying the pleasures of the world.  Often times, those who may try to walk the path and associate with those who do not may get pulled into their less-than-noble behaviors.  However, this does not apply to those of other faiths or religions.  Paul’s statements are directed at those who hear, believe then go party and forget everything they just learned about the ministry and life of Jesus Christ.  It follows the same reasoning as “If your hand would cause you to sin, cut it off…” and that line of thinking.  Say for example, you’re a recovering drug addict, and you recovered because you no longer associated with people who were able to persuade you to partake.  The prudent and practical thing to do would be to no longer associate with that person.  Perhaps the temptation would be more than you could handle, and you’d fall back into habits that you fought out of.  Paul was addressing this kind of falling back into habits you kicked off.  But he was not referring to those of other faiths who wish to engage you in discussion, dialogue, and intercultural/inter-religious exchanges which may enrich you both as human beings. 

3) Ephesians 6:10-18 – Finally, let the mighty strength of the Lord make you strong. Put on all the armor that God gives, so you can defend yourself against the devil's tricks. We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world. So put on all the armor that God gives. Then when that evil day comes, you will be able to defend yourself. And when the battle is over, you will still be standing firm. Be ready! Let the truth be like a belt around your waist, and let God's justice protect you like armor. Your desire to tell the good news about peace should be like shoes on your feet. Let your faith be like a shield, and you will be able to stop all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Let God's saving power be like a helmet, and for a sword use God's message that comes from the Spirit. Never stop praying, especially for others. Always pray by the power of the Spirit. Stay alert and keep praying for God's people.

            This passage by far has been so horribly warped and misused.  The current challenge facing contemporary Christianity is the militarization of Christians.  Often social conservatives will misuse this and
Jesus Feeds the 5000
other verses to convince Christians that we must “fight” the heathens to change the nation to a “Christian” nation.  I believe, however that this verse details a frame of mind that a believer must have when engaging in discussion with those of other faiths and philosophies.  It is easy to forget that Christ called us to be servants, not warriors.  We serve all mankind, but we never discard why we serve in the first place.  Putting on the Armor of God is similar to emboldening yourself when you go into unknown or new circumstances.  The Armor of God analogy is designed to keep the believer rooted in what he or she believes and, to challenge believers to reinforce their faith with prayer, study, and worship.  The image created about the Sword of the Spirit is especially powerful.  I believe that Paul uses “The Sword” because he believes truth is sharper than any deceit.  And in this he is most definitely correct.  But “The Sword” is not a weapon to be used offensively, but to be used defensively.  It’s used to cut through the evil and wickedness that spews from the mouths of those who’d undermine in deceitful ways.  Jesus has never called us to be warriors, but peacemakers, diplomats, and servants of the highest caliber.  When I hear “Men of God or Women of God” calling us to go into the nations waving our Bibles like broadswords at the heathens, I cringe and wince inside.  We are not military infantry, but a collective of servants, teachers, philosophers, and caretakers. 

To wrap it up, the Christ-like Believer has been called to serve, not fight.  But he has been called to defend those who cannot defend themselves as well.  Offense and defense are two very different things.  To defend one from another means that you are putting yourself in the way to protect another, whereas with offense, you seek to impose yourself on those who do not wish to be imposed upon.  The Message of Christ has never been about imposing on others, but defending those who need defending. 

James said it best:

If you think you are being religious, but can't control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and everything you do is useless. Religion that pleases God the Father must be pure and spotless. You must help needy orphans and widows and not let this world make you evil.
(Jas 1:26-27)

Blessings to you all!

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