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Revelation  4 : 1
After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.
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On Religious Dialogue & Scripture
Witnessing Tools
Friday, February 15, 2013
Alf Cengia

They say one learns something new every day.

Well I hope that's true of me as I tend to forget something each day and maybe that will balance things out.  I'm somewhat of a mental plodder with some degree of attention deficit disorder.  It takes me a long time to figure some things out and I sometimes lose track of my thoughts.  Just ask my wife about those dreaded conversational tangents I too often take.

Anyway, I learned something new the other week.

I responded to an email notification of a comment left on a forum where I'd been trying to witness to some New Agers.  My participation in these discussions began some two years ago and center on various books written by a popular Indian guru who preaches a different Christ to the one in the Bible.

Another Christian (who described himself as Orthodox) joined the conversation and promptly took me to task for being "combative" and "argumentative."  Me? - Argumentative and combative?

The sad truth is that he could have thrown in the word condescending and a bunch of other adjectives about me that could all be true at various times in my life.

I immediately adopted a defensive position remembering only too well those Jehovah's Witnesses ladies who knocked at my door that one time.  Had it not being for my wife's gentle reminder that I can come across the wrong way, I might not have rescued a very bad start to my exchange with those ladies.  I was finally able to - very awkwardly - point out that her Bible differed with most other literal translations on John 1:1 (she hadn't known that) and was able to point out verses like Phil 2:5-9.

I didn't change those two Jehovah's Witnesses minds but one of them did tell me she really enjoyed our conversation.  We can both thank my wife for that!  But my wife isn't monitoring my forum conversations.

Was I doing it again?  Being the bull in a china shop?

I went back and reread some of my comments on different threads.  In retrospect, there were things I would have stated differently.  Two other Christians had contradicted my reliance on Scripture.  But they were hardly orthodox.  There was even a Christian pastor who wanted to apply this guru's ideas about Christ in his pulpit - step aside John Shelby Spong!

This Orthodox Christian accused me of throwing out the baby with the bathwater and asserted that quoting Scripture in that forum was like trying to teach quantum physics to someone who didn't understand algebra.  Although my new friend hadn't read the Indian guru we were discussing, he felt that one could learn from his reverence and "love" of the "Christ" as the guru understood Him.  He then raised the possibility that I was xenophobic.

I prayed about the matter.  There's nothing worse than being a hindrance to the gospel.  Then one of the New Agers who I've been witnessing to over these two years surprisingly came to my defense, saying I had never come across as "argumentative".  That was a welcome relief!

And then a little light bulb suddenly switched on in my head.  My Orthodox friend had mentioned an interest in comparative religions.  Upon checking his profile I noted his interest in a particular Catholic priest Raimon Panikkar.

Panikkar, the son of a Catholic mother and a Hindu father, wrote such books as; "The Cosmotheandric Experience: Emerging religious consciousness" [New Age philosophy]; "The Unknown Christ of Hinduism"; "The Vedic Experience; Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics etc". He is universally characterized by the following quote:

“I left [Europe] as a Christian; found myself a Hindu; and I return as a Buddhist, without having ceased to be a Christian.”

As one admirer observes:

"For Panikkar, all cultures, religions and peoples are relationally and symbolically entwined with each other, with the world in which we live, and with an ultimate divine reality."

Embodied within the ideology of "religious encounter" and "dialogue" are strict guidelines designed to foster that experience - whatever that means.  According to Panikkar the encounter must be free from "particular" and "general" apologetics.  For example:

"Those involved in interfaith dialogue should not see their task in terms of defending religion in general against the non-religious or anti-religious attitudes of secular society. This would turn the religious encounter into an ideological movement as well being simplistic in its rejection of modern secular consciousness." (Emphasis mine)

Yet an ideological movement is exactly what it is!

No wonder this fellow objected to Scriptural citations.  In his worldview it was fine for us to be orthodox but not okay for us to preach our views in that forum.  One might even put it this way:

"...the height of arrogance is to attempt to show people the errors in the religion of their choice."

Ironically, as I pointed out to my orthodox friend, the Indian guru in question had no qualms quoting (and distorting) over 300 hand-picked Bible verses that he felt supported his view of Jesus Christ.  He was working assiduously after a following, not religious dialogue for the sake of it.

There's nothing one could or should learn about Jesus Christ from a guru, that isn't found in Scripture.  I pointed out that it was an obligation for Christians to correct a heresy regarding salvation and Christ's divinity.

It appears that Scripture is a malleable commodity that's used by some people when they think it is expedient, and discarded when it doesn't fit.  It is only relevant as it conforms to one's perspective.  As such it has very limited (if any) value in Ecumenism, Interfaith Dialogue and Liberation Theology which seems to occupy the current global mindset.

The founder of Sabeel, Naim Ateek, spurns whole books of the Old Testament - not because of exegetical reasons or manuscript evidence - but because they contradict his Palestinian worldview.  Late Roman Catholic priest Michael Prior shared the same sentiments, as do others.

Apparently "interfaith dialogue" has its limitations - especially if you're Jewish and/or a Zionist.  I'm now beginning to understand why it isn't a primary focus for some politically minded Christians to preach the gospel to Muslims in the Middle East.  If one can discard Scripture for political convenience, then what about salvation?

The biblical working of salvation also has no place in interfaith dialogue.

The really important thing is to foster an atmosphere of tolerance, mutual learning and understanding.  That a non Christian is sailing over the waterfall into oblivion cannot come into that narrative.  It's simply not nice to talk about these things - we wouldn't want to offend them.

I wonder what martyrs throughout the church's history would think of that. What about today's martyrs? Dying for their faith seemed important to them.

I learned some things from my encounter:

Christianity's enemy isn't interested in dialogue because it's a nice thing to participate in.  Also, it is not always overtly anti-Christian.  The interfaith dialogue is a growing global phenomenon driven by the different faith leaderships in which the gospel is not the primary goal.

Christians should always be prepared to provide responses, and the manner in which they are presented is vitally important.

Hope I never forget that!

About Alf Cengia

Last week: On Ducks & Israel

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