The sermon is a Pentecost sermon and its first focus is on the many different nationalities and ethnicities in Jerusalem on the day the Holy Spirit filled the disciples. Van Dyke uses this as a plea for pluralism and quotes Diana Eck, writing that she “cautions against tactics of religious conversion” and “argues that followers of America’s traditional religions, Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism, need to open paths of understanding to different cultures and faiths because no longer are Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Jains living on the other side of the world, they’re living on your street.”
Van Dyke goes on to write:
She also argues that accepting as legitimate the beliefs of others deepens one’s own faith rather than endangering it or diminishing it, and that increasing one’s understanding doesn’t mean leaving your religion at the door or discarding it, rather it’s about affirming a commitment to live together and to respect one another.We certainly must understand other faiths. How can we rightly present the good news if we are unable to speak to another’s faith and culture? However the misunderstanding here is that tolerance and freedom means “accepting as legitimate the beliefs of others,” when instead it should be accepting as legitimate the right of others to hold the beliefs they hold.
As Christians we cannot view other faiths as legitimate unless we forfeit the biblical teaching that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth and the life,” that only in him we have redemption.(John 14:6) Buddha cannot be Lord if Jesus is Lord. Krishna cannot be a true incarnation if Jesus Christ is the unique Incarnation. Mohammad cannot be the true prophet of God if he taught that Jesus was not God, did not die on the cross and was not bodily resurrected.
Van Dyke uses pluralism to introduce a new thing into the Church. He writes, “The coming of the Spirit is known when new speech is heard for the first time—when people begin to hear things differently than the way they’ve always heard them. When those who had been strangers are suddenly seen and understood in a new and different light. When understanding develops as a result of real listening.”
Hearing new things and understanding things in new ways is not the sign of the coming of the Spirit. Over a hundred years ago, self-styled metaphysical Christianity, Christian Science, Unity School of Christianity and Science of Mind, introduced the idea of new spiritual understandings into liberal Protestantism. The ideas were resisted but today when so many are equating sexual deviance with God’s new word they are returning. But, rather then a new thing, the Holy Spirit always lifts up Jesus Christ. The Spirit always turns the Church’s attention to Jesus as he is known in the Old and New Testaments.
Van Dyke also uses pluralism to insist on conformity to Presbyterian polity in the midst of lowered standards. He states that he and other progressive leaders will be meeting with a group from the new Presbyterian Fellowship. However, he is not open to what he considers an isolated position for the orthodox. He writes:
This week a small group of us in the more progressive stream of the Church will be meeting with seven Presbyterian ministers who represent the more conservative stream of the Church and who are among the most vocal critics of the recent decision on ordination and who are now the most fearful about the Church’s future.Van Dyke writes that he does not understand these Christians. He believes that any grouping of like mindedness would be “utterly dull and unhealthy.” Van Dykes’ idea of the Church has to do with difference. His foundation is diversity. He writes:
Diversity doesn’t mean that anything goes as some fear, but neither does unity mean that there is only one true expression of faith, as some claim. God’s grand creation is simply too large, too diverse and too mysterious for anyone to claim with much certainty anything that sounds exclusionary. It’s why someone once said that all good theologians know when to mumble.This is not Christianity and notice in a sermon about ‘the Spirit’ and the ‘Church,’ one does not hear the name of Jesus Christ used in a devotional way except at the end of a prayer and in the words of Wendell Berry. But Christ is the foundation; he brings unity; he holds his Church together. Those who rest in faith in Christ are diverse but they do hold a common faith in the Lord of the Church. And they know no other Lord, only Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)