Interfaith dialogue has a place in Christian settings when it involves working toward some common goal or standing against evil. I saw that happen in Sacramento when three synagogues were mostly destroyed within minutes of each other. The faith community of Sacramento, together, stood against the evil.
But there is an interfaith dialogue that overcomes our own Christian faith. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and particular churches within the denomination, tend toward that kind of dialogue . Too often PC(U.S.A.) churches allow worship to replace conversation and thus participate in the worship of false gods. Additionally some churches choose dialogue but never evangelism.
There are many examples such as the one I wrote about with the posting, Presbyterian Stony Point Center & Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Now a new example comes with the article, “First Presbyterian Church in Rutherford hosts Jain program”. The First Presbyterian Church of Rutherford has actually promoted an on going interfaith program for several years. But, the biggest problem is their use of the different religion's worship or devotion in their church's worship or teaching times.
Learning facts about what others believe can be helpful, but participating in their worship is syncretism (the mixing of different religious ideas & objects including gods) at its best and apostasy at its worst. The article about FPC of Rutherford hosting Naresh Jain and His Holiness Amrender Muniji of Jainism states, “The Jain Guru, led the group though a powerful session on Jain meditation and chanting of mantras. Meditation and mantras or sounds are widely used for purification, protection, healing and awakening of divine powers.”
In this case, because the followers of Jainism do not believe in a god who created or rules the world but rather in human “fordfinders” who show the way and lesser gods who are in bondage to the material universe, members of FPC of Rutherford, when participating in the meditation were actually, perhaps unknowingly, focused on themselves. Jainism teaches that the only way to salvation, (which means release from the material world and the cycle of reincarnation) is through extreme asceticism (tapas) and extreme nonviolence (ahimsa). Neither a personal creator God nor a redemptive Lord are honored when Christians engage in the meditation practices of Jainism.
But this is not the only time members of FPC of Rutherford have allowed syncretistic worship. In September of 2012 the interfaith class focused on the Sikh religion and it began in the worship service as well as the 11:30 interfaith gathering as stated on the church's Facebook page:
The program will begin during the 10:00 a.m. worship service on Sunday, October 14th with a formal program following at 11:30 a.m. Included in the formal program is a recitation of Mul Mantar which is the first composition of the Sikh Holy Book and the basis of Sikh theology, Shabad Kirtan devotional singing and a presentation on the Sikh religion and its commonalities with Christianity.A recent news article on the Presbyterian News Service, “Consultation on interfaith relations maps way forward for PC (U.S.A.),” written by Toya Richards, pointed to a gathering of those interested in interreligious engagement and the PCUSA. Sponsored by the General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations (GACEIR) attendees met to discuss the PCUSA and the denomination's response to interreligious issues and relationships. Their recommendations will go to the 221 General Assembly of the PCUSA.
According to Richards, the chair of GACEIR, Krystin Granberg, stated, “In light of the ever-changing interreligious landscape, Presbyterians must look at an approach that individuals and congregations can use in their day-to-day lives as they engage with others.”
And there are answers, biblical answers: people who belong to other faiths need compassion, respect for their humanity, as well as our interest and friendship. Certainly Presbyterians need to know what other religions teach. While a member of Fremont Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, I taught classes on world religions and new religions, that is very important. But there are two ingredients too often missing in PC (U.S.A.) churches when they engage with other religions.
The first missing ingredient is failure to see the spiritual needs of members of other religions. Like all of us they are broken, they need Jesus Christ. They need to hear the good news; there is redemption, love and new life through Jesus Christ. There is a harvest waiting and we are called to be reapers. As the Lord tells his disciples, “Behold I say to you lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that are white to harvest.” In the United States they are very white. We are also called to be sowers planting the seed of the gospel so that others will follow and reap our planting.
The second ingredient missing in our attempts to understand and know about other religions is discernment, caution and love for our Lord; we possess a kind of carelessness that tries to gain nourishment from artificial food. Participating in any religious exercise that is an attempt to secure salvation by any other means than the cross or is worship of a different god is sacrilegious. Participating in any religious exercise that in any way infers that Jesus is less then God or demeans the cross is apostasy.
“Jesus said ..., 'I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6)
John A Hutchison, Paths of Faith, third edition, (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company 1981).
Picture by Ethan McHenry