Monday, May 12, 2014

The Outlook: two articles, two churches in one denomination?

The Presbyterian Outlook has linked, on Twitter, to one article and posted another on their main site.  The articles, as I read them, seem to me to speak of the two different churches within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  The first one I read is by Professor Shirley C. Guthrie (1927-2004), posted on the Outlook. It is, “The Way, the Truth and the Life.” The other is, “’Our Second Mother’: Iran’s converted Christians find sanctuary in Germany.” The latter is in the Guardian, the Tehran Bureau.

The first article by Guthrie is meant as an explanation of what it means to speak of Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life, and how that coincides with dialogue with other faiths.  Guthrie’s views are aligned with universalism. That is when Jesus died and was raised by God he opened a door that brought reconciliation to all. This does not mean it brought the possibility that those in other faiths might be converted to Christ; rather it means that Jesus enters into the other culture and faith thus reconciling them, through another faith, to God.  As Guthrie puts it when writing about our need for openness to people of other faiths:

If we believe in a risen and living Christ who has been and is at work in the world outside our Christian circle, we will know that we do not have to “take” Christ to people of other religious traditions; we go to meet him in our encounters with them. We will expect and gladly welcome evidence that the grace and truth we have come to know in him has reached into their lives too. We will be glad to hear them saying things about their God and their faith that sound remarkably similar to what we have to say about our God and our faith. Without the slightest trace of reluctance or suspicion we will welcome such similarities as confirmation of our own faith in a living Christ who is present and at work not only among us but among them too. More than that, we will be prepared sometimes to discover among those whose religion is different from ours a depth of faith, personal integrity, gratitude for the goodness of God, commitment to justice and self-giving love for others that put us Christians to shame. We will be ready to confess that we sometimes see more of the way, truth and life taught and demonstrated by Jesus among them than we see in our own lives and in the Christian community. Just when we are committed to our own gospel we will enter into dialogue with them not only because of what we have to offer them, but because of what they have to offer us.

Guthrie goes on to list the various ways we can know the truth or falseness of another religion, and our own as well. He explains how we can recognize the “presence and work of our living Lord among non-Christians as well as Christians. I agree with a lot of his list, goodness among all groups, even among those who are atheists, is what the Reformed call general grace.

However, that is not the point of Jesus’ words that He is the way, the truth and the life.  (Matt. 14:6) There must be a living connection between the risen Lord and the individual. There must be conversion, which simply means repentance, turning from our sinful self to Jesus. This may be gradual, a process, among those who are baptized at birth. Or it may be that one comes to Christ out of another faith or out of nothing. 

Nevertheless, one does not go to the other person to encounter Christ, one takes the good news of Christ to those who are without salvation. And that is one of the points of the other article, Iran’s converted Christians find sanctuary in Germany. Many Iranians are coming to Jesus Christ from Islam and because of persecution they are seeking safety in other places. Germany is one of the places where they are finding safety.

One story of one convert who now lives in Germany and attends a church there is:

Afsaneh, a soft-spoken woman in her 40s is part of Martens’ congregation, says she was arrested because of her conversion and heavily abused in jail. Like other converts in this story, Afsaneh asked that only her first name be used to protect her identity. She was only freed after using her property deeds as collateral, after which she quickly escaped the country.

Afsaneh says she struggled to accept Islam for most of her life but ultimately and fundamentally disagreed with the religion. Her cousin, a convert, secretly introduced her to Christianity in which she found a better, spiritual fit. “I felt so relaxed,” she says after attending Bible study sessions held in the privacy of her house church. “I felt safe. I was so excited about Christmas that I put up a tree in my home and work.” Her public displays meant closer eyes and soon both her and her cousin were arrested receiving more than 70 lashes in jail. [1]

So how is this like the divisions in our denomination? One denominational division looks for what they deem as good within culture/cultures and sees Christ’s blessing there but fails to see the Scriptural demand that the church make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which involves a great deal more than simply encountering Christ in the other’s faith.  

The other division in the denomination, while hopefully noting what is good in other cultures, longs to introduce the broken to Jesus Christ. Sure, the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, is there already preparing hearts and minds, but it is the longing of the Christian to introduce the good Shepherd to the lost sheep, introduce the good bread to the hungry, the Redeemer to the one who has fallen beyond human hope.

While Guthrie insists that it isn’t the Christian’s business to show Christianity to be superior to other faiths, he fails to insist that it is the Christian’s business to show Christ crucified and risen, as above all other ‘so called’ gods and lords. In a real sense in the PC (U.S.A.), some find Jesus’ uniqueness everywhere diffused among every culture and religion until it means nothing but religious sentimentality and progressive morality. But the important understanding of His uniqueness is scripturally bound; He is Lord over the nations and his kingdom will come, but peopled by those who are united to the risen Lord, washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, transformed by the power of his resurrection.

[1] I have to laugh at the thought of being in a religion where one can relax but receive 70 lashes in jail. But remembering my own conversion and the great feeling of relief and joy while at the same time finding my parents were very upset, I think I understand just a tiny bit. Read the whole article it is wonderful to read about the conversions of these many Iranians.


Mateen said...

What the Guthrie quotation fails to wrestle with is what Christians are to do when non-Christian cultures/religions say things that are contradictory to and clearly reprehensible to the Gospel. Who is at work instilling those convictions? God, or the powers of evil?

These comments, by themselves, are an insult to all Christian converts who have had to suffer persecution from the world for holding to Christ over against false beliefs.

Viola Larson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Viola Larson said...

No, he doesn't wrestle with that, all he does is list the signs of truth or falseness. But leaving out any kind of reference to God's redemptive purposes in Christ via the live, death and resurrection of Jesus leaves the ultimate truth, which judges all else, out of the picture. His list does little to guide those who stray from scripture.