Originally Written for 1/18/09
Recently I finished reading through Paul’s two letters to Timothy. While there are many verses I could share on, one in particular sticks out to me, especially in light of the Wednesday evening series we’ve been doing on having a Christian world view. That verse is 1 Timothy 6:29. Paul writes the follow to Timothy, the young pastor at Ephesus:
“O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.”
I’m not a Greek scholar, and I’m not suggesting the thought I’m going to give you can be backed up linguistically by the Greek; however, I believe the intent is the same… I wrote a note in my Bible that this same verse could be used today and the word “knowledge” could be changed to “tolerance”.
How often have we heard people tell us we need to be “tolerant” of others’ views and beliefs? While this thought has many connotations, let me focus on one right here: the idea of inter-faith “tolerance”. I spoke recently to a friend from another church and they’re currently looking for a new pastor. I asked how the process was going and he said they had just finished an interview that he described as “interesting”. He shared the story of a pastor from another state whom they interviewed, and the seminary this pastor had attended required all students each semester to take one class at another “seminary” in the same city – one class at the Catholic seminary, one at the Jewish synagogue, one at the Buddhist temple, etc. And the purpose behind this was so they could have a greater understanding and conversation with people from these religions. Here’s the scary part – he told the people interviewing him that one of his previous churches over 80% of the attendees were not traditionally from this person’s denomination – they were made up of Jews, Buddhists, and other “believers”.
Now obviously I wasn’t privy to the conversation so I can’t speak to exactly what he said, but I can share this: what was not heard by the committee was “We have people who used to be Jews & Buddhists who have converted” but that the church was made up of a significant number of “Jews and Buddhists”. This is an example of inter-faith teaching.
You’ll also see every year in the paper reports from the inter-faith alliance (I think that’s what they’re called) when they do their annual Inter-Faith service in Greenville. People attend the service and participate in practices of people from other religions – they may hear a sermon a Muslim leader, and pray a Buddhist prayer, and then turn around and take communion together. Yet another example of “inter-faith” at work.
James MacDonald, a pastor in the Chicagoland area, talks about this often and he cites a verse I’ve come to appreciate. He divides much of Christian theology (though I’m going to apply it here more broadly) into two areas – one where we should be “convicted” and one where we should have “tolerance”. The former are the seven “non-negotiable” of the faith, and they’re found in Ephesians 4:5: One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, on God & Father of all. Everything else, he says, are areas we can agree to disagree on.
Which pretty much rules out the idea of inter-faith, as I see it.