If you have travelled abroad on holiday or for work, you will no doubt have observed a variety of places of worship. Synagogues, mosques, temples, shrines, churches, chapels, cathedrals. Some permanent, some temporary. Some very ancient, some modern. Some ornate and some very simple. And within them, if you have ventured inside, you might have seen Muslims prostrating, Shia’s lamenting, Buddhists meditating, Voodoos dancing, Shintos chanting, Hindus sacrificing, Zoroastrians lighting fires, Jews rocking, Sufis whirling, Shakers… shaking, Catholics kneeling, Mystics contemplating, Pentecostals slaying, and Anglicans doing everything, decently and in order. Colourful, vibrant, diverse. Worship is universal.
Today it seems uncertainty and agnosticism are more valuable than conviction and commitment. It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. The suggestion that a particular faith is the only way to God is synonymous with narrow minded intolerance, fundamentalism or with religious extremism.
Sincerity and Truth
Many people think all religions lead to God because they assume that all religions are essentially the same when you reduce them to their core beliefs. They liken the religions to different paths up a mountain, believing that as we approach the summit we realise how much we have in common. But this just isn’t true and only shows they have not looked deeply enough at what the various religions teach. If you let each religion speak for itself, you find they differ greatly on the basic concepts-God, truth, reality, the basic human dilemma and the solution to that dilemma. They differ so much that many of their statements contradict one another. For example, God cannot be both personal, as Christians, Jews and Muslims believe, and impersonal, as Buddhists and Hindus believe. Jesus cannot be a false Messiah as Judaism teaches, a prophet as Islam teaches and the eternal Son of God as Christians believe. Those are contradictory statements. According to the rules of logic, contradictory statements cannot all be true. Therefore, all religions cannot possibly be true. It is a logical impossibility. And if they are not all true, and if they lead us in different directions, then not all of them can lead to God. The sincerity of followers is not in question. You can be sincere but sincerely wrong.
About five years ago, I was invited to give a series of lectures at universities in Mashhad, Isfahan, Shiraz and Tehran and dialogue with Islamic scholars in Qom. The Q&A session after each presentation was a lively affair. The most frequently asked question was about the reliability of the Bible. What did I think about Mel Gibson’s film The Passion? What did I think about Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code?
Over 1 billion people apparently believe the views popularized in The Da Vinci Code. They believe the message of the Bible has been corrupted and distorted, that Jesus is not the Son of God, but simply a Prophet and that he did not die on the cross or rise from the dead. They believe that there were many other accounts of the life of Christ suppressed and destroyed before and after the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. They believe that the Emperor Constantine commissioned the writing of the New Testament we now have which portrays Jesus as a divine figure. Dozens of other “gospels” were censored.
They believe the Gospel of Barnabas is the only known surviving account written by a disciple of Jesus and accepted as authentic before Nicea. It was supposed to have been rediscovered by a monk named Fra Marino, who came across an Italian manuscript in the Pope’s private library in 1590. He smuggled it out of the library, read it and became a Muslim.
The Primates of the Anglican Communion met in Canterbury in January to reflect and pray together concerning the future of the Communion. The majority of those gathered reaffirmed that “The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union.” A small minority of Anglican Primates were however, unable to do so. This in itself has serious implications, for what divides them is the question of ultimate authority in matters of faith and doctrine. Does it lie with church tradition, with experience, reason, secular cultural norms, or with the Scriptures? Our presuppositions inevitably shape our thinking. Here are five assumed in this paper.
Article 6 of the Church of England
“Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”
The Scriptures are God-breathed
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Ann Atkins has observed, “Scripture is not important enlightenment about God, but infallible revelation from Him. So we interpret our lives in the light of scripture, instead of the other way about.” Continue reading
Wheaton College is probably the best known Evangelical college in the USA. And last month, Larycia Hawkins who taught political science at Wheaton, became their best known professor. She had pledged to wear a hijab during Advent in support of her Muslim neighbours. But she was suspended after she wrote on Facebook, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” “This statement is unbelievable,” tweeted Baptist blogger Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College in Louisville. “Really jaw-dropping.” Many others criticized Larycia. “A holy kiss to you who disavow the idea that Muslims & Christians worship the same God: I love you. Peace & respect,” Hawkins tweeted in response to her critics. She linked to her Facebook response, where she stated:
“Whether or not you find this position, one held for centuries by countless Christians (church fathers, saints, and regular Christian folk like me), to be valid, I trust that we can peacefully disagree on theological points and affirm others like the Triune God , the virgin birth and the Resurrection. Let there be unity in our diversity of views about all of the above.”
Wheaton have instituted dismissal proceedings against Larycia. Other Wheaton faculty have defended her.
Canon John Salter preached at Christ Church, Virginia Water on John 1:1-14 on Advent Sunday. He is President of the Garden Tomb Association and the former vicar of Emmanuel Church, Stoughton, Guildford.
See photos taken at the Lambeth Palace book launch here
Following the tragedy of 9/11 and the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York, multi-bestselling author and Christian journalist Anne Coulter, wrote,
“We don’t need long investigations of the forensic evidence to determine with scientific accuracy the person or persons who ordered this specific attack. We don’t need an “international coalition.” We don’t need a study on “terrorism.” … We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.”
More recently, at the July 19th, 2006, inaugural event for Christians United for Israel, in Washington DC, after recorded greetings from the then President, George W. Bush, and in the presence of four US Senators as well as the Israeli ambassador to the US, Pastor John Hagee, stated :
Heartened by the recent historic meeting between Prime Minister David Cameron and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, at the United Nations, signaling a long-overdue thawing of Anglo-Iranian relations, I was delighted to attend the New Horizons interfaith conference in Tehran last week, as a member of a UK delegation.
The conference addressed issues where faith and politics intersect in the Middle East such as Israel’s war on Gaza, Islamophobia in the West as well as the rise of ISIS and those sponsoring extremism.
“There is no teleology in western society, no guiding morality, only an obsession with materialism,” argued organizer Arash Darya-Bandari. “We believe it is necessary to control the negative tendencies in culture, such as pornography, alcohol, drugs, prostitution, to strive towards a more moral and justice society.”
One of the contributors, Eric Walberg wrote, “Contrary to the shrill cries in the western media that the conference was anti-Semitic, it was unique in my experience in addressing Zionism and US imperialism forthrightly and intelligently, without a hint of racism. The issue of anti-Semitism was addressed and dismissed, as “There is no issue with Jewish people or the Jewish religion,” explained Darya-Bandari, “but rather with Zionism, that secular distortion of Judaism that itself is racist, and has been used as a pretext to dispossess and kill Palestinians.”
He went on to report, “The conference issued a resolution condemning ISIS, Zionism, US unconditional support of Israel, Islamophobia, and calling for activism locally to boycott Israeli goods and to promote understanding between the West and the Muslim world, and to fight sectarianism. “This was a great opportunity to meet anti-imperialist activists from around the world, to bring Russians, Poles, western Europeans, North Americans together with Iranians and other Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, in a forum without sectarianism, truly supporting peace and understanding,” said delegate Mateusz Piskorski, director of the European Centre of Geopolitical Analysis in Warsaw and former MP in the Polish Sejm.”
I was invited to contribute to the opening ceremony and present a biblical perspective on Jihad and in particular, a Christian refutation of the Islamic State (IS). Later in the conference I was asked to present a paper on the impact of the Israel Lobby in the UK, especially in parliament and in the media, ahead of the publication of my new book on the subject.
“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)
Ambassadors, of necessity serve in foreign countries, where perspectives may be different and at times even hostile to one’s own. But given the dire consequences of any breakdown in relations between countries, dialogue and diplomacy are always to be preferred over war and strife.
In the journal Diplomat, Michael Binyon asks,
“Are Christian church leaders becoming the world’s most active peacemakers? Only a week after President Peres of Israel and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accepted the Pope’s invitation to pray together with him in Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury made a dramatic flight to Nigeria to pray with President Goodluck Jonathan and encourage him to make every effort to find the schoolgirls kidnapped by the terrorist organisation Boko Haram.
The Archbishop’s impromptu trip came hard on the heels of a visit to Pakistan, where he visited a small embattled Christian community and praised their efforts to forge closer links with the wider Muslim community, despite regular attacks by militants, the threats of mob violence and the increasing use of the notorious blasphemy laws to force Christians from their land and property…
Peacemaking and reconciliation – within the Anglican Church and between the world’s main faith groups – were the declared priority for Justin Welby from the moment he became Archbishop. He is well qualified for the role. As an oil executive who visited Nigeria often before his ordination, he has seen at first-hand the conflict raging between Christians and Muslims in Central Nigeria that is now taking a deadly toll. As a former head of Coventry Cathedral’s Centre for Reconciliation, he has himself conducted delicate negotiations between militant groups in an effort to free hostages, often risking his own life.”
A walk through the deserted US embassy in Tehran last week was a poignant reminder of how a failure to pursue diplomacy has fueled not only decades of missed opportunities but also perpetuated misunderstanding and animosity between our countries.
Ironically, the leaders in Jesus day, tried to dictate whom he could and could not meet with, criticizing him for eating with “tax collectors and sinners”. Clearly they considered his actions “conduct unbecoming” a rabbi. Thankfully for us he did not listen to them.
Critics of conferences such as New Horizons should think more carefully about how their inflammatory words will negatively impact on their own communities in Iran.
They would be better served following the examples set by our Prime Minister, the Pope and the Archbishop who, as true ambassadors, are working for peace and reconciliation.