Sunday, March 6, 2011

Us and Them: How should Christians treat nonchristian religions?

If you are a Christian what do you do about other religions?  Is it OK to denounce them in front of the congregation?  If a mosque is being built in your neighborhood should you be out protesting being built?  At the congregation I attend the speakers seem to feel it is their duty to "name names."  It wasn't too long ago that some Christians were protesting about a mosque being built in their city.  The protesters said that freedom of religion only applied to Christian religions.  What would Jesus do?

When we look at the actions of Jesus and the apostles we see a pronounced lack of action.  There they were surrounded by pagan religions and they hardly said word about them.  Jesus made a whip and drove out the money changers in the temple (John 2.13-17) and denounced the Pharisees (Mat. 23), but he never said a word about the Greek and Roman gods.  He had an opportunity to denounce the Samaritan religion when the woman at the well asked him about the proper place to worship, but he didn't (John 4.21-26). Paul was "greatly distressed to see that" Athens was full of idols (Acts 17.16), but when he spoke to the Athenians he only taught about the "Unknown God" that he saw an altar to (Acts 17.23).

In Acts 19.23-41 there was a riot by the men of Ephesus who made idols of Artemis, but it was not because of Paul preaching against Artemis, it was because they were losing money.  Paul was so successful in teaching "man made gods are no gods at all" (Acts 19.26) that they were loosing customers.  They enraged the whole city, "seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's traveling companions" and dragged them in to the theater.  The city clerk of Ephesus spoke to the crowd had this to say about what the Christians were teaching "You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess" (Acts 19.37).  Paul did teach that "man made gods are no gods at all,"  but he never denounced Artemis.  That is amazing, but the crowd knew it was true and they left the theater.

Paul constantly treated other religions respectfully.  We are to take action against sinners in the Church, but we must treat people in the world differently.  Paul wrote "I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people - not at all meaning the people of this world...In that case you would have to leave this world.  But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral..." (1Cor. 5.9-12). He taught against other religions in general terms, but the never "named names."  Even the world knows that "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."  Or as Paul wrote "If it is possible, so far as it depend on you, live at peace with everyone (Rom. 12.18), and Heb. 12.14 "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to holy; without holiness no will see the Lord."

So, I talk to people of other religions about God and what I believe, but I will not blaspheme their gods or protest in front of their places of worship.  Jesus didn't do that, nor did Paul.  They are our examples to follow.


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