12 What is Christianity?
Christianity is a word that wears many hats; it is a belief system, to be sure, but it is also a social system, a religious discipline, a global philosophy, an organization of like-minded people, and an opposition of contrary-minded people; it is a mysterious spiritual union of souls transcending time and space, and yet it is a powerful financial institution serving many mundane cross-purposes in terms, for instance, of humanitarian activities.
C.S. Lewis describes it thus:
" . . . the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners."
The fact that there exists contradiction within factions of an admittedly splintered belief system, (the various dialects of which presumably all came from the same source,) is somewhat troubling; not because disagreement is nothing if not merely human, but because these religious differences of opinion have, historically, resulted in unspeakable violence. It is a good thing that people are passionate about their religion: the passion for God is a fire that lights our way up the spiritual path; however, when we meet other pilgrims, traveling along an ever so slightly different track along the pathway, we hail to them to join us on our ONLY TRUE path, and when they don't, we try to kill them.
I have spoken before of the evils of the spirituality that is religion-driven, as opposed to the religion that is spirit-driven. The very existence of the various Christian denominations attests to man's inborn propensity toward contentious social/moral attitudes; this only becomes a bad thing when we want to be right more than we want to be good. We cannot help but want the whole world to agree with us that the face we have painted on God is His only possible face, universally accepted by all mankind; and if somebody doesn't see the same face as we do, we try to kill them.
In a way it is beautiful thing--all these people who want to kill all the other people who don't believe the way they do: it means that people are willing to put their lives on the line for something they consider to be more important than themselves, something bigger than themselves. However, I always worry that this killing seems to be over disagreements about gradations of semantic subtlety, and not transcendent spiritual experience-- it is my feeling that true spiritual experience always obliterates the confinements of literal definition, thereby freeing the soul to soar with flights of angels, all angles of God, all one in spirit.
From Wikipedia, here are some comments on, and a list of some (not all) of the many various "Christian" denominations:
"A Christian denomination is an identifiable religious body under a common name, structure, and doctrine within Christianity.
Some groups are large (e.g. Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans or Baptists), while others are just a few small churches, and in most cases the relative size is not evident in this list. Modern movements such as Fundamentalist Christianity, Pietism, Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism and the Holiness movement sometimes cross denominational lines, or in some cases create new denominations out of two or more continuing groups, (as is the case for many United and uniting churches, for example). Such subtleties and complexities are not clearly depicted here.
Note: This is not a complete list, but aims to provide a comprehensible overview of the diversity among denominations of Christianity. As there are reported to be approximately 41,000 Christian denominations (figure includes overlap between countries), many of which cannot be verified to be significant, only those denominations with Wikipedia articles will be listed in order to ensure that all entries on this list are notable and verifiable.
Between denominations, theologians, and comparative religionists there are considerable disagreements about which groups can be properly called Christian, disagreements arising primarily from doctrinal differences between groups.
There is no official recognition in most parts of the world for religious bodies, and there is no official clearinghouse which could determine the status or respectability of religious bodies. Often there is considerable disagreement between various churches about whether other churches should be labeled with pejorative terms such as "cult", or about whether this or that group enjoys some measure of respectability. Such considerations often vary from place to place, where one religious group may enjoy majority status in one region, but be widely regarded as a "dangerous cult" in another part of the world. Inclusion on this list does not indicate any judgment about the size, importance, or character of a group or its members.
· Anabaptists and Schwarzenau Brethren (Amish, Hutterites, Mennonites)
· Plymouth Brethren and Free Evangelical Churches
· Pietists and Holiness Churches
· Apostolic Churches – Irvingites
· African Initiated Churches
· Messianic Judaism / Jewish Christians
· United and uniting churches
· Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
· Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement
· Millerites and comparable groups
· Adventist (Sunday observing)
· Adventist (Seventh Day Sabbath/Saturday observing)
· Church of God movements (Sunday observing)
· Church of God movements (Seventh Day Sabbath/Saturday observing)
· 9 Nontrinitarian groups
· Latter Day Saints
· Oneness Pentecostalism
· Unitarianism and Universalism
· Christian Science
· 10 New Thought (Church of Divine Science, Anthroposophical Society, Theosophy, Rosicrucian Fellowship)
· 11 Esoteric Christianity
· 13 Syncretistic religions incorporating elements of Christianity (Native American Church, Cult of Santa Muerte, Voodou, Chrislam)"
Many of (let's admit it, MOST of) these denominations make claims of exclusivity when it comes to spiritual truth, even to the point of denying the spiritual validity of all the other denominations. Now, since one of the bottom lines in Christian dogma is the existence of Hell as the ultimate destination for nonbelievers, it is therefore an implicit conclusion that, members of all other opposing denominations/belief systems are condemned to Hell. There many somewhat subtle dogmatic disagreements which may thus condemn the so-called heathen infidel to Hell. This is the belief that turned me away from Christianity for about 20 years.
One big dogmatic disagreement, that divides the various denominations, is the issue of Salvation through Grace, as opposed to Salvation through Good Works. One component of the Salvation-through-Grace philosophy is the law of pre-destination--a law which grants life to certain chosen believers, and condemns rest of the world to Hell. I have spoken on this subject before, and find the disagreement to be essentially transparent and insubstantial. The question of pre-destination as opposed to free will is a quandary whose resolution resides outside time, and is, therefore, beyond man's powers of literal comprehension. As such, literal disagreements about this issue are fundamentally non-applicable if not right down silly.
Many disagreements, among the denominations, reside in the domain of BEHAVIOR. It will be no surprise to hear that many Christians disavow the legitimacy of the beliefs of other Christians on the basis of things like whether they smoke, whether they go to movies, whether they use slang expressions like "gosh", or "jeez", or "darn", or "frickin'", whether they say "a-men" or "hallelujah", after key points in sermons, whether they work on Sundays, or whether they vote Republican.
Now, so far, we have been discussing the various flavors of Christianity merely within the generally accepted world Christian community. However, one of the purposes of this address is consider how “Christian” some other world religions are, religions which do not even recognize Jesus at all. Below are some relevant comments; this first one, from Bible evidences.com sums up the conventional view:
“What About the Other Religions?
To non-Christians one of the most offensive claims of Christianity is that it provides the only path to heaven. If you are a non-Christian it is certainly understandable why this would offend or upset you, but I would hope you can at least appreciate and respect why it is important for Christians not to skirt such an important tenet of Christianity. If the Bible truly is the Word of God, wouldn't you agree that it would be incredibly selfish of Christians to fail to mention such a far-reaching, eternally important component of the Bible?
Comparing World Religions
The first thing we should do is determine how the major religions of the world differ from each other, and to ascertain whether these differences are bridgeable. Christianity is based on the Triune God of the Bible - the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and particularly the life of the Son, Jesus Christ. All other religions are based on the writings of men and not the life of any particular individual. Judaism, the sister religion to Christianity, is based on the Old Testament of the Bible, rejecting the entire New Testament and holding that the Messiah has not yet come. Islam is based on the writings of Muhammad, where they worship a single, impersonal god. Mormonism is based on the writings of Joseph Smith, where they deny the eternal divinity of Jesus, believe in many gods, and believe men can attain godhood (as their Jesus and Father did) and rule over their own planet. The Eastern religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism, and Western new-age religions, such as Christian Science, essentially believe everything is god (Pantheism - may the force be with you). These religions also teach reincarnation until the spirit reaches a level of "enlightenment" and oneness with god or the gods.
Christianity teaches one death and one judgment (Hebrews 9:27).
Christianity is also the only religion that recognizes the hopeless gap between man and a Holy and Righteous God, teaching that salvation can only be obtained through God's grace. All other religions teach that salvation can be achieved through human effort."
[Sidebar: This last paragraph is such a distortion and over-simplification of the truth, it borders on “bald-face lie.” The author uses, in the same sentence, the terms “hopeless” and “grace”. Now, it goes without saying that without grace, sinful man would indeed be hopeless; but the simultaneous reference to hopelessness and grace in the same sentence is an obvious contradiction in terms, and a logically confused concept. The words are used for dramatic effect and not clarity of meaning, hence revealing an emotionally charged subtext which defies reason. This author cares more about being right than about being good. It will also be immediately apparent that this sentence refers to the “grace vs. good works” controversy, and that the author is not only condemning the heathen masses of the world to Hell, he is also condemning the entire Catholic denomination to Hell as well. Furthermore, and finally, the sentence, “All other religions teach that salvation can be achieved through human effort,” is just plain ignorant; it makes presuppositions about the other world religions that are clearly apples and oranges contradictions. Indeed, the whole idea of “salvation”, in the sense that this author clearly means, is not even an issue for many of the Eastern religions.
Back to Bible evidences.com:]
“I think at this point we should be able to agree that that the major world religions are quite different, with many conflicting and contradictory views. To hold that all religions are equally true is simply not a rational belief.”
[Sidebar: Sorry to disagree, but: “to hold that all religions are equally true” is, absolutely, a rational belief, because truth must forever be enslaved by the constraints of rationality. It is the UN-Truth, the NON-truth, the SUPER-Truth that interests me, and if I can find, in any of the other religions, the inarticulate Love of God permeating the Cloud of Unknowing, I spit on rationality, or, in less graphic terms, I rise above rationality. The trouble with religion is that everybody wants it to make sense!
Back to Bible evidences.com:]
"Biblical View on Other Religions So, what does the Bible have to say about other religions? It teaches that there is a spiritual war going on and the intention of Satan and his host of demonic spirits is to divert us from the truth. The apostle John wrote that "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one (1 John 5:19)", and the apostle Paul warned us that people will "follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons (1 Timothy 4:1)". From the beginning Satan has been deceiving humanity. In the garden he convinced Eve that "ye shall be as gods". Don't you find it interesting that to be divine "as God" is a common thread among many religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, and even false Christianity teachings by Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn and others? The Bible also teaches that Satan and his servants will masquerade as ministers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13-14). Satan's hoisting of false religions has been a very effective lie since it mixes in some truth. A lie mixed in with truth is much like rat poison, which contains 99% good food and 1% poison - its that 1% of poison (or lie) that will kill you!”We are quite familiar with the preceding train of thought. It is an obvious conclusion based on mainstream Christian dogma. The next comment is from the Commission for Interreligious Dialogue:
CHRIST AND THE OTHER RELIGIONS
The Jewish Tradition
"With regard to the Jewish tradition it is important not to overlook the Jewishness of Jesus. There is not only the fact of his birth, but also his love for the Scriptures and for the Temple as evidenced in his preaching and his ministry in general. It should be remembered too that the first Christians were in fact Judeo-Christians, though very soon Gentiles entered the Church.
In the first two centuries there does not appear to be much opposition on the part of the Jews to Jesus as a human person. From the 3rd century onwards, as the Christian faith in the divinity of Christ became more clearly expressed, and the distance between Judaism and Christianity grew, Jews tended to ignore Jesus. After the year 1000, when persecution of Jews increased, and Jesus was perceived to be the source of all their woes, Jews adopted a more critical stance. Yet some Jewish sages, writing between the 12th and 14th centuries, could speak of Jesus as a "saint", as one who "served to prepare the whole world for the veneration of God in the communion of hearts".
The Qur' an contains several passages on Jesus and Mary. The virginal birth, the role of Jesus as a prophet, his mission to confirm the Torah, but to abrogate some of its prohibitions, the calling of "helpers" in his mission, - these are all features of the Quranic portrait of Jesus.
There are thus similarities with the Christian understanding of Jesus, but there are essential differences. The divinity of Christ is denied, as is also the reality of the Crucifixion. . . .
Hindus, who have heard about Jesus Christ from Christian missionaries, have reacted in various ways. Some have come to admire Jesus, but without any feeling of commitment to him. Others have come to know and love Jesus and have committed themselves to him, but within the context of Hinduism. Still others have responded to the person of Christ by seeking baptism and incorporation into the Church.
Mahatma Gandhi is an example of one who greatly admired the teaching of Jesus but who, as he himself said, was not interested in the historical person of the teacher. He was particularly struck by the Sermon on the Mount. For him Jesus, through his message, became an ethical symbol.
Many Hindus have no difficulty in accepting Jesus as divine. What they find difficult is the Christian understanding that the Incarnation of God in Jesus is unique. Jesus is often seen as the supreme example of self-realization, the goal of the Hindi dharma. He is taken to be a symbol of human progress. For some he becomes more of an ideal than a historical person. According to Hindu traditions, history always provides an imperfect knowledge of reality. In such a context, to identify the mystery of Jesus Christ with historical fact is seen as reducing God to imperfection.
Since Buddha deliberately avoided talking about the existence or non-existence of God, it is obvious that Buddhists will have difficulty when faced with the Christian belief in Jesus as the Son of God, true God and true man. Yet some Buddhists have paid serious attention to Jesus Christ. A contemporary Japanese scholar, Masao Abe, has reflected on the self-emptying of Christ as referred to by Paul (Phil 2: 5-8). He compares this kenosis with the concept of sunyata (emptiness) in Buddhism. Christ is here an example of denial of the self (ego). So it can be said that «Every day, here and now, we die as the old person, and resurrect as the new person with Christ».
Other Buddhists see Jesus as the liberator, because he teaches people the correct view of life, helping them out of darkness and blindness. Jesus does not impose liberation, but offers it, through faith in him. For the Dalai Lama it is the compassion of Jesus that is most striking. He sees the importance of the Gospel teaching on love of neighbour, kindness, forgiveness.”
It must be apparent from the foregoing quotations I have chosen, that I am building a case for a sort of “religion without walls”, a dogmatic system that includes more than it excludes. To some, this may seem like the road to insanity. Indeed, it is well understood that your egoic definition of who you are consists of two opposing components: who you are, and who you are not. I give this lecture all the time to children who have turned 13, and have contracted the “Jr. High Disease”-- the state of mind where you have to disagree with everything your parents say because that is the only way you can separate yourself from them and find yourself. Of course, as natural as it is, victims of the Jr. High Disease typically throw the baby out with the bath. There is a philosophy that affirms that “the more people you can relate to without going crazy, the wiser you are.” Clearly not everybody’s threshold of insanity is not the same, so most people cannot embrace the humanity of all without losing themselves. Everybody needs to have somebody they are NOT; every right needs a wrong. When it comes right down to it, the RELIGION part of Christianity is merely a question of the devotee's RANGE of intellectual capacity, NOT absolute truth.
The next comment is from, you guessed it, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Religious perspectives on Jesus
"The religious perspectives on Jesus vary among major world religions. Jesus' teachings and the retelling of his life story have significantly influenced the course of human history, and have directly or indirectly affected the lives of billions of people, even non-Christians.
Christianity teaches that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ) and the Son of God Incarnate. Christians believe that through his death and resurrection, humans can be reconciled to God and thereby are offered salvation and the promise of eternal life. These teachings emphasize that as the willing Lamb of God, Jesus chose to suffer in Calvary as a sign of his full obedience to the will of his Father, as an "agent and servant of God". Christians view Jesus as a role model, whose God-focused life believers are encouraged to imitate.
The Bahá'í Faith consider Jesus to be a manifestation of God, who are a series of personages who reflect the attributes of the divine into the human world. Bahá'ís rejects the idea that divinity was contained with a single human body.
Traditionally, Buddhists as a group take no particular view on Jesus, and Buddhism and Christianity have but a minor intersection. However, some scholars have noted similarities between the life and teachings of Gautama Buddha and Jesus. These similarities might be attributed to Buddhist missionaries sent as early as Emperor Ashoka around 250 BCE in many of the Greek Seleucid kingdoms that existed then and then later became the same regions that Christianity began. Jesus was seen as the savior and bringer of gnosis by various Gnostic sects, such as the extinct Manichaeism. In the Ahmadiyya Islamic view, Jesus survived the crucifixion and later travelled to India, where he lived as a prophet (and died) under the name of Yuz Asaf.
The Religious Science/Science of Mind teaching generally incorporates idealistic and panentheistic philosophies. RS/SOM teaches that all beings are expressions of and part of Infinite Intelligence, also known as Spirit, Christ Consciousness, or God. It teaches that, because God is all there is in the universe (not just present in Heaven, or in assigned deities, as believed by traditional teachings), Its power can be used by all humans to the extent that they recognize and align themselves with Its presence. Ernest Holmes said "God is not ... a person, but a Universal Presence ... already in our own soul, already operating through our own consciousness."
It will be noticed that even belief systems that include science fiction in their catechisms, find it difficult to keep clear of this notion of the “Christ”. Even though the orientations of these religions toward spiritual discipline may be obliquely opposed, sometimes, they can’t seem to stay clear of this idea of God incarnate. Even though they can’t look at the historical record and give a name to this Christ, they cannot escape a compulsion to acknowledge His presence. The Holy Trinity seems also to be an inescapable conclusion even for philosophers who are not wholly committed to the divinity of Jesus--as we saw last week in the writing of Joseph Campbell in A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living:
"The key to understanding the problem that’s solved with the symbolic idea of the Trinity is the Tantric saying,
'To worship a god, one must become a god.'
That is to say, you must hit that level of consciousness within yourself that is equivalent to the deity to whom you are addressing your attention.
"In the Trinity, the Father is the deity your attention is addressed to; you are the Son, knower of the Father; and the Holy Spirit represents the relationship between the two.
It seems to me you cannot have the notion of a god without having implicit the notion of a Trinity: a god, the knower of the god, and the relationship between the two, a progressive knowing that brings you closer and closer to the divine.
"The divine lives within you."
Now, I know that to many people what I am saying resides in the frontier between truth and blasphemy, and to many more it crosses way over the border into the realm of heresy. In this regard, we know that unfamiliar material is always greeted with suspicion by those who do not understand it. The shadow of "false prophet" lurks on many pages of the Bible; thus the greatest philosophical feat of all is to be able to distinguish something that is true from something that is Satanic in character. Is something Satanic because you never heard of it before? Or is something new, also true, because we are eternally directed to "Sing unto the Lord a new song!"?
Last week I sent my "HolyGhost III" sermon to my brother, a Nazarene minister. He wrote back and mentioned the section on angels.
Thanks for sharing. Your idea about angels being messengers for the Spirit is intriguing."
I wrote back and said:
"By the way, the bit about angels is not an "idea". I have either talked with angels many times, I am delusional, or I am the victim of satanic possession and am a false prophet. I feel pretty good about the "talked with angels many times" sentence. The impressions we get in prayer are heaven-sent, and the mechanism of transmission is the Angel. The fact that angels have no personal identity does not make their messages impersonal, because they come from God, the BIG PERSON. The abstract nature of the angelic "personality" is what makes their messages resonate in eternity."
It must never escape our attention that forays into the realm of the so-called "occult" may lead us down paths forged by Satan; heightened spiritual sensitivity always includes the threat of misdirection by the Prince of Liars and his minions. Still, communion with higher beings is very Biblical, and was known to all the great saints. In our thirst for higher knowledge, we must not only keep an open mind, but a DISCRIMINATING mind. As John says in 1 John 4:1-13:
"1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
4 Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.
5 They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.
6 We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit."
This passage is loaded with nuggets of encouragement and warning for the seeker of spiritual knowledge in the psychic world.
1. The sentence, "believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God" says that we do receive messages, from the Holy Spirit, message which come from the super-physical dimension, but we must not trust every impression that floats into our consciousness.
2. The sentence "Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God" attributes ultimate authority to Jesus. Thus, a simple test of the spiritual validity of any psychic impression is whether it claims, as its source, the Divinity of the Son. This is something that the spiritual devotee learns to FEEL. Trust me, I have been deceived enough times to tell the difference, but it is not an easy road, and it requires constant exercise of high-minded discrimination.
3. The sentence, "And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist," reveals the fatal weakness of Satan: he cannot bear the name of Jesus. He may twist and squirm around it, but Jesus' name is filled with the power of the armor of God, and can defeat every trick of the devil to confound us.
4. The sentence, "We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us," affirms that the devotee's love for God reveals the knowledge of God in unmitigated purity and strength.
5. Finally, the sentence, "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God," draws a pretty clear bottom line: spirituality is love of God. We Christians have given a name to God's love: it is Jesus. Conversely, when we use the word Jesus, we mean, and will always and ultimately mean: LOVE.
I have only one point to make today: the bottom line of Christianity, in all its articulate, (and thereby contradictory), expressions, is Jesus Christ. Jesus created the moment in human history when the voice of God came to Earth incarnate in the body of a Man; Jesus accepted responsibility for Original Sin, and gave His life in order to demonstrate to humankind that death is an illusion, and that God has established a Kingdom on Earth which is habitable by any who are willing to open their eyes and see it. True, absolutely essential moral imperatives are imbedded in the teachings of Jesus; but they are very, very few, and all are specific to the individual anomalous soul and not to any generalized, or culturally specific principles.
I think of the language of religion in very much the same way I think of the language of music: I know there are many levels of literacy, many vernacular and elitist dialects, but I also know that all these levels come from and lead back to a single source. The legitimacy of your chosen musical dialect depends on YOU not IT. For an example of "vernacular" Christianity we merely turn to the Fundamentalist Southern Baptist denomination; these people like things simple, down-to-earth, anti-intellectual, and black-and-white, in Alabama, mostly white, ha ha.
For an example of a more mainstream denomination we could look to the Methodists (mainstream for the present, anyway, as the fundamentalists gain ground every day); these people place a high value on church family potlucks, and community Christmas trees; the language of their catechism reads a lot like the constitution of the United States—nothing extreme, nothing particularly charismatic, very familiar, very comfortable, very 1950s, very Chamber of Commerce.
For an example of an elitist form of Christianity, or a so-called “New Thought” dialect, we turn to Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy; as you well know, I lean hard toward this body of literature for my articulated theology, and, like any snob, I have a hard time not feeling superior to lower forms of Christianity; but I know enough to recognize prideful vanity when I see it, so I never let these thoughts lead me down unwholesome paths.
The quality that distinguishes these three points on the continuum is nothing more than language, and the amount of information that language expresses. I like Steiner because, while he places Jesus squarely in the center of his belief system, his theology INCLUDES vocabulary, concepts, events, and consciousness states from many more points of origin than that of the Baptist old time religion. The problems I always had, making sense of the many socially generated articles of faith included in the Baptist (Nazarene) dogma, are done away with in Steiner’s cosmic view. Of course, it is this very cosmic dimension that is so off-putting to Fundamentalist or even Mainstream Christians, because, in an effort to do away with superstition, both of these schools of thought have tended to suspect (and condemn) anything that smacks of magic or mysticism. They seem to have lost the idea of a Heaven on Earth, where miracles are a stock in trade; they prefer to put off the experience of heavenly ecstasy for after death.
Still, what is it that makes these people one body—THE CHURCH. It is the unifying power of Jesus—Jesus the Mediator between God and Man, Jesus the perfect superman whose beneficent smile neutralizes all our estrangements in a great wave of love. Jesus’ divine intellect is available to all in whatever dialect they need to see it in. Jesus’ patience and tolerance are available to all, in whatever capacity or degree they are able to receive it.
In this regard, I have one more important point to make: much is made, in Christian dogma, of the necessity of BELIEVING in Jesus. I do not think that believing in Jesus has much to do with our ultimate salvation, nor do I consider it a requirement for membership in the Invisible Church; Jesus believes in YOU, whether you believe in Him or not; thus, as we mentioned above, religions that don’t even recognize the historical Jesus as significant, let alone divine, are not cut off from His boundless mercy and grace. Here I quote these words from C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle:
Even C. S. Lewis, a man who could never be confused with a namby-pamby, or Pantheist Christian, made allowances for differences of opinion at this basic level. At the end of The Last Battle there appears the following conversation between Aslan and a Calormene soldier--a soldier who, though born an enemy of Aslan, was, at heart, a friend:
“Then I fell at his feet and thought, surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him.”
“But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.”
“Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?
The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him.
For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.
And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.
Dost thou understand, Child?
I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.
Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou shouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek."
I have read this passage before; to me, it is one of the most meaningful sections in all of C.S. Lewis, because it affirms a basic principle: that Jesus' love is universal, and not restricted by verbal constraints. Jesus loves us all equally, and makes Himself available to everyone who tries to do good, regardless of creed or allegiance.
Religious snobs are not able to understand how Jesus can love all equally; they are not able to accept that there is no continuum in Heaven—that we are all poured into an infinity of molds, from exactly the same well; they are not able to see that One in Christ means ONE IN CHRIST. This is what it means to be a Christian—every other definition is vanity and declusion. If this belief makes me a false prophet, I have truly been deceived--but I don't think so; in Jesus' name, I don't think so.
Let us pray: Jesus, lead us to each other, and to You. Teach us to listen to our minds JUST ENOUGH for our hearts to open to your divinity in all its glory and diversity. Teach us to recognize your voice in the din; teach us the simplicity of silence. Amen.