Friday, December 9, 2011

Are We Really Here to COEXIST?

I was recently in conversation with a coworker/friend who brought up the topic of the ever popular COEXIST bumper stickers that are seen on cars everywhere. I had an opinion, but told her that I honestly hadn't researched the meaning behind the sticker enough to give a fair evaluation. She then proceeded to tell me how her and her fiancĂ© were going out one night and happened to be behind a car with a Summit Church bumper sticker (My Church) and a "Coexist" sticker right next to it, as to the reason for her question.

For those not aware, the letters that spell coexist make use of totally different religious symbols to characterize the completely different religions. Listed below are the letters used and what religion they really are for:
C – It is a crescent moon that represents Islam
O – It is  the peace symbol or pagan/Wiccan pentacle.
E – It’s the male/female symbolic representation or a scientific formula.
X – This can be  the Star of David and symbolizes Judaism.
I – It’s a pagan/Wiccan symbolic representation used.
S – This can be a Oriental yin-yang symbolic representation.
T – The cross is utilized to represent Christianity.
The word “Coexist” actually means to exist in the same space as anyone else. Indicating that all beliefs plus religions ought to try to live together in peace. The Coexist Foundation aims to increase communication plus cooperation among Jews, Christian believers and Muslims. 

The meaning in and of itself does not sound bad at all and I'm all for increased communication and cooperation. But in order to clearly answer my friends question, I want to say that I personally would not put a "Coexist" bumper sticker on my car. The reason being that we are not here to merely exist with others. 

Rather we are here to proclaim a message (the gospel) and make disciples. We are to be set apart followers of Christ who yes, coexist in the same space with people of all backgrounds and faiths in love, but we do so not in a way to say that all peoples religious paths are equal, but in a way to show that Jesus is the only way to real knowledge and truth.

So we as Christ followers should coexist with all people, but do so in a way to have an opportunity for increased communication and cooperation that quickly leads to the gospel and changed lives. 

6 comments:

  1. I love my Coexist sticker :). I absolutely use it as a means for everyoneto exist in peace. Of course when it comes to spiritual things, I tend to take what is true to me whether that be from one religion or another or sometimes none. I firmly believe there are multiple paths to God - not just one. As unique as each human is, there is not a one size fits all type of approach to being one with God. Studies into other religions show this. I definitely respect you for your path that you've chosen, and your willingness to share God's love in your path of connection with God. I also respect everyone's right to choose their connection as well. -Sarah Salazar

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  2. Sarah, I appreciate your input, but would like to inquire as to how you got away from Jesus being the only way? From what you described it sounds like syncretism to me, which is not truth, but a big pile of mess.

    In studying world religions, every other religion in the world attempts "good" things for God in order to be approved by God and receive things from God. Christianity is the only one that is flipped upside down by saying, that it is because of what Christ has done in my place that I am fully accepted by God because the reality is that on our own we would not do good things.

    You see we can firmly believe whatever we want about multiple paths to God, but this does not change the reality of what God himself told us through the prophets and in His written Word. I think what we need to ask ourselves here is did the resurrection happen? If so then it changes everything and points to the one and only truth.

    Thanks again for the discussion!

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  3. "All paths lead to God" sounds nice on the surface--God is love, so why would He reject those who sincerely seek after Him?--but when we try to apply that to both theoretical questions and real world examples, the idea becomes difficult to defend. Books have been written on this topic, and I could ramble on and on, so let me limit myself to a few points.

    1) Jesus said He was the *only* way to the Father. Was Jesus a liar, lunatic, or Lord? Or did His Apostles change His teachings? If so, what evidence would support that contention?

    2) Matthew is going to India soon. Let's look at an example that would apply directly to His work. Saint Thomas (the Apostle) went to India in the first century. He converted several thousand Hindus to Christianity, and then was killed by other Hindus.

    a) Was He wrong to convert Hindus to Christ? Is Hinduism for Indians, and Christianity for Europeans and Mediterraneans?

    b) Were the Hindus wrong to kill Saint Thomas?

    3) I am an Orthodox Christian priest. Today we Orthodox Christians celebrate the Holy New-Martyr George of Chios (+1806). He converted to Islam under duress to avoid prosecution for theft, but later regretted His apostasy, repented, and professed Christ in front of the Muslims, and was killed by them.

    a) If all religions are paths to God, did Saint George the New Martyr need to die?

    b) Will St. George be in Heaven next to the Muslims who killed Him? After all, they killed Him according to the dictates of their religion.

    c) If all religions are paths to God, how can be say that St. George was right to deny Islam, and profess Christ? But if all religions are paths to God, then how can we say that St. George was wrong to follow His conscience? How do we determine truth here? Or is there no truth?

    4) I like to use the analogy of the GPS. Some people say they are "spiritual, but not religious." That is like saying, "I want to go to New York, but I am not going to take a map or a GPS. After all, there are many paths to New York." The question is, if you don't have a map, and say there were no street signs, would you make it? Maybe, but most likely not. Doctrine is the GPS, the map, the compass, the sign, which points us to life in Christ God, which enables us to have true spirituality.

    5) "All paths to God" is actually man-centered. If "all paths lead to God," then God is too stupid to reveal the truth about Himself, and people have to fumble about with their own ideas to try and grab ahold of a God who is so far away and so unknowable that we can never say we have the sure way to Him. If that is the case, how do we ever know we are on the right path?

    6) If it's all about "becoming a better person" on our own terms, then why believe in God at all? Would God be offended by a moralistic atheist?

    I've been to India twice, and seen Islam and Hinduism firsthand. I've been in Sikh temples, and I have been in Christian and Mormon Churches here, in India, and in Europe. When I was in a Hindu temple, and when I was in a Mormon Church, I saw demons. Physically. Broad daylight. Am I crazy? How would we determine this? When I was baptized in the Orthodox Christian Church, my life changed for the better, and various sins that I could not overcome on my own were instantly removed from me by the grace of Christ. Could I have attained the same results through any religion? If so, then why am I bothering with Christianity?

    I've posted a lot of points. I may be rambling. I don't expect a response; however, I do pray that you Sarah and anyone else reading this post will at least pray to God about these questions and seek the answers.

    In Christ, the Only True God,

    Father Anastasios
    Raleigh, NC

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  4. Syncretism is a great way to learn how to be open to new concepts and grow as a person. I am fine with the idea that we have different ways of seeing things. I am not okay with the fact that you say, "Are we really here to Coexist?" If you are only referring to Christians as the "we" part, maybe your argument is valid, but even so, as diverse as the Christian religion is, there may be argument for the different views within it as well. For the "we" as a human race with many different beliefs and opinions, the argument of being disciples, having prophets, believing in a resurrection, and have a set word of God isn't valid. There are many, many religions who believe in prophets of God, books of God, other written accounts of things in God's name or God's doing or God's will. There are also many religions who believe in demons, so as far as Father Anastasios being able to see what he believed to be a demon anywhere does not help to convince me of Christianity's one and only true path as part of his argument is moot. By the way, I am absolutely capable of doing good things without professing a certain religion or path of life or even seeking approval from anyone. If this was not so, all bad things happening to the world would be blamed on non-Christians. For God’s grace, as it is in the Bible, to be on those who do not believe in the Christian religion would be hypocrisy.
    I disagree with you also saying that religions other than Christianity (in the form to which you're referring) are based on God's approval of good deeds for acceptance by God. In that I do not feel there has been enough research or understanding of the research you've completed or come to believe through someone else's writings or accounts to validate your claim. Here is the issue - opening your mind and heart to receive what God says is valid without the use of human words or influence would help you find reality.
    Here’s the deal – what we experience within ourselves is what God intends for us to know. The Bible is incomplete in explaining many things and would rather have people of Christian faith blindly believe in God and his working rather than fully explaining. It is the same with many written “God-inspired” books. That is my problem with choosing any major religion really – every single one believes that theirs is the only way. The accounts that go along with any religion help to convince others of their “validity.” How can you tell a devout Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Native American, Mayan, etc, etc that what they have experienced is not truth – that what they know to be reality is in fact not reality. Along similar lines, how do you convince another Christian that their specific way of interpreting the Bible is wrong? This is where the multiple paths come in, and the religions stay out. I did not say all paths lead to God…I said there are multiple paths. This is between a person and God, and is honestly of no one else’s business. Flaunting what you’ve seen or heard or believe to be true based on what God has given you to believe between you and him is shameless. It is a deeply personal relationship within one’s self. One person’s truth is not always someone else’s truth.
    (more continues below)

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  5. Father Anastasios,
    Reading through your points, they are about the validity of Christianity and having what you call “a life in Christ God.” I am sure you are well aware of all religions killing in the name of “my God” and “my Book” so pointing out injustices against Christians is also moot. Does anyone have a right to kill anyone else in the name of any God? Ask your God. Personally, my relationship with God has taught me that doing injustice to anyone is not my right. Doing awful, inhumane acts are not indiscriminately a non-Christian attribute as there have been many Christians who have done the same, even in the Old Testament of your Bible. Any encompassing, full of love God would not condone these acts on the part of anyone. Ergo, the religions that do need to really ask themselves if this belief is one truly valid of God.

    This point: 5) "All paths to God" is actually man-centered. If "all paths lead to God," then God is too stupid to reveal the truth about Himself, and people have to fumble about with their own ideas to try and grab ahold of a God who is so far away and so unknowable that we can never say we have the sure way to Him. If that is the case, how do we ever know we are on the right path? – makes absolutely no sense. How could any path to God be man centered? In saying there are multiple paths (I did not say all paths) that lead to God shows that God is not stupid. If God reveals himself one way to one person and another way to another person which is obviously the discrepancies in many religions, how are we to judge which is ultimate truth? How are you to say to someone who reaches a state of enlighten that they are wrong? They do not know God? How do you tell someone who says they have been given a gift/burden of speaking with those who have passed beyond this world that because of your beliefs, they are the ones who are crazy – how do you measure that?
    To both Matt and Father Anastasios,
    I have written quite a bit to just say that there is too much left unknown for any one person to profess complete and ultimate truth. The whys, whens, and hows may never be answered. To say that I pray for truth to be shown to me, as many of people of many different religions do, and go into the world with an open heart and mind to answer these questions, I only expect to be shown what God intends for me to know. If someone came to you and professed to know the complete and ultimate truth from God and it was not the same as yours, would you accept it? Here’s what I hope for both of you – open up your heart and your mind to what others have to say – seek out the things that you have not witnessed, but others proclaim to be truth, and then see within yourself what is your reality with God. This is a lifelong process, and here’s a tidbit into what I believe, never ending life cycles process, of growth between yourself and God.
    –Sarah Salazar

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  6. There is too much to unpack here in the amount of time I have to respond, but will note a few things briefly.

    Any good thing that one does would fall under "common grace" meaning that it was by God's grace that the individual did any good thing. In the US, although not a Christian nation, we have been influenced by a Judeo-Christian mindset, which has set up some "good" culture norms as appropriate behavior.

    In regards to other religions, you can study them all and see that it all depends on you as the individual and your obedience so that you can be accepted. Tim Keller says it this way, "Religion says I obey, therefore I am accepted. The Gospel is I am accepted, therefore I can obey."

    As far as having an open heart and mind, I like to think that I do. I have friend that are part of all the major religions of the world and we often have open discussions on differences of faith. That is one thing that I am thankful for in the US that we can choose whatever religion or spiritual path that we want.

    I do truly appreciate your feedback because I believe that many that we were around in school having taken your same viewpoint. But for me to sit on the side and do nothing would be a disservice to you, them, and people of other faiths because I am on a mission that will not allow me to do nothing.

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