Wednesday, August 09, 2006

PSEUDO-MISSION: The Road to Syncretism

“And that’s what God is doing today, He’s calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don't have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in heaven.”
(Billy Graham on Robert Schuller’s “Hour of Power,” #1426,"Say 'Yes' To Possibility Thinking," May 31, 1997 [Schuller agreed with Graham, ed.])

"There is a simpler, more universal, less contentious and less expressive religion coming into human consciousness which might be called the religion of the modern man, the religious aspecct of the coming world-culture."
(Re-Thinking Missions, 1932, p. 21)

Pastor Anton Bosch, commenting on this particular remark by Billy Graham, and describing recent similar comments by other well-known evangelical leaders, wrote:

"The theological term for this is 'inclusivism' meaning that all are included. A slightly different form of the same thing is called 'universalism.' There are different versions of this heresy, some more extreme than others. …

"[W]e are being bombarded with feelings of guilt because we dare be so intolerant and bigoted to suggest that only those who accept the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ can be saved. We are told to be tolerant of others and that it is 'unchristian' and unloving to believe, let alone say that Jesus is the only way to God."

This heresy of "inclusivism" had its beginnings in "contextualization." Contextualization was a bait and switch. It was first proposed as a way to make the Gospel more relevant to different cultures. The anthropologists and social scientists had persuaded religious leaders that tailoring the Gospel to fit the alternative dynamics of eastern and pagan cultures would make it more relevant and compassionate. This strategy was first proposed as a viable mission strategy in 1932 as a result of the Laymen's Inquiry which resulted in the book Re-Thinking Missions. Yesterday's post explained some of the background to this Inquiry which set the future course for missionary work.

The committee’s report for the Re-Thinking Missions Laymen's Inquiry project was quite stunning. It called for an “altered theological outlook” – “world-view changes” – for global mission work. The report first outlined the positive achievements of "modern" science which had made Christianity much more positive by its inclusion:

“It would be a poor compliment to our theological insight if a hundred years so full of intellectual development, of advance in scientific thought and of philosophical activity, had brought no progress in the conceptions attending our religious experience….

“Of all changes in the world, a theological change will bear most directly upon the missionary motive. If the conception of hell changes, if attention is drawn away from the fear of God’s punitive justice in the everlasting torment of the unsaved, to happier conceptions of destiny, if there is a shift of concern from other-worldly issues to the problems of sin and suffering in the present life, these changes will immediately alter that view of the perils of the soul which gave to the original motive of Protestant missions much of its poignant urgency.

“Generally speaking, these changes have occurred: Western Christianity has in the main shifted its stress from the negative to the affirmative side of its message; it is less a religion of fear and more a religion of beneficence. It has passed through and beyond the stage of bitter conflict with the scientific consciousness of the race over details of the mode of creation, the age of the earth, the descent of man, miracle and law, to the stage of maturity in which a free religion and a free science become inseparable and complementary elements in a complete world-view. Whatever its present conception of the future life, there is little disposition to believe that sincere and aspiring seekers after God in other religions are to be damned: it has become less concerned in any land to save men from eternal punishment than from the danger of losing the supreme good.” (pp. 18-19) [emphasis added]

The report then proceeded to lay the groundwork for a new gospel of contextualization:

“There are thus several factors conspiring to one end: namely, the necessity that the modern mission make a positive effort, first of all to know and understand the religions around it, then to recognize and associate itself with whatever kindred elements there are in them.” (p. 33) [italics in original, bold added]

To illustrate this point, Re-Thinking Missions quoted from a missionary's letter which stated in glowing words that:

"'…[A] new attitude is developing. It has grown out of the belief that we all, Christians, Buddhists, Shintoists, or whatever other faith, have much to learn from each other and much to contribute to each other. Also we feel that if we spiritual leaders are to accomplish anything for the good of society as a whole we ought first to get together as religionists and come to know each other sympathetically.'" (p. 34) [emphasis added]

Commenting on this letter, Re-Thinking Missions described the hindrances to such compatibility with other faiths -- namely Fundamentalism. Notice that previous traditional missionary work was described as "the conquest of the world" -- a gross overstatement:

“The direction of growth, here indicated, may appear so natural that the extent of the implied change of attitude is not realized. Out account has not yet brought forward the most powerful of the reasons which have inspired the long hesitation, namely this: that the friendly recognition of other faiths means to many Christians in the mission fields and at home an essential disloyalty, a compromise with error, and a surrender of the uniqueness of Christianity.…

“The original objective of the mission might be stated as the conquest of the world by Christianity: it was a world benevolence conceived in terms of a world campaign. There was one way of salvation and only one, one name, one atonement: this plan with its particular historical center in the career of Jesus must become the point of regard for every human soul. The universal quality of Christianity lay not along in its valid principles of truth and morals, but in an essential paradox, the universal claim of one particular historic fact: the work of Christ.…” (p. 35-36) [emphasis added]

Therefore, a solution was suggested to overcome the troublesome exclusiveness of the traditional tenets of Christianity -- the assertion that there is a common core of truth in all faiths. In other words, a foundation upon which to form a basis for syncretism:

“If there were not at the core of all the creeds a nucleus of religious truth, neither Christianity nor any other faith would have anything to build on.” (p. 37) [emphasis added]

To open the door more completely to new spirituality, Re-Thinking Missions exaggerated contending for the faith (calling it an "attack") and suggested more "positive" solutions:

“It is clearly not the duty of the Christian missionary to attack the non-Christian systems of religion. Nor is it his primary duty to denounce the errors and abuses he may see in them: it is his primary duty to present in positive form his conception of the true way of life and let it speak for itself.” (p. 40) [emphasis added]

“The Christian will… regard himself a co-worker with the forces which are making for righteousness within every religious system. If he can in any way aid or encourage these forces, he will regard it a part of his Christian service to spend thought and energy this way." (p. 40) [emphasis added]

Finally, the occult aspects of these other world religions are dismissed entirely as "superstition" which enlightened people need no longer treat as real:

"At present the most effective influence combating superstition is the spread of general enlightenment, especially of the scientific habit of mind…." (p. 41) [emphasis added]

Re-Thinking Missions was a pivotal report which laid the foundation for evangelical missionary endeavors, a point which is acknowledged by C. Peter Wagner (see Herescope post 7/31/06). Reading this report sheds considerable light on the problems and issues that are prevalent today. Interestingly, Billy Graham's father-in-law, Dr. Nelson Bell -- a medical missionary -- opposed this report, calling its methods "subtly coercive and improper." (Colby & Dennett, Thy Will Be Done, p. 40)

The Truth:

Pastor Bosch offered an excellent refutation of this situation in his commentary.

"For the truth we cannot rely on the opinions of men but have to trust the Word of God alone. It was Jesus Himself who said: 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.' (John 14:6). Now which part of that verse is hard to understand or is open to interpretation? The words 'no one' and 'except' are as narrow and exclusive as you can get. Peter said: 'Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved' (Acts 4:12). Paul said: “There is… one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1Tim 2:5). Hebrews asks how we will escape (since there is no escape), if we neglect the salvation that came through Jesus Christ (Heb 2:4). Over and over the Bible clearly teaches that there is no other way to be saved except through faith in the finished work of the Cross. Jesus said that those who try to enter by some other way are thieves and robbers (John 10:8).

"To say that there are other ways of salvation is basically saying that Jesus wasted His time to come in the flesh and to suffer and die! If God can save others through some other means then there was no need for Christ to die. Don’t you think if there was some other way, God would have used it? Did Jesus not ask this very question at the eleventh hour? But there was no other way. Jesus Had to die in our place and take our sin so that His righteousness can be reckoned to us. To say that people can be saved apart from the work of the Cross, is surely the greatest blasphemy against the precious Blood of Jesus Christ!…

"Don’t let the world deceive you into believing that it is unloving to tell people that Jesus is the only way. It is not loving to tell someone that they are just fine and that they will be saved even though they are on their way to eternal damnation. If we really love people, we will speak the truth to them. But, we have to do that in a loving and compassionate way. Unfortunately many of us adopt the attitude of 'I’m right and you’re wrong – so there.' No, by God’s grace we have been saved and we need to show the same love, compassion and mercy on those who do not know the Way as the Lord showed us. But we cannot be so afraid of offending people that we never tell them the truth.

"There is only one way to God and we must preach that message with all our might. Let’s love those of other religions enough to tell them that Jesus and Jesus alone saves."