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Interfaith Described Below Is Presented as a Good Thing
But Is It Biblical?
Interfaith dialogue or interfaith relations refers to cooperative, constructive, and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions (i.e., “faiths”) and/or spiritual or humanistic beliefs, at both the individual and institutional levels. It is aimed at promoting understanding between different religions or beliefs to increase acceptance and tolerance.
Historical and Modern Contexts of Interfaith Relations
Historically, interfaith dialogue has been perceived as a way to promote social cohesion and peace among diverse religious communities. It serves as a platform where religious beliefs, practices, and customs are shared and mutual understanding is encouraged.
In contemporary society, interfaith activities and initiatives have increased significantly. The proliferation of global transportation and communication has brought diverse people into closer contact, necessitating an understanding of differing faith perspectives. Many cities now have formal interfaith councils where leaders from different religious communities can come together to discuss matters of common concern.
Approaches to Interfaith Dialogue
The manner in which interfaith dialogue is approached can vary considerably, but there are a few general principles that many agree are vital for successful conversations.
Respect: Participants must approach others’ beliefs with respect, acknowledging the sincerity of their faith and their right to hold their beliefs.
Listening: Genuine dialogue involves active listening. It is not merely about advocating for one’s own position but seeking to understand the viewpoint of the other party.
Learning: The goal of interfaith dialogue is not to convert the other party but to learn from them. By understanding the beliefs of others, participants can gain a broader perspective and develop greater empathy and respect for other faith traditions.
Interfaith dialogue has the potential to build bridges between communities, fostering mutual respect and understanding. It does not seek to eliminate differences but to acknowledge and appreciate the rich diversity of religious life.
Bible Truths Will Not Merge with False Teachings
God’s Unchanging Truth and Exclusivity
From the earliest days, Jehovah God made His standards clear to the Israelites, His chosen people. In Deuteronomy 32:4, He is described as the “Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” This Scripture illustrates the unwavering and unchanging nature of God. He is faithful and just, His works are perfect, and His ways are upright.
Uncompromising Scriptural Truth
In the context of interfaith discussions, it’s important to understand God’s perspective on truth and falsehood. Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17:17 is instructive: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” This means that truth, according to the Christian faith, is not relative or susceptible to personal interpretation. The word of God is truth, absolute and unchanging.
The apostle Peter reiterated the enduring nature of God’s word in 1 Peter 1:25: “but the word of the Lord remains forever.” This speaks to the enduring nature of God’s word. It does not fade, change, or get outdated. It remains constant.
Bible Truths and False Teachings
The Scriptures present an unwavering adherence to Jehovah’s commands and a clear stance against merging His teachings with those that are false or misleading. The Bible frequently warns against adopting the practices of other religions or blending religious beliefs, as these would lead to a dilution of the pure worship that Jehovah requires.
For example, in the Old Testament, Jehovah explicitly instructed the Israelites not to adopt the religious practices of the nations around them (Deuteronomy 12:30). He made it clear that His people were to worship Him exclusively and follow His laws and commands without merging them with the false teachings of other nations.
Therefore, from these Biblical viewpoints, interfaith as a merger of religious truths and practices is incompatible with the absolute truth of God’s word, as understood by conservative Christian theology. The pursuit of unity or peace should not compromise the clear and unchanging truths that Jehovah God has laid out in His word. It’s vital to uphold the sanctity and exclusivity of God’s teachings, recognizing them as the ultimate standard of truth and the guide for life and worship.
Jehovah’s Opposition to False Gods and Interfaith Demonstrated in Egypt
Exodus Chapter 8:25-26 provides an enlightening instance of Jehovah’s steadfast opposition to interfaith and false gods. This part of the Exodus narrative is set against the backdrop of the plagues Jehovah God brought upon Egypt, through Moses, to force Pharaoh to free the Israelites from slavery.
In these verses, Pharaoh suggests a compromise. He proposes that the Israelites do not need to leave Egypt to offer their sacrifices to Jehovah. They can do it right there in the land. However, Moses rejects this proposal, pointing out that offering sacrifices to Jehovah in Egypt would be detestable to the Egyptians: “It would not be right to do so, for the offerings we shall sacrifice to Jehovah our God are an abomination to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice offerings abominable to the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us?” (Exodus 8:26).
Moses’ response demonstrates the inherent incompatibility between the worship of Jehovah and the worship of the Egyptian deities. The sacrifices acceptable to Jehovah were detestable to the Egyptians, highlighting the stark difference between true worship of Jehovah and the worship of false gods.
This exchange underscores Jehovah’s unchanging position against interfaith. He does not permit His worship to be mixed with that of false gods or be carried out in a way that dishonors Him. The act of worshiping Jehovah involves not just offering sacrifices but also doing so in a manner that is consistent with His commands and standards.
Therefore, by insisting that the Israelites leave Egypt to worship Jehovah appropriately, the Scripture affirms God’s consistent opposition to interfaith and false gods. The worship of Jehovah is unique and distinct, and it cannot be merged with the worship of false gods without violating His commands and principles.
Jehovah’s Law Against Interfaith Movements
Jehovah gave explicit laws against interfaith practices to his people, the Israelites. These laws can be found in numerous places in the Scriptures, such as Deuteronomy 6:14-15, where the Israelites were commanded not to follow or worship other gods, the gods of the peoples around them. The penalty for disobedience was severe: “For Jehovah, your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.”
The Consequences of Disobedience
When the Israelites failed to heed Jehovah’s command against interfaith practices, it led to severe consequences. There are several instances in the Old Testament where Israel fell into idolatry, leading to spiritual decline, societal corruption, and even the eventual destruction and exile of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel (2 Kings 17:7-23; Jeremiah 25:8-11).
Solomon’s plight provides a noteworthy case study of the dangers of interfaith practices. Known for his wisdom, Solomon, unfortunately, disregarded Jehovah’s law regarding intermarriage with foreign women who worshipped other gods. As recorded in 1 Kings 11:1-4, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, many of whom were from nations about which Jehovah had warned the Israelites. These women turned Solomon’s heart after their gods, leading him to worship Ashtoreth, Milcom, and others.
The Aftermath of Solomon’s Interfaith Activities
Solomon’s interfaith activities resulted in significant consequences. Because of his disobedience, Jehovah declared that He would tear the kingdom away from Solomon’s house, sparing only one tribe for the sake of David, Solomon’s father (1 Kings 11:11-13). Indeed, after Solomon’s death, the Kingdom of Israel was divided into two – the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. This division, triggered by Solomon’s disobedience, led to a long period of instability, wars, and idolatry. The Scriptures clearly demonstrate that Jehovah forbids interfaith movements among His people. Disobedience to this command, as illustrated by Israel’s history and Solomon’s downfall, leads to serious consequences, further underscoring the importance of maintaining pure worship of Jehovah.
Jesus Was Not Involved In Nor Did He Encourage Interfaith
However, there are those in the modern Christian community who assert that Jesus himself advocated for interfaith movements. They often cite Mark 9:38-40 (ESV) in support of this idea: “John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.’” They argue that this passage demonstrates the appropriateness of different religious organizations working in their own unique ways. Yet, since they all function on the basis of Jesus’ name, they can and should participate in interfaith movements that pursue certain shared, broad goals while maintaining complete doctrinal independence for each organization.
Yet, this perspective neglects the specific context of the time. Not all believers in Jesus physically followed him along with the twelve apostles. Some who expressed a desire to follow Jesus were instructed to return home and testify about him there (Mark 5:18-20). Thus, it was not essential for this man to physically accompany Jesus to be considered an ally. When Jesus dispatched his twelve apostles to spread his teachings, his instructions did not entail the establishment of Christian congregations, nor was this instruction given to the seventy dispatched later (Matt. 10:1-42; Luke 10:1-16). The apostles’ role was simply to bear witness from house to house, identifying believers in the process. At this stage, Jesus did not establish a congregational arrangement in opposition to the synagogues. Instead, he permitted the synagogues to persist, and his followers continued to attend their services. He himself attended and preached about the Prophets and the Law, which was still in effect and which he did not oppose (Matt. 5:17; Luke 4:15-21). Consequently, the young man who preached and expelled demons in the name of Jesus didn’t need to be in the immediate company of Jesus and the twelve apostles. His separation did not imply he belonged to a separate congregation, as the Christian congregation had not yet been established during this period.
Once the Pentecost had occurred and Jesus had built up his spiritual congregation with himself as the anointed King, distinct congregations of Christians began to form. If this young man wanted to be a genuine follower of Christ, he could no longer separate himself from the community of Christians. Instead, he needed to associate with a group of Christians and work alongside them to receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual gifts, either through or in the presence of Jesus’ apostles. The era of individual preaching and expulsion of demons was over. Had the young man attempted to continue such activities, he would have wrongly attempted to build up his own organization of followers. His use of Jesus’ name to exorcise demons would have been improper, leading to disastrous results similar to the sons of Sceva, Jews who invoked Jesus’ name without embracing Christianity. This was evidenced by the ensuing narrative which showed that sincere converts rejected such previous practices and joined the established Christian congregational arrangement (Acts 19:13-20).
Therefore, the case of this young man does not validate the existence of multiple sects and cults operating in Jesus’ name. They stand against God’s faithful servants who presently preach Jesus and his kingdom. Since they are against the least of his brothers, they stand against Jesus himself, and their mere use of Jesus’ name does not earn them recognition as genuine followers (Matt. 7:21; 25:40, 45). They resemble the religious sects of the Jews in Jesus’ day who used God’s name but attempted to scatter the sheep: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matt. 12:30). There is no middle ground; one is either for or against. The loose bonds of interfaith cannot reconcile the two sides.
The Inherent Nature of Truth
The nature of truth is an essential question in philosophy and religion. In the context of an increasingly globalized and interconnected world, many people propose that truth might be relative, varying from one culture, society, or religion to another. Advocates of interfaith movements often suggest that no single religion can possess the exclusive claim to truth. They argue that religious exclusivity can contribute to societal tensions and conflicts. However, a close examination of the Scriptures offers a different perspective on this matter.
God as the Source of Absolute Truth
Jehovah is portrayed in the Scriptures as “the God of truth” (Psalm 31:5). His divine nature, including his truthfulness, does not fluctuate over time or according to individual perspectives. Jehovah’s immutability is emphasized in Malachi 3:6, where He declares, “I do not change.” This unwavering consistency applies not only to His character but also to the truths He imparts.
The Scriptures as the Embodiment of Truth
Jesus Christ, in his prayer to Jehovah, stated, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). This affirmation reveals the Bible, as Jehovah’s word, to be the epitome of truth, not subject to personal interpretations or cultural variations. Rather than endorsing the idea of relative truth, the Scriptures uphold the existence of universal, absolute truths.
The Scriptures are divinely inspired, holding the power to instruct and equip believers “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). They are the conduit through which Jehovah communicates His unchanging truth to humanity. As such, they offer definitive guidance on matters of morality, faith, and spiritual life, providing a firm foundation on which to base one’s beliefs and actions.
While the concept of relative truth may be appealing in fostering tolerance and coexistence among diverse religions and cultures, it does not align with the Biblical portrayal of Jehovah and His word. The Scriptures present Jehovah as the unchanging God of truth, and the Bible as the embodiment of that absolute truth. Therefore, from this scriptural perspective, truth is not a matter of personal or societal interpretation but an unchanging reality rooted in the character and word of Jehovah.