Daily Archives: August 16, 2010

Can A Person Be A Christian Buddhist?

Thirty-six years ago, Naropa University was founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Buddhist teacher in the Kagyü and Nyingma Buddhist traditions. The school has slowly become quite influential in my city. And my limited exposure to them has been quite positive. The school pursues what is called “Buddhist inspired contemplative education.”

Stuart Lord is the current president of Naropa University. Ironically enough, he is an ordained Protestant minister. In a recent interview with the Denver Post, Lord answered an intriguing question. The reporter asked him, “Is it strange to be a Christian minister and president of Naropa?”

“I am a spiritual person,” he replied. “For the last seven years I consider myself a Christian Buddhist. I can merge them together and try to be awake in the world and work toward being an enlightened person.”

Merging two or more faiths into one—or even tailoring an amalgamation of personal beliefs with an established faith—has become the faith de rigeur.

Can a person really be a Christian Buddhist, or Buddhist Christian, or Hindu, or Muslim? Can a person borrow from the best of all religions in order to build a valid faith?

Please join me as we discuss this in today’s daily Bible conversation.

TODAY’S READING

Nehemiah 11:1-12:26
1 Corinthians 10:14-33
Psalm 34:11-22
Proverbs 21:14-16

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Nehemiah 11:1-12:26. After rebuilding the wall, the leaders decided that the city needed to be populated with more people. Since no one wanted to move there, lots were cast to determine the “lucky” winners. People didn’t want to live in Jerusalem because it had been decimated and was a constant source of contention between the Jews and their neighbors.

Looks like things haven’t changed over the last 2500 years.

This brings to mind David’s words in Psalm 122:6: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May those who love you be secure.’” When Jerusalem is at peace, much of the world is at peace.

Another reason why the people were reluctant to move to Jerusalem was because they would be forced to leave their farms and their jobs in order to live in the city.

But consider the work of Ezra and Nehemiah to rescue Jerusalem from oblivion. Without their efforts (and the blessing of God), the city would have likely been buried in the graveyard of other great ancient cities like Babylon and Nineveh.

Psalm 34:11-22. Verse 18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” While this could be read as a reference to people who have experienced great loss—and it is—I think it goes much deeper than that. This passage is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in the beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-10:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Acknowledging our brokenness—our faults, our shortcomings, our sin—isn’t easy. Doing so leaves us vulnerable to criticism. But the humble of heart encounter Jesus in their vulnerability. And they also begin to look a lot like him.

Proverbs 21:14–15. If you’re like me, verse 14 probably bothered you: “A gift given in secret soothes anger, and a bribe concealed in the cloak pacifies great wrath.”

Aren’t we supposed to pursue justice? Of course. Scholars point to this proverb as an observation of everyday life. It isn’t saying that it’s okay to offer bribes—it’s just an observation. In fact, verse 15 asserts the opposite, that justice is important: “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.”

Elsewhere, bribery is frowned upon in Proverbs. For example, Proverbs 17:23 says, “A wicked man accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the course of justice.”

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

While eating meat sacrificed to idols might be okay, Paul explains that entering a pagan temple and eating meat sacrificed to idols is not (1 Corinthians 10:14-22). Paul discouraged this not because there was anything magical in the meat, but because the pagan temples posed a great temptation to avowed followers of Christ. Not only that, but participating in the “best of both worlds” by partaking of the Lord’s table and the “table of demons” was contradictory. To paraphrase Paul, a follower of Jesus cannot be a worshipper of God and idols at the same time.

Does this mean that the Christian faith is superior to all other religions and that Christianity can gain nothing from other faiths?

Let’s start with the second half of the question: All truth is God’s truth, whether it comes from Christianity or another religion. We can learn from the contemplative insights of Buddhists or the dedication to prayer of Muslims. The Jewish faith as well as Christianity did not form out of a vacuum. Before God gave Moses the sacrificial system, other religions at that time offered sacrifices. Examples of similar worship practices to Christianity in other religions are evident as well. In fact, many Christian traditions today were borrowed from pagan religions.

But dual allegiances simply cannot exist. One of my daughters likes to talk about her two best friends. This is impossible because the word “best” implies only one person. Of course, when I explain this to her, she ignores me.

Merging two or more faiths into one will ultimately compromise both faiths. If all religions were basically the same, we wouldn’t have different religions. Anyone who has studied comparative religions knows that while faiths may exhibit certain similarities, they are quite unique from each other.

In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul refers to participation in the Lord’s table. Partaking of the body and blood of Jesus isn’t just a nice religious ritual. It’s an action that says, “Jesus, you alone are my sustenance and the food for my soul.” Eating meat sacrificed to idols in the temple was akin to saying the same thing to an idol.

Regarding the first half of the question: No, I’m not saying that Christianity is superior to other religions. Most religions offer insights that help me worship God. Yet, I can’t ignore Jesus’ claim. He said, “I am THE way and THE truth and THE life. NO ONE comes to the Father except through me” (CAPS added). This sounds exclusive because it is. If Jesus had claimed that the best of all religions lead to God, he wouldn’t have been nailed to a cross.

Unfortunately, some followers of Jesus have used this fact as an opportunity to beat people over the head. That is not my intent here. In fact, I shy away from using the term “Christian” because some “Christians” have made a bad name for other followers of Jesus.

But in an age that values tolerance, Paul’s words offer us a reminder that the religions of the world do not teach the same basic message.

Jesus taught his followers that love, not tolerance, is most important. Respect for other religions is crucial. Yet we cannot compromise this one truth: Jesus claimed to be the only way to God.

It can be a hard pill for some people to swallow. It doesn’t sound politically correct. But if it’s true—that Jesus loves me so much he chose to die for my sins so I can enjoy a relationship with God for forever—then I want to give him my life.

And I hope you do too.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. How have you encountered Jesus in your brokenness?
  3. Do you feel pressured to believe that all religions lead to God? How do you respond?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.

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