Jesus Calls All Religions to Repent and Reform

If Christians understood Jesus as he came to us, as the One who calls all religions to reform and repentance, we would listen to and respect, and not ignore or hate, the voices of all other faiths.

Concerned citizens gathered this past week at the Islamic Center of DeKalb, Illinois, to share grief, hope, and shared humanity in the face of the massacre of Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was one more bit of evidence that people with hatred in their hearts and guns in their hands can, tragically, cause immense bloodshed; but people with respect for the infinite worth of each human life will always be victorious.

As a Christian, I take heart in the thought that respect, and even love, for all people is a quality that is cherished and espoused by the faith I live for. I believe that this quality is alive in the hearts of good people in all of our denominations. However, there is a viral ideology out there that has the power to infect and degrade universal respect of shared humanity.

That ideology is known as Christian, or evangelical Zionism. To be precise, it is neither Christian nor evangelical. Born out of a false view of biblical prophecy, this ideology leads people to think of God’s love for all the world’s peoples as being trumped by an almighty, cold chain of inevitability. This imagined “divine plan” is all about an idolatry of fate and has nothing to do with the self-giving love of a sovereign God that we see and celebrate in Lent, Holy Week and Easter. The idea that the future we hope for includes a rapture to heaven of true believers to make way for the destruction of despised and rejected infidels is an abomination, and a total distortion of the biblical witness. When Christians are fooled into searching for prophesied signs of God’s plan in the events in Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East, they inevitably look past God’s real, eternal concern: the lives of all of the peoples there—Jewish, Muslim, Christian and secular.

The most tragic effect of this is that it has caused some of the most powerful people in our nation and our world to disregard the real suffering of Palestinians, and to discount their human rights and needs in the equations of foreign affairs. Hundreds of thousands of them have languished for generations in refugee camps, hoping some day to breathe free. Meanwhile, no less a central figure in our nation’s diplomacy than Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly declares that this kind of rapture ideology and blinkered understanding steers his vision and work.

It is essential that all people of good will treasure the religion of Judaism, recoil at the horrors of the Holocaust, learn the lessons from that tragedy, and stand against all anti-Semitism. It is also essential that we support the state of Israel as a bulwark of democracy in a region with far too much brutal autocracy, and stand against terrorism as the threat against human decency that it is. But, for the sake of the respect and love for all humanity that the biblical God champions, we must also reject any ideology that causes us to think of people—real flesh and blood people—as mere pawns in a warped vision of some heavenly great game of chess.

The Letter to the Ephesians asserts that Jesus Christ, on the cross, broke down the dividing wall between peoples. In 2 Corinthians 5.17 the Apostle Paul says that in Christ there is a new creation. The impact of Christ is such because he was not the agent of any particular religion, but a power from God to call all religion to repentance and to reformation.

It is inevitable that part of the exercise of religion is to define boundaries in the hope of defining identity and belonging. “We believe this. We do thus. We live and die for these things. And this distinguishes us from them.”

But the universal restoration that Peter talks about in Jerusalem on Solomon’s Portico of the Temple in Acts 3.17-21, means that God’s aim is to break down much of those things we build up in our religion. All that divides is to be swept away. All that gathers is to be championed.

About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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