Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Polytheism & Christianity

One of the elders in my church went to India not to long ago and visited a region populated with Hindus. One of the popular local deities is an Elephant god Ginesh. One of the celebrations involves tricking him with a wild party while the dump in into the sea. After all, you don't want your god to get too crafty.

I'm just glad my elder didn't do this:

Archbishop Nichols was greeted by the Mandir’s spiritual leader, Yogvivek Swami, (Head Sadhu, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha – UK & Europe) and the Trustees of the Mandir. He was welcomed in traditional Hindu style – with a red vermillion mark applied to the forehead and the tying of a sacred thread on the wrist, symbolising friendship and goodwill.

Yogvivek Swami guided the Archbishop around the Mandir complex, including the sanctum sanctorum where the Archbishop offered flowers at the altar to the deities. He then moved to the deity of Shri Nilkanth Varni (Bhagwan Swaminarayan) where he joined Yogvivek Swami in praying for world peace and harmony.

As the article points out:
This visit sounds ill-conceived from start to finish. The offer of the candle and the words accompanying it imply that Hindus worship the same God as Christians, which I would have thought even a primary-school textbook would make clear is not the case. And there’s the clue, right in Westminster diocese’s own press release – offering flowers at the altar of “the deities”. Yes, there’s a distinction between offering flowers at an altar and offering them to the gods themselves, but I think the general public and the average Catholic can be forgiven if they fail to appreciate it at once.

Of course Archbishop Vincent Nichols doesn’t believe in these pagan gods (which is what they are, from a Christian perspective).
While Christians are to love their neighbors, this is hardly the way to welcome a Hindu temple in Europe. One can hardly imagine Paul laying a wreath in Athens and then saying, let me tell you about the God who has subjected all things under His feet in the person of Jesus.

Of course, we live in a day and age when people naming the name of Jesus are willing to accept all manner of alternative methods and ways to God. If we grasp the reality of the dawning of the kingdom such idolatries are shown to be just what they are: false delusions. If we understand the filial relationship between the Father and the Son, then we know that only the Son can grant salvation and He chooses to do so only for those who believe in Him (Matthew 11:25-27; John 10:35-37). When Jesus witnessed to the Samaritan women, he was hardly satisfied with her current religious state (John 4). Jesus promises a time where worshipers will worship in spirit and truth--this naturally entailed an rejection of the current forms of Samaritan worship.

Early Christianity was monotheistic and they incorporated their understanding of Jesus into that monotheism. This included the fidelity to Jesus and worship of Him along with the Father. Indeed, to confess Jesus as "Lord" was to address Him using the OT YHWH, as the OT's use of the NT shows. It was also to say that a whole lot of other rivals, including Caesar, were indeed not Lord. Paul of course tells us in 1 Corinthians 8 that while idols are nothing, we worship one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ.

On the one hand, laying flowers down before a Hindu deity may be in some respect the equivalent of eating ancient meat sacrificed to idols. Flowers are just flowers. That idol is nothing really. What does it matter? Yet the question is the symbolism--it validates things that don't really exist and set themselves up as contrary to God. This approach says in effect: your god is just a real as my god. This kind of compromise fits the spirit of the age but causes Christian faith to cease to be what God has designed it to be--an act of covenant fidelity.

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