“How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
2 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.” (Psalm 133)
The Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne sent out this tweet this morning, following a service which saw Peter Commensoli installed as the new Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne:
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Ps 133:1). @catholicmelb honoured by Anglican, Greek, Coptic, Antiochian, Lutheran, UCA, VCC, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh guests @BishopComensoli Reception @ABFreier @BishopSuriel @MelbAnglican“
For the sake of Gospel clarity, there are some important things that need saying.
First of all, we should enjoy friendship and mateship with people across the religious spectrum. We want to love these neighbours and to do good to them; they are valued fellow Australians. But pretending that we are somehow united to God together is appalling, for the simple reason, it’s not true.
I have no issue in inviting people from other religions to church, for special occasions, and for normal Sundays. While Church is for Christians, you don’t have to be Christian to visit church services. One of the things I love about my home church is how people are welcomed from all kinds of religious and nonreligious backgrounds; it’s fantastic.
To quote a friend of mine on twitter today,
“Muslim Friends: Are you sure it’s okay that we keep coming to church? We’re Muslims, but want to learn more about Jesus.
Us: (Internal voice) YES! THIS IS THE BEST! YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW EXCITED WE ARE TO HAVE YOU!!! LOVE IT SO MUCH!
(Out-loud voice). Yes, you’re most welcome.”
I said a big ‘Amen’ to my friend’s comments. There is a difference, however, between inviting and welcoming leaders from other faiths to a Christian event and assuming some spiritual or theological unity between everyone.
Second, it’s important to note that while this tweet contradicts Christianity as found in the Bible, it does, however, fit with the theological revisioning that took place at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Karl Rahner’s term, anonymous Christian, was adopted by the Catholic Church, which is a signal for soft universalism. Anonymous Christian refers to people who are formally outside the Roman Catholic Church and yet are still be saved by Christ, whether they are from Protestant Churches and even from other faiths. The idea is that Baptists, Muslims, Hindus, and even atheists could find themselves in heaven with God. Apparently, they even know the Christian God, despite being unaware of the fact or viewing God with a different name and personality.
This tweet by the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne isn’t speaking out of sync with its own theological position, however, it was strange to see the Melbourne Anglican Archbishop, Philip Frier, retweeting the comment. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t agree with the misuse of Psalm 133, and yet it does send an unhelpful message to Anglicans, Christians, and Melbournians in general.
Third, so what does Psalm 133 in fact mean?
Psalm 133 is a short and wonderful Psalm, lauding the beauty of unity among God’s people. God here is not undefined and does assume unity among gods. The context of his Psalm explains that this is a unity established in the God of Israel, who has made himself known and covenanted himself to his people. This is the same God who spoke at Mt Sinai saying,
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:2-6)
Imagine if I went home today and said to my wife, “babe, you know I love you and believe in you, but I now think our marriage should be broader and more accommodating of other women.” Does anyone think that Susan would or should be happy with that attitude? Would any spouse welcome a third party into the marriage? Why then would we think that it’s ok to try and force onto God, religious polygamy?
We can learn how to respond to our multi-religious society by looking at examples like that of Paul in Athens (Acts 17:16:34). When the Apostle Paul visited Athens and noticed the religious pluralism that stretched across that culture, he didn’t respond by suggesting, ‘hey, look, I see we all worship the same god, but we just call him by different names and worship him in different ways’. He could have conformed to the zeitgeist of First Century Greece, but instead, Paul adopted a loving and honest approach.
Paul didn’t walk around Athens admiring their gods nor did he stop to graffiti their statues and temples. The alternative to religious pluralism isn’t strong-arming people or adopting uncouth tactics like we see in some other places around the world. Paul spoke. He explained. Paul began by acknowledging the Athenian worldview, and their hopes and noting their own acknowledged ignorance. Paul then proceeded to explain who God is, and to persuade with words and argument that Jesus is Lord. The outcome was that some people hated his message, some dismissed him, some were curious and others were convinced.
This is yet another sad and recent example of Churches muddying the waters, and confusing Australians about God and the Lord Jesus. No wonder most Australians attache little relevance, truth, and beauty to the Gospel of Christ when they see churches walking down the aisle with adultery on the mind. This is not communicating unity, it is communicating conformity to a philosophic position that God heavily criticises in the Bible.