I’ve said elsewhere that I’m in favour of the pluralistic society, but not the pluralistic church. For those who think I might be speaking from limited experience or knowledge, let me qualify myself a bit. I have a degree in theology from Georgetown University. My senior thesis was on Zen Buddhism in the West, written for the late Langdon Gilkey. I would have defined myself as a Zen Christian when I was younger. I have more than the usual knowledge of world religions. I’m a bit of an expert on European paganism. I insisted that the farmer’s market where we sold had to accept and tolerate a pagan vendor selling pagan products. If we want to be tolerated, then we must practice tolerance in our society.
I suppose, though, I am very conservative as a Christian. I am about as orthodox as an Anglican can be, acknowledging that the early English church was Orthodox rather than Roman, but gradually got incorporated into the papal church following the Whitby Synod. I am not at all romantic about the Oxford Movement, or the neo-Celtic movement. I think I’m getting over my romanticism about Anabaptism while still admiring the primitive church restoration. I have used liturgies ranging from that of St. John Chrysostom, through the Latin mass, to the innovative experimental liturgies of today’s Anglican churches. I like, appreciate and receive a lot in silent worship.
But I do not think the church needs to look to other religions for its liturgical practices or theology. Judeo-Christianity has always held to this, that we do not need to be syncretic. God, through the prophets, and Jesus himself, prohibited syncretism. We believe in one God. We believe in the Trinity as that one God. We believe in the sacraments, however we express them, as a means of grace.
While we acknowledge wisdom and right living in other faith traditions – the concept of the righteous pagan is an old one in the church – we still hold that Jesus Christ is the Way of salvation, the only Way. He said, “No one comes to the Father but by Me.” He did tell us not to judge the salvation of others, as He has “sheep of other flocks.” This is why we are called not to judge others. To judge in this sense means to determine who will receive salvation. We do not have that right to judgement; this was the heresy of the inquisitors, that in condemning to death those who were in error, the souls would be saved. What a twisted sense of salvation that is!
My Orthodox readings have led me to know that we must guard our faith carefully, though, by avoiding engaging in the faith practices of other religions, and even by avoiding reading too much about them until our own Christian knowledge is secure, which may never be. Orthodox priests were continually warned to not even debate with nonbelievers. Witness through faithful living, yes; preach, yes; offer compassion, yes; but do not get into arguments and debates. Faith cannot be proved by logic, or it would not be faith. God is greater than oour understanding.