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.


16 thoughts on “Plurality

  1. I completely agree. I too am extemely conservative for my faith. As a Methodist (and as of Saturday last a Certified Lay Speaker) I am very traditional. We had a Pastor at my previous church who wanted to bring in other Faith’s traditions into the Methodist church. Not something that I agreed with or participated in. To each his own is fine, but the sheep do not mix with the cows.

    I also agree that we should not judge another Faith’s message of salvation. I personally believe there are different paths that although similar are in fact different but end at the same place.

    I guess my question is, if you are “getting over your romanticism with the Annabaptists” does that mean that you are modifying your plain faith walk?

    • I think I’m less concerned with looking quite so Amish or Quaker, and being so strict, but not modifying being Plain. But we all start somewhere. I’m ready to be more Plain, if you know what I mean.

  2. magdalena,

    This is a very wise observation and article. Dialogue yes, engage with – yes, be compassionate yes, but Synchratism? Leave well alone.

    I smiled at your comments re anabaptism etc, and your striving to be simply more…’Plain’. Plainness transcends denomination. many would class me as plain, (if pinks, florals, the occasional ‘Margaret Caine’ brighter colour or plaid blouse qualifies thusly) but it is…simply…Plain, not Anabaptist, not Menonite (though some Menonites may attire themselves similarly to myself, or vice versa)… Its the slow, ‘transition’, mindfulness in life and faith that Christ calls us to, that the First Testament prophets called their people and leadership ( in matters secular and sacred), that we are called to also.

    I personally don’t know what I am…in some matters i would be seen as profoundly conservative (even fundamentalist by some), while in others, I would be seen as extremely radical and outside the realm of conventionally acceptable theology/ideology. I guess I’m ‘other’…

    Keep on ministering, and keep on sharing your thoughts, insight and wisdom as God leads.

    Blessings always,


  3. I married my husband 2 years ago, at the same time as a new superintendent minister came to my husband’s church. This new minister brought with him ’emerging’ theology and my husband felt he had to resign from his church membership (of over 10 years). My husband was not happy about having this man in a pastoral carer role over him because of the minister’s disturbing beliefs. Since this happened, my husband and I have become more and more aware of the way the gospel is being watered down in our local churches. We have since joined an independent evangelical Christian fellowship where the gospel is fully preached.
    I do not wish to be confrontational in any way, and I truly hope that I have misunderstood djanon’s post, but Jesus himself said that He is the only way to the Father and salvation. Any other belief to this is invalid. Obviously, I speak as a Christian.

    • I agree that when the leaders stop teaching the truth, it’s best sometimes to move on. I don’t think DJ meant anything but Christian truths and salvation, though.

      As for your former minister – well, sometimes clergy get too excited about some new form of church and just want to dump it on their existing congregation, even if inappropriate. As a shepherd I learned it was easier and less frustrating to gently lead the flock, not drive them from behind!

  4. Oops, sorry Magdalena! I see that you have already quoted Jesus. I wasn’t trying to be snide or anything, it’s just that my husband and I have been through so much pain regarding our above-mentioned situation. We are very sad about what happened in our local church and please believe me when I say that we do not judge others in any way. We know that God is THE judge. However, we are very concerned for those being taught the false beliefs that lead to hell. We continue to pray for those being misled and those doing the misleading.
    I find it very difficult to discern when to speak out for the gospel and when to keep silent. It’s something I need to pray about more.

    • You have a gentle form of “snide” if that is what it was! I can see that tou have been hurt in your church and that is always a wound slow to heal. Write privately if you want; I’m always open to listening.

  5. Thanks for writing this. I find it hard to express to others but this is also my understanding – YES Jesus has sheep in many flocks, AND it’s not helpful to my growth in faith to study other religious traditions at this time.

    • I studied theology and we did have to look at other religions, but those who were new to the faith were often misled by this. I have already been through the youthful enthusiasms for things that were not taught by my parents, and I’m happy to be out the other side! It is better to spend one’s time getting to know Jesus Christ than other traditions, for that is our life’s work. Thank you for your kind comment!

  6. I completely understand where you are coming from. I had a discussion today with a secretary about why I wear my hair in the bun with the cover and why I wear the dresses. I told her it was so that I could remember where my roots are. I told her that I need to maintain a modest role in this life. I was getting to caught up in the trappings of my profession and forgetting that there was a Greater One at work in my life. By keeping myself grounded through modesty and hair covering I remind myself that I walk with Another and not on my own. At the same time, because I do work for the government I cannot witness within my profession. Therefore I let my modesty be a testimony to my faith.

    However, I think that there are times when we can take this to a whole other level. We can become so “modest” or “plain” that we end up drawing more attention to ourselves than to our message.

    I do not want to be the antithesis to the 300 pound, heavily endowed woman in spandex with a tank top on. I think the middle of the road is just right with me.

    • I think you are handling your witness well and appropriately to your situation. I am sure your gentleness of spirit and your willingness to serve God serves ypour clients well.

  7. @ Kay, I apologize. I did not mean what you got from my post. My husband is Catholic and in his church if you are not Catholic then you are not going to gain salvation. I believe that if one is faithful to their Christian faith then they will receive their salvation. I am a Methodist and we have different beliefs from the Catholics or the Anglicans. I however do not feel that any true faith is wrong, just taking a different path to the same salvation.

  8. I agree that Christianity is good and great enough for us to not need to bring in elements from other religions. I want a tolerant and open church which allows many interpretations within our faith not that we need to divide into thousand and one groups. I do not belong in either the conservative or the liberal group and would find it hard if the church I go to was not the kind that is open to many views. The Swedish Church is sometimes too liberal and sometimes too conservative for me and I guess I am the same back.

    • I think we all feel the same way, but as we mature as Christians we learn that we don’t have to force the rest of the church into our mold.

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