Idolatry and Interfaith
The interfaith movement is all the rage at the moment. And as biblical Christians we should not be surprised at this. The attempt to water down the distinctiveness of the Christian faith has long been occurring, but today especially the idea that all the world religions are at one, and we should play down any differences – all in the name of tolerance and acceptance – is being pushed big time.
As just one indication of how big the interfaith movement is, along with its attempts to neuter biblical Christianity, simply google the term. When I last did, some twelve and a half million hits came back! And not surprisingly, the UN is up to its ears in all this.
It has even put together “The World Interfaith Harmony Week”. It “was first proposed at the UN General Assembly on September 23, 2010 by H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan. Just under a month later, on October 20, 2010, it was unanimously adopted by the UN and henceforth the first week of February will be observed as a World Interfaith Harmony Week.”
Moreover, “The World Interfaith Harmony Week is based on the pioneering work of The Common Word initiative”. Ah yes, ‘A Common Word’. I have written about this before, and biblical Christians are advised to steer well clear of it:
Now there is nothing wrong with peace and harmony. We all should strive to get along better and learn how to put jaw jaw ahead of war war. But these interfaith movements almost invariably are about one thing: minimising any genuine differences which exist between religions, and especially stripping Christianity of its uniqueness and its exclusive truth claims.
Christians can support learning how to live together more harmoniously, but never at the expense of truth – certainly not at the expense of biblical truth. When Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” he most certainly meant it.
And when Peter, who was “filled with the Holy Spirit” declared in Acts 4:12 that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” he meant every word of it. Yet today far too many Christian leaders are jumping on board the interfaith bandwagon.
They have caved in to the tolerance brigade’s demands that truth be downplayed and ‘just getting along’ be upheld as the highest good. Indeed, I just recently wrote about a church in Scotland which has opened its doors to Muslims to pray and worship in their building: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/04/04/the-death-of-the-uk/
So as with all such issues, what does the Bible have to say about this? In my daily reading this morning I found a very clear and relevant passage about this. Consider what we find in 2 Kings 10-11. In chapter 10 we read about how Jehu had the 70 sons of Ahab put to death, had the prophets of Baal put to death, and had the temple of Baal totally destroyed.
This was pretty radical stuff: “As soon as Jehu had finished making the burnt offering, he ordered the guards and officers: ‘Go in and kill them; let no one escape.’ So they cut them down with the sword. The guards and officers threw the bodies out and then entered the inner shrine of the temple of Baal. They brought the sacred stone out of the temple of Baal and burned it. They demolished the sacred stone of Baal and tore down the temple of Baal, and people have used it for a latrine to this day” (vv. 25-27).
Oh, in case you missed it, Jehu turned the great temple of Baal into a toilet. Not a very inclusive, tolerant, loving, or accepting thing to do. It certainly does not smack of interfaith dialogue and learning to live together with those of a different belief system.
There is more in 2 Kings 11, eg., vv. 17-18: “Jehoiada then made a covenant between the LORD and the king and people that they would be the LORD’s people. He also made a covenant between the king and the people. All the people of the land went to the temple of Baal and tore it down. They smashed the altars and idols to pieces and killed Mattan the priest of Baal in front of the altars.”
There is not much excitement for interfaith dialogue to be found here. There is not much advocacy of tolerance, and the importance of learning from other faiths. There is not much openness to the ‘truths’ found in other religions. Quite the opposite. These pagan temples and their false priests and prophets were decisively dealt with.
The result, as Iain Provan writes, is this: “Baal-worship in Israel is officially at an end. It has neither royal patronage nor royal tolerance.” Quite so – there is no tolerance here, no interest in “diversity”, no preference for “live and let live”.
We also find similar sentiments in the New Testament. Of course there are no NT commands for killing false prophets, and we need not go around pulling down pagan altars, but we all should at least have the same mindset which Paul had.
In idol-filled Athens we find Paul having this response: “While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). “Paul is very disturbed by what he sees,” says Darrell Bock.
“As a city full of idols, it arouses Paul to react with inner anger. . . . The verb paroxyno means ‘provoke’ or ‘despise’ or ‘revile’ something. It is used of God’s anger at idolatry (Isa. 65:3; Hos. 8:5).” He was grieved. He did not think it would be neat to engage in some interfaith dialogue, and see how they could all just get along and sing kumbaya all day.
As Jaroslav Pelikan comments, “The disgust and anger of any faithful Jew at the artifacts and practices of pagan idolatry was not in any way lessened by being converted to the Christian ‘Way’ (11:26). If anything, Paul was eager to show that his newly acquire faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ was completely consistent with the strict monotheism of his Jewish upbringing (19:28).”
Indeed, this is not some interesting cultural and religious diversity on display here – it is pagan idolatry which must be fiercely resisted. As James Montgomery Boice writes, “Idolatry is the basic problem of our society. . . . When Paul got to Athens he was not excessively awed with it, as we might expect him to have been. Rather, he analysed it rightly and responded to it as a Christian.”
We sure need more of that today. Instead of becoming enamoured and duped by pagan idolatry, we should be rebuking it and proclaiming the truth about the one true God, and his only appointed means of getting right with him: his son Jesus Christ and his death at the cross.
Again, we are not called today to go around smashing down pagan temples. But our heart must have the same repulsion toward idolatry as did the heart of Jehu or Paul. As Charles Spurgeon said in his sermon, “A Jealous God”:
“False gods patiently endure the existence of other false gods. Dagon can stand with Bel, and Bel with Ashtaroth; how should stone, and wood, and silver, be moved to indignation; but because God is the only living and true God, Dagon must fall before His ark; Bel must be broken, and Ashtaroth must be consumed with fire.”
We need that mindset, that heartbeat. We need to be in sync with A W Tozer when he said, “Idolatry is of all sins the most hateful to God because it is in essence a defamation of the divine character.”
And the work of hating and breaking idols must begin with ourselves. As C. S. Lewis rightly wrote in A Grief Observed: “Images of the Holy easily become holy images – sacrosanct. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast.”
“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
2 Replies to “Idolatry and Interfaith”
Bad stuff this – I cannot understand Christians even acknowledging this concept, either Christ is Lord or He is not, engaging in so called interfaith dialogue is an indication of the latter! Paul preached a tough message and in the spirit of witnessing, you need to try to draw a line between gracious refutation and being accused of downright ignorance and disrespect, however, having said that the Gospel is what it is and as we live our lives by it, we will need to contend for it and that will invariably include the fact that the Gospel will not share its truth with another faith or religious concept!
If one could only see that God’s jealousy is in the end not just for His glory though that alone would be sufficient cause for our undivided worship, but it is His desire for our greatest benefit that fuels his jealousy. Idols are like their father Satan liers through and through, promising what they neither are able to nor willing to deliver.
To worship idols is only easier or more desirable for a very little while and the price for that shortlived ease and pleasure far too high to contemplate.