This is the third and final blog in which I discuss a Christian attitude to differences in race (ethnicity), culture and religion. When it comes to race – embrace! When it comes to culture – embrace the good! What about the various religions? What should our attitude be towards people of differing belief?
Over the centuries the attitudes and actions of people of various faiths have been nothing short of atrocious towards each other – and nothing much has changed. Today Christians are the most persecuted people in the world predominantly by communism (North Korea is the worst) and radical Islam. According to Open Doors, “Overwhelmingly, the main engine driving persecution of Christians in 36 of the top 50 countries is Islamic extremism.” In today’s world we see all manner of persecution enacted upon people of faith by people of faith. Once again Acts 17 gives us some good insight into what a proper attitude should be.
In these verses Paul the apostle affirms that God is everywhere, that we are all His offspring or children (28-29) and that “he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.” The apostle quotes two famous Greek philosophers (Aratus and Epimenides) in order to point them to Jesus, the one true God.
Aratus in his work entitled Phaenomena 1-5 stated: “Let us begin with Zeus whom we mortals never leave unspoken. For every street, every market place is filled with Zeus. Even the sea and the harbors are full of his deity. Everywhere, everyone is indebted to Zeus. For we are indeed his offspring.”
Epimenides, in his work Cretica, wrote, “They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one. The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies! But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever, for in thee we live and move and have our being.” Paul uses the poet’s words to introduce the Greeks to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In the 6th century B.C., when the poet Epimenides lived, there was a plague which went throughout all Greece. The Greeks thought that they must have offended one of their gods, so they began offering sacrifices on altars to all their various gods. When nothing worked they figured there must be a God who they didn’t know about whom they must somehow appease.
So Epimenides came up with a plan. He released hungry sheep into the countryside and instructed men to follow the sheep to see where they would lie down. He believed that since hungry sheep would not naturally lie down but continue to graze, if the sheep were to lie down it would be a sign from God that this place was sacred. At each spot where the sheep tired and laid down the Athenians built an altar and sacrificed the sheep on it. Afterward it is believed the plague stopped which they attributed to this unknown God accepting the sacrifice.
Paul tried to convey to them that the unknown God was the true God, Jesus Christ: the God who created all things and every person. He then goes on to give a gentle but firm rebuke of man-made religion. It is of “man’s design” and Paul refers to it as “ignorance” that God once overlooked – but no longer! God is not looking at our religion – He’s interested in relationship. His desire is that we would “seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” More importantly God has already reached out to us in the tangible person of Jesus Christ.
Christians are called to a life of love and tolerance towards others. Jesus told the story of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10) to demonstrate that his people should love, respect, and help people regardless of their race, culture or religion. But that doesn’t mean that we agree with what others believe or do. Christianity is not just tolerant it is also exclusive. Jesus made it clear when he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Acts 4:12 also states this truth plainly, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Paul makes it clear as well: “God … commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man [Jesus] he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30b-31).
The Romans thought, “All roads might lead to Rome,” but all religions don’t lead to God. As a Christian I strongly believe that Jesus is the one and only way. But that doesn’t stop me from being respectful, kind, helpful and loving towards those who believe differently. So …
When it comes to race – embrace!
When it comes to culture – embrace the good!
When it comes to religion – embrace the person!
That’s what Paul did on Mars Hill in Athens as he found some common ground with these highly religious people and shared the good news with them. It would do us well to do the same!