Recently, I finished reading Brian McLaren's book 'Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, & Mohammed Cross the Road'. It was a great read into the conversation of a globally diverse religious and spiritual society. I resonated with his pursuit for a Christian identity that, "moves me towards people of other faiths in wholehearted love, not in spite of their non-Christian identity and not in spite of my own Christian identity, but because of my identity as a follower of God in the way of Jesus."
Particularly, I find myself reflecting around the last chapter's thoughts from a conversation held between E. Stanley Jones & Mahatma Gandhi. When questioned what Gandhi thought would foster a natural expression of Christianity in India, he offered four suggestions. In essence, Jones was seeking an authenticity to discipleship in Jesus that would embrace the cultural & historical narrative of the Indian people rather then a conformity to western religious institutionalism.
Here is the beauty of this pursuit... authentic discipleship in the way of Jesus should never be in conflict to the historical, religious, & cultural narratives of the diversity in any globalized society; rather it becomes a redemptive renewal to all of that which is revealed in the particular society's divine relationship and authentic expression of Christ likeness.
With this in mind, Gandhi's response is nothing more then ingenious & humbling to the missionary endeavours of the Christian Church both in past & the future. Gandhi replied,
“I would suggest, first of all, that all of you Christians, missionaries and all, begin to live more like Jesus Christ.”
It is interesting that a practicing Hindu is the one that identifies our failure to truly know & reflect the likeness of Jesus to which we claim to be following. We have so dichotomized the image of Jesus into the parts we are willing to accept and the parts we simply cannot reconcile so as to construct an institutionalized Jesus that is unrecognizable by anyone else who lives outside our own circle of beliefs. Think about it, as you meet with other Christians for the first time, what is most often one of the first questions you are asked? It has been my experience that most often I am asked, "What church/denomination do you belong to?" In essence, they are seeking to know what Jesus you follow.
Perhaps even more dangerous is that today, we seem to take up this denominational dichotomy as a badge of diversification, bypassing Jesus' own prayer that, "we may all be one." (John 17:20) There is a recognition within Trinitarian theology that our social diversity in knowing Jesus is indeed valuable, but only in our willingness to see that diversification as a discipling call to reconcile those diversities into the one true Jesus in our shared midst.
Gandhi's first pillar of Christianity is then laid on the foundational bedrock of Jesus' first call to discipleship itself; "Who do you say that I am?" (Matt. 16:15) A question of relational proportions not to an institution or church, but to a person & being. We must stop seeing our church's as that which we worship, reflect, & follow and begin living in the pursuit of Jesus as he reveals himself through our shared communal lives and stories.
“Second, I would suggest that you must practice your religion without adulterating or toning it down.”
I remember one time being told that, "A new Christian is the most dangerous kind of Christian." The reasoning was that they could be the most zealous in their vocalized pursuit of Jesus. Why is a person's zealousness considered dangerous & thus discouraged? Should we not be pursuing him with, "all our heart, mind, soul, & strength"?
It is widely debated today whether the church actually has ceased to be a creator of cultures and instead has become a reflection of the existing dominant culture within itself. With pastors who feel they must find success in the number of baptisms that they do, the mission of the church is boiled down to the conversion of the masses. To be "saved" and a practitioner of Christianity is solely found in your work of making more converts & building the church membership.
Religion in the truest form is not meant to be a membership drive for a local social club. Religion is the practical bindings one strives for that unites them to a sacred and divine calling. Ultimately, this is an identity that as Jesus points out, "everyone will know [and recognize] that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
This zealous pursuit for one's own religion and connection to sacred calling in Christlikeness becomes the second pillar of Gandhi's Christianity. Or, in paraphrasing Jesus' words, "Pursue your way with great passion & zealousness always!" (Luke 10:3)
“Third, I would suggest that you must put your emphasis upon love, for love is the center and soul of Christianity.”
If Gandhi's second pillar is in our heart for religious connection to our sacred calling of Christlikeness in all things, his third pillar is that the very core of that calling is rooted in the nature of love.
It can't be argued that in all the things Jesus did & taught, his foundation was transfigured on the nature of love for "the whole world." (John 3:16) So much so that it was this very love that gave him "all authority in heaven & earth." (Matt. 28:18) What seems revealing to me is how the church seems to fail in recognizing that very authority outside of its own institution, opting to monopolize the expression of that authority instead of embracing its nuances, beauty, & diversity as it stretches into other cultures, beliefs, & religions.
The works of love are endlessly diverse as it becomes more an expression of art then mere mechanical systems. Jesus' love took him into acts of reconciliational healing, redemptive teaching and the renewal of human understanding, and the beauty of resurrecting and bringing life to the simple mundane realities of the people around him.
It is Gandhi's third pillar that embraces the reality of Jesus' authority in love calling all Christians to transcend the world's illusionary barriers of ethnicity, culture, abilities, orientations, & even religious beliefs for the sake of creational unity and the wonder of being under one God & creator. We are to recognize difference not for the sake of judgement by anyone but for the beauty of salvation for everyone!
“Fourth, I would suggest that you study the non-Christian religions and culture more sympathetically in order to find the good that is in them, so that you might have a more sympathetic approach to the people.”
In the Jewish book of Ecclesiastes there is an old saying that God, "has made everything beautiful in its time and has put eternity into man’s heart." (Ecc. 3:11) The premise in essence is that the truth of creation and the image of God is not restricted to just one people or even religion (dare I even say, Christianity), but that we can actually seek out & find that truth in its fullness through the whole of creations pursuit in the likeness of Jesus.
The awe struck wonder of Christ's likeness is that his truth & being can be found in all people, all cultures & ethnicities, all states of being, and yes, all religious expressionism too. Do we have it all figured out? Gosh no! We are a broken people and make horrible mistakes sometimes both in theological thought & deed. But we do see like in a mirror dimly and are feeling our way towards him. (1 Cor. 13:12; Acts 17:27)
While Gandhi's four pillars highlight an incredible & ingenious Christianity, this is the very model of kenosis, which means the emptying of oneself, that Jesus had already given us so long ago. "So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Phil. 2:1-4)
While the wonder & fullness of Jesus' being expands beyond anything we can possibly imagine, through the calling of his revelation in our daily lives we can experience a Christianity that transcends and builds a world that blesses and enriches everything & everyone around us!