We were standing in the street looking at a shrine to multiple gods. There were various offerings of flowers, food and candles strewn around the base of the shrine. A priest came up to us and offered to pray with us. We politely declined, stating that we are Christians. He didn’t take it well.
It wasn’t surprising that he didn’t take it well. The prevailing attitude in our culture and around our world seems to be: “we all worship the same god.” If that’s true, most feel, then we should be able to pray and worship together. The problem? It’s simply not true.
We’ve seen countless “interfaith services,” with participants from religions such as Islam, Hindu, Mormon…. and Christian. While the term “interfaith” is used, Christians have most commonly referred to this type of service as a “syncretistic” service—one that attempts to reconcile opposing beliefs. Does the one, true God—the Triune God—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—approve of these services? Absolutely not.
Christianity worships the One, True God. The One, True God is not worshipped in a syncretistic service. By participating in one of these services, a Christian is worshipping a false god instead of the True God. By participating in these services, a Christian gives the strong impression that he approves of the false teachings of other religions. Every other religion teaches salvation by works. Christianity teaches that we are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. (For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. –Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV) God will only allow those who believe in Christ as their only Savior into heaven. That biblical teaching doesn’t sit well with many in our world, but that doesn’t stop it from being true.
What about praying and worshipping with other Christians? Confessional Lutherans are often harshly criticized for not worshipping or at least praying in public with other Christians. But how can we compromise the truth? When others distort the Gospel, requiring a decision for Christ, or deny the power of God’s grace in the Sacraments, how can we participate with them? God is quite clear in this matter: Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. (Romans 16:17 ESV) God doesn’t say to pray or worship with those who distort His teachings. He says to “avoid” them—stay away from them.
There continues to be negative reactions in the press because a clergyman from another church body was asked to apologize for participating in a syncretistic service. Many in our culture view these teachings on Christian fellowship with disdain, claiming they are legalistic, sectarian teachings. But, in reality, they are done out of love—love for God and love for our neighbor. We show love and honor to God when we uphold the teachings of His Word. We show love for our neighbor when we clearly witness to the truth of that Word.
God’s love is so great that He was willing to send His only-begotten Son to save us. Jesus left the perfection of Heaven and was born into this sinful, hostile and often brutal world, lived a life without sin in your place and mine and willingly bore our sins on the cross, earning our forgiveness for us. We have forgiveness, life and salvation through Jesus! We have an eternal home waiting for us! We have the Good News that this salvation is available to everyone! Do we dare distort that beautiful Gospel message?