kept back nothing that was profitable for you, but have showed you, and
have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying to both Jews
and Greeks of repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul spoke these words to the Christian elders from Ephesus on his final trip to the province of Asia. Can Christian leaders and educators of today make the same claim as Paul did?
I became a Christian in my early twenties. In Bible studies and Sunday school, I learned about Christian doctrine from our denomination's point of view. The teaching I received appeared Biblical, logical and consistent. The doctrines of other denominations or religions, on the other hand, were always presented as obviously inconsistent, illogical, and arbitrary. It was hard to imagine why anyone with sight or sense could believe as they did.
Only much later did I find out why our denomination's doctrines seemed so obviously superior. My church had oversimplified and distorted the beliefs of others. I only discovered this gradually, through discussions with faithful, thoughtful Christians from other churches, who exploded much of the propaganda which I had been fed. I also talked with Muslims, communists, and atheists of various stripes, and found out that their views as well had been totally misrepresented to me. My teachers had been well-meaning and sincere, but they also lacked first-hand experience of alternative points of view--they had themselves been misled before me.
This situation appears to be typical throughout the motley hodgepodge known as "the universal Church". The Church is a laughable spectacle to objective observers who possess a modicum of intelligence. Apparently the Church consists of a number of cliques which inhabit separate boxes. Each clique is virtually ignorant of the others, though absolutely convinced that its own box is the best.
Rather than providing a thoughtful, balanced presentation of opposing views, Christian pastors and educators prefer instead to tickle their congregations with distorted caricatures. Most would deem it unthinkable to allow other ideologies a chance to speak for themselves.
Let me give another personal example. For two years I taught at a denominational Christian college. Every faculty member was a professing Christian. As far as I am aware, every speaker who visited the campus toed the denominational line. As far as our college was concerned, radical feminism, gay/lesbian activism, and Afro-American militancy, were about as strange and foreign as the social practices of New Guinea headhunters (even more so -- because the college sponsored a missions trip to New Guinea). One of my students had no idea what 'Ms." meant. The irony of the situation was consummated when the speaker at one faculty seminar fervently and sincerely congratulated us for providing a forum for "free speech"!
"Woe to you, teachers of the law, and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he is convinced, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are." (Matthew 23:15) Now who are the Pharisees of today?
You denominational and church leaders! You Christian educators! You teachers of the law! Stop your simplistic distortions, your glossings, your selective biasing! "We don't want to confuse and upset people", you say. When are you going to let them grow up and face facts? Give the other side a fair hearing! Let people wrestle themselves with other ideas, as Jacob wrestled with the angel, and God will bless them (Gen. 32:24-30). "There is nothing profitable in other religions", some may say. But they ignore the witness of Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Daniel, Jesus, and Paul, all of whom had first-hand familiarity with other faiths, and put their knowledge to good use (Gen. 31:45-55, 42:45; Ex. 2:16-22; Acts 7:22; Dan. 1:17-20; John 4:4-26; Acts 17:28).
Paul says, "Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regards to evil be infants, but in regards to thinking be adults." (1 Cor. 14:20) But the Church of today often alienates those who want to grow up in their thinking, who want a wider and deeper comprehension of alternative religious viewpoints. The Church is responsible for their straying, because it has not been faithful to preach the whole gospel. The gospel is the truth, and the whole gospel is the whole truth--including the undistorted, unsimplified truth about other denominations and religions.
Prayer: Lord, forgive us, because we have kept back profitable things. We have oversimplified and misrepresented others' beliefs, consciously and unconsciously. We have fostered division, misunderstanding, and strife among Your children. Because of us, Your body is broken, Your children are not united in You. Thank You, Jesus, that you prayed for us, that we might be one even as You are in the Father and the Father is in You, that the world may know that Your Father has sent You, and has loved us as He loved You (John 17:21). Fulfill this prayer before our eyes, Father, in Jesus' name. Give us grace, Father, that we too may be able to say in good conscience that we have 'kept back nothing profitable'.
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Last Revised: March 20, 1999
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