The Monash Religious Centre

A tour in words of my favourite place on campus. It was going to go on Facebook, but then it got too long.

The university likes to tell us – and everyone else – about what a diverse place it is. Let me take you on a tour of the place that, I think, is the most diverse building on campus.
 
It’s lunch-time when we meet near the campus centre and head east towards a building that you sort of always thought was some sort of alien space-ship that had landed by mistake and turned into a second, smaller, Rotunda.
 
As we approach the building, you can see a lot of people gathered on the verandah. There are barbeques out, and lovely smells, but as we get closer, you notice that the men all have little doilies on their heads – kippot – and that some of them have knotted strings hanging out from their shirt-hems – tzitziyot. It’s the Kosher lunch, and one of the rabanim nods at us as he hurries past with an armful of barbeque-cooking implements.
 
We head inside the nearest doors, and it’s no less busy inside. Sure, it’s not exactly the Menzies foyer at class changeover, but there are people going in all directions. You need the loo, so we head straight to the ladies’ nearby. Someone yelps as we crack the door open. “Sorry!”
 
It’s opened from the inside, and we squeeze through, dodging through people to get past the sinks. There are girls in every space – adjusting hijabs, washing limbs, talking – “Am I going to get through prayer before halaqa class starts?”
 
Escaping from the press of people in the ladies’ room, we come out into the corridor, where there are fewer people, most of them moving about purposefully. There’s probably one person standing around, looking lost. “I was told to come to the religious centre for the meeting, but where do I go now?”
 
After directing her to her own chaplain, we head down the curving corridor which runs alongside the main chapel. The first room we pass is a meeting-room, and there’s movement inside it, too – a prayer meeting, of one of the evangelical Pentecostal student groups. The door’s open, and we nod at them, but continue on.
 
At the end is the chaplain’s office, with unlikely religious props stashed in every corner, and a trolley of tea-making facilities, and a massive pile of flour along one wall for the pancake breakfast for international students in the morning.
 
In the middle of the room is a circle of chairs and people with Bibles in their laps, talking over them. It’s the Catholics having a Bible study, but it’s being run by a high-church Protestant girl who’s teaching them Bible verses.
 
This is the Religious Centre. It’s a space that’s unique in the country, and it deserves much more attention than it gets. Most students probably don’t know about it unless they’re religious – and even then, some still don’t.
 
There is a building on campus where Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and everyone else co-exist happily… And you know how much bad blood there is – literally blood, over the last thousand years – between Catholics and Protestants, between Christians and Muslims and between Muslims and Jews.
 
This is a place where three chaplains can have a perfectly rational discussion about just who it is who keeps leaving the sound system in the main chapel turned on so the battery’s run down by Monday morning. It’s a Catholic, an Orthodox, and an Adventist, and you know how Adventists feel about Catholics. But no-one accuses someone else’s leader of being the Antichrist, and no-one tells anyone that they’re not a Christian because they have three extra words in the middle of the Creed.
 
Yes, there are differences of belief. Yes, everyone aware of that, and everyone conducts their faith lives separately. There are some good, amicable discussions of differences in theology. But everyone does their thing side-by-side, cheek-by-jowl, without argument or bloodshed. Everyone gets on with a smile, appreciating the chance they have to use this amazing space.
 
The university likes to tell us – and everyone else – about what a diverse place it is. If you get a chance, come and visit the most diverse place of all – a place they probably didn’t even tell you about.

 

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One Path to God’s End

Last week at a Bible Study, the topic came up of followers of other religions and whether they can have salvation or not. The general consensus of most of the others in the group seemed to be that yes, they could, because all religions are different means to the same end, and they are finding their own path, and “actually, I get on quite well with my Muslim friends”, and we all just have different ways of seeing God, even those who don’t concede He exists.

Well, regular readers of my blog will know that I firstly disagree with that and secondly wasn’t having a bar of it.

Placing my Bible down on the table, folding my hands on top of it, and leaning forwards, I said, “May I quote, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life; no-one comes to the Father except through me’?”

(If there’s anyone who doesn’t know – and I wouldn’t have thought there were any Christians who didn’t, until I was stopped by one of the ladies at the Bible study who questioned me on all of the following in genuine ignorance – yes, that’s a quote from the Bible [John 14:6]; I is Jesus speaking; and the Father is God the Father.)

So you don’t think followers of other religions can be saved?”

And I didn’t answer well. I stumbled and mumbled and missed out important things – which is why I’m rectifying it and straightening my thoughts out by writing this down now.

“Well, I accept that Jews can be saved.” Definitely pre-Messiah (pre-Jesus) Jews… I’m not sure one way or the other about Jews today. “But as for other religions… if you believe and hundreds of gods or spirits, or no God… then no.”

On the topic of Muslims, I’ll just add here… I’m open to the thought that they might worship with same God. Or rather, that they might worship the same God misrepresented. That is to say, I do believe they worship God, but I don’t believe they worship my God. I think they believe they’re worshipping my God.

Does that make sense? I don’t believe Allah is some other being, or the devil, or the antichrist. I can see enough similarity in the teachings of Islam to Christianity that it’s a bit of a sort of messed-up version of it. All the basics are there. All the histories are the same. The basic message has been changed. So, no, their God is the same God as the God of the Jews and the Christians. However, is Allah perhaps an idol – a man-made idea – of the worst kind? Is he a man-made god which bears enough similarity to the real thing to be mistaken as such?

Yes, I know that’s controversial. But that’s just a little to explain my thinking on the matter. Jews definitely worship the same God as Christians. Sometimes perhaps they don’t understand Him the same way, but more than ¾ of the Christian Scriptures are the Jewish Scriptures, so we worship the same God.

But, on the matter of the potential salvation of followers of other religions through that religion, as far as I can see it:

Jews – Maybe. Definitely in the past, perhaps today; at any rate, they have enough information within their own faith for salvation through Christ.

Muslims – Not really. Close, but not quite there, which is the saddest thing about it all.

Others – No.

But what about people who never have the chance to hear about Jesus?”

This is the tricky question people always throw at you when you start talking about salvation through Christ alone. After all, salvation through Christ alone inherently implies condemnation for everyone else, so doesn’t it seem unfair that people can be condemned without ever hearing?

I know what my lecturers would say. They would point out that everyone in the world is descended from Noah, and therefore every people group in the world at some point knew God and rejected him. They would bring up Romans 1 and natural revelation. They would mention the Old Testament and how the consequences of rejection of God is passed down through the generations, and not limited to just the one who rejects him.

It’s a hard thing to say, because all those things imply that such people who never have a chance to hear about Jesus are condemned by their ancestors, and by circumstances outside their control, and we don’t want our God to be like that. God, after all, is love.

But He is also just, and sometimes God’s justice seems cruel to us.

But… but… Romans 1 and natural revelation. God works in mysterious ways. There are only a handful of truly uncontacted peoples today, although there are definitely a larger number who will never have contact with Christians. But God’s creation is the same everywhere, and wondrous, and said uncontacted tribes usually have a very keen awareness of the spiritual, in one form or another. God’s natural revelation can lead people to question, to look further, to look for God. God is powerful. Who am I to say what He can and can’t do?

So, awful as it sounds, those uncontacted tribes are not my concern – unless, of course, God calls me to minister to them. Even the much larger number of people in the world who will never meet a Christian are not – at this point in my life – my concern. What is my concern, however, are the people I interact with on a daily basis who follow other religions – or no religion at all.

What the people in the Bible Study group would have me do is make friends with these people, accepting that we’re just on different paths to the same goal, and leave it at that.

But the moment we do that, we’re denying Christ.

Does that sound harsh? Probably. But if we sincerely believe that we have been saved through Christ, then in those very same passages, we must also accept that the only way to salvation is through Christ. Surely we should want to go out and let everyone know, so they can join us? “Go and make disciples, baptising in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” To tell ourselves that followers of other religions are on their way to salvation by a different path is to not only deny our own salvation, but to deny Christ and some of His last words to us – the Great Commission.

There are people right here with us, whom see every day, with whom we work, who might be counted among the ‘people who never have the chance to hear about Jesus’ if we as Christians do not speak up and tell them! And the awful things is, they will have had the chance, but we will have denied it to them because we’re telling ourselves “we all have different paths to God”.

Now, I don’t want to you think I’m some raving lunatic who goes out every day street-preaching and basically making a nuisance of myself to my non-Christian colleagues. We all know (well, most of us) that that sort of thing isn’t a constructive way to go about sharing the Gospel. And besides that, I’m much too chicken.

So I have friends of other religions. I have “neo-spiritual” hippy friends (there are a lot of them in my area). I have friends who are atheist, postmodernist, “normal twenty-first-century rational” people.

But at no point do I forget that they are lost – unsaved – and at no point do I tell myself, “Oh, that’s all right, because we’re all on different roads to the same place in the end.”

No, but you have to pick your moments carefully. I’m more outspoken on these matters among Christians than among non-Christians, and definitely much more outspoken on my blog! Traditional ways of “sharing the Gospel” don’t always work, particularly on postmodernists and hippies.

What does work, however, is showing them that you’re normal, “living out Christ in your life” (in quotes because I hate that phrase as ridiculous Christianese, but have to concede it fits), and answering their questions when they arise.

What does work, with hippies particularly, is finding points of commonality. Hippies are open to faith and to God. They’re not open to religion. Share your faith and your lifestyle, comment on something wonderfully spiritual they’ve “discovered” which is actually a much-cherished part of Christianity. (Laying of hands in prayer, for example, is a big one I’ve discussed with hippies on at least two occasions).

Reach out at share with your non-Christian friends however you will, however it works, but do not – for one moment – forget that they need you to reach out and share with them.

Don’t deny your own salvation, Christ and the Great Commission, by jumping on the happy bandwagon that “all religions are different means to the same end”.

They’re not.

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Feel free to flame me in the comments.

But remember my blog’s policy on the airing of alternate views: you may take up to two comments to express your view in a calm, inoffensive manner, after which we will agree to disagree. No name-calling or accusations of narrow-mindedness, any-isms or brainwashing.