General CBF

Beyond Tolerance: The cosmic Christ and religious freedom

By Sam Harrell

Most of us are well versed in the idea of “tolerance” when dealing with people whose religious experience or faith differ from our own.  Religious freedom is, after all, an American, even a Baptist ideal.  So religious freedom is important to us.

I do often wonder, however, how many of us would think it worth significant effort on our part to insure that others have the opportunity to freely seek after God in a manner of their own choosing?

As Christians, we consider Jesus as the ultimate teacher, guide and path to God, and would love nothing more than for others to embrace a similar path.  But we aren’t all Christians.

Nor are we ever likely to be.  While this realization should not stop us from bearing witness to the redeeming relationship we enjoy with God through Jesus, we should, hopefully at some point, accept that God is not limited by our ways and means.

Consider this excerpt from C.S. Lewis via Brian McLaren:

“The world does not consist of 100 percent Christians and 100 percent non-Christians.  There are people who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name . . . .There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so.  

There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by him that they are his in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand.  There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.”

Underneath and beyond tolerance should lie a deep and abiding sense of the love of God towards humanity from the beginning to the end of time.  Richard Rohr suggests that “the (cosmic) Christ is the first idea in the mind of God.”

This image of God imprint, divine grace, our true self – is what propels humanity to seek after God regardless of our religion or culture of origin.  It is this Christ that we are honoring when we uphold our ideal of religious freedom.

And it is this Christ that we are persecuting when we do anything less.

Sam Harrell and his wife, Melody, serve as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel in Nairobi, Kenya. Read more about their ministry here.

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