Some years ago, I was asked by our bishop’s adviser on interfaith relations to speak at a meeting in the East End of London, addressing the question “Can we [different religions] pray together?”
I will speak about the gospel anywhere. So I agreed. The first speaker was Shaikh Abdul Mabud from the Islamic Academy in Cambridge. He didn’t seem to favour multi-faith worship.
The second speaker was the Rev John Pridmore, an Anglican clergyman who, as he said, used to be a conservative evangelical but had had second thoughts about the Bible’s authority and now rather favoured multi-faith worship. His change of heart had come not through theological debate but through experience.
He told how he had been taken ill in Sri Lanka and a Buddhist monk had prayed for him. He got better and had to face the question was the Buddhist’s prayer answered by God. “Is the only authentic prayer made in the name of Jesus?” he asked.
On another occasion he was taken ill on a camel ride in Egypt. A Muslim found him and “with love in his eyes” helped him back to the station. Such profound experiences changed John’s theology.
God is so extravagant in his love for the world that I don’t have any problem with him answering the prayers of non-Christians.
The general work of the Holy Spirit in the world (without which the world would be hell) is so far-reaching that I expect to find deeply caring, loving, devout non-Christians. But that doesn’t mean their religious beliefs are correct.
John Pridmore went on to refer to stories and passages in the Bible which he thinks support a positive approach to other religions and multifaith worship. But, in my understanding, these stories and passages are irrelevant to the subject.
Then it was my turn to speak. Trying to be as gentle and loving as possible, I explained how the nature of God and of humanity made it essential for God to become incarnate in Christ. This was the only way salvation could be achieved. And since multifaith worship marginalised my Saviour and Lord I could have no part in it.
Finally, Swami Siva Nandhi spoke. He told us that Hindus only worship one God “but the parts of him are many.” He continued that humans give God a thousand forms and names, and idols help Hindus to worship God who is beyond description. The Swami believes that all faiths lead to God.
No doubt, as a sophisticated Hindu, this is what he believes. But many millions of ordinary Hindus (as sadly some nominal Christians) are simply idolaters.
I sat next to the Swami as he spoke. Behind us was a moveable partition beyond which was the church. And the Church of God of Prophecy (a black church) was using the building. They sang good old hymns with that inimitable African harmony. Soon they were “firing on six cylinders”. One lady was proclaiming in a loud voice, “Jesus, King of kings, Lord of lords”, her words floated through to our multifaith gathering!
We left before the multifaith worship began. It was led by a Roman Catholic layman in a semi-darkened room around a sheet on which the symbols of the various faiths had been drawn in sand. After readings from various faiths and candles being lit all the sand symbols were merged into one. As the liturgy stated, it was “mixed into an amorphous mass indicating our commitment to commune in making the world more peaceful, more spiritual.”
This is unacceptable syncretism.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction