[Church Gate, 2012 JA Van Devender]
Location: A province in China
2 Kings 5:17–18 (NKJV)
17 So Naaman said, “Then, if not, please let your servant be given two mule-loads of earth; for your servant will no longer offer either burnt offering or sacrifice to other gods, but to the Lord. 18 Yet in this thing may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the temple of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord please pardon your servant in this thing.”
Yesterday the Dalai Lama opened the Senate with prayers to Buddha (see HERE). I think that this is a first... I'm not certain... but it matters not very much whether it was the first or the tenth time such has happened. It was a curious thing to me.
I doubt seriously that this was just a coincidence. These things never are and I image that there was more than a little maneuvering going on here. Tibet sits uneasily on China's western border... the domestic political situation is far from settled... and China is very sensitive to any recognition of the Dalai Lama as the true head of that geographically imposing region. This invitation was probably aimed at China as a reminder that the US can give as good as it can take when it comes to stirring up trouble in the world. The Chinese might do well to consider some of their actions vis a vis international waters and Japan in particular. So, this was most likely a political move. But I think more than anything else this act highlights the difference between the US and China and indeed, several other nations.
The photo above is of a gate that guards a church in China. Perhaps contrary to what many Christians assume, the Christian presence in China is not all that hidden. It varies from region to region, but with the typical Oriental ability to hold two mutually contradictory positions simultaneously without a great deal of angst over that fact, Christians in China are unofficially tolerated up to the point that political or other factors call for enforcement of official policy. One can travel through major cities and see large red neon crosses atop soaring steeples shining in the night. Many Christians are quite wealthy and in China, perhaps even more than the US, wealth buys influence. Thus a local, underground church may be quite large, with nice facilities, a fairly young clientele, and be surrounded by a wall with an imposing gate.
The wall and the gate is to protect that congregation and their assets from any lawless incursions and to delay visitors long enough for certain precautions to be taken if the unofficial toleration appears to be in jeopardy. The Christian presence is simply naked to the world. It is not protected by law and therefore there is no such thing as calling 911 if someone breaks in to steal. It is a curious situation.
This is what passes for freedom of religion in China.
In the US, still a predominantly Christian nation in culture and heritage if not in actual practice, a Tibetan monk is invited to pray for the most prestigious legislative branch in the world. What is even more interesting is that the Christians who were present did not have to pray with him, did not have to bow to his god, did not have to do anything other than be respectful of his right to hold such beliefs which are adamantly to be rejected by every Scriptural authority. The Christians in the audience could, without criticism, have simply vacated the chamber if the blasphemous words could not be tolerated... that was their right also.
True freedom of religion is practiced when opposing ideas are allowed to fight it out, in open forum, with respect for the other individual but with no compelling requirement to respect what they believe or say. True freedom of religion is grounded on the Christian (though not exclusively so) belief that in the end "truth will out." Christians, placing their faith in the very Personal, very immanent Christ who lives and rules and disposes things to the glory of God His Father and ours, will ultimately triumph over the dominions and powers and deceptions that hold the outside world in their thrall. This has not always, historically, been practiced as it ought. From the horror of the inquisition, the calamitous colonial practices imposed on native populations, Martin Luther's shrill opposition to the peasant revolt, or the tramping feet of the supposedly Christian Ku Klux Klan, Christian's have forgotten the teachings of their Lord all too often.
Yet His word has not been abolished and heaven and earth will pass away before it is ever shaken.
Taking a lesson from Elisha's dealing with Naaman above, I think Christians should not fear such a thing as the Dalai praying or a Muslim mosque being erected in the neighborhood. Naaman could accompany his earthly master into the blasphemous temple of Rimmon and not betray, by that mere action, his prior commitment to worship only the one true God of Israel. That's freedom of religion.
I don't say we should exactly welcome such things as the Dalai's prayer, there is one God, one Faith, one Baptism for the remission of sins and Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life and NO MAN comes to the Father except through Him. We should never rejoice in untruth but neither should we fear it or seek ungoldy means to suppress it.
The Christian faith is the strongest guarantor of freedom that has ever passed on the world's stage. Even with its more sordid, blood stained robes still hanging in the historical closet, the fact of the matter is that it has provided the comprehensive unifying themes that were the seed bed for liberal democracy and individual human rights. The enlightenment was a child of scholasticism and the Reformation, though having much in common with a rebellious teen-ager. The conceptual equality of races, genders and nationalities is rooted in the teachings of Jesus and Paul and not the vanity of human philosophy.
The fundamental difference between religious freedom as practiced in the West and in China, is that in China it is the product of fear.... in the West it is the hope of truth.