Each religion springs from a profound experience of the Spirit which is expressed in a sacred book
“Every religion tends to centre on itself, to build up its own exclusive structures of law and authority and so to close itself to the action of God. This was the situation in Israel when Jesus came. There were many reasons for this. Perhaps the most significant was that Israel had been subject to one people after another: first the Babylonians, then the Persians, then the Greeks, and finally the Romans. The result was that Israel tended to turn in on itself, to defend its religion against the surrounding people. This gave rise to the sect of the Pharisees. The term 'pharisee' means 'separated', and the Pharisees were those who separated themselves as far as possible from others to be 'holy' to God and to observe His law as strictly as possible. This was a worthy motive in its way, but it led to an exclusive attachment to the law. This is the danger of every religion, as we see around us today. As a religion feels itself to be threatened, it clings to its old traditions and centres on itself, so that it becomes incapable of further growth or of responding to the movement of the Spirit.
"Jesus came to set Israel free from this bondage to the law and to open it to the new life of the Spirit. He saw himself as bringing to birth a new Israel, a new people of God, which would be the nucleus of a new humanity. There is no doubt that he saw his work in continuity with the history of Israel, as God's chosen people. When he spoke of his 'church' (Greek 'ekklesia'), he almost certainly used the Aramaic word 'qahal', which was used of the 'congregation of Israel'. He could even say, 'I was not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel' (Matthew 15:24). He did not reject the law of Moses or the worship in the temple or the synagogue, but he broke down the barrier of exclusiveness which had imprisoned Israel and so opened the way to a new movement of the Spirit. There was a wall in the temple of Jerusalem which separated the holy place in which the Jews could worship from the 'court of the Gentiles', and no Gentile could pass beyond that wall. That wall was symbolic of the division of the world between Jews and Gentiles, the holy people of God from the sinful people outside. Jesus came to break down this wall of separation, as St. Paul says: “He broke down the wall of hostility...that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, thus making peace” (Ephesians 2:14). This applies not only to the wall in Jerusalem and the separation of Jews and Gentiles, but to all those barriers, particularly of religion, which divide humanity.
Every religion tends to build up a wall of separation which divides it from the rest of humanity. In some respects this is inevitable, as a religion has to preserve its own unique values. But in doing so it has to learn to respect the values of other religions. The Christian churches have built up their own walls of separation and excluded the rest of humanity from the 'people of God', and even excluded one another from their own particular structure of religion. The Muslims also have their own wall of separation and even Hindus and Buddhists, though much more tolerant than the Semitic religions, yet have their own exclusive claims. Today we are seeking to find a way by which each religion can retain its own unique spiritual and moral values, while remaining open to the spiritual and moral values of other religions. This can only come about when we learn to recognise the relative value of the external forms of religion, their rites and dogmas. Each religion springs from a profound experience of the Spirit which is expressed in a sacred book or sacred teaching and develops its own distinctive rituals and doctrine, but behind all these outward forms there always remains the original inspiration of the Spirit. It is in the rediscovery of that original inspiration that we learn to find a living relationship with the other religions. It is by returning to the source of each tradition that we discover the basic unity which underlies all religion.
If we look for the basic inspiration which underlies Christianity, it is to be found in the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus came to set Israel free from its bondage to the Law, that is, to its religious tradition, and to take it back to the source of all religion. It is clear that Jesus left behind no definite structure of religion. He chose twelve disciples, whom he called 'apostles', and by all accounts gave Peter a position of leadership among them. He also left behind a 'memorial' of his death and resurrection, the central 'mystery' of his life, but beyond that it is difficult to discern with certainty any other formal structure. What he communicated to his disciples was the gift of his Spirit, which was to lead them into all truth. The essential mystery of the Gospel is this gift of the Spirit, that is, the opening of humanity to the life of the Spirit, which had been lost at the Fall, and its return to the communion with God in which the meaning and purpose of human existence is to be found. It was this which was to lead his disciples to discern the significance of his life and teaching and to enable them to become the nucleus of a new humanity.”
Bede Griffiths, A New Vision of Reality (Western Science, Eastern Mysticism and Christian Faith)
Templegate Publishers (1990) pp. 102-4
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