Friday, January 06, 2006

The Priesthood of Melchizedek and Pluralism

I have mentioned in previous posts my interest in the role of the Gospel in a pluralist society to borrow the words of Lesslie Newbigin. As I grow older and attempt to settle into an area of interest, I keep coming back to this one. Pluralism may be the issue for the church of the future. What do we think about all those Muslims, Buddhists, Shintos, Scientologists, etc. that our children will go to school alongside, attend college with, sleep over at one another's houses, and marry? Is our faith guilty on the frequently-thrown charges of being "narrow-minded"? How exclusive is Jesus' claims of being "the way, the truth and the life" as we so oft like to quote?

In my own thinking, I keep coming back to the Genesis account of a seldom mentioned priest-king named "Melchizedek" that comes from the land of Salem (which apparently was Jerusalem) bringing Abram bread and wine and the blessing of God Most High. What in the world is this account doing smack dab in the middle of the great Abraham story? He steals the show for a verse or two.

Beginning in Genesis 12, the Genesis account details the life of Abraham because God chose him to bless. From the reader's vantage point the selection was arbitrary. We're given no reason for his selection. "Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord" we're told before he saves the world from the flood, but no similar indication is given to us regarding Abram. God just chose him.

From here on out, the biblical narrative focuses on the lineage that runs through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, eventually through Moses, and then Israel and Judah. From the standpoint of the Torah, those outside Israel were outside the vantage point of God. Great provisions were made for the "aliens" in the law, and Israel was to treat them well, but for the most part they went into these foreign lands and blasted them - men, women, children, and all.

That bode fairly well for me when I was a teenager, and even into college. That's the way it was back then. God could have them blasted because they were an evil people, and God's character being holy, had to get rid of all the vileness that was opposed to him. Same as today. Those who are outside of modern "Israel" (ie. the church) are to be treated well and loved, but cannot be forgiven outside the camp of the church.

Enter Melchizedek. It doesn't take much brain exercise to imply that through Melchizedek's appearance in the Genesis account we learn that God was indeed active outside of the biblical narrative. OK, that just doesn't give enough creedance to the implications. He wasn't just "active" making flowers bloom, trees release carbon dioxide and everything . . . there was a whole other line of stinking priests! I mean, these were to be the "with God" folks, the interceding ones - and there was a whole other line out there somewhere. And we don't konw anything about them! Melchizedek simply shows up, offers a blessing, and takes 10% of Abram's stuff. THink of the plethora of questions that I was never allowed to ask!

Who was he "priesting" for?
What was his "priesty system" like?
What happened to them? Where did they go?
Did they get word of Jesus' life, burial, and resurrection?
And the questions go on and on for me.

Here's what it does to my thinking today. I hear Christians all the time who are so quick to condemn people from all walks of other faiths, usually without a lick of knowledge about their beliefs. I heard a professor quote someone at a lecture a few months back (that's a good reference) paraphrasing as best I can remember, "No one really knows his own religion lest he has learned the beliefs of another." How true that must be. I remain utterly ignorant of all other faiths. I can tell you very little about other Christian groups to say nothing of what I know about nonChristian faiths. What does that say? I'm a little narrow-minded (ok, a lot narrow minded).

How can I say Jesus is the way, when he's the only way I know? How can I say that he's better than everything else that's out there, when I don't know what's out there?

OK, before you think I've completely sold out to John Hick's pluralistic notions of Christianity, I don't say these things gleefully or assuredly. Instead they are real questions. Living in the conservative cities I have lived, I am still amazed to see the diversity that is the United States, and I am utterly unprepared to enter into dialogue with the majority of these people.

The Bible makes lofty claims that many of us are scared to test. If the Bible really is true, we shouldn't have to dress it up on tee-shirts and bumper stickers - we should be able to tell it like it is (sounds a little reminiscent of what Paul did.) If the major faith groups could come together for dialogue, and if our take on the truth is more productive and "good" people will be convinced. Not by its "correctness" but by its goodness. So whether the priestly order of Melchizedek has come through the lineage as the Latter Day Saints or Tom Cruise, we'll never know lest we have open and honest dialogue and lose our fears.


Brian said...

"How can I say Jesus is the way, when he's the only way I know? How can I say that he's better than everything else that's out there, when I don't know what's out there?"

To me, the answer is simple: because Jesus said it himself. "I am the way, the truth and the life" "No one comes to the father through me."

Does that sound simplistic and convenient because I was raised a Christian? Maybe so. But I have faith that the Bible is the inspired word of God. The Bible claims that Jesus is the only way to salvation, so I have to accept that.

Paul's whole ministry was to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles--the muslims, buddhists, whatever else you want to throw in there.

My mind comes to Paul's sermon in Acts 17 where he relates to the Athenians altar to "An Unknown God." Paul commended them for their desire to worship a supreme being, then proceeded to explain to them the nature of the one true supreme being.

Perhaps we as Christians should do a betther job of recognizing that Allah is the same God who called Abraham and commend Muslims for worshipping him. But we must go further to demonstrate that Christ is the path to eternal life.

Much easier said than done considering the Muslims have a couple of milenia of Mohammed's teachings that are as ingrained for them as Jesus's teachings are for Christians.

Now I admit, I am as ignorant, or more so, of Islamic teachings (not to mention other world religions) as you claim to be. Perhaps we could relate better to Muslims (and others) if we better understand their beliefs and ethical systems, but as Christians, we should seek that knowledge with the goal of relating their preexisting beliefs to what Christ's claims as the sacrfice for all men means to them.

Brian said...

Misquote in the previous comment:

I meant to say "no one comes to the Father except through me"

The except is a pretty important word and completely alters the meaning of the quote. Sorry.