Sunday, January 4, 2015

Religion and New Beginnings: Salvation and Reconciliation in the Family of God

By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            A new year is about new beginnings, and for people of faith new beginnings are about repentance, reconciliation and redemption, or salvation, as children of God.  These are mystical concepts with moral implications for our relationship with God and with other people.  After giving his disciples a new command to love one another Jesus prayed for a unity of all believers.  Jesus taught that through the transforming power of God’s love and mercy we can be reconciled and redeemed as children of God, and then reconciled with others, even those of other faiths.
            Sin is our separation from God’s love, and salvation liberates us from the bondage of sin and death and reconciles us with God and each other.  God’s will is to reconcile and redeem us in the family of God; but attempts to proselytize others into exclusivist religions can further Satan’s will, which is to divide and conquer the family of God.  Unfortunately Satan does a wonderful imitation of God, and has done some of his best work in synagogues, churches and mosques.
            Salvation has traditionally been based on belief in mystical doctrines and obedience to religious rules and rituals, and Judaism, Christianity and Islam offer different perspectives of salvation.  Jews to their credit do not proselytize, but fundamentalist Christians and Muslims do so with exclusivist beliefs that limit salvation to believers and exclude unbelievers from the unity of all believers and the family of God, condemning them to eternal damnation.
            For Jews, the Mosaic Law of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) provides a divine standard of legitimacy and righteousness that rewards obedient Jews and punishes the disobedient in this world, not the next.  For Christians and Muslims, God’s rewards and punishments overcome the finality of death with eternal life in heaven/paradise or hell.  

            Jesus was a Jew who emphasized love over law as God’s will and the means to salvation, with the promise of new spiritual life and peace in God’s kingdom and the universal family of God.  The Church has distorted that message with exclusivist doctrines that limit salvation to Christian believers, with unbelievers condemned to hell.

            For Muslims the Qur’an is the immutable word of God, and it conditions salvation on belief in the Qur’an and obedience to its laws, doing good works and submission to God in all things (Islam); and, as with Christians, unbelievers are condemned to eternal damnation.

            Even with their differences, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all share the greatest commandment to love God and neighbor as a common word of faith.  Unfortunately each religion has different ideas about what it means to love God and neighbor, and fundamentalist Christians and Muslims do not accept unbelievers as members of the family of God.
            When asked by a Jew who was his neighbor, Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan in which an apostate Samaritan was a good neighbor to a wounded Jew (Luke 10:29-37).  Jesus upset Jewish religious teachers by associating with tax collectors and prostitutes who were considered sinners, and told sanctimonious Jewish teachers of the Law who questioned him, I came to save sinners, not the righteous(Mark 2:15-17).  Later, when told that his mother and brother were seeking him, Jesus told a crowd, Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.  Jesus never promoted any religion, not even his own; for him inclusion in the universal family of God depended on a person’s love for others, not their religion or family ties. 

            Over the years the Church has not only advocated exclusivist beliefs but also attempted to extend its worldly power through the Crusades and Inquisitions, and Islam has a similar history of exclusivity and violence.  The Qur’an sends mixed messages on the family of God, appearing inclusive by referring to Jews and Christians as People of the Book, but also asserting that it is blasphemy to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, and that most Jews and Christians are unbelievers.  And like ancient holy warriors, modern Jihadists believe they are instruments of God’s judgment with a divine mandate to exterminate all unbelievers.

            The teachings of Jesus point the way to religious reconciliation and peace.  They are grounded in inclusive concepts of salvation and a universal family of God; and even though Jesus never mentioned democracy, human rights or the secular rule of law, he related salvation to freedom when he read from Isaiah that God’s will was to liberate the oppressed (Isaiah 61:1-2 and Luke 4:14-21).  De oppresso liber links faith and freedom.  It is on the crest of the US Army Special Forces and affirms the relevance of religion to political freedom and military legitimacy.
            The concepts of salvation and the family of God shape the relationships between Jews, Christians and Muslims.  Until those competing religions understand salvation and the family of God in a more inclusive and universal way there will be continuing hate and violence between them.  Believers must learn to respect those of other religions, or like the Hatfields and McCoys, they will continue their holy family feuds with little hope of religious reconciliation and peace.   

Notes and References to Resources:

See the following references in TheTeachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy(the J&M Book) in the Resources:  On Lessons 1 and 2 on Sin, righteousness and the family of God  see Mark 2:15-17 and Mark 3:31-35 at page 17; on The new command to love one another, see John 13:34-35 at page 325; on The farewell prayer of Jesus: the unity of all believers, see John 17:1-26 at page 420; on The story of the good Samaritan, see Luke 10:29-37 at page 223; on Jesus announcing his mission to liberate the oppressed (de oppresso liber) see Liberation at page 385.

See related blogs at Blog/Archives: Faith and Freedom, posted on December 15, 2014; see also Religion, Violence and Military Legitimacy, posted on December 29, 2014.

The greatest commandmentis the topic of the next blog, to be followed by love over law.

For those provisions in the Qur’an on Belief, rewards and punishmentfor Jews and Christians, see Appendix to the J&M Book at pages 476-485.

On a common word of faith, see

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