Each issue, Sub-Dean Manoj Mathew Zacharia of Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati, Ohio, will answer questions of a theological or spiritual nature submitted from readers. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration for an answer in a future issue.
How do Christians reconcile our faith’s traditional understanding of Jesus as the definitive revelation of God, the Son of God, as professed in “There is salvation in no one else … (Acts 4:12), with our desire to respectfully dialogue with others whose beliefs are fundamentally different?
The questions that you have asked fall into a category called the “Theology of Religions.” The Episcopal Church, by action of General Convention (GC 2009 – Resolution A074 and GC 2012, Resolution A035) offers us guidance. Let me take this opportunity to offer some insights in answering your questions based on the official statement of our church:
The most sensitive aspects of interreligious relations concern any religion’s claims to unique or exclusive authority or revelation, including Christian traditions and teachings such as the incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians affirm that God “has created all men and women in his image, and he wishes all to enjoy that fullness of life in his presence which we know as salvation” (Generous Love, Section 1). We also recognize that our efforts toward this goal are futile without the assistance of God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are dependent on the grace of God—God’s unconditional, undeserved love for those God has made. The source of salvation is God alone. Christians believe salvation comes through Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As Christians, “we are saved by grace through faith, and this is not our own doing, but the gift of God, not the result of works so that no one may boast. For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Eph. 2: 8-10). In various ways, language of salvation refers to a form of deliverance from sin and the finiteness of this life as we experience it, with all its hardships and joys. Our hope of salvation expresses our expectation that we shall share in the life of God, and do so not only after death, but now.
The Christian scriptures proclaim that Jesus is “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14) and as such he is “the Way and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). As stated in our creeds (Apostles’ and Nicene) and liturgy, Jesus Christ is the full revelation of God. Since God has chosen to share our life, we affirm that God is intensely concerned about every human life. Among Christians, Episcopalians have a particular appreciation of this teaching, in that we believe that the coming of God in Christ has already begun to transform all of creation.
The human response to God’s incarnate love was “to crucify the Lord of Glory” (1Cor. 2:8). The cross is the Christian symbol and act of self-emptying, humility, redemptive suffering, sacrificial self-giving, and unvanquished love. We believe that we have been reconciled to God through the cross.
In the resurrection we believe “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and giving life to those in the tomb” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 483). By our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection we enjoy new life as members of the Body of Christ, called therefore to become ourselves ambassadors of reconciliation (Rom. 6:4; 2Cor. 5:14-20).
Professing salvation in Christ is not a matter of competing with other religious traditions with the imperative of converting one another. Each tradition brings its own understanding of the goal of human life to the interreligious conversation. Christians bring their particular profession of confidence in God’s intentions as they are seen in and through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As the bishops at the 2008 Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion noted, “The purpose of dialogue is not compromise, but growth in trust and understanding of each other’s faith and traditions. Effective and meaningful dialogue will only take place where there is gentleness, honesty, and integrity. In all of this, we affirm that Christianity needs to be lived and presented as ‘a way of life,’ rather than a static set of beliefs.”
Claiming Jesus as the Way, therefore, requires us to “respect the dignity of every human being” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 305). This grounds our expectation that we shall discover new insights and develop new relationships through interreligious dialogue. In mutual encounters and shared ascetic, devotional, ethical, and prophetic witness, we dare to hope that God will reveal new and enriching glimpses of a reconciled humanity.
Manoj Mathew Zacharia