In this modern day, our highway system an infrastructure made by man and comprised of concrete asphalt and steel, is built upon routes that are delineated from adjacent real estate by deeded and recorded easements, routes that are so inflexible as to be set in stone. We all take this system for granted; seldom questioning why the road we are traveling upon takes this particular path. For the most part our highway system does a wonderful job of getting from where we are at to wherever our destination happens to be. However this system of exact routes has not always been the rule.
A century ago, in large parts of rural America, roads were ambiguous routes, more of a concept than the concrete inflexible roadbeds as we have today. If you lived in those times and were to be traveling upon these wonderful old roads you would be quick to discover that they were paved only by the earth compacted under the feet of those that had passed that way before you. If traveling in rainy weather and you encountered a section of the road that had become impassable due to a muddy bog, rather than to risk getting mired in the muck, if possible you simply detoured around the bog, blazing a new section of the road which was sure to be taken by those following in your path.
Routes that connected two cities, might be fairly well defined in areas were natural geological obstacles prevented variances in the path, while in areas where the going was easier the road might fork with one path venturing into a village and the other path serving as a bypass much as we have bypasses today, and often these two paths would converge, becoming as one later in the journey.
In today’s world, man has found it necessary to establish al sorts of laws regarding the usage of the highway system. We have speed limits, maximum and sometimes minimum. We have passing and no passing zones, weight, length, height, and width limits, as well as countless other rules of the road. There are laws establishing taxation and tolls to pay for the upkeep of this infrastructure. Each of the before mentioned, are laws designed by and enforced by man, presumably for the safety and good of the public. Whereas a century ago few if any laws regarding road usage existed.
It does not take too much of a stretch of the imagination to see a certain analogy between roads, past or present to the history man’s interpretations of religions or spiritual paths.
Today, many religions seek to define, to set in stone, dogma and doctrine authored by man as laws, often these laws that are authored by man are concealed behind a façade that perpetuates a belief that these same laws or doctrines originated from supreme deity. Due to the very nature of our modern society we find ourselves unable to contend with esoteric shades of gray, and compelled by the desire to define or package everything into uniform descriptive packages. We feel compelled to establish exactly what our faiths represent, their direction, and various tenets. We seek to set in stone the exact routes and boundaries of our spiritual paths, just as our highway system follows uniform deeded easements. The end result of this process of defining faith or spiritual path is to either purposefully or inadvertently discourage and or even eliminate esoteric or free thought.
The previous issue of "Pagan Pages" included an article entitled "Pagan As Free-Thinkers" by Reverend Crystal. The Reverend wrote;
"So often we attempt to take what is so wonderful about paganism and squish it into a box that was really meant for the book religions of the world. Now, in all fairness, there are many reasons to try and do that. Some include the legalities of what is considered a "religion" under the law."
Sometimes it is necessary to comply with the demands of secular legalities and define who and what we are, but we must in practice seek a point of balance, somewhere between defining strict descriptive boundaries to comply with secular legalities and allowing freedom of religion for the individual. Otherwise we face the risk of becoming as those religions that discourage free thought and eliminate the possibility for the individual to pursue that, which as Reverend Crystal wrote, "the path to the divine is an individual journey for each person."
So why does one’s path to the divine, absolutely have to have rigid inflexible borders just as our modern roads have rigid deeded easements? Why can we not accept that our brother or sister follows a different path, parallel but yet slightly different?
Christians use scriptures such as John 14:6 ("Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.") as a means to justify a rigid exclusive doctrine, as they tend interpret the passage to mean that ONLY Christians can achieve salvation. They take this passage and others quite literally, ignoring the possibility that he meant that the principles and tenets of his teachings and philosophy are "the way" and instead they try to make it, man’s literal interpretation "law" that only those that worship him in a manner prescribed by humans, can achieve spiritual salvation. However there is a small grassroots movement of Christians seeking to reevaluate the meaning of this and other passages, one such group is The Church Of Interfaith Christians.
A FANTASTIC CHANGE HAS BEGUN IN CHRISTIANITY!
The slogan above is displayed on each page of interfaithchristians.org signifying to progressive Christians that they have found a fresh breath of air, and after reading several web pages, Christians that also practice other paths such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Wicca, Paganism, or other Earth based traditions, realize that they have found an inclusive home. Others who may practice only a Christian path, but who are tired of doctrine and dogma that seems to be the anti thesis to the very teachings of Christ also find a spiritual home there as well.
Beginning as an e-mail discussion group in 2002 and quickly evolving into a church, one that is listed in the Encyclopedia of World Religions as a new denomination of Christianity, the Church of Interfaith Christians (COIC) has more than two hundred members world wide, many who practice a Christian/whatever path. While its numbers are low compared to other groups, one must realize that everything that has been accomplished to date has been done totally without any tithes or other cash flow that would allow for publicity, but rather just by "word of mouth" from volunteers.
Unlike other Christian denominations, the COIC never dictates the manner in which its ordained ministers conduct their individual ministries nor does it require its lay members to adhere to a strict doctrine, but rather encourages the ministers and members to seek out the sprit and explore their individual callings, in the worship of God/Goddess. The one doctrine that the COIC has authored is a doctrine to establish no doctrines. Unlike many Christian organizations there are no "rules" of the road. Rules that regulate one on their spiritual journey just as highway laws regulate travel upon the byways of our modern transportation infrastructure.
To explain and define the difference between the COIC and other Christian denominations, the founder of the COIC, Reverend Ernest A. Steadman wrote; "The Interfaith Christian embraces all positive spiritual paths including Shamanism and earth-based traditions, often being called upon to heal gaps between the many disparate religious faiths using the original teachings of Jesus Christ, minus convoluted manmade doctrine." He went on to further explain his concept(s) with a quote of the Dalai Lama;
"The greater our awareness is regarding the value and effectiveness of other religious traditions, then the deeper will be our respect and reverence toward other religions. This is the proper way for us to promote genuine compassion and a spirit of harmony among the religions of the world."
Reverend Steadman started the e-mail discussion group as a forum for those seeking to develop their awareness of other religious traditions and celebrate that diversity so as to promote harmony and healing among the various religions. Reverend Steadman had long noted that on many of the hundreds of e-mail groups, any Christian that varied from that "road set in stone" was immediately set upon by self appointed protectors of the faith with just as much ferocity as these "Christian guardians" attacked practitioners of other faiths. He further justified his position on the founding of the COIC by quoting 1 Corinthians 12: verses 4-6; "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. Now there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone." Always giving it as his opinion that the only difference between the deities of the world’s religions was that difference authored by man, a difference designed to serve the needs of the flesh (the organization) and not the needs of the individual’s spiritual enlightenment.
The e-mail discussion forum grew into a fellowship of friends, an extended family. And as the various commentaries offered by the membership of the group took on more of the aspects of sermons, the group became a church. One that now offers ordinations to anyone absolutely free of charge. The e-mail group remains open to anyone regardless of path, but in order to comply with secular authorities and give some degree of credibility to the ordinations offered by the COIC there is now a requirement for those petitioning for ordination to profess a "Christian slash whatever" belief, or otherwise involving Christ in some form or fashion in their practice.
The church’s website is a volunteer effort and a work in progress, archiving articles submitted by members of all faiths, including various ceremonies such as handfastings. Dozens of pages have been contributed that cover a wide range of topics, from developing understanding between the world’s religions to defending religious freedoms.
But of all of the articles and writings of individual members found in the web pages on the interfaithchristians.org web site, the phrase that sums up everything, has become the slogan of the COIC, "ONE GOD – Many Names / ONE SON – Many Paths / ONE TRUTH – Many Faiths" by this statement we mean that we believe that there is an universal deity, known by many names, one that inculcates universal brotherly love and understanding. ONE SON who taught principles that are also found in all religions and regardless of their chosen path, those that follow these philosophies have an equal chance to obtain spiritual enlightenment. And finally if one opens their hearts and minds and "thinks out of the box" created by mankind to establish the boundaries of the "road" of their particular path and takes note of the similarities in the paths of all religions, one finds that ONE TRUTH which is also common truth throughout the Many Faiths of the world.
We cordially invite the readers of PaganPages.org to check out interfaithchristians.org, in the hopes that together Interfaith Christians and Pagans can work to promote acceptance and tolerance of all faiths.
Reverend Ed Crabtree D.D. (Hon)
Chief Executive Officer
The Church Of Interfaith Christians
Lighthouse On The CornerMinistries