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How Can the Church Get it So Wrong?

How Can the Church Get it So Wrong?

On the 14th of May, 2012, exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was awarded the Templeton Prize, one of the world’s richest individual prizes valued at around $USD 1.8 million.

The award was given for: his work in encouraging scientific research and harmony among religions. It was presented inside St Paul’s cathedral in London, after Buddhist monks spent time chanting and worshipping in God’s house.

So … how could the church get it so wrong?  Well, here’s how:

We’ve Misunderstood Pluralism vs Tolerance

Pluralism is the darling philosophy of our age. Anybody who denies it (let’s say … like someone who believes in Jesus) is decried as being intolerant. But tolerance and pluralism are two profoundly different things.

According to the Harvard Pluralism Project, pluralism is not a mere acceptance of diversity, but the energetic engagement with diversity – the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. Pluralism is the fundamental belief that deeply different commitments and understandings (such as those found in the different world religions) can and should coexist and through dialog, seek to find common ground so that they can work together.

Correct me if I’m wrong here, but Jesus was tolerant – yet not in any way pluralistic.

When, during his arrest, Peter His disciple cut the ear off one of His assailants, Jesus told Peter to put his sword back in its sheath (John 18:11) and cried “no more of this!” – touching the injured man’s ear and healing him (Matt 26:51). That’s tolerance – He tolerated opposition, even at the cost of his own life.

But a pluralist He was not.

I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me. (John 14:6)

Nothing airy-fairy in that about all religions being the same; about accepting a faith in something or someone else as being equally valid. In fact read the rest of the Bible, and that’s something God is very clear on. There is one God. One Saviour. One Way. That’s it.

So – should we again launch the Crusades with sword in hand, to wipe other religions off the face of the earth. Not according to Jesus.

Okay then. Should we instead adopt the enlightenment of contemporary thought, embracing pluralism, inviting Buddhists to worship in God’s house, marching arm in arm with all religions for world peace?

No! Because there is only one Way.

Pluralism and religious tolerance are two profoundly different things. There is a line between the two. A very clear line. And that line has a name. It’s name is – Jesus which is why it is a stumbling block to the popularist.

The Popular versus the Unpopular 

The Dalai Lama has the luxury of proclaiming a popular message. In covering the fact that he was to receive the Templeton Award, the Indian Express reports that:

The ceremony will celebrate his long-standing engagement with multiple dimensions of science and with people far beyond his own religious traditions, which made him an incomparable global voice for universal ethics, non-violence and harmony among world religions,” organisers said. The Templeton Prize honours a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to “affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.

A popular message indeed. Ethics, religious harmony and an affirmation of life’s spiritual dimension. That’s three birds with one stone. That’s a message that many want to pull up next to … at least on the surface.

But it has nothing whatsoever to do with what Jesus is all about. This God of love sends His Son to die for us, but His Son makes it clear that not all would be happy with who He is, what He says and what He stands for:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. (Matt. 10:34-36)

In fact so unpopular and unpalatable was Jesus’ message that many disciples turned back and no longer went about with him (John 6:66). So unpopular was His message, that they nailed Him to a cross.

Just because it’s popular, doesn’t mean it’s true. And that applies totally to the darling philosophy of our day, pluralism.

Something the Dalai Lama Can Teach the Church

Yes – there is something the Dalai Lama can teach the church – especially its leaders. In a recent post, I decried the ineffective communication of church leaders in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus in the media over Easter.

Whilst I disagree with 99.9% of what the Dalai Lama says, and 100% of what he stands for – you know what? He is one of the most effective communicators on the world stage today (if not the most effective). And to be perfectly blunt, he makes most of our church leaders look like troglodytes when it comes to their inability to proclaim the greatest Message of all.

If there’s one thing we (the church) can learn from the Dalai Lama, it’s how to communicate our message.

And just quietly, the other thing he has going for him is integrity – not a sniff of scandal. No systematic cover up of abuse.

So – effective communication and credibility. That’s kind of handy – do you think?

If nothing else, the Dalai Lama is a rude wake-up call to the church. So church … wake up!


  1. Thank you very much for this wonderfull message through out the world of today and tomorrow, to make the people of God aware of what is going on that looks true but not. Differenciating Pluralism and Tolerance is not easy and, can make many christians confuse and get mixed up with what is ‘the truth’.
    Let us pray together that through your work many can be strengthen in faith and be bold in the only God of all. Thanks.

  2. I think you just proved your own statement: ”Dalai Lama makes most of our church leaders look like troglodytes when it comes to their inability to proclaim the greatest Message of all” When you say: “I disagree with 99.9% of what the Dalai Lama says, and 100% of what he stands for” this only helps non-believers to ditch Christianity as a hopelessly archaic faith who just want to make everyone miserable. The approach is very different form St. Paul’s sermon in Athens.

    Do you disagree 99% with quotes like: “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive” or “If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them”? I hope you will agree to a certain extent with such quotes from Dalai Lama.

    Of course it is still true that we need to speak clearly about the differences between Christianity and other beliefs. But I think the starting point can just as well be confirmation of what we have in common. Then people may listen as we go on to explain what the differences are.

    • Hi Eskil

      thanks for your perspective. Here’s mine.

      The end game of the Dalai Lama’s very seductive and very attractive rhetoric is an eternity without Christ. An eternity of suffering in hell. That was very much the point of Paul’s Athen’s address.

      Yes, he entered into their space through their pagan understanding of the unknown God. Hopefully, if you read or listen to the things I write and say, you’ll find me doing the same. Most of the time.

      But it depends on your audience. This same Paul who spoke to the Athenian (unbelievers) through the unknown God, also tore strips off believers who entertained pagan worship and failed to honour God. My comments in this post are to the church. To God’s people.

      Of course anyone can read them. That’s fine.

      My passion is entering lovingly into the space that the lost find themselves, and sharing the love of Christ with them. That’s what I spend my life doing. But sometimes, we need to speak plainly, frankly and directly to the church.

      That’s what this particular blog post is all about.


  3. God is not in there! It’s just a building!

  4. Excellent! Well said Berni! Thank you for standing up for the truth!

  5. Hi Berni,
    Congratulations on this post. I do not get time to reply to many of your writings but this one inspires me to respond with a hearty Amen and thank you for your honest insight.
    God bless,

    • Hi Laurie I know what you mean. I had the same problem with the reading lists you used to set us poor humble Tabor College students in your Pastoral Care unit!!!


      Bless ya my friend.


  6. The best blog so far Bernie.

  7. What would Jesus do?. I can see Him taking up the whip again. No, not to drive out the Monks primarily, but towards church leaders who are spiritually blind and believe that any such ‘pluralistic’ approach could please the Lord and benefit the cause of the Gospel or the Kingdom of God.
    Let’s pray and love (these) Buddhists, and be prepared to do as I believe Jesus would likely have done…sit down with them and reveal His Word to their hearts. Kind Regards

  8. The chanting etc should have been allowed outside, but not inside God’s sanctuary, and I feel no Christian in England protested this, am I right? I tend to forget that the Dali Lama is a spiritual leader. I have visited buddist temples (prior to being reborn) which were for specific open days etc, deep down I guess I was searching for something, I would still visit as the grounds and food were wonderful but in no way did we worship, but as a sign of respect we removed our shoes.(something I probably wouldn’t do again) I have always said that I would rather listen to a man of peace than one of violence, but how do we do this in our ordinary daily lives? How do we get our leaders to speak up for more than anti gay this and immoral that, what music is played in church, KJ vs NIV bibles etc? No wonder everything is so confusing, we accept de facto couples in our pews but not gays! We shut up so as not to offend, even my local community garden covered up food when the leader realised it was ramadan last year but no thought was given to lent, even though I am not RC I did not protest this as I did not want to appear intolerant and I wasn’t fasting anyway. Why is it that the inept or the Fred Phelps or the proponents of Sharia Law get the air time and rightly or wrongly use it to shout their belief and we get the Pope or a Bishop? I would bow to none of the above ever, as a polite person I would shake hands and nod my head but that is it. I attend Baptist and Pentecostal Churches and yet the media only portrays RC, Anglican or Muslims and Jews or fundamentalists as the way and we do nothing to proclaim the truth. Berni, your message should be sent to a main stream newspaper . Where do we draw the line between being polite and sticking to our belief’s? Perhaps you better publish this article Berni so I can buy it, my printer died lol as I have confused myself even more!! How do you stay so on track and focused (besides editing) while I can’t even respond clearly to your message without my mind trying to be tolerant and fair but sticking to my own beliefs of which even I’m not sure of how far I would push them. Help lol

  9. I am with you bro!

  10. I don’t entirely agree. I do agree that the church building should not be used to worship any but the true God. I do agree that Christian leaders should be careful regarding how and for what reason the Dali Lama should be “celebrated”. I can’t quote, but I think there is a lot good things that he says, so for me somewhat less than 99.9%. 🙂 He just doesn’t know Jesus well enough. But Jesus knows and loves him.
    I can’t recall a passage in the New Testament where Jesus came face to face with the leader of a different faith, but he did sit down with a tax collector who was regarded by the Jews as a vile individual.
    Further in the same passage in Matthew, “He that receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive the prophet’s reward”. Unfortunately for those that received the Dali Lama, I expect they will receive the same. God will judge.
    Hopefully in that cathedral there were those there praying for the monks and not there to receive from them.

  11. I totally agree with your line of thinking here, Berni. You might be interested a great book on the same topic entitled, “Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions.”

  12. Berni, Why is it you always get me riled up in the morning? Tolerance and pluralism might as well be the same thing… as I believe that there is a fundamental difference between both of these concepts and the act of love (agape – to love by choice). I believe that Jesus did tolerate some things and yet he did not tolerate others. I think the message is clear… “zeal for Your house has consumed me” Ps69:9 John 2:17. Church, get ready for a whipping and some table turning!”

    • You know – I woke up this morning and thought to myself:
      “How can I upset Craig Loydell today?!” LOL

      Great to see some passion there bro!


      • I join with you in the hearty LOL! We all need a little passion and I must say I love what you’re doing here Berni. I’m glad you make me think hard about these issues.

        Food for thought… The idea of tolerance, taken to it’s extreme, leaves no room for rebuke and/or correction. Most of the bible and especially the writings of the apostle Paul, would disappear into a wisp of smoke if it not be for rebuke and correction.

        Of course I imply here that in love (agape) there is room for all these things, rebuke, correction, gentle guidance, compassion, and the list goes on.

  13. Berni, I Think you hit the head of the nail with this comment on Tolerance vs. Pluralism (and eqality!) I certainly agree with you! Saying that something is ‘the truth’ – if it does not fit the ‘political correctness of the day’ definitely is under pressure these days!

    • Absolutely Ingrid. But not just these days. All through the Old Testament, God’s Prophets were rejected. Jesus was rejected. Most if not all of HIs Disciples were martyred. And more Christians were martyred for their faith in the 20th century, than in all the 19 centuries before that put together.

      So – why is the greatest message of all so unpopular?

      Is it that the amazing love of God so challenges our sinful nature, so upsets our apple cart, that we are all compelled to reject it until the Holy Spirit touches our hearts?

      Does the depravity of humanity run so deep, that we create popular falsehoods and prefer these impostors above the God of Love?

      I think so …

  14. Well said, Bernie. Excellent, concise response to a matter that is being used to draw many into error.

    • Thanks Phil – feel free to pick it up as a discussion item on UCB this week! 🙂

  15. I don’t know much about the Dalai Lama, except that he has a dress sense which i personally do not want to emulate, but despite his worldwide following, does he expect men and women to worship him, or someone else? This is the big difference I find in Jesus.

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