Twenty-four years ago (1998), I attended a small Christian church in Kyongju, South Korea. It was only a temporary involvement because I was part of the church’s ministry of helping immigrant workers learn Korean. Although I occasionally sensed the theological eccentricity of the pastor, he was a nice man.
The real shock came when he made a sudden announcement after a usual Sunday noodle lunch that he decided to close the church. He even had specific plans. He would renounce Christianity and move into the mountain to dedicate the rest of his life to Buddhism. His first project was that he would move from mountain to mountain to produce rubbed copies of Buddha’s images engraved on rocks. The pastor was quite excited when he shared his plans. He made it clear that the reason was because he couldn’t ignore any longer the obvious fact that he’s Korean; as Korean, he wanted to immerse himself in Korea’s religions, not in those of the West (e.g., Christianity).
I don’t remember how we responded to the Christian pastor’s abrupt “apostasy.” The church was closed immediately, and he and his wife disappeared into the mountain. I regret to this day that I missed to tell him that Buddhism was not even Korean—it’s an Indian import.
To be fair, there was an element of truth to what he said. I agree that most religions are geographically defined and confined: Islam is a Mid-Eastern faith system; Shintoism was born and is being practiced primarily in Japan; Buddhism and Hinduism derive from India; Judaism is from Palestine. So, yes, a man’s professed religion may be closely linked to his own geographical locale; a man from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem may naturally be a Judaism believer, and a woman from Bangkok is likely a Buddhist. That was the pastor’s logic. That is, he’s born Korean that he was meant to practice Korea’s major religions, not foreign ones.
I wonder, however, if geographically, culturally, ethnically, or nationalistically confined (or at least sensitive) religions can claim to possess the absolute truth.
Our God, however, is not the God of Jews only; he is the God of Gentiles also (Rom 3:29); the righteous of God is not through geographical or genealogical link but only through faith in Jesus Christ and this righteousness of God is given to “all who believe” because there is no distinction (διαστολή) (Rom 3:22).
Gal 3:26–29, too, is an amazing text that shows that the Christian God is the God of the universe and all nations and that he shows no favoritism based on geography, socio-economic status, gender, age, language, culture, nationality, or anything!
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise”
It is only the gospel of God, therefore, that can bring us into true unity and oneness because there is neither Jew nor Greek before God.
(Photo by Sabine Schulte on Unsplash)