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Taoism and Christianity

Given that the Apostle John, in his doctrine of the logos, was likely influenced by the Septuagint, what
would those Gentile readers, not familiar with the Septuagint, but quite familiar with Greek philosophy
make of Johns Gospel? A similar difficulty arises with the Chinese translation: might not the use of the
term Tao affect their understanding of Christ?
Of course it might. Indeed, it seems that Johns use of the term logos did influence some people to read
ideas from Greek philosophy into their conception of Christ. Likewise, some Chinese readers might
interpret Christ in a more Taoist manner due to the use of the term Tao in Johns Gospel. We all approach
every text with a certain pre-understanding that naturally influences our interpretation. Still, there would
seem to be certain limits on how far this can reasonably influence our interpretation of Christ in Johns
Gospel. Consider a statement by D. H. Johnson:
. . . verbal similarities do not necessarily imply conceptual similarities. The use of similar words in
seemingly similar ways can deceive us into thinking that two authors are discussing the same concept.
Only when one document is understood in its own right can it be compared to another which must also be
understood in its own right.{32}
We might say that every text will, to some extent, impose a particular meaning on the terms it uses. In the
Chinese translation of Johns Gospel it soon becomes apparent that the term Tao, while retaining some of
its original meaning, has been endowed with a remarkable new significance! How so?
First, although the Chuang Tzu credits Tao with creation, we should not understand Tao as a personal
Creator. In contrast, as D. H. Johnson writes, The meaning of logos in the Johannine prologue is clear.
The Word is the person of the Godhead through whom the world was created.{33} Personality is thus a
crucial difference between the Tao of Taoism and the Tao of Christianity. Second, John 1:14 declares that
the Tao became flesh. The incarnation of Tao, like the incarnation of the logos, is a significant
development in the meaning of this term. A Taoist would instantly recognize that Tao has assumed new
meaning in Johns Gospel, making it difficult to read too much Taoism into his understanding of Christ.
Thus, even though the term Tao is used of Christ in the Chinese translation of Johns Gospel, we should
not infer that Taoism and Christianity are really about the same thing. They are not. Christianity proclaims
a personal Creator who is morally outraged by mans sinfulness and will one day judge the world in
righteousness (Rom. 1:182:6). Taoism proclaims an impersonal creative principle which makes no moral
distinction between right and wrong and which judges no one. Christianity proclaims that Christ died for
our sins and was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25), and that eternal life is freely given to all who
trust Him as Savior (John 1:12; Rom. 6:23). In contrast, the doctrine of moral relativism in Taoism clouds
the need for a Savior from sin. Finally, and most shocking of all, is Jesus claim to be the only true Taoor
Wayto the Father (John 14:6). If He is right, then Taoism, for all its admirable qualities, cannot have
told the eternal Tao.

What is the appropriate age for baptism?


The shortest answer is: as soon as it is both possible and practical.
Our teaching on baptism is found in By Water and the Spirit. Here is the most relevant section to this
question:
"Understanding the practice as an authentic expression of how God works in our lives, The United
Methodist Church strongly advocates the baptism of infants within the faith community: "Because the
redeeming love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, extends to all persons and because Jesus explicitly
included the children in his kingdom, the pastor of each charge shall earnestly exhort all Christian parents
or guardians to present their children to the Lord in Baptism at an early age" (1992 Book of Discipline,
par. 221)" (para. 226, 2012 Book of Discipline).
No specific age is named, but the expectation is that pastors will encourage baptism to be received
promptly AND on a schedule compatible with having appropriate time for meeting with parents,
sponsors, and others who are involved most directly in ensuring that the child to be baptized will be
nurtured in an environment that will lead her or him to a commitment to personal discipleship to Jesus
Christ in the life of the church.
The practice in some congregations is to "baptize on demand," at a time when this is most convenient for
the family. This can place a serious strain on the capacity of the pastor and the congregation to live up to
their requirements to ensure that adequate instruction and incorporation of the parents and sponsors has
taken place. Ecumenical practice has moved toward offering baptism on or around specific critical
moments in the church year Easter, Pentecost, All Saints, Christ the King, Baptism of the Lord and
Transfiguration Sunday. Such a schedule creates opportunity for the congregation to develop a more
systemic response (including the scheduling of regular classes or formational experiences) that helps
connect the lives of the newly baptized and their parents and sponsors with the life not only of the
particular local congregation, but the liturgical life of the universal Church. These Sundays are also often
practiced as Communion Sundays in our Church, even in congregations that may not yet practice weekly
communion. By Water and the Spirit andThis Holy Mystery both indicate that on Sundays when baptism
is celebrated, communion should also be celebrated, and that special care should be given to ensure that
those newly baptized and their sponsors and parents are included in this celebration.
While baptism is understood primarily as a means of God's grace toward the child, By Water and the
Spirit also states: "If a parent or sponsor (godparent) cannot or will not nurture the child in the faith, then
baptism is to be postponed until Christian nurture is available."
Baptism is, among other things, incorporation into the body of Christ. The questions asked in the baptism
of infants are asked not of the parents and sponsors to answer on behalf of the infant, but on behalf of
themselves. Those who cannot or will not answer these questions affirmatively for themselves in good
faith are not yet ready to support another in a journey toward discipleship to Jesus Christ, and so are not
able to enter the covenant relationship entailed in baptism.
In instances where it is clear that the parents and identified sponsors of a baptized child may not be able
or willing to live as faithful disciples of Jesus in the baptismal covenant, By Water and the Spiritoffers this
instruction: "If a child has been baptized but her or his family or sponsors do not faithfully nurture the
child in the faith, the congregation has a particular responsibility for incorporating the child into its life."
The Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, Director of Worship Resources, General Board of Discipleship

Additional Resources

The General Board of Discipleship offers an in-depth Q & A on the appropriate ages for baptism
and confirmation.

Comparison of Buddhism with Christianity:


Since so many American adults are converting from Christianity to Buddhism, it may be useful
to compare the two.
We define as "Christian" any person or group who thoughtfully, sincerely, prayerfully regard
themselves as Christian. This is the definition that pollsters and the census offices of many
countries use. It includes as Christians the full range of faith groups who consider themselves
to be Christians, including Assemblies of God members, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics,
Southern Baptists, United Church members, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, etc. Many
Christians have a much less inclusive definition of the term "Christian" and specifically
exclude many faith groups from this list.
Beliefs not shared:
Buddhists do not share most of the core beliefs of historical Christianity and many of the less
critical beliefs accepted by some Christians. Buddhism does notteach:

An original golden era in the Garden of Eden, and a subsequent fall of humanity.
Original sin shared by all present-day humans, derived from Adam and Eve.
A world-wide flood in the time of Noah, causing the greatest human genocide in
history.
The need for a sinless personal savior whose execution enabled
individual salvation through atonement.
A god-man savior who was born of a virgin, executed, resurrected and ascended to
heaven.
Salvation achieved:
o Through good works (a common liberal Christian belief) or
o Specific actions and beliefs (as in repenting of one's sin and trusting Jesus as
Lord and savior as taught by many conservative Protestant faith groups) or
o Sacraments (e.g. the ritual of baptism within the Roman Catholic Church,
followed by confession later in life).
Most Christians believe in the soul: the essence of a person that lives on, unchanged,
after death for all eternity. Buddhists have no such belief.
Return of a savior to earth at some time in the future.
An end of the world as we know it, in the near future with a war of Armageddon and
the genocide of over two billion people who will be targeted because of their religious
beliefs.
The belief that their religion will continue forever. Most Christians believe that
Christians will increase in numbers until essentially the entire world is of this one
faith. Some Buddhists believe in Miroku, the "future Buddha." They expect that
Buddhism will eventually fade from the scene. This belief is compatible with their
principle that all objects, religions, etc. are impermanent. However, they expect that
at some future time in the future, another person will attain Buddhahood -- the state
of perfect enlightenment -- and will recreate a religion similar to Buddhism.

Some shared beliefs:

Life continues in some form after death:


Almost all religions teach that a person's personality continues after death. In fact,
many religious historians believe that this belief was the prime reason that originally
motivated people to create religions. However, Christianity and Buddhism conceive of
life after death in very different forms:
o

Buddhism teaches that humans are trapped in a repetitive cycle of birth, life,
death and rebirth. Each successive rebirth may be into a better, a worse life, or
a similar life, depending upon the person's Karma -- the sins and merits that
have accumulated during their present and previous lives. One's goal is to
escape from this cycle and reach Nirvana. Once this is attained, the mind
experiences complete freedom, liberation and non-attachment. Suffering ends
because desire and craving -- the causes of suffering -- are no more.
Christianity has historically taught that everyone has only a single life on earth.
After death, one's beliefs and/or actions are evaluated in the Final Judgment.
An eternal life awaits everyone. Depending on the judgment, it will be either
in Heaven or Hell. There is no suffering in Heaven; only joy. Torture is eternal
without any hope of cessation for the inhabitants of Hell.

Ethic of Reciprocity: Buddhism, Christianity and all of the other major world religions
share a basic rule of behavior which governs how they are to treat others. Two
quotations from Buddhist texts which reflect this Ethic are:
o
o

"...a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon
another?" Samyutta NIkaya v. 353.
"Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." Udana-Varga
5:18.

This compares closely to Christianity's Golden Rule, which is seen in:


"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye
even so to them." Matthew 7:12.
o "...and don't do what you hate..." Gospel of Thomas 6. This Gospel was widely
used in early Christianity but never made it into the official canon because of
its Gnostic content. However, it remains valuable today because it seems to
have preserved many unique sayings of Jesus that do not appear in other
gospels.
Themes of morality, justice, love: These themes are found through both the Buddha's
teaching and the Hebrew and Christian Bible.
Beliefs shared by some Buddhist traditions and Christianity:
Deity: In its original forms, Buddhism did not teach of the existence of transcendent,
immanent, or any other type of God, Gods, Goddess, and/or Goddesses. However,
many Buddhists -- particularly in Japan where is it often merged with the Shinto
religion -- do believe in a pantheon of superatural entities.
o

Prayer: Some traditions within Buddhism believe in the power of prayer; others do
not.