My hosts on the faeric island of Bali, took me to see Tanah Lot, “the [Hindu] temple of the earth in the sea,” built on a large rock, completely surrounded by ocean, a hundred yards off the beach. I was the guest of the Reformed Evangelical Church of Indonesia, in whose seminary in Jakarta I had taught for a week and who had invited me to preach at the Christian church in Danapur. I was realizing a youthful dream born in 1958 when I saw the movie South Pacific and heard the alluring song, “Bali Hai, My Island.” Bali was also the place where, last December, 10,000 UN–sponsored global warming experts (including Al Gore), met for two weeks to discuss their future agenda. They took care of the planet while taking care of themselves at astronomical costs to the tax–payer—leaving a massive carbon dioxide footprint—even as the World Meteorological Organization announced, April 3, 2008, that global temperatures have not risen since 1998!
Tanah Lot includes a well of fresh “holy” water, mature trees growing out of the rock, and poisonous snakes that congregate on the beach at night, as “divinely–appointed” guardians, keeping away unwelcome guests. For the Hindus, this is a place of miracles. I got my own little miracle—not just sight–seeing one more temple but a witnessing a full–blown Hindu ceremony. My host and I rounded a corner and met a thousand white–robed worshipers, who filed into rows in the temple precinct for an hour–long religious ceremony. I sat right at the edge of this crowd to observe in stunning detail my first pagan “service,” including offerings, prayers and mass sprinklings with the holy water.
These worshipers were in no sense backward, primitive people. They were the taxi driver, the waitress who served you a fine meal or the immigration officer who checked your passport. They are deeply committed Hindus and very modern Balinese. Signs of vibrant Hindu religion are everywhere. In addition to the 20,000 temples on Bali, individual Hindu shrines appear every twenty yards, and baskets of flower offerings are omnipresent, even on the desk as I passed though immigration.
As I drove for an hour and a half to the little church on Sunday morning I passed scores and scores of shops, crammed with stone idols for sale–heads of the Buddha, sacred animals and innumerable Hindu gods and goddesses. The merchants were so numerous that I wondered how any of them made a living. I also pondered how I, a foreigner to this kind of overt pagan culture, could preach to its Christian community and make sense of their existence in biblical terms. My text was 1 Kings 18, and my title was: “From Carmel to Calvary.” Here Elijah faces Ahab, Jezebel and 400 pagan priests, all serving Baal, the God of the powers of Nature. I drew a parallel between the worship of Baal in biblical times, and the Hindu worship of nature throughout the centuries. I sensed that the connection made sense to these believers, and they said so as they filed out.
This connection is at the heart of all pagan religions, ancient or modern. It is, as Paul said two thousands years ago, the worship of creation rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25). Is Bali becoming “Our Island” –a picture of global culture in the world of tomorrow? Western spiritual seekers still “dabble” in Hindu yoga for “health” reasons, and employ meditation with mantras and mandalas in personal, private worship. Will the West become so thoroughly pagan that the vast public manifestations I saw in Bali will appear as part of public worship in New York, Los Angeles, Sydney or Amsterdam?
Our “post–Christian world,” no longer means the triumph of secular humanism and the end of spirituality. The closest equivalent of” post–Christian” is surely “pre–Christian,” as described by Augustine in the fifth century AD. In his Western city of Hippo in North Africa, great religious parades in honor of the goddess Isis took place–followed by up–standing citizens, endorsed by the state, and led by homosexual priests. In this “pre–Christian” culture, Christianity was a rank outsider.
My Bali sermon concluded that the transcendent fire consuming the bull at Carmel, making atonement for the “limping people,” was God’s great antithetical answer to Baal’s nature religion, and was fulfilled at Calvary when the fire of God’s holiness consumed Jesus, the sacrificial victim. Outside of human effort, God solved once and for all the human problem of guilt, by offering the only genuine solution—to Balinese Hindus or Western Hindu wannabes, or anyone else—His own gracious gift of total forgiveness, bought by the pure blood of His holy Son.