Monday, August 17, 2020

Anonymous Asks (106)

“How can Christians say their religion is the only true one?”

Over fifty years ago, a Muslim who happened to hear my father preaching asked him a question very much like this one. After listening to Dad for a time, he inquired, “Are you actually telling us that Jesus is the only way to God?”

Ouch.

In a Bit of a Bind

My father was in a bit of a bind in that he was at the time a guest in a foreign country. His ability to continue freely preaching and teaching there depended to a certain extent on not rocking the boat unnecessarily. However, this was one of those questions that cannot be evaded, ignored or put off to a more convenient time when there might be fewer witnesses or a less potentially hostile environment. Faithfulness to his Master demanded a straightforward answer, and Dad gave one.

He said something like this: “I’m just a messenger. The one who made that claim is Jesus Christ himself.” And he went on to walk his audience through the statements made by our Lord to the effect that he is the “door”, the “gate”, the only way to God. For those who take the teaching of Christ at face value, no religion may be said to be true that does not position Jesus of Nazareth front and center, and that does not acknowledge him as the only possible route to the Father. He is “the way, and the truth, and the life”. Nobody comes to the Father except by way of Jesus.

Non-Inclusivity

That sounds terribly non-inclusive. It does not fall into lockstep with the spirit of the age in which we live. But I believe it gets it exactly right. When Christians tell you our religion is the only true one, or words to that effect, we are not simply telling you what we think. It is not a matter of personal preference or blind prejudice. We are not on some kind of ego trip, and we do not think for a moment that we are infallible, better than other people, or that we have secret insights into the operation of the universe which have been denied to lesser men and women.

We are simply being true to the message we have heard and believed. If the Christian faith means anything useful at all, its demands are not up for discussion. It is a message direct from God, and it tolerates no watering-down for the sake of people’s feelings and sentiments.

The Opposite of Democratic Consensus

The last book of the Bible to be written contains at its close the following lines:
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”
We can argue if you like about whether these words apply only to the book of Revelation (“the prophecy of this book”) or to the Bible in its entirety, of which Revelation would shortly become the climactic chapter (“the book of this prophecy”), but either way we should agree that we are dealing with a God who does not appear to be operating in negotiation mode. He is not throwing his word out there to the world in hope of building democratic consensus. It is believe it or don’t. It is do or die. It is either let the word of God say what it says or risk the penalties that come with qualifying God’s message, watering it down, or trying to make it a little more palatable to the masses.

Arrogance or Humility?

As a consequence, when a Christian tells you his religion is the only true one, it is not usually a product of arrogance. It is a product of humility. He is accepting the responsibility given to him by the risen Christ, who said:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Once again, we see nothing like a gentle suggestion here. We see a command. A command to the disciple of Christ to relay his message accurately, and a command to all those who hear that message to repent, obey it and be saved.

This is how the Christian faith is framed by its own Founder. It is strong medicine. We have no authorization from him to dispense it in the world in any less offensive form.

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