Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Exclusiveness of Christ

There are many ways to God

A popular opinion here in India states, “All religions are the same. For you Christianity is true, for me Hinduism is true, and for a Thai, Buddhism is true, but all religions are the same. They all lead to the same god. It’s like all the various rivers in the world that lead to the one ocean. (like in the Niger Delta at right) God is one, you call him Jesus and I call him Rama but all religions are the same.”

Some call this argument universalism. How would you reply to that statement? Would you agree with it or attempt to give an answer? Think about it for a second.

Universalism has been in the news in the US for the past few years. Rev. Carlton Pearson, a popular preacher / evangelist has begun to proclaim a “Gospel of Inclusion.” Pearson’s web site says, “Carlton Pearson has made a choice… to move away from the exclusiveness of the religious traditions he was raised in (Bible-believing Protestant Christianity) and adopt a more embracing, affirming, welcoming and inclusive approach to faith… Furthermore, Pearson, through both scriptural re-interpretation and heartfelt conviction, is absolutely convinced that God is not sending people to …hell nor does such a place exist except in an un-regenerated or unenlightened mind ... He believes that institutionalized religion has misinterpreted and misrepresented the infinite Intelligence called God, causing destructive and counter-productive fear and paranoia.” [1] The scriptural re-interpretation of Bishop Pearson is really just good old-fashioned universalism. It seems the only real bad guys for Pearson are those who hold to the exclusiveness of Jesus Christ. The teaching of Carlton Pearson has been widely condemned as heresy by many Christians.

The Bible teaches that there is one universal God. About 2000 years ago that God became man and lived among us. God became known to us in Jesus. He did not espouse a Universalist view. He demanded repentance, spoke of a real place called hell, and said He was the door to God. Christ claimed exclusiveness. At the same time, He was inclusive in loving and blessing all kinds of imperfect people. But Jesus clearly called people to holiness and to faith in Him for salvation.

The Exclusiveness of Jesus Christ

"Truly, truly I say unto you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber... I am the door; if anyone enters through me he shall be saved..." John 10:1,9

In the verse where Christ said “I am the door,” He himself claimed to be the one true way to God. This is the flashpoint of Christian belief in India and elsewhere. At this declaration, people are often offended. It smacks of arrogance. But nevertheless, it is a claim that Jesus and the Apostles made. It may rub some the wrong way, but it is either true or false. It would be contradictory to say that He is both the one way and also that all ways lead to God.

Logically then, it is possible that Jesus Christ is the only way. It is not a logical impossibility. Exclusivity is a valid principle in this universe.

“But all rivers run into the sea,” it is argued by the Universalist. Yes, but it’s also true that there are many possible answers to a mathematical problem. Some are closer to correct than others, but only one is the actual correct product. Of all the planets in the Universe, there is only one that we know of now that has a large reservoir of liquid water. At this point, that makes the earth the exclusive domain of water.

Where Universalism Breaks Down

On a purely logical basis, if universalism is correct, then even Christians would still be on a valid path to God. They would still be progressing toward the one ocean. But if Christ’s claim is true, and He is the only way, then all who reject Him are in danger of being separated from God. It seems that a Universalist approach is a little more risky if we reason it out.

The Universalist struggles to live consistently with their presuppositions. If all ways lead to God, then why the problem with conversions from one religion to another here in South Asia? A Hindu father probably would not want a marriage for his child with a Muslim or a Christian. Although Gautama Buddha was an Indian, his religion has not been embraced by Indians. Is it not one of the valid rivers that lead to the ocean? It seems that all adherents of the world religions show a bias toward their own. Universalists proclaim many ways but practically show bias toward their own thinking. Does this indicate that they believe one way is superior? If superior, then are all the ways to God truly equal?

Differences in the Religions

To say that “all religions are not the same” is more true to what we observe than saying “all religions are the same.” Christians, Muslims, and Jews do not claim that all the rivers empty into the same sea. Even the Dalai Lama, the head of Tibetan Buddhism calls his religion and Christianity “our two very different traditions.”[2] Christians and Muslims don’t agree on the identity of Jesus. Neither do Jews and Christians. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all expressly forbid idolatry and condemn the practice. For Hindus, it is an integral part of their religion. The list of differences goes on and on.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Once in Kolkata, I saw a billboard with the Indian Guru, Baba Lokenath on it. There was a quotation, “Wherever you are, be it at home or on the battlefield, I am with you.” That is very similar to what Jesus said, “…I am with you always.”[3] I thought to myself, what’s the difference? It’s the same claim Jesus made. My fleeting thought was a seed of Universalist reasoning. In reality, anyone can say “I am with you always.” The difference is the authority of the one who said it. On what evidence can Lokenath or Jesus base that kind of a statement?

In conclusion, a compelling reason to embrace Christ as the one true way is the authority declared through His life and deeds. He stands unique among all the figures of world history. Consider the centuries old prophecies about the Coming One that were fulfilled in His life. The circumstances of His birth from a virgin are exceptional. The eyewitness accounts of miracles he performed, the nature and purpose of His death, and His resurrection after being dead and in a grave for three days. Finally, the way of salvation through Christ is unique. It is not man reaching out to God, but God reaching out to man. It is attainable, amazingly easily attainable! It is not what we do for God, but what He’s already done for us. Philip Yancey writes, “The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and the Muslim code of Law – each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.”[4]

History has no parallel to this life and mission. If anyone could claim, “I am the Way… no one comes to the Father but by me…”[5] it is Jesus.

[2] Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, Freedom In Exile, (Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1991)
[3] Matthew 28:20 (NASB)
[4] Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), p. 45
[5] John 14:6 (NASB)

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Quotes of Note ... The Invisible World

“Spiritual warfare is learning to recognize the strategies, refusing to cooperate with them, and aggressively cutting off the schemes of the devil in Jesus’ name.” Dean Sherman

“those who protest that God cannot exist because there is too much evil evident in life… Evil exists; therefore, the Creator does not. That is categorically stated… If evil exists, one must assume that good exists in order to know the difference. If good exists, one must assume that a moral law exists by which to measure good and evil. But if a moral law exists, must not one posit an ultimate source of moral law, or at least an objective basis for a moral law? By an objective basis, I mean something that is transcendingly true at all times, regardless of whether I believed it or not.” Ravi Zacharias

“But the Devil is no big threat to God’s purposes; he is not even remotely comparable in power. He has been given a limited time before his final judgment to try to prove his case, just as all other moral beings who have chosen to live in rebellion against heaven.” W.A. Pratney

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I've served as a life-long missionary in Samoa, the Pacific region, India, and now in Pennsylvania. The Christian faith is reasonable and works in real life. It is true to the facts. Hope you enjoy some of the thoughts. I appreciate feedback.

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