Jesus: Among Competing Religions
38/98 8/11/908 Scripture: Matthew 16:13-20
WE are nearing the end of our quest for the historical Jesus. We have surveyed all of the new discoveries about Jesus in the fields of scholarship, archaeology, papyri and theology. We have studied the 38 major works about Jesus published since 1990. We have considered the contributions of `The Jesus Seminar' and the work of scholars like Don Crossan, Robert Funk and Ben Witherington 111. We have examined the claims of self-promoters like Dr Barbara Thiering and debated with Bishop John Shelby Spong. We spent two months on the claims of Jesus in John's Gospel and had five outstanding preachers on `What Jesus Means To Me.'
We then considered the dozen most common concepts of the nature, person and work of Jesus found among contemporary scholars taking one a week and considering our responses to them. Over the past three weeks we considered modern philosophies that challenge our Christian faith. We have considered secular humanism, the New Age Movement, Post-modernism and now the challenge of religious pluralism. In other words, how do Christians respond to the challenge of other religions in our community? This is important for the answers determine how the church's agencies for mission and evangelism operate.
Throughout every week for this entire year, we have been doing what few congregations have been ever challenged to do: to think theologically in a sustained way on the central point of our faith: Jesus Christ. Now, as we draw near to the close of our series we consider how Christians respond to the challenge of other religions in our community.
1. WE ARE A RELIGIOUS COUNTRY
When St Paul came to Athens (Acts 17:22) he said: `Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.' Older translations put it: `I see that in every way you are very superstitious.' Paul could also say that of Australia today. Contrary to all that is said about us being a secular, humanist nation, in fact we are very religious and very superstitious.
a. Firstly, there are cults such as Hare Krishna, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Mormons, the `Moonies', founded by Sun Myung Moon of Korea, and the Scientologists, founded by science-fiction writer, Ron L Hubbard in the late 1950's.
b. Secondly, non-Christian religions are growing in Australia because of immigration from Eastern and Middle eastern countries. Since 1947 we have admitted an average of 100,000 immigrants a year for 50 years. They have brought their religions and cultural traditions with them from 120 countries. They have ended the Anglo-Celtic nature of this country and given us multi-culturalism. Today 3.6% of the population belong to non-Christian religions. This is a world-wide trend. Because of immigration, there are more Muslims in Britain than Methodists.
c. Thirdly, superstitions and New Age religions are attracting adherents. They promise hope, healing, understanding of yourself and a better life. The New Age is a syncretism of religious beliefs, superstition, astrology, self realisation, emphasis on health, wealth and positive thinking. The New Age religion is like a piece of religious velcro dragged across the cultures of the world picking up pieces of theological fluff.
d. Fourthly, secular religions like atheism, Marxism, secular humanism, existentialism, and post-modernism, all have their small circle of believers who now register on the Australian census. How do Christians relate to this competition of religions? We believe it is our Christian duty to pray and work for God's will to be done. Should we hope to give our convictions to non-Christians? If it is possible, is it desirable? Should we even try?
2. SOME THINK ALL RELIGIONS ARE TRUE
We are kindly, tolerant people who want all people to live in peace and harmony. We abhor the religious fighting in Northern Ireland and between Serbs and Croats, between Muslims and Christians, Jews and Arabs. We are tolerant and look for a wideness in God's mercy. Tolerance is a key virtue of the post-modernist outlook we discussed last week.
Some people say: `Yes, we are Christians, but other cultures profess some other religion. Who are we to disturb them? Why not live and let live? We are all going in the same direction.' Such talk betrays a fear: `Maybe we Christians are not right after all.' Such talk is based on shallow reasoning. The nature of truth repels it. Two opposites cannot both be true. By definition, one is false. Jesus claimed to be the only way to the Father. Either his claims are true, or they are false. If His are true, all contradictory ones are false. Other religions contain bits and pieces of wonderful truth, but only one way leads to the Father. Such talk assumes all people experience the same God, when this is not true. Christianity and Islam cannot both be true at the same time. Neither can Mormonism and Buddhism both be correct simultaneously.
These religions cannot be true at the same time, because they teach many things completely opposite from one another. They all may be wrong, but certainly they all cannot be right, for the claims of one will exclude the other. Jesus' claim `All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything, to the very end of the age' shatters the attitude that any religion is good so long as its adherents are sincere. Jesus claims the authority of being the only way to God. This claim is exclusive to Christianity. Salvation is obtained only by putting one's trust in this Jesus. The Jesus of Islam is not the Son of God who died for the sins of the world. Salvation is not by grace and through faith in these religions, but it is a matter of works.
You can see when dealing with different religions some ideas are not compatible with others. Even though many religions seem to be the same on the surface, the central teachings are often incompatible. It is totally incorrect to say that all religions are the same. If the God of the Bible is the only true God, then the other gods are nonexistent.
3. RESPONDING TO COMPETING RELIGIONS
Christians should be the first to show people of other religions respect and courtesy. We respect the beliefs and convictions of others, understand their customs on food, dress, social etiquette and religious observances and must seek equity and justice for them as for any other citizen. We can never seek to impose our faith, and when the church has, it is been wrong and unscriptural.
But we should also say Christianity has the final truth. That is not politically correct, for pluralists believe that truth is a social construction of our cultural tradition. They say there is no objective truth, merely what works for us. Therefore we must not try to convert anybody as they have a truth that works for them. To change them is intolerance. Further, religious pluralists deny all personal transcendencies, including personal rights, reason and objective truth. They say you are no more than the product of your society. Instead of object truth, all that matters is your `story' and your `faith journey'. These terms are precious to religious pluralists and were mentioned frequently at the Perth UC Assembly. There is no right or wrong, there is only what you feel. There is no objective truth revealed in the Bible. There is only what you understand is good for yourself. All beliefs are equally valid for the person who believes them. That is why some Church leaders can be defiantly immoral. Give away a revealed faith and objective truth and you are able to believe and behave as you like.
That is why the person who holds the Bible is authoritative, the truth is in Jesus, and behaviour must conform to Christian principles is regarded as the great enemy. For we challenge this definition of tolerance and this understanding that truth is merely a social construction. Religious pluralism believes that no-one can be ever wrong. The out workings of this are chilling. Ask the Jewish survivors of the holocaust! Furthermore, religious pluralists are also anti-intellectual. For if there is nothing objectively false there is no point in the search for truth. This attitude inhibits any true dialogue about human rights and spiritual understanding.
The end result of these innocent sounding words about tolerance, acceptance of all beliefs as equal, faith journey and personal story is a chilling rejection of truth, morality and other people.
We need to respond with intellectual vigour, be willing to use Scripture and speak of our personal knowledge of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Christianity is not a way of life. It is not Western culture. It is not conformity to a standard of living called `Christian behaviour'. Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
The scriptures testify that Jesus is the only way to God. Thomas asked Jesus abruptly: (John 14:5-6) `How can we know the way?' Jesus answered, `I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.' Jesus' reply is the foundation for a satisfactory philosophy of life. He did not claim merely to know the way, the truth, and the life as a formula he could impart to the ignorant. He actually claimed to be the answer to human problems. Jesus' solution is not a recipe but a relationship with Him. Jesus, the unique Son, was the sole means of access to the Father. As John said (John 1:18) `No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.' Jesus is the only authorised revelation of God in human form. Jesus is the only authorised representative of humanity to God. As Paul taught (Col 1:15) `He is the image of the invisible God'. Jesus claims a unique personal knowledge of God, and unless it is imparted by Him, it is inaccessible. Hence salvation focuses on what God has done in Christ to deliver human beings from the powers of death, sin, and hell.
The method of salvation involved Jesus Christ taking our place, dying for our sins, being crucified upon the cross and being raised by God's power as the conqueror of death. No-one else in history can save us. But religious pluralists deny this.
The important question is not: Is it politically correct? but rather: Is it true? As the Roman Catholic evangelist Ralph C. Martin puts it: `The words of Jesus (in Matt. 7:13-14) could scarcely be clearer. The way to salvation is narrow. The road is difficult, and few, not many, successfully follow that road.' Hence we must evangelise: the message of the Gospel is to everyone that Jesus Christ alone saves. In a multicultural world we can never use force to impose our Christian views upon others. Likewise we cannot stand by with easy tolerance, never speaking of what we believe. Silent apathy is a total failure to understand the commands of Christ. The German Church was dreadfully wrong when it stood by silent when the Nazis came for the Jews. There is objective evil and objective truth.
We have to witness to what we know is right and evangelise so that others may be saved and have the joy of eternal life. Not to evangelise is to fail them. Christians have no option. Jesus is the only way to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The attitude of a Christian to competing religions should be of a positive, humble and unashamed scriptural witness to Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
You understand the Good News: that lost in sin and facing judgment, Jesus
offers you forgiveness and eternal life. You can be right with God through faith in Jesus, the only way to God.
Gordon Moyes 1998
If you would like to receive a printed copy of Word Talk via mail, you can subscribe for just $15 per year. Please contact us on 02 9263 5555, or write to:
Turn 'Round Australia
PO Box A5555
Sydney South, 1235