Summary: An investigation of how the exclusive claims of Christ mean that the gospel in for all
Exclusive and Inclusive
Originally I had intended to preach on the subject of Christian love, what it is, how we do it, and why we must do it. A nice simple topic. One that would not really upset the apple-cart or offend anybody. However during the later part of last week I have felt increasingly that I should actually be preaching about something that might not make me quite as popular. God seemed to be leading me through many different routes to approach this topic. Even when I had decided to change my planning for today, I still wanted to back out. Because the message for this morning is one that is totally opposed to the popular culture and thinking of society.
Popular morality values tolerance and inclusiveness more than any other virtue. Inclusivity has become a key word in most of our public services. Every effort is made to insure that everyone, no matter what their background, is able to take part and participate in society. This of course, is absolutely right. People from all cultures and religions are valued as human beings, again this is right.
However it often goes further than that. Cultural relativism has become a dominant belief in society. It takes the consumer society one step further. It teaches that there is not such thing as absolute truth, that all ways of life and religions are equally valid and that it is all a matter of personal choice as to what religion is followed or life-style and ethical code adopted. It is held that each religion – or none – is right for the people that do (or do not) believe it.
It is quite interesting that cultural relativism, by its very nature, cannot be consistent – the only value, philosophical, or religious belief that is acceptable boils down to cultural relativism itself. Anybody who challenges its core belief is derided and labelled with such terms as ‘intolerant’ or ‘bigot’. Anything that smacks of exclusive claims to being right is denounced and ridiculed. Ultimately it becomes a tyranny, as Mr Ratzinger pointed out, accepting differences in practices and behaviour, but not in world view from its own prevailing norm.
This is particularly true in the field of religion. The idea that all religions are equally valid and all equally lead to God is promulgated by many and is the accepted dogma of much of society. It is the unspoken idea behind multi-faith services and most popular and official approaches to matters of faith. We are all labelled together as ‘faith-organisations’ by local and national government, with no designation as to what we actually believe. The elephant story is hailed as the answer to all exclusive claims – briefly three blind-folded men were brought to an elephant and asked to describe it. One felt the middle of the elephant, one the trunk, one the tail, and they all described something different. Religion and spirituality are held to be like that, that each one is a blind man feeling a different part of the elephant.
With tolerance and inclusivity as the ultimate and most important virtues in the world around us, many Christians have tried to present the gospel in a way that does not offend such thinking. However, I believe that scripture shows that the gospel is both intolerant and tolerant, exclusive and inclusive.
Exclusive – Acts 4:12
Jesus Christ was, and is, a bigot. So says Joel Smith, an American preacher who I have recently come across on the internet. I quite agree with him. Throughout his life Jesus made exclusive claims about himself, claims that he was right and everybody else was wrong. That he alone had the solutions, and he alone was the way to God. Here are just two of the things that he said about himself:-
“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)
“I am the light of the world” (John 8:12)
Here was a man who certainly did not believe that it did not matter what you believed as long as you were sincere. As regards the idea that all roads lead to God, he said:-
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt 7:13-14 NKJV)
In short, Jesus would be as unacceptable to twenty-first century British society as he was to first century Judean society. If his earthly life was lived in Britain in the 21st century, he would probably have been vilified in the press as an intolerant religious fanatic. He taught that the only way to God was through him and his teachings and that any other way was the wrong way. He taught that there is only one right way, that if you tried a different way to him, your way was wrong and invalid.