Summary: In a culture where tolerance is the highest virtue and where sincere belief is the only thing important to faith, are Christians too exclusive in believing that Jesus is the only way to eternal life? What does that salvation look like?
I have a confession I need to make. I have owned my cell phone for a little more than a year now. In that time, I have lost my charging cord five times. Now don’t blame me. I think it’s possible that charging a phone soon causes the cord to fade into the netherworld … or possibly the elves that used to break into the house and steal my dad’s tools when I was a kid are really real.
In replacing my cord, I have learned something else. With the many different kinds of phones, and the many different ends that connect them, I feel like I need an engineering degree to figure out which one to buy. There are so many ends to choose from, I wonder why don’t they make a one size fits all. Alas, not all chargers are equal. Not all chargers fit my phone. And despite what the package may say, not all chargers are universal.
This is certainly true of cell phones. But what about spiritual things? When I was a kid there was a church I used to pass when I attended classes at a community college. It was a Universal Church. They had a sign board out front that read, “Now accepting all religious faiths – find your path to heaven.” It’s a claim that all religions are Universal.
Simply choose one to find your way to heaven.
• The Universal church’s appeal is two fold. They are high on tolerance. In fact they have made tolerance the highest virtue that one can strive for. The second thing they have done is made sincerity the key indicator of faith. So every path is thought to be equal whether it is Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, or the religion of the flying Spaghetti Monster. As long a you or I are genuine about our belief, we have our ticket punched.
And in our culture it has a certain appeal. We’ve talked before how in American culture, the new buzzwords are “tolerance” and “genunine”. And in our society it is considered outrageous to make any exclusive claim to know the right path to attain eternal life. It’s our culture; it’s the mindset of the world around us.
And it leads to some questions. As Christians, are we really too intolerant of other beliefs? Are we being unfairly exclusive when we say that Jesus is the only way to have eternal life? So as we continue our series of messages on living the world, but not being part of it, it is an issue I feel we should address. How do we address this issue in a culture where tolerance is the highest virtue and where sincerity is the only thing necessary for faith?
As we read this text, understand these are the words of Jesus. Jesus is preaching to a crowd of people while they are seated on a hillside (hence the reason Matthew 5-7 is known as the Sermon on the Mount.) His audience would have been Jewish. Listen to what He says.
1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Now you have probably heard this passage thrown around a lot by the “tolerance movement.” But it is often ripped out of context.
To whom is Jesus speaking? He is talking to Jews who believe they have salvation guaranteed because they are Jews. Yes, their outward piety (religious activity) is unmatched. But their hearts don’t match. In part, this IS a call for sincerity. That’s what Jesus has been saying in Matthew 5-6. But they are not willing to accept anyone outside of themselves into the faith. Jesus is talking about is a Jew looking at someone who isn’t Jewish and saying, “There’s no way that evil person can ever have salvation.”
And he is telling them that salvation is not limited to the select few who believe they have it already made. The gift of salvation is more “universal” than that. Being genuine is part of it, but it isn’t the whole picture. And not all faiths are alike. Look at what Jesus says following this.
6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.