Summary: When attempting to reach people of other faiths, we recognize that: 1. There is some truth in all religions and there are good people who follow them. 2. God has placed a longing for himself inside every human heart. 3. Jesus is the universal Savior.
This is a confusing time in which to live. It was not long ago that America was a place where we, for the most part, understood each other and where other people were coming from. We shared common standards of ethics, and whether or not we followed those ethics, we understood them and agreed with those standards of conduct. Very few people disagreed with what was considered obvious truth. It wasn’t that those things never happened, but when they did, people at least recognized that those things were wrong. Those days are no longer with us.
There was also a time when we basically considered ourselves a “Christian” nation in that we generally identified with the Christian faith. There was a feeling that the principles on which our country was founded (freedom, democracy, law and morality) were principles which came from the Christian Scriptures. We did not see a problem with the fact that the laws of the land came from the laws of the Bible. The Ten Commandments were seen as a good thing. Prayer, even at public events, was welcomed and deemed important. The Bible was seen as “the good Book” rather than a dangerous document. Things have radically changed.
Last week, NBA Jason Collins of the Washington Wizards, came out as gay and was immediately propelled to rock star status and called on the phone by the President. Chris Broushard, an ESPN reporter was interviewed and stated that he and Collins were friends, played ball together and met each other socially, but that he felt homosexual activity, like adultery and fornication, was a sin and rebellion against God. He stated that he and Collins knew they disagreed on this and were still friends and tolerated each others viewpoint. Broushard was excoriated by the media and it may affect his position with ESPN. As Christians we want to say, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” But that is unacceptable to those who insist that if we really accept them we should also accept and approve of their behavior.
It should be clear that our culture has rejected Christianity as a part of what defines us as a nation. We no longer welcome it as the primary religious influence on the nation. And in its place there has come a confusing array of multi-culturalism, pluralism, and belief systems and religions from other parts of the world. Eastern mysticism, Islam, the Kabbala, even animism are all seen as equal to, and as relevant as, Christianity. You can hear people say things like, “All religions are different paths to the top of the same mountain.” Worshiping the unknown god would apply describe the culture of our day.
It is interesting that in the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, we were given a complete lesson in the ancient Greek gods and everyone found that fascinating. But if the ceremony had instead been lessons in the New Testament and Greek Orthodox faith, which has had a more profound impact on Greek culture and guided it for much longer, there would have been international outrage.
All of this is troubling to those of us who profess faith in the one Lord Jesus Christ who is Lord of heaven and earth. We come into direct conflict with the world when we say that Jesus is not one way among many, he is THE WAY. He is the only way that we can come to God. The Bible says, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). There are not many mediators, there is only one. Jesus himself said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7). There is only one true path up the one true mountain, the rest are climbing a different mountain. Because of Jesus’ claims, we do not recognize other religions as equally valid. We believe that Jesus Christ is the exclusive and universal Savior of the world.
How do we exist in a pluralistic culture which often seems more open to any religion other than Christianity, at best, and appears hostile at worst? How do we arrive at a place where we can dialogue with those of other moral systems and other faiths while remaining true to the Christian faith? I think there are three primary ways, and the first is this: We recognize that there is some truth in all religions and there are good people who follow these religions. We do not see other religions as completely evil, nor do we see them as being completely in error. We share some common beliefs with other religions, such as the fact that we believe there was a divine origin of the world — it was created and not a result of accident. There are also some common moral laws we share — it is wrong to cheat, steal and kill, for example. In many of these religions there is not only a desire to believe in a god, but a desire to come into contact with this god — to know and be known. When we are talking with people from other faiths, we can at least begin by talking about the things on which we agree. We need to show respect for their beliefs, and be more anxious to build relationships with them than we are to point out where they are wrong.