Summary: Our society values diversity and recites the mantra of religious tolerance. Jesus made it clear that that only way to heaven is through Him. His teaching, by its very nature, was and is, very exclusive. In order to help us know how to live and minister
What About Other Religions?
Rev. Brian Bill
As has been the tradition for the last seven years, Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church in Marietta, Georgia, agreed to host their community’s baccalaureate service again this year. But this time, the organizers wanted to include speakers representing the Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and Wiccan religions.
Several students expressed a desire not to have the name of Jesus mentioned during the service because it would be offensive. The pastor explained that it would be a dishonor not to mention the name of Christ in His own house and that the service should be moved to a neutral location if they wanted to include other religious groups.
Many major newspapers and media outlets picked up on this story and focused on the narrow mindedness of the pastor. Let me read part of this pastor’s response from a sermon he preached three weeks ago:
“My single purpose as an ordained minister is to preach Christ. Political correctness is not a deity here. In the past few weeks, I have been asked to pray in this church and not use the name of Jesus Christ. I’ve been asked to cover the crosses in the church because they might be offensive to non-believers. I’ve said ‘no’ to each one of these requests. It’s absolutely amazing to me how people who push tolerance will push anything except tolerance of Christian faith even when it is expressed within its own church.” (Compiled from www.mtbethel.org/pages/sermon.htm)
The Exclusive Claims of Christ
Some of you might not think the question we are addressing this morning is all that difficult to answer. Since we live in America, we value cultural diversity and religious pluralism. Pluralism is the view that all religions offer equally valid paths to God.
Though Christianity still dominates by sheer numbers, the U.S. now has a greater diversity of religious groups than any country in recorded history. The Encyclopedia of American Religions lists 1,600 different groups, with 44% of them non-Christian. Half of these have blossomed just since 1960. There are now more Muslims in America than there are Methodists.
In the midst of all this doctrinal diversity, the Bible makes some rather startling claims that run counter-cultural to the mantra of religious tolerance. Let me list just a few:
• Referring to Jesus, Peter boldly states in Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
• 1 Timothy 2:5-6: “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 – the testimony given in its proper time.”
• 1 John 5:12: “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
These passages are extremely exclusive and overwhelmingly clear: Jesus is the only way to heaven. His statements of divine authority are incompatible with the homogenizing views of religious pluralists. The claims of Christ are outrageous but they happen to be what G.K. Chesterton called “the wild truth.”
Perhaps the strongest verse in the entire Bible is a sentence uttered by Jesus Himself. Please turn to John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Here are a few observations:
• Notice that this verse begins with the pronoun “I.” We are not saved by a principle or a force but by a person. Jesus did not say that He knew the way, the truth and the life, or even that he taught these great principles. He declared Himself to be the embodiment of the way, the truth and the life. While answering all of life’s questions, Jesus doesn’t offer a recipe to follow, but rather a relationship.
• In the original, the words way, truth and life have the definite article in front of them so that the verse would read, “I am the way (that is, the only way), I am the truth (that is, the only truth), and the life (that is, the only life).”
• All three concepts are active and dynamic. The way brings to God; the truth makes us free; and the life produces relationship. Without the way there is no going, without the truth there is no knowing, without the life there is no living.
• The context indicates that the idea of “the way” predominates. We could put it like this: “I am the way because I am the truth and the life.”
• There is only one avenue to salvation. With Christ removed there is no redemptive truth, no everlasting life and no way to the Father. While other religions offer systems of thought that try to bridge the gap between man and God, Jesus is the only one who has succeeded in bridging the divide.