Today it seems uncertainty and agnosticism are more valuable than conviction and commitment. It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. The suggestion that a particular faith is the only way to God is synonymous with narrow minded intolerance, fundamentalism or with religious extremism.
Sincerity and Truth
Many people think all religions lead to God because they assume that all religions are essentially the same when you reduce them to their core beliefs. They liken the religions to different paths up a mountain, believing that as we approach the summit we realise how much we have in common. But this just isn’t true and only shows they have not looked deeply enough at what the various religions teach. If you let each religion speak for itself, you find they differ greatly on the basic concepts-God, truth, reality, the basic human dilemma and the solution to that dilemma. They differ so much that many of their statements contradict one another. For example, God cannot be both personal, as Christians, Jews and Muslims believe, and impersonal, as Buddhists and Hindus believe. Jesus cannot be a false Messiah as Judaism teaches, a prophet as Islam teaches and the eternal Son of God as Christians believe. Those are contradictory statements. According to the rules of logic, contradictory statements cannot all be true. Therefore, all religions cannot possibly be true. It is a logical impossibility. And if they are not all true, and if they lead us in different directions, then not all of them can lead to God. The sincerity of followers is not in question. You can be sincere but sincerely wrong.
Persuasion and Respect
Many people think that it is intolerant to believe only one religion has things right. But this response shows a misunderstanding of what intolerance really is. Intolerance comes from the word “tolerate.” To tolerate means to allow something, such as a belief, to exist even though we don’t like it or agree with it. Tolerance does not mean never disagreeing with anybody. The word actually implies disagreement. True tolerance means allowing differing views to coexist without necessarily agreeing with them or claiming that all views are true. Therefore, we can hold that one view is true or better than other views without being intolerant or disrespectful. If we were truly intolerant, we would silence other points of view. But merely engaging in persuasive conversation with someone you disagree with is not intolerance. We show more respect for each other when we take our religious claims seriously than when we clothe them in a patronizing cloak of relativism. Ironically, those who claim to take a liberal approach to religion can be among the most fanatical and intolerant of those who wish to practice their faith.
Dialogue and Proclamation
There is no contradiction between interfaith dialogue and the proclamation of the gospel. Both are essential. Things only go wrong when we engage in one without the other. Interfaith dialogue should precede and lead to the proclamation of the gospel, if we genuinely care for those without Jesus Christ. Interfaith dialogue is essential if we are to understand where people are coming from, their heritage and values. It is how we discover what we have in common. People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. If we respect someone we will show an interest in their hopes and fears, their beliefs and values. Interfaith dialogue is also essential in common causes such as defending human rights, fighting anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, as well as campaigning on ecological issues or climate change. We have to work together with those of other faiths if we are to change our world for good. There is no contradiction between dialogue and proclamation. You do not have to choose. As we shall see in Acts 17, the Apostle Paul understood dialogue to be a prerequisite to proclamation.
“I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from Gods law but am under Christs law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-22)
Three Questions to reflect on:
How is Jesus a Unique Saviour?
What does the Bible say about other religions?
How should we respond to other religions?
1. How is Jesus a Unique Saviour?
1.1 Unique in his Nature: No other religious leader ever claimed to bring God to us
“I and the Father are one. Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me? We are not stoning you for any good work, they replied, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your Law, I have said you are gods ? If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came and Scripture cannot be broken what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, I am Gods Son? Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father.” (John 10:30-37
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.’” (John 14:6, 9)
After the resurrection, Peter proclaimed Jesus as the Holy and Righteous one (Acts 3:14) and the author of life (3:15). Paul described Jesus in this way in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. (Colossians 2:9). John writes,
No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son , who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:18). The first Christians worshipped Jesus as God. Unique in his nature. (See also Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 1:2-3; Revelation 1:12-18)
1.2 Unique in his Achievement: No other religious leader dealt so radically with human wickedness
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of Gods one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18)
As Peter asserts “salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given by men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12).
Other religions say that we must work hard to deliver ourselves. They are all effort; Christianity is all grace. Only Christianity says that the King of the Universe came into this world, became Jesus died horribly to atone for the guilt of his rebel subjects. Other religions are about peoples best efforts to reach God, Christianity is God’s supreme effort to reach us. The difference between Christianity and other religions can be summed up in two words. Its the choice between do and done. Religion – from the Latin word religio is all about works – what I must do – present tense. Christianity is all about Grace – what Jesus has done – past tense. The Choice – Do or Done? Christianity is not a religion but a relationship with God. (See Mark 7:21-23; 1 Peter 3:18; Acts 4:12)
1.3 Unique in his Resurrection: No other religious leader has risen bodily from the dead
The Apostle Paul asserts who through the Spirit of holiness Jesus was “declared with power to be the Son of God, by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 1:4). The apostle John summarizes the implications:
“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
The resurrection of Jesus is a unique event in the history of the world. The resurrection of Jesus lies at the heart of the Christian faith. Jesus is alive today. You can know him. We cannot know Buddah or Muhammed. Jesus is the unique Son of God, validated by predictions made hundreds of years before he came, vindicated by a holy life of profound teaching and incredible miracles, who uniquely died for the sins of the world and in our place and uniquely rose again. (See also Revelation 21:3-5; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; John 14:2-3; 1 Corinthians 15)
1.4 Unique in his Presence: No other religious leader offers to live within his followers
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:16-18)
(See also Isaiah 11:1-2; Ezekiel 36:25ff; Jeremiah 31:33-34; Acts 1:8; Romans 8:9; Ephesians 5:18; Colossians 3:12-17; Philippians 4:11-13; 2 Timothy 1:12) Jesus unique in his nature, in his achievement, in his resurrection and in his presence.
2. What does the Bible say about other Religions?
2.1 A Preparation for the Gospel: (Acts 17:16-34)
How should we respond to people when they say, surely all religions lead to God? How did Paul respond in Athens when he saw the city swamped by idols and false gods?
“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” (Acts 17:16).
Paul was passionate about saving people who had gone astray and were confused and lost in their fears and delusions. He told them in no uncertain terms that:
2.1.1 The unknown God created you
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.” (Acts 17:24-25)
2.1.2 The unknown God controls you
“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” (Acts 17:26)
2.1.3 The unknown God convicts you
“God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, We are his offspring.” (Acts 17:27-28)
2.1.4 The unknown God commands you
“Therefore since we are Gods offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stonean image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:29-31)
Michael Green put it this way “Far from closing our options, pluralism allows us to proclaim an undiluted gospel in the public square and in the supermarket of faiths, allowing others the same right. Let the truth prevail and let craven silence be banished.” At best Polytheism can provide a way in to talk about the one true God revealed in Jesus Christ.
2.2. Judaism: God’s Redemptive Plan Foreshadowed
Christianity is rooted in Judaism. We share the common history, revelation and Scriptures. However, they are not equal, like railway tracks running parallel. One leads to the other. Paul writes to the Colossians about the Law
“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17)
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul shows that the law is like a tutor, to lead us to Jesus.
“So the law was put in charge of us until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” (Galatians 3:24-25)
This progression is seen most explicitly in the Book of Hebrews:
2.2.1 The Son is Superior to the Prophets
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.The Son is the radiance of Gods glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Hebrews 1:1-3)
2.2.2 The Priesthood was Deficient
“If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthoodand indeed the law given to the people established that priesthoodwhy was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?” (Hebrews 7:11)
2.2.3 The Law was unable to make anyone perfect
“The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” (Hebrews 7:18-19)
2.2.4 Jesus introduced a better more lasting Covenant
“Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant. Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood.” (Hebrews 7:23-24)
2.2.5 Jesus ministry is superior as is the New Covenant he introduced
“But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.” (Hebrews 8:6)
2.2.6 The New Covenant sealed in Christ’s blood supersedes the Old Covenant
“He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:12-15)
2.2.7 The Law was only a shadow of the reality found in Christ
“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” (Hebrews 10:1)
2.2.8 Animal sacrifices could never atone for sin
“Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:11)
2.2.9 The sacrificial death of Jesus Christ atoned for our sin
“But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:12-14)
2.2.10 The first Covenant is therefore now obsolete
“By calling this covenant new, he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:13)
At best, other religions are a preparation for the gospel. But at worst, other religions are:
2.3 Paganism: A Departure from the Gospel: (Isaiah 44:6-20)
At worst, however, other religions are a departure from the gospel. Lets have a brief look at Isaiah 44. The Bible is emphatic:
“This is what the Lord says the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.”(Isaiah 44:6)
The Bible insists there is only one God. All other gods are false and dangerous substitutes – indeed they are:
2.3 1 Worthless
“All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame.” (Isaiah 44:9)
“Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit nothing? People like that will be put to shame; skilled workers are only human beings. Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to terror and shame.” (Isaiah 44:10-11)
2.3.3 Self worship
“The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in human form, human form in all its glory, that it may dwell in a shrine.” (Isaiah 44:13)
2.3.4 Detestable & Illogical
“No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” (Isaiah 44:19)
2.3.5 Deluded & Powerless
“Such people feed on ashes, a deluded heart misleads them; they cannot save themselves, or say, Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?” (Isaiah 44:20)
God says, other religions are worthless, man-made, lead people to self worship and are detestable because they delude, they lead people away from the one true God. The one true God who has revealed himself in Scripture, through history, through the prophets and supremely in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.
2.4 Religions: Sufficient but Deficient: (Romans 1:18-2:24)
At best other religions are a preparation for the gospel, they lead people to an awareness of a creator God, a holy God, their own sin and need of a Saviour. That which may be known about God in creation and in the conscience is evident to all people and is sufficient to convict of sin but it is insufficient to save from sin.
2.4.1 The Pagan
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world Gods invisible qualitieshis eternal power and divine naturehave been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”(Romans 1:18-21)
2.4.2 The Moral Person
“(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. This will take place on the day when God judges everyone’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” (Romans 2:14-16)
2.4.3 The Religious Person
“Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: Gods name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:17-24)
All people have sufficient knowledge of God in creation and in their conscience to know there is a God and that they are sinners in need of forgiveness. How they hear the good news is our responsibility.
“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)
4. How should we respond to other Religions?
All religions agree that mankind is in a mess. The Bible puts it this way: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23). We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6). Each religion sets out its own way of rescuing us from this desperate situation. Let us think of the problem as that of a person who has fallen down a deep well. The question is how to get them out. Only Christianity speaks about God becoming a human being to rescue us. That is why Christianity is unique.How does Jesus, our Lord and Saviour tell us to respond to those of other faiths?
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
How did the Apostle Paul interpret that commission?
“I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” (Romans 1:14-16)
We are under obligation to proclaim Christ crucified. We should be eager to share the good news with all. We must not be ashamed of the gospel. (See also Acts 1:8; Romans 10:11-15; 1 Peter 3:18)
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting peoples sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christs ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christs behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)