The exclusive claim of Christianity
In any presentation of the gospel we will need to make clear the exclusive claims of Jesus as the only way into the presence of God. "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me." The narrowness of such a claim may well prompt a reaction based on the widely-held assumption that all religions have the capacity to lead us to God. They are just different ways. As the Hindu believes, "many rivers lead to the one ocean." We have to know how to deal with questions relating to the exclusive claims of Christ.
This question has many forms. "How do you know you are right and the others wrong?" "There are more Mohammedans than Christians. How can you say they will all go to hell and you to heaven?" "Surely it doesn't matter what you believe so long as you are sincere." "Aren't all religions different ways to the same God?"
1. Truth is relative
There is no such thing as right and wrong, so if it's true for you then that's all that matters.
When we examine the world's religions we discover that there are some similarities. That's only natural. All religions attempt to explain God to humanity and to outline the way to reach him. It's only to be expected that on some points we reach similar conclusions. But what of the vast differences between religions? Many teachings are quite contradictory.
We could argue that each religion contains an aspect of truth - the ultimate reality of which is beyond our understanding. We could say that there are many facets to a single truth and each religion displays one part of it, or even that truth is a "fluid thing", it depends on environment etc. The trouble is that very few humans believe that truth is something like that. We believe right is right and wrong is wrong. If we believe that there is a God, logic demands that he is the source of truth and that we are able to understand it. You can't argue that God has created such an immense universe as this and is not quite sure what the truth is and is unable to articulate it to his creation. If truth does not exist, or at the most is a subjective thing, then God does not exist.
In practice, when we look at world religions, we make judgements on the basis of truth. We are very quick to condemn religions which command child sacrifice or ritual child prostitution, or condone hatreds and strife. We say that such religious activities are wrong, they are unacceptable to us and therefore surely unacceptable to God. You see, truth does matter to us.
So when we look at the world's religions we are bound to examine their claim to know the truth. The massive contradictions between the different religions will show us clearly that they are not all different ways to the same God. Only those who follow the truth will find God. What is the truth?
The vast differences in the world's religions demonstrate mankind's inability to arrive at a definitive understanding of truth. On many moral issues we agree, but once we move into the spiritual realm little agreement exists. In simple terms, human beings cannot hope to unlock the truths of the infinite. We have to leave it to God to reveal ultimate truth. His character demands that he does just that. Where then is that word, that revelation from himself to mankind? Which religion holds the truth?
2. Intolerance (bigotry) is evil
Today we have come of age and it is important to accept other people's views. You Christians are intolerant, narrow-minded bigots.
It's sometimes difficult to accept the opinions of others - (you're having troubles at the moment accepting mine!) but we should always respect the views of others. Seek to understand them and certainly don't dismiss them lightly. We should be accepting.
Yet being tolerant doesn't mean ignoring the differences. We may have a very dear friend who believes the world is flat. We should willingly accept their friendship but we would be fools to allow them to teach our children geography. We should always be tolerant of the religious views of others and see to it that every human being is able to freely follow the faith of their choice. At the same time we should determine where the truth lies, and having found it, adhere to it.
This particular false assumption is quite insidious. We presently live in a period of puritanical political correctness dominated by the philosophies of humanism, neo-marxism (egalitarianism) and neo-animism (environmentalism). To claim that "Jesus is the only way" will quickly prompt the retort that you are a bigot, or worse, a racist. The best line of argumentation is to point out that it is reasonable to reject a person's point of view without rejecting the person. Bigotry is the rejection of the person along with their point of view. For example, rejecting, or denouncing a person who believes that Jesus is the only way to heaven, is bigotry.
3. Sincerity is all that matters
As long as you're sincere in what you believe you will have God's acceptance.
Sincerity is terribly important. I have met many church people who are obviously not sincere in their faith. Church for them was a source of social stimulation. But is sincerity enough? The trouble is you can be sincerely wrong. What a tremendous loss it would be to put your faith in a religion based on lies and so lose the very thing you search after. Jesus said the way that leads to heaven is a narrow way and very few travel it. The way that leads to destruction is broad and crowded. So sincerity is not enough; in the end we must rely on truth. The question we have to ask ourselves is - "Does this religion tell me the truth about God and how to reach him?"
The only way - Christianity
Christians claim to have a word from God that declares the truth. A word revealed to the ancient people of Israel and now preserved in the Bible, and finally a word revealed personally through God's own Son - Jesus.
That word views world religions in a very poor light. It sees some as evil, others as false; without truth, others as vain attempts to reach God, Gal.4:8-10, 1 Cor.8:5-6,12:2, Rom.1:22-23. God may well overlook our futile efforts to find him in other religions, but when confronted with the truth in Jesus, total commitment to God's Son is the only acceptable possibility, Acts 17:22-34. To continue to follow a mere shadow of the truth when reality is to be found in Jesus, only courts disaster.
But does Christianity contain the truth? Is Jesus right when he claims to be the only way to God, the source of truth and life? If Jesus is mistaken in his views then we have at the heart of Christianity a madman and a liar. Christianity turns out to be a fraud. We have decided that truth does matter in our evaluation of a religion, and so if the founder was mad or told colossal lies, then who would want to worship him?
Christianity would be monstrous and intolerable if it were not true. It insists on intolerance to the beliefs of others, it makes you believe in the Trinity, and angels; it frightens innocent people with talk of hell; it proclaims that humanity is guilty before a God. If Christianity isn't true, away with it as a monstrous sham.
Of course if Christianity isn't true then it is probable that many other religions (if not all) are equally false ways to God. So it is a fallacy to think that all religions are merely different ways of approaching God. We are bound to have to search for truth and decide in which religion it lies.
If you accept that Jesus was telling the truth, and demonstrated that truth by rising from the dead, then our search is ended. We needn't bother studying world religions to find the truth, we have found it. We have found the way to God, a way provided by God himself in Jesus.
A planned answer
i] All people are entitled to believe what they like, but they are not all entitled to be right, eg. someone may believe the world was flat - they are sincere but in error. We may be completely sincere in our belief that the T.V. is turned off, but that won't stop us getting "the power" when we tinker around inside the cabinet (unless the power is off..).
ii] So it comes down to a matter of truth. How do we know we are right? Is the claim of Jesus to be God well-founded or is it not? May the claim of the other religions not be equally well-founded? Shouldn't they be investigated?
iii] When we investigate the world's religions we discover that they are all different. They are actually opposed on many points. They all claim to be the way to God; most claim there is only one way - their way. So which one has the truth? You will have to decide that for yourself.
iv] Jesus claims to be the only way to God, the source of truth and life. Is he right or is he a liar or madman?
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