“WHY IS JESUS UNIQUE?”
Scripture: ACTS 4:1-15
THE INTERFAITH MOVEMENT H J Pollitt Banner of Truth 1996
THE MYTH OF CHRISTIAN UNIQUENESS J Hick, P F Knitter Orbis Books 1987
THE TRUTH ABOUT JESUS P Barnett Aquilla 1994
JESUS UNDER FIRE M J Wilkins Zondervan 1995
THE BIBLE AND PEOPLE OF OTHER FAITHS. W Ariarajah WCC 1985
INTERNATIONAL BULLETIN OF MISSIONARY RESEARCH Vol 13, no 2,1989
THE WORLD’S RELIGIONS N Smart Cambridge 1989
WITH OTHER FAITHS J Baldock World Conf. Religion & Peace 1996
THE FINALITY OF CHRIST L Newbigin John Knox Press 1969
BELIEF IN A MIXED SOCIETY C Lamb Lion 1985
This week sees the beginning of the most holy month for Muslims. The media have special programs on Islam, local papers are featuring gatherings, and the ABC has sent one of its presenters to live with a Muslim family and to report on events.
Some Christians have reacted with anger to this public focus, stating we are a Christian country and repeating statements from the Koran on the treatment of women. The attitude of the Koran to Christians and Jews is a matter of fact that is also widely discussed.
Are we to ignore these facts of the Koran and its inspiration to some of its followers? While all Muslims don’t interpret the Koran literally, it is clear that some do, so its literal meaning may therefore be subject to public debate. This should apply equally to the doctrine or religious texts of any religion. Such freedom of speech is essential. Other issues that have long been a point of public debate – for example, the existence of the fundamentalist Muslim schools and their well-established links to terrorism, and the growth of mosques in places such as Britain are freely debated in the public domain.
The best protection we have against terrorism based on world views is free speech. No world view – including those of Christianity and Islam – should be spared critical examination. We are today increasingly facing different belief systems. This is called pluralism. Pluralism is a demographic term used to describe the varieties of countries represented in Australia today. A second use is to describe the multitude of cultures in our social diversity. Both of these uses are acceptable by Christians. But there is a third use of pluralism that is not acceptable, even though some Christians use it. That is, pluralism describes all religions as being equally true and valuable to individuals and society.
1. A WORLD OF PLURALISM.
We should be tolerant of other religions. But pluralism says all religions are equally valuable and true, all leading to the same God. Australia is a very religious country. When St Paul came to Athens he said: Acts 17:22 “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.” Paul could also say that of Australia today. Contrary to all that is said about us being a secular, humanist nation, in fact we are very religious and very superstitious. First, there are cults such as Hare Krishna, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, the “Moonies”, the Scientologists and a score more.
Second, non-Christian religions are growing in Australia because of immigration from Eastern and Middle Eastern countries. Since 1947 we have admitted an average of 100,000 immigrants a year for 50 years. They have brought their religions with them from 120 countries. Today 3.6% of our population belong to non-Christian religions. This is a worldwide trend. Because of immigration, there are more Muslims in Britain than Methodists. Third, superstitions and New Age religions are attracting adherents. They promise hope, healing and understanding of yourself. The New Age is a syncretism of religious beliefs, superstition, astrology, self realization, emphasis on health, wealth and positive thinking. The New Age religion is like a piece of religious Velcro dragged across the cultures of the world picking up pieces of theological fluff. Fourth, secular religions like atheism, Marxism, secular humanism, existentialism, and post-modernism, all have a small circle of believers. How are Christians to relate to all these religions?
Should we share our convictions with non-Christians? Is that desirable? We are kindly, tolerant people who want all people to live in peace and harmony. We abhor the religious fighting in Northern Ireland and the internecine Islamic fighting in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. We want to end soccer rioting such as between Serbs and Croats. We want to end wars between Muslims and Christians, Jews and Arabs. We are tolerant and look for a wideness in God’s mercy. Tolerance is a key virtue of the post-modernist outlook. We live and want to let live.
Some people say: “Yes, we are Christians, but other cultures profess other religions. Who are we to disturb them? We are all going in the same direction.” Such talk betrays a fear: “Maybe we Christians are not right after all.” Such talk is based on shallow reasoning. The nature of truth repels it. Two opposites cannot both be true. By definition, one is false. Jesus claimed to be the only way to the Father. Either His claims are true, or they are false. If His are true, all contradictory ones are false. Other religions contain bits and pieces of wonderful truth, but according to Jesus only one way leads to the Father. Christians not accepting His unambiguous Word should not describe themselves as followers of Jesus Christ.
2. THE UNIQUENESS OF JESUS.
Jesus’ claim “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything, to the very end of the age” Matt 28:18-20 shatters the attitude that all religions are true.
Jesus claims the authority of being the only way to God. This claim is exclusive to Christianity. Salvation is obtained only by putting one’s trust in this Jesus. How should Christians respond to competing religions? Christians should be the first to show people of other religions respect and courtesy. We can never seek to impose our faith, and when the church has, it is been wrong. But we should also say Christianity has the final truth. That is not politically correct, for pluralists believe that truth is a social construction of our cultural tradition. They say there is no objective truth, merely what works for us. Therefore we must not try to convert anybody. To seek to change them is intolerance. Further, religious pluralists deny all personal transcendences, including personal rights, reason and objective truth. They say you are just a product of your society. Instead of an objective truth, all that matters is your “story.”
They say there is no right or wrong, there is only what you feel. There is no objective truth revealed in the Bible. There is only what you understand is good for yourself. All beliefs are equally valid. That is why some who claim to be good Christians can be defiantly immoral. This was the belief system I fought when a number of Uniting Church ministers lived immoral lives and protested they should remain in their church leadership positions. You cannot claim to be obedient to the Scriptures as a minister and live immorally. You cannot be a Christian minister being true to your ordination vows of obedience, and at the same time live in homosexual or adulterous relationships. Give away a revealed faith and objective truth pluralists argue, and you can believe and behave as you like. If you believe you can reach God by just being sincere, you overlook the fact you may be sincerely wrong.
Pluralists choose religions according to taste, not according to truth. The question of truth hardly ever arises. They say “just try it!” The real issue is whether your religious beliefs are true or not, not whether you like them or not. There is no pizza religion with bits and pieces of different religions put on a plate of piety! Spiritual junk food, empty of religious calories, does not meet your spiritual hunger. You must seek what is true. That is why the person, who holds the Bible is authoritative, and the truth is in Jesus, must behave in conformity to Christian principles. Christians must challenge this definition of tolerance and that truth is merely a social construct.
Religious pluralism believes that no one can be ever wrong. The outworking of this is chilling. Ask the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust! Religious pluralists are anti-intellectual. For if there is nothing objectively false there is no point in the search for truth. Such talk assumes all people experience the same God, when this is not true. Christianity and Islam cannot both be true at the same time. Neither can Mormonism nor Buddhism both be correct simultaneously. If all religions point to the same God, they would say basically the same things about God. But different religions are fundamentally opposites. The holy books of eastern religions teach God is in every material thing. Christianity says God transcends every thing and is Spirit not matter. Some religions teach God is impersonal, others teach God is personal. How can you say all religions are equal when they are contradictory? They all may be wrong, but certainly all cannot be right, for the claims of one exclude the other. But do all religions lead to God?
When religious pluralists say this, they indicate they are tolerant and accepting, but stupid and illogical. Trendy theologians, who accept such non-Christian beliefs, stand for nothing and fall for anything! This attitude inhibits any dialogue about human rights and spiritual understanding. The end result of words about tolerance, acceptance of all beliefs as equal, faith journey and personal story is a chilling rejection of truth, morality and other people. We need to respond with intellectual vigour, be willing to use Scripture and speak of Jesus Christ as our Friend.
Christianity is not a way of life, not Western culture, not conformity to a standard of living. Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Jesus is the only way to God. Thomas asked Jesus:John 14:5-”How can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus actually claimed to be the answer to human problems. Jesus’ solution is not a recipe but a relationship with Him. Jesus, the unique Son, was the sole means of access to the Father. As John said John 1:18 “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” Jesus is the only revelation of God in human form. Hence salvation focuses on what God has done in Christ to deliver human beings from the powers of death, sin, and hell. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross for you. No other religion can point to a moment in history and say – this is what God has done for you! Religion is our attempt to find God. Christianity is God’s attempt to find us. That is why we must witness to His death and resurrection. In a pluralistic world, Jesus is unique!