Crucial Question: Which Religion Is True?-or- Aren’t All Religions Equally True?
Crucial Question: Which Religion Is True?-or-Aren’t All Religions Equally True?
John 14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.
12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
Introduction:I saw a news story recently about a female Episcopal Priest in Seattle who had such close ties to muslims that she considers herself to be practicing both religions. Her Bishop, another woman, is suspending her from the ministry until she can figure out which religion she is. There are so many things wrong in this story I hardly know where to begin…or end! It is so typically American to believe you can be both a muslim and a Christian. I actually worked with a guy about 20 years ago who was a MuslimBaptistCatholic… he prayed to Mecca a few times a day, wore a rosary and went to a Baptist Church some. This brings up the apologetics question I want to look at today: Which religion is really true? Are all religions true in their essence? As long as you are sincere, whatever your faith, won’t you get to heaven?
In our care group at Redeemer Church in Fort Worth, we are studying RC Sproul’s book, Reason To Believe. We are beginning chapter two this week, “All Religions Are Good. It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe.” This brief study will be built around Sproul’s writings here but I will bring some other material a well.
The fundamental idea I want to get across is this: what you believe about religion may make you feel better about yourself, but the hard rules of logic and the raw facts of history forbid you from saying things like, “All religions are true; it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.” This is a lie from the devil of hell and will send many to hell. The bottom line is that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation; all other ways are not only wrong, but bring eternal damnation.
I. Don’t Let Your Politics Determine Your Faith, rather, Let Your Faith Determine Your Politics
One of America’s national mottoes is “E Pluribus Unum”, out of many- one. Though many of the original colonies had an official, state religion and were not tolerant of other faiths, over time, and with the US Constitution and its Bill of Rights, religious liberty-tolerance- became the law of the land. America is pretty unique in this regard.
Historically many people came to America to get away from persecution because of their faith. This is not necessarily the same thing as coming here to practice religious liberty. The Pilgrims were Puritan separatists who had fled England for Holland to escape the persecution that was common under Queen Elizabeth and then King James for those who did not conform to the Church of England. After watching their children grow up in Holland and being drawn away by the temptations of another culture, they decided to immigrate to America. They established Plymouth Colony so that they could worship the way they believed. By the late 1620’s the persecution of the Puritans in England was so severe that plans began for more congregations to immigrate to the colonies and in 1630 the Great Migration began.
Boston and the rest Massachusetts Bay Colony were founded by the Puritan Congregationalists and they did not allow for much variation in religious belief. Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were exiled as were several Quakers. Some Quakers were even tortured and executed for their beliefs. Protestant killing Protestant.
In the 16th century France and the Low Countries had fought bloody civil wars over religion and in the 17th century came the Thirty Year’s War, and again, religion was fought over. Further back in time and you have the Crusades, wars over religion. Forward in time to the 20th century and you get the Holacaust in Europe by the German Nazis against the Jews. Today in our time you have the jihad of the muslims against the Jews of Israel and against the infidels of the West, mainly the USA.
Historically and politically then, it appears that those who hold firmly to their religious beliefs have been the source of multiple problems, including wars. No wonder, then, that you get bestselling books today with titles like “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” by Christopher Hitchens or “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins or “The End of Faith” by Sam Harris.
But a thorough scientist muct test his hypothesis and look at all the unknowns and evdence. Has atheism fared any better? Welllll, let’s see… The communist takeover of Russia resulted in the centrally planned genocide of millions in the Ukraine and elsewhere. The ancestor worshiping Japanese started a war with China and the US; has anyone ever heard of Nanking? The communist rule in China has killed tens of millions of its own people. Not a whole lot of freedom going on there the past 60 years or so. So the Atheists do not have any kind of a positive record they can fall back on. Oh yeah, the Age of Reason and the French Revolution that was to usher in a time of peace, that worked well in the French Revolution, didn’t it? Isn’t that where Napoleon came from? Good times.
The point of this is that in America we seem to have allowed our politics to determine our religion. We practice tolerance, religious liberty and diversity, therefore all religions must be of equal merit, right? The idea current in America is that Tolerance is the highest virtue. Those who hold religious views too strongly are intolerant and therefore not tolerable. Wow. Thus you get people in the Baptist churches I have been in who think other world religions are ok. As long as you are sincere you too will go to heaven, because we all worship the same god. Sproul writes,(p.36) “Thus, when Christians or advocates of any religion make claims of exclusivity, their claims are often met with shock or anger a such a narrow-minded posture. To make exclusive religious claims is to fly in the face of national sentiment. It is like attacking baseball, hot dogs, motherhood, and apple pie…”
Sproul goes on to relate an embarrassing situation he faced in college when a professor challenged his faith in class in a very demeaning way. I can absolutely relate to that because the same thing happened to me my freshman year at OU, in English. The situation in today’s universities is far worse; schools today are not only intolerant of Christians, they will actively persecute and fail students who are vocal about their faith.
From every direction then, the pressure is on the Bible believing Christian to submit to the spirit of the age that says all religions are of equal value. Does your politics determine your faith, or is your faith determiing your politics?
II. The Exclusive Claims of Christ
First of all notice the sequence in which Sproul makes his argument. In ch.1 he makes a very reasoned argument to accept the Bible, not as myth, not with contradictions riddled throughout, but as a historically verifiable, sober record of events ending in the resurrection of Jesus. Once that is acknowledged you can move on to what the Bible claims, to doctrine. In this section we will look at the claims about Jesus.
In John 14 Jesus makes some very exclusive claims. These are propositional statements that are either True or False. If the statements are true, their opposites cannot also be true at the same time and in the same relationship.
1) Jesus urges his disciples to “Believe in God;” no problem there, most people will go along with him there- “believe also in me.” Uh-oh, here we get into dangerous ground. It seems that Jesus is putting himself on the same level as God. He is distinguishing himself from God, but calling others to believe in him in the same way they believe in God.
2) In my Father’s house are many rooms- here Jesus further identifies God while simultaneously distinguishing himself from God, by calling him his Father. In Jewish thought this would be outright heresy, blasphemy. To claim God as his Father links him too closely with God in their mind.
3) I go to prepare a place for you- here again Jesus is claiming remarkable closeness to God- that he has the authority to go to heaven, his Father’s house, and prepare a place for his disciples. This is clearly language that they would understand as relating to a powerful kingly person (God) and his princely son (Jesus) who has the same authority as his Father.
4) I will come again and take you to myself- he claims the ability to go to heaven and prepare a place for them, then promises to come back for them and take them to heaven with him. This is absolutely something that only God could do.
5) Jesus makes a very strong and direct claim to being the exclusive way to the Father in vs. 6. the language is so strong it cannot be misunderstood. “I am the way (to the Father), and the truth (not “a” way or “a” truth but THE WAY and THE TRUTH) and the life (again, not “a” life but THE LIFE). Jesus here leaves no wiggle room for anyone. There are not many ways to the Father, there is only one way. There are not many truths, there is only one truth about God. There are not many alternative lifestyles, there is only way to live and that is the way of Christ.
6) Jesus does not quit yet, he emphasizes it yet again with saying, “NO ONE comes to the Father except through me.” He leaves no exceptions. He does not make any exceptions possible.
7) To further hammer home his point, in verse 9 he adds “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” You have to be very careful here, you must remember that he does distinguish himself from the Father but says that if you look at him, if you have seen Jesus, you have also seen the Father. He is saying if you want to know what the Father is like, look to the Son. Scripture elsewhere says the Father, God, is invisible.
8 In vs. 10 Jesus brings clarity to this by saying, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” So he is not claiming to be the Father, but a degree of closeness and unity that is beyond anything else we can imagine. This is some of the foundation for the doctrine of the Trinity. It is a claim to be divine, and not just a little bit divine. He is claiming to be God, but careful to distinguish himself from the Father. He never claims to be the Father, but he does claim to be God.
9) In vs. 11 he challenges them to believe him on his word, but if not that, then on the basis of his many miracles, the works. Clearly then, a part of his claim to divinity rests upon his miraculous works. Take away the miracles of the Bible, and you get some empty claims.
The Bible is internally consistent and has no contradictions. That implies that the Bible’s case for the divinity of Christ is airtight. If you take the Bible seriously, then all other religions are excluded.
Look next at Acts 4:12 “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” When you look at the context you see that Peter is speaking about Jesus. Again, the claim is very exclusive- there is salvation in no one else! Jesus is not one among many, he is the only hope we have for salvation.
When you look at the uniqueness of Jesus, his virgin birth, his two natures (divine and human) and the claims from scripture about his dying as an atonement for our sin, and then the claims for the resurrection, you see that no other religious figure in history makes anywhere near the same claims. Jesus is either Lord, liar or a lunatic as CS Lewis and Josh McDowell say.
III. Don’t All Religions Have Essentially the Same Truth?
Why should God have only one way to worship him? One way to salvation? Isn’t that kind of narrow minded?
What many people did, beginning in the 1800’s, is to try to boil all religions down to their essence in an effort at unity. It came down to something like belief in the universal fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of men. Believe in some kind of god out there somewhere and be nice. Believe in a higher power and do what you want, just don’t hurt anybody else; be true to yourself. The higher power can be the Christian God, the muslim’s allah, the Jewish God, the earth mother goddess, the 300 million or so gods of Hinduism, whatever.
The big illustration that a lot of people use is this: all roads lead up the mountain, you just get to the top by different routes. Everybody worships the same God but in different ways. Since 9/11 in America we have seen our political leaders say things like that repeatedly in an effort at including good muslims. President Bush has been the first American President to go to a muslim mosque. He has made numerous statements that indicate he thinks the muslims worship the same god he does.
The Bahai’ faith basically states that all religions are the truth or have some of the truth, but Bhai’ is the final revelation. They try to bring all faiths together, but essentially claim theirs is the truth. But this claim that all faiths are equal, whether claimed by Bhai’ or by American liberals, is an ignorant, condescending claim that does not take the claims of each religion seriously.
Buddhism denies the existence of a personal God while Christianity claims that God is personal. Both cannot be true. Orthodox Judaism denies life after death and denies the divinity of Christ while Christianity and Islam claim there is life after death and Christianity claims Christ is the Son of God. Islam calls Christianity a polytheistic religion for believing in the Trinity, yet Christianity claims the 3 in oneness of God. Reducing all religions to some vague essence and claiming that they are all true is ignorant and absurd and violates the rules of logic and the historical claims of Christianity. Islam claims to have the authority of Allah to kill infidels (us) while Christianity claims to be told from God to love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you. Two radically different ethics are mutually exclusive. Both cannot be right.
The spirit of this age cries out for peace at any price, both in political and spiritual realms. “Can’t we all just get along” is a famous quote from a notorious crime situation in America in the 1990’s and “We shall have peace in our time” is a famous statement by an English politician just before the outbreak of World War 2. In Jer. 6 we read of the false prophets and priest saying, “peace, peace- when there is no peace”
Religions claim to deal with matters of ultimate concern. Their adherents take them seriously. Instead of blithely stating that all religions are true or share the same essence, we ought to seek serious dialog where the differences are stated clearly, but in a respectful manner.
IV. Is God Narrow Minded? Is He Too Strict?
People have lost the concept of a sovereign, holy God who not only has created the universe but rules it with justice. People object to this holy God and prefer to create a Santa Clause god of their own imaginings. They object to their being only one way to heaven. Matt. 7:13 -14 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Why is God’s gate narrow?
You can ask the question, “Why doesn’t God just save everybody?” But as you look around and see the news and read history you realize that there are some truly wicked, mean and evil people all over. Do you really think they deserve to be saved instead of judged? But when you look at the nice people whom you know and love, and look at yourself, don’t you see that no one is perfect, that all of us is not only flawed but that we each do things that are deliberately wrong, selfish, mean and wicked? When you see that all are indeed sinners, you can ask this question: “Why should God save anyone?”
Look at the story of man and God as told by the Bible. God created us in his image and likeness. Did he have to do that? No. God set the first man and woman in the beautiful and safe Garden of Eden. Did he have to do that? The first man and woman had no sin nature and only had one restriction- Don’t eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Yet what did they do? In the midst of all that abundance, they managed to disobey the one rule given them by the God who had provided for their every need and desire. The penalty for violating that one rule was death. Did God have that right? Certainly. But what did God do? He gave them mercy and grace.
God did not leave mankind in its sin, helpless and hopeless, he said that he would send a redeemer. He established a people who would be used to bring that hope of a redeemer to all men. Those people became enslaved and God delivered them from slavery and brought them, despite numerous rebellions, into the Promised Land. After providing them a Law code and a proper form of worship, the people rejected God time and again to serve false gods and idols. God sent prophets to them to warn them and bring them back time and again. But the people had a habit of ignoring or abusing and even killing the prophets God sent.
Finally god sent his only son, Jesus to reveal himself to his people and save them from their sins. The people rejected Jesus and crucified him. God’s people killed God on the cross. Deicide. Murder.
Yet God still gives us grace and offers us redemption, adoption and eternal salvation. Why should he do that? And we want to complain that he hasn’t done enough, that he has made the way too narrow and too hard? We do not deserve the one way of salvation God has given.