Hot Button Week Four - "Saving Grace" or "Is There A True Religion?"

This is the fourth and final week of the most challenging sermon series I have ever preached.  It seems fitting that we would end it with a sermon on a grace-filled response to the issue of True Religion.

I discovered a couple of years ago to my amusement, and slight dismay, that there is actually a clothing company called "True Religion."  This is an ironic fact, considering how Consumerism and Materialism have become neo-religions in and of themselves complete with temples, (malls), vestments (fashion/clothes), priests (designers/marketers), missionaries (stars/artists) and adherents (consumers).

That, my friends, is an entirely different sort of sermon.

What I am proposing today, however, is that our culture is at an existential crossroads when it comes religion itself.  In our increasingly connected and diverse society, it is impossible to ignore our neighbors and co-workers who might practice a different faith than our own.  This collision of theology and practice in the middle of culture is one that brings both the differences as well as the similarities between faiths into sharp contrast.

Unfortunately, most of us tend to focus on the differences.

Each religion makes a claim upon the Truth.  But common sense tells us that not every claim upon the Truth can be valid.  I am capitalizing Truth here because I am one of those strange people that actually does believe that there is such a thing a Truth--a higher standard if you will, an ideal to which we all aspire.

If I might be so bold, I actually believe that Truth has a name, and isn't really a "thing" but a person, and the person is Jesus Christ.

This is the moment when you say, "Oh Leon, you're supposed to say that, you're a Christian and a pastor."

Fair enough.  I'll cross that bridge in a moment.

A recent Pew Study completed in 2008 revealed the following:

71% of all Americans believe that there is a God.  Before you are tempted to gloss over this figure, I have to point out that it's SEVENTY ONE PERCENT. This is an astronomical number.

Here's something else:

70% of all Americans believe that all religions lead to eternal life.  You're probably thinking, "Well, I certainly don't!" Mmmkay, but SEVENTY PERCENT of your fellow Americans do.

This is a mind boggling statistic:

57% of Evangelical Christians believe that other religions are valid ways to heaven, too.   These are the most theologically conservative Christians, the ones who go to church faithfully, study their Bible, tithe their income...  And they (sometimes secretly) believe that Jesus isn't the only way to get to Heaven.

I think that anyone who has friends or family members of another faith wants to believe this.  It's hard to see your nonChristian friends and imagine them suffering an eternity in torment, isn't it?  Especially when they are good people, faithful in their own religion, and maybe more "Christian" than most Christians.

Gahndi famously said that he really liked Jesus, but didn't think that the followers of Jesus really liked Jesus because they didn't live like him.  Heck, Gahndi lived more like Jesus than the vast majority of Christians---ever.

So is Gahndi in hell?

Tough question, right?  I mean the orthodox Christian in me wants to pull out Scripture and show all of the verses that unequivocally state that if you don't accept Jesus as Lord and Savior that you don't get to see the kingdom of God.  And the feelings-on-his-sleeve Christian in me wants to show all of the verses that seem to indicate that a black and white understanding of salvation isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

Basically, I am conflicted.  There's what I know about Jesus being Lord, and then there's what I know about Jesus being merciful.  There's a passage like, "There is no name under Heaven whereby you must be saved," and then there's a passage like, "It is not God's will that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."

And who am I to say that just because someone is born in another culture, within a different faith that they are somehow damned to hell for eternity?  And what about all of those people who are taught that they are right, and that Christians are wrong?  Is it their fault?

Are all Religions Equal?

There's a parable of sorts that explains the popular understanding of this question.  It seems that there were three blind wise men who encountered an elephant.  One of them grasped the trunk and declared that he had found a snake.    The second one embraced the elephant's leg and proclaimed that it was a tree.  The third found the tale and announced that it was a donkey.

This parable is that old chestnut that religious skeptics pull out of their bag of skepticism every time they want to illustrate in a smug sort of way that being skeptical is somehow intellectually superior to not being skeptical.  The elephant stands in for God, and the blind men---well, that would be people of different faiths.

The problem is that each religion claims it's own knowledge "of the elephant" apart from all other knowledge.

The great theologian G.K. Chesterton once wrote that all religions "...agree in their mode of teaching, what they differ about is the thing to be taught."

Okay, this is the moment in our discussion when C.S. Lewis comes to the rescue.  Lewis is the 20th century's greatest popular Christian apologist---someone who can offer reasoned arguments for the Christian faith.   \

Lewis believed that there are universal notions of right and wrong that all people use as an ideal.  He had this theory of competing ideals.  When you compare your worldview, ideals, etc. to someone else's and declare that yours are superior, you are, according to Lewis, appealing to a higher standard of right and wrong.  Even someone who claims that there is no higher standard of right and wrong is essentially claiming their view of the matter is superior.

For Lewis, the higher source of ideals is actually a Source, with a capital "S."  He understood this source to be God, of course.  And when someone begins to understand that God is indeed the Source of life and of a higher standard of right and wrong they can begin to relate to God in a whole new way.  Lewis asserted that "Only when you realize that you are sick, will you listen to the doctor."  Only when people fully realize that it is God, who is the ultimate standard of right and wrong, they also realize their own frailty and brokenness and need of God.

It is here where Christianity diverges from other religions, which up to this point all sort of agree in principle.  Here Christianity addresses the brokenness of people and of Creation with a story of redemption.

Lewis wrote that "Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage."  He also wrote, "This is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been."  For fans of Lewis' Narnia books, you'll understand how wonderful that last line truly is.

What makes Christianity so unique is that it is not centered on what you must do, but on what has been done through the person of Jesus Christ, who comes to us as God in the flesh.  It is not focused on how you get to God, but on how God has come to you.

Religious skeptic John Hick declares, "If Jesus was literally God incarnate, and if it is by his death alone that men can be saved, and by their response to him alone that they can appropriate salvation, then the only doorway to eternal life is Christian faith."

C.S. Lewis added to this that when it comes to Jesus we are forced to decide whether "He was a madman or the Son of God."

In John 14:6 Jesus himself declared that he is the "Way, the Truth and the Life" and that "no one comes to the Father," except through him.   For those of us who call ourselves Christians, we can rest in the certainty of this promise of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone.  We should not apologize for this.  We should not be embarrassed to proclaim it.

But we need to do so with unbelievable grace.

Some of you might be wondering, "But what about my friend who doesn't believe what I do?  What about my Muslim co-worker, my Hindu neighbor, my Jewish relative?"

Listen, if Christianity is true... and I'm definitely asserting that it is... then however God relates to humans who do not have access to revelation will demonstrate his just, holy and loving character.

Therefore all of this is in the hands of a just and loving God, not ours.

Follow this bit of logic if you want to be faithful as a Christian and grace-filled as an evangelist:

The Gospel declares the saving power of Christ alone,
And Christians are commissioned to share this Good News,
But are called to do so with grace, finding common ground,
Because the Bible never claims that people will be judged for what they do not or could not know,
However the existence of goodness in humans is not evidence of universal redemption because all have sinned.

A friend of mine asked me once, "If you get to Heaven and find Gandhi playing tennis, will you be upset?"

I thought about it for a bit, and then I said to him, "Absolutely not because I would know that he recognized Jesus."

There's a phenomenon sweeping the Muslim world right now.  There are more Muslims who have come to Christ in the last 40 years than in the previous 1400.  And many of these Muslims are having dreams of Jesus, seeing visions of Jesus or developing unexplainable desires to know more about Jesus.

I don't understand how Jesus finds those unexpected children who are his own.

But he does.

And when he finds them, they recognize him as Lord and Savior.

Do you?
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Comments

  1. 'And my soul cries out with hallelujahs!'
    Chris Rice "Hallelujahs"

    ReplyDelete

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