Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why Christianity is Exclusive, and If It Isn't, Isn't Christianity Anymore

In our pluralistic culture today, we celebrate diversity as a sign of mature civility. We don't want to believe that there is anything wrong with anyone else, unless it goes too far from the accepted norms of the larger secular or religious culture. In applying this to spiritual truths, we don't want to believe anyone is wrong here either. After all, spiritual truths, so it's thought, simply reflect your personal expressions of what you encounter in your spiritual journey. In other words, they reflect your experience, and one cannot counter another person's experience with their own experience. Since all we have is experience, there can be only a sharing of opinions. When someone comes into the group and breaks this mold by speaking absolutely toward a spiritual idea, he is seen as rude and domineering, simply because he is expressing his opinion in an oppressive way toward other opinions. He is seen as a conqueror who just wants to dominate other people. In short, he is seen as arrogant. After all, why should we take his opinion above those of others. It's all just subjective experience anyway.

In contrast to this, however, Christians (real ones at least) have traded their own speculative experience about spiritual matters for revelation. In revelation, God guides the believer to know spiritual truths, things which only He can confirm or deny to be true absolutely, and thus gives the believer something more to work with than his mere subjective experience. In essence, Christianity calls us to submit our experiences to God's revelation because it calls us to submit our minds and lives to God's direction (i.e., we are to submit to Him as our Lord). Because of this, Christianity cannot view a plurality of spiritual experiences in the same way as secular culture, no matter how much confused "Christians" may try to do so.

This brings us to discuss the difference between what we perceive to be the case in salvation and what we are told to be the case by God concerning salvation. We are predisposed to believe that everyone, or at least all the good people, will be saved. We cannot fathom the idea that God would condemn others for all eternity, since God is like us, and we wouldn't condemn them, especially if they're good people (did you catch that one again?).

I think the problems here are legion in that there is again an assumption that people are basically good, that God's judgment of sin is comparable to my judgment of sin, and that my experience is a better guide to spiritual truth than Scripture (assuming that I am not affected by my own finitude and sin). This last one is ironic, since so many of these same people claim that we should maintain a level of agnosticism on these matters, since we are so finite and sinful, yet they still feel that their experience is trustworthy enough to say that people are good, God would not do what I would not do, etc.

But the biggest problem with this is that it assumes that God arbitrarily forgives. This is the view of the Muslim God, but not the God of the Bible. God cannot arbitrarily forgive. That would be completely evil and unjust. I'll give you an example. Let's say your children were brutally murdered. The man was never caught, and in fact, lived the good life on a beach in the Bahamas somewhere. He comes before God's throne, and God says to him, "You will now enter your punishment for your crimes against these children and their parents you made to suffer." The man replies, "God, I'm so sorry. Please forgive me." God, then, says, "Well, OK, I'll go ahead and forego your punishment. Go ahead and enter into eternal life." Now, where is the justice here? Not only justice due to God, who the Scripture says requires it, but also to the family who deserves it. After all, the family suffered for the rest of their lives. Their children were taken away from them in a horrific manner. Is that it? Will they never receive justice because God is so merciful that He doesn't care about doing what is right? The question becomes, Has God done what is right to Himself, to the family, and to the nature of good itself? If we're were honest, we would have to answer an emphatic, "No."

And if this is the way that God will deal with sin, why does He condemn unjust judges throughout Scripture who do not deal with evil strictly? Why is He pleased with the execution of the wicked when evil has gone previously unanswered? Why does He promise destruction to those who do not bring about the destruction of the wicked? And why does the Bible say that, above all things, God requires thee to "do justly," along with loving mercy and walking humbly with your God? Here's why: Because God is GOOD, and good cannot let evil go. Good does not let evil go. Good must punish evil because good hates evil, and it is right for good to hate evil. God is a right God. He does what is right and good at all times. He never does what is unjust. NEVER!!!

So where does this leave us? Well, it leaves us with one option in terms of salvation. The only way to be saved is to be spotless in terms of sin. You must be perfect. You cannot have any sin whatsoever, or the just God, who will always do what is right, will punish you for it. And we are told in Scripture that the punishment for sin is death. This is consistent with what we see throughout the Bible. Death is separation from the ordered world, the place where life and all of its joy does not abound, the place where one does not fellowship with God. This is the fate for all who are not perfect.

But we are told that no one is perfect. In fact, we are told that "there is none that is good, no not one." Hence, everyone is under sin, and everyone must be punished and pay the price for their sins. However, because God is also love, He sent His Son to take upon Himself our sins. He became sin for us. He took the just punishment that we were due and placed it upon Himself. In other words, the only possibility of being saved from the justice and goodness of God that must consistently condemn us and give us damnation is for our sins to be placed upon His Son, and for His Son's righteousness and perfection to be placed upon us. What this means is that both mercy and justice are fulfilled ONLY in Christ. Buddha does not take upon the sins of those who follow him. Krishna, who never lived anyway, does not take upon the sins of those who follow him. Muhammad does not take upon the sins of those who follow him.

The exclusivity of Christianity, then, isn't about a childish immaturity, where Christians are simply saying to other religions that Christ is the only way to salvation in a sort of "my dad can beat up your dad" manner. The exclusivity of Christ is the nature of our situation as sinners in the hands of a holy and angry God (righteously angry as we would be of what we consider atrocities). Christ is the only way because only Christ can be the way. Hence, when the Lord says, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father if not through Me," He's not just blowing smoke. When the apostles say, "There is no mediator between God and man, but the man, Christ Jesus," and "There is no other name [read: Person] under salvation by which we must be saved," they're not simply making idle claims to boost their religion amidst the Roman pantheon.

But what if Christ can save without one following Him? This is the view called inclusivism, where Christ saves people who never trust their lives to the gospel. Again, we are left with Scripture to tell us if this claim is true or false. Experience will only deceive us here, as we are predisposed to believe the cult of Amercanity, where all dogs go to heaven instead of the truth. And the truth is that one must repent and put his trust in the sacrifice of Christ as his possession, i.e., Christ must own him, in order for the transference to take place. In other words, Christ must be his Lord (this is everywhere attested in Scripture), and Christ is not one's Lord if the person does not adhere to what He teaches (especially what He teaches about Himself and the work of salvation He has come to accomplish).

Let's use Romans 8:29 as one example: "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined [to become] conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren;  30  and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified."

This is called the "golden chain" of salvation by theologians. It delineates the process of how one is saved. Notice that those whom God foreknows, i.e., those with whom He decides to initiate a relationship, He predestines to follow His Son (which are what the words "conformed to the image of His Son" mean). But here is one that most people skip over. What does He do next in the chain? He CALLS these same people. The call of the gospel, as we talked about a little yesterday, is an audible call. It is not an inward call. It is always the spoken/preached words of the gospel that someone hears and chooses to trust in. This is the effectual call. These who were predestined hear the gospel and believe it. They are the ones who are justified and glorified. There is no salvation apart from this. Paul again refers to it in Romans 10:13-17:

For "Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved." How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!" However, they did not all heed the glad tidings; for Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our report? " So faith [comes] from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

Notice that faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word concerning Christ, i.e., the gospel message itself. Paul asks, "How will they hear without a preacher?" Well, couldn't we just answer that they have an inward call, or that they hear Christ through their own present religions? According to the Scripture, No, we can't. Why not? Because one can only be saved by the transference of sin from us and Christ's righteousness to us offered to those who trust in Him, His work, and His words. This cannot be done if one does not hear about Him, His work, and His words. This is why the disciples are told to go into every nation, baptizing and teaching all that Christ commanded them. If people were saved through their own religions anyway, then His directive should have been, "Take a load off boys, and just try to be good examples in your own community and in your own ways." The fact is that the only way to be saved by another religious system would be to save oneself by works, i.e., perfection, and that's assuming that salvation is both through works and that the works prescribed in those religions are not actually contrary to the works God has revealed in Scripture. Of course, we know that no one, not even the Jews could obey the perfect law, especially if law is seen in all of its implications and applications in life (then not even the best of men come close to it). But we are not saved by works, nor could we be, but by the grace of God that comes to us by the means of that faith relationship with Christ when we adhere to the gospel that has been spoken to us.

What I am saying here is that any Christianity that tries to tell you that it is not exclusive with the gospel is not Christianity at all. It has a different source of spiritual knowledge, a different God, a different means of salvation (i.e., a gospel that is one of works toward another deity rather than specifically and cognitively trusting in Christ's work), and a different Christ (one not defined by His own revelation in the Bible).

And, my friends, as the Scripture warned us, "But even if we [i.e., the apostles themselves], or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be eternally damned. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be eternally damned.

There is simply no such thing as an inclusive Christianity because we are sinners with a good and just God. Praise Him forever that He is also such a loving and merciful God that He has decided to save His people, but do not make Him into an unjust and immoral God to suit a scheme that would pardon what cannot be righteously pardoned otherwise.

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