The View From The Top
A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
10th October 2014
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In an age of tolerance poisoned by relativism, inclusive multi-culturalism, and cultural sovereignty which is still coping with the guilt of colonialism, any exclusive claim to truth, salvation or God has to be challenged.
Yet, Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And the Apostle Peter said “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). So it has been consistent Christian teaching down the centuries that we have no assurance of salvation for anybody other than those who name Jesus as their Lord, just as we have every assurance for those who do.
However, whenever we put forward the claims of the gospel the following questions are asked: “Don’t all religions lead to God?” “Aren’t they all just different ways up the same mountain?” “Isn’t it arrogant to think you are right and everybody else is wrong, or that God is the god of Christians only?”
Christianity’s claim to exclusive uniqueness comes from its Monotheism. There is only one God for the entire world. He created everything and everybody. Everybody is answerable to him and to him alone as we should worship God and him only. He may choose individuals or a particular nation but he is not a local or national god; he is the universal, world-wide God. He is the God who made the universe and there is no other God as an alternative or rival to him.
Around the world and down the centuries people have worshipped many gods. But all other gods are mythological non-existent beings who live in nothing other than human imagination.
However, it is suggested that these are not false gods but the same God under different names. And that while the worship may look quite different it is just a different way to communicate with God, similar to our different languages by which we communicate with each other. There is nothing inherently wrong with French, Swahili or Korean, they are just different ways for people in communities to speak to each other. So the different ways to worship God are equally valid. Thus there are many ways up the mountain to God just as there are many ways to worship him. Each person on his own journey may think his is the only way, or not even know of any other way, but when you stand back and look at all the roads people journey on, they lead to the same destination.
Sadly this analysis is another demonstration of human sinfulness. Our desire is always to play god ourselves. We wish to determine good and evil. We want to tell God his business. It is God, not us, who determines whom he will communicate with, and when and how. That is because he is God and we are not! The person who looks at all the roads leading up the mountain – all the journeys that other people are on – is not on the mountain, let alone climbing to God. It is the arrogance of the omniscient scholars who, from their ivory tower, can analyse the affairs of humanity without being aware of their own journey. It is true arrogance to be unaware of self while patronisingly describing others. What people believe about their chosen road matters to them, it may be wrong but it is not to be dismissed as irrelevant to their religion.
Religion is not just a matter of subjective experiences or opinions. For the Muslim, Jesus wasn’t crucified. For the Jew, Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. For the Christian, Jesus was crucified and did rise from the dead. All these ‘opinions’ cannot be true as they are all dealing with ‘facts’: Jesus did or did not die and rise. All of them may be false – Jesus may never have lived. But they all cannot be true. Therefore those who believe 'all religions teach the same truth' must also be false as at least two, if not all three, of these major religions cannot be true.
This is not dealing with some minor point of obscure and unimportant religious minutiae. It was, and is, the core belief of the Christianity. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Jesus’ death and resurrection are the very centre of Christianity.
In the end Christians don’t even believe they are on a road up the mountain to God but rather standing at the foot of God’s journey down to us. For, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). We don’t go up to him, because he has already come down to us. We celebrate that at Christmas. And the foot of his journey is his cross, where God made “him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). We celebrate that at Easter. Remove Christmas and Easter, Jesus’ incarnation, his death and resurrection and you no longer have Christianity in any recognizable form.
To accept alternative ways for us to reach God is to reject God’s way down to us. To reject God’s way, by suggesting there are other equally valid ways, makes the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross completely unnecessary. If we could come to God without the cross of Christ, why would Jesus come to die for us? It is the arrogance of humanity to think that we can get to God without him coming to rescue us. It is the humility of Christ to accept God’s way of salvation.