Is Jesus the Only Way?
A recent fad in the Church, Evangelicals included, is the advocacy of tolerance. There are those who say, "I thought that all religions accomplish the same purpose?" While others argue, saying, "I'm a believer, but I'm open minded." Others, with more compassion, but still lacking in truth will ask, "How could God send someone to hell without giving them a chance to accept Christ? How is that a demonstration of a loving God?" These are tough questions that have perplexed people for centuries and as they, once again, confront us we should do our best to answer them honestly and biblically. If the Gospel of Christ is not necessary for salvation, we need to know, so we won't waste our time, money and energy propagating it, but if it is necessary, then we must sound the alarm and make ready the Church to carry the "Good News" to the lost at any cost.
As a Christian seeking to find the truth we must turn to the Scriptures to investigate what God says about Himself. Before we do that let us first look at the various religions to see just how different they are from Christianity.
"AREN'T ALL RELIGIONS THE SAME?"
The following are brief descriptions of the world's major religions and how they differ from Biblical Christianity.
1. Animism- This belief takes many forms. Some animists worship trees, the sun, a river. Practically all animists live their lives trying to appease different spirits through sacrifices and offerings. A majority of them live in fear that some unknown force is going to steal their child or ruin their crop or mysteriously kill their family. There are about 300 million Animists today mostly living in Papua New Guinea and Irian Jyra. The Bible is clear about men who have chosen to worship the creation rather than the Creator. 1 Cor. 10:20 "The sacrifice of pagans are offered to demons, not to God…"
2. Hinduism- Followers of Hinduism can pick from more than 330,000,000 gods to worship. Still, Hindu believers will usually agree that man's good deeds and bad deeds decide their fate. This balance of our deeds is called karma. If you have good karma at death, you will be reincarnated to a better life. If a Hindu does enough, he can escape the wrath of his gods. Verses such as Jeremiah 10:14-15 clearly demonstrates God's view of idols-"every goldsmith is shamed by his idols. His images are a fraud; they have no breath in them. They are worthless, the objects of mockery; when their judgment comes they will perish." As you read the Old Testament you begin to see God's extreme hatred for idols. Read also: Jeremiah 8, Numbers 25, Ezekiel 8,9.
3. Chinese Beliefs- Many Chinese are atheists because of the Communist takeover, which denies the very existence of God. Others light incense and bring sacrifices to their dead ancestors. They feel that if they please their ancestors enough, then life will go well for them. Again, ancestral worship is choosing to worship creation over the Creator. Rom 1:21-23 "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles."
4. Islam- According to the Muslim, Christ never died on the cross, which is a direct contradiction to the Bible. Instead of Christ's death as our way to heaven, Muslims follow the Five Pillars of Islam. The Five Pillars are 1. Reciting the creed (There is only one god, Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet) 2. The giving of alms. 3. The hajj, a pilgrimage made to Mecca once in each person's lifetime if they can afford it. 4. Fasting during the month of Ramadan during sunlight hours. 5. Praying five times a day facing Mecca. Muslims believe that on one shoulder sits an angel keeping record of our good deeds, and on the other shoulder is another angel keeping record of our bad deeds, and at the end of the world, our deeds will be weighed and if we have done more good than bad, we get to go to heaven. Paul warns in Ephesians 2:8-9 "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast."
5. Buddhism- Most Buddhists are atheists. Buddhism is more of a philosophy than a religion. They feel that if we can keep from having desires and emotions, then we will stop suffering. We stop our emotions by following the eight-fold path. Most Buddhists feel that following these 8 guidelines will produce enlightenment. The gospel of Jesus is in direct contrast to this idea that man can attain this on his own. Rom 3:10-12 "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."
In short, all of the above beliefs are different from Christianity in that while Christianity is a faith built on grace, (Eph. 2:8-9) these other faiths are built on works. Christianity says that man could never earn his way to God, no matter how many good deeds he does, because man can never make up for his sin against a holy God. (Titus 3:4-5) It is solely by the grace of God in the form of Christ's payment for our sin on the cross that man is allowed into His presence. The other major religions of the world are built on the foundation that man is in charge of his own destiny by the good works that he does or does not do. They believe that man can earn heaven, or a higher existence, or enlightenment by following a set of guidelines or doing enough good deeds.
"I'M A CHRISTIAN, BUT I'M OPEN MINDED"
Throughout the New Testament, we can find no example of a Christian who believed that there was any other way to God than through Christ. No one in the New Testament Church was "open-minded." If anyone came into the churches of that time and taught otherwise, those people were called "false apostles." 2 Peter 2:1 shares with us the consequences of going against the teaching of Christ: "…there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them-bringing swift destruction on themselves." The Apostles clearly taught that Christ was the only way to salvation. Peter says in Acts 4:12 that "Salvation is found in NO ONE ELSE for there is NO OTHER NAME under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." Also, Paul explains in Galatians 1:8 "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" Interestingly, this teaching comes not from them but from the very mouth of Jesus Himself, John 14:6 "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me." Biblically we see that Jesus Himself was extremely "close minded." So if you are frustrated by Christians who say that Christ is the only way or if you are having a hard time embracing this doctrine, you should understand the origin from which it comes.
"HOW COULD GOD SEND SOMEONE TO HELL IF THEY HAVEN'T HEARD?"
God is love isn't He? Surely He would make a way for every person on the planet to have a chance to go to heaven…right? Yes, God made a way for all peoples to hear the gospel. He chose man to reach man. Taking the message of the atonement in Christ to the uttermost parts of the earth is God's idea, Matthew 28:18-20 shows His interest in all peoples. "Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."
This commission is a command. It is for every believer to play a part in reaching all peoples with the message of the cross. If all Christians would decide that this commission is worth giving their lives toward, it could easily be done in one generation. There are approximately 9,000 unreached people groups on that planet which means that if we sent teams of eight to every unreached ethnic group (people group) we would need 72,000 of the well over 2 Billion professing Christians to be long term missionaries. We would need only one dollar per year from each professing believer to finance our expedition. God's commission isn't just a good idea. It is a task that is very accomplishable. Think how fast we could get this message in the hands of everyone if all Christians would decide that this commission is worth giving their lives toward.
If you take the "open-minded" theory to its logical conclusion you might not like what you are saying. If people who never hear of Christ are going to be allowed into Heaven, then God has made a huge mistake in sending His Son. If all religions lead to heaven, then Christ died for nothing. If Buddha or Shiva could get me to heaven then Christ wasted His time and effort coming to earth and actually dying on a cross for no reason whatsoever.
Some people wonder if only people who reject Christ will go to hell. If this is true, then the Great Commission was the cruelest command Christ could have ever given. The safest bet would be not to risk his or her rejection and instead close down every mission agency so that eventually the message would die out and everyone would have access. In John 3:18 Christ says: "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."
Still some may argue that Christ had to die for the sins of the world, but people don't have to "hear about Him or believe in Him and that His blood covers them anyway." Not only does this contradict the many exhortations of the New Testament, which tell us that we must believe to be saved, but Christ Himself said in Matt 7:13-14
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." It seems if the 2 billion who have never heard of Christ have access, the road is not as narrow as Christ thought.
These issues that we have tried to wrestle with are not easy and along with them come some major ramifications. As believers we need to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to allow us understanding into the mysteries of God. May we not spend our time arguing if another way will do and instead be obedient to what God's word says and what we read.