The Theological Exclusiveness of Christianity Toward other Religious Systems

A friend posted recently on his Facebook status:

Christians stop judging followers of Buddha nor Alah. Because if u really knew about the two they are very similar to Christianity

I was immediately intrigued as to what he was really trying to say. A quick survey of the status revealed a number of things that represented complex theological ideas:

  1. Christians
  2. Judgement of other belief systems.
  3. Followers of other belief systems.
  4. Other Religions are legitimate.
  5. Implied Ignorance of Christians towards other belief systems
  6. Similarities amongst religious systems.

Each of these topics could in an of themselves take up a course or a dissertation in graduate school. That is because each of these things are vitality important and will become more important to the westernized world as we move into the 21st century. Christians are going to have to learn how to deal and interact with other belief systems. Failure to do so will be disastrous for the cause of Christ.

How Christians have historically dealt with believers of other faiths.

Historically, Christians/Hebrews have responded in various ways.

  1. Escape The Essene population in the Hellenistic age  decided that the sin (things like playing games naked in public places: the Gymnasium)  that the Greeks were proposing was dangerous. To be near these people would mean corruption (think Sadducee) and it would be better to separate from the world and its influences, to live a holy life apart from other peoples.
  2. Kill them All! We saw what happened when Muslims spread their influence across the Strait of Gibraltar  into Spain. As they were entering into France, they were pushed back by the Christians there. This victory then gave the Vatican the ideal that they could push them out of Jerusalem, this proved to be disastrous. It is known that Martin Luther, who was a German, hated the Jewish people. Everyone can agree that the majority of the Christian denominations did not do enough to prevent the Holocaust of the Jews.
  3. Theological Ridicule when Islam first became known to the west, the general idea was that it was an offshoot of a desert Christian sect, and wasn’t recognized as a another religion until much later.
  4. Ignore Them when some Christian approach people of other Faiths, they see right past them and do not acknowledge the religion of the other individual.
  5. Accept their Truth Claim this is idea that all truth claims are equal, and that Christians do not have an exclusive right to truth. This tries to achieve the same affect as the previous point–by simply embracing it, they hope that the truth claims and the “awkwardness” or discomfort that some people feel when approaching other faith traditions will go away.
  6. Dialogue Inter-religious dialogue is the best way to approach various faiths.  We need to learn something from them, but more importantly, they need to learn about Christ. I will maintain that dialogue is only effective if it leads to a clearer view of Christianity. This should lead to conversion, eventually.

Options 1 and 2 are no longer possible. Most Christians today do not have enough training in Theology to perform number 3. Options 4 and 5 are the most popular while 6 is simply hard.

 Ignoring Someone’s Religious Perspective is bad.

In the United States, its conventional to be in a secular mindset when interacting with everyday people. Its encouraged in the workplace, and people feel better knowing that many a hard discussion can be avoided if you never talk about two things, namely Religion and Politics. These things are normally avoided because they speak to the identity of a person religious conviction of individuals defines the person in some cases.  Some may see themselves as an artist, some people might say they are a musician; but if you have ever met someone who primarily identified themselves as a “Child of God” then you have a very special person. Special in that this person acknowledges a relationship with a higher power than themselves. If you are able to return the favor “Wow, so am I! Isn’t our Father Wonderful!” then you have just strengthen the interpersonal bonds between yourself and that individual, and they will never forget you when you two meet again. Religious identification among the religious is the thing that, in the past and in most places of the world, tends to bind people and communities together. 

In secular places, where religious isn’t the glue for the community, you can observe the destruction of the community. In these neighborhoods, you have violence or domestic abuse. You can see it in the abortion rate, you can see it in the family, you can see it in the daily conversation.

When you meet individuals with strong convictions, and you never take the time to find out what those convictions are, then your conversations with that person will be shallow, the great discussions and perspectives on life will be missed, and neither you nor that person will be edified. 

Blind Acceptance

There is then the recent inclination to immediate validate all forms of spiritual expression as a valid religion. For most Christians that do this, this comes an a explicit reaction to the general Christian response to persons of other faiths: That they are going to hell. When they begin to think about the sheer population of non-Christians out there it frightens them that so many people can potentially suffer the fate of an everlasting separation from God. Rather than saying “I’m going to spend my life trying to show the truth of Christ to every single man, woman, boy and girl I meet!” they resort to changing the theology of Christianity to be more inclusive of other faiths.

A Biblical Point of View

Lets look at this from the Bible’s point of view of what it teaches in a nutshell:

God is Good. God is Just. Human beings were good once but became bad. Human beings are so bad, they can’t help themselves! God helps human beings become better. God becomes a real fleshly man, Jesus,  and uplifts mankind because Jesus is 100% God. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross allows the sins of humanity to be taken away and applied to Him.. Mankind can now become right in God’s eyes if they trust accept the righteousness of Christ, of which they did not deserve. (1 John 4:8; Psalm 100:5; Exodus 34: 6,7; Genesis 3; Romans 3:9-20;  John 1:1-3,14; Colossians 1:15-19; John 10:30; Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 5:17-19; Hebrews 2:9-18; 1 Corinthians 15:3,4)

I think anyone would admit that these claim have far reaching consequences if you accept them as true. Much of the New Testament is about defending the very realization of how the first coming of Jesus Christ transformed our way about how we think about God and His nature and work. Any other claim that denies a fundamental part of this, lets say the religion explicitly teaches that Jesus was nothing more than a regular man, maybe even a very special prophet, but surly not a person able to taking on the sins of Humanity. Then the said religion would be incompatible with Christianity. Lets not get side tracked by the argument that they may teach about Love, Justice and Peace (Jesus had some interesting ideas about peace, namely that He did not come to bring that to Earth, but conflict! See Matthew 10:34). These things may be all good but they are distractions. Why? If we have conflicting different standards about what Love is, about what it means to have Justice, then talking about those things won’t matter. If you deny the greatest Love story that I know, Jesus dying for us, then what do you mean by Love?

Every religion and belief system that I can think of acknowledges that there is something wrong with humanity. (well, humanism says everything is all right!) Christianity is the only religion where the solution to this problem does not rest in what you as an individual can do, but about what He has done. Mark Finley says: “Faith is not human being centered, it is God centered. It is never faith in me, it’s always faith in Him. It’s never trust in what I can do, it’s always trust in what He can do. It is never focused on what I want, it’s always focused on what He wants.”

Christianity is by nature, mutually exclusive. Christians should be aware of this, even though we live in a religious pluralism today. Take what Christ said about Himself:

John 14  6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Jesus is claiming that He is the door to God. This is big news! If you have the philosophy that Jesus was “a good person” then if you don’t believe this you have to believe that He was a really big fat liar!

Mark 14: 61,62 But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.   Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”  “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

He also claimed to be the very Son of God. He claimed to also ride on clouds! You should suffer from Cognitive dissonance if you still think that Jesus was a “Good Person” and yet don’t believe in His claims. If you try to deny that He said the above things, then there is no basis for you to affirm other things. You cannot believe Jesus was a good person without believing into Jesus.

It should be clear that a liar on such a scale should not be trusted. If Jesus didn’t mean to say these things, then He was crazy. If you maintain that Jesus was still a nice guy, then you would have to discount the Bible as a big misunderstanding.

But what about those who follow Buddhism and Islam?  This group of people represents nearly half the people of the world, and how they understand Jesus –according to Christianity– will determine their salvation. Get the picture: nothing, nada, no, zero , zip –nothing a person can do can make them closer to God. It is only by transferring the punishment that was yours to Christ, that you may escape the wrath of the Law. You can’t buy this, you can’t work your way up to it, you can’t nice your way into it. It doesn’t matter if you reject God’s son. If you were never given the choice, then that is a subject for a different post.

If you accept Buddhism as a religion, then you basically admit that you don’t need Jesus to be good, that you can do bad all by yourself. This is an affront to Christianity. If you believe in Islam, you believe that you can work your way to God as long as your bad deeds are less than your good ones. Again, this nullifies the sacrifice of Christ. Islam even teaches that there was no sacrifice by Christ that was made.  It also denies the resurrection.

Look at the Qur’an

[4.171] O followers of the Book! do not exceed the limits in your religion, and do not speak (lies) against Allah, but (speak) the truth; the Messiah, Isa son of Marium is only an apostle of Allah and His Word which He communicated to Marium and a spirit from Him; believe therefore in Allah and His apostles, and say not, Three. Desist, it is better for you; Allah is only one God; far be It from His glory that He should have a son, whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His, and Allah is sufficient for a Protector.

[112:2] Allah, the eternally Besought of all! 3 He begets not nor was begotten.
”God forbid that He Himself should beget a son!” [19:29]

Christians say God is Three in One,  Islam says God is One, Hinduism says there are thousands of Gods and Mormons believe that we can become God  ‘As man is, God once was; as God is, man may be.'(LDS Apostle James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith, Ch.24, p.430 – p.431, LDS Collectors Library ’97 CD-ROM) This it should be evident that they are disagreeing about the very character and nature and person of  God!

Objective Morality

If all religion is right then this means that all of them are wrong, and whatever faith someone chooses to believe in (lets say religions that require human sacrifice, or religions which say that homosexuals should be killed on sight) no one could pass any judgement as to if that or any other action would be right or wrong.

But I believe that objective morality do exist. I believe that there is a such thing as right and wrong. And if that is true, then it also exists when we’re looking at anything that claims any truth statement. This leads me to believe that there could be only one way, one truth one right. Everything else is wrong. Wrong may not be the same as sinful, if you’re ignorant. However, I want the truth, and I’m going to do everything I can to arrive at it. Yes, its simpler to say that everyone should go according to their own desires, but I know that I am sinful and am in need of cleansing. Because of that, i’m going to find God’s solution to the problem of sin.

Religion bounds by definition. It is the thing that expresses everyone’s complex relationship with the king of the universe. I don’t believe in a God that isn’t Triune, some people do. Because this is a fundamental difference, we are not talking about the same person. (this is equivalent of saying that two siblings are describing their mom, and one describes her as black and skinny while the other one talks about her as being of Asian decent and obese with green eyes, they clearly are not talking about the same person). To suggest that God creates these different religions to fit various personalities creates confusion at the very least. The Bible suggests that God isn’t one of confusion. Religion is the expression of a person’s relationship with God.

The exclusive claims that Christianity makes is one that is hard for some people to accept these days. We want religious pluralism, but its a logical inconsistency to suggest that multiple statements that are mutually exclusive are all correct. If we try to mix truth with error then we have something that the bible describes as a Babylonian religious system (symbolized by wine).

Close Minded People

My friend then said this:

So I respect ur knowledge but not ur closed mindset. God knows that it takes sum of us to hear the same advice 10 different ways b4 it clicks. Who is to say God didn’t create different religions to appeal to different people?

Close-mindedness is commonly claimed by people who are confronted by people who disagree with their claims. Truly close-minded people would not engage in a discussion. But what is even more important is how my friends’ theology was affected. He claimed that it cannot be claimed that God did not create different religious for various peoples. Without getting into a discussion about the origin of religion, I countered that it would be much more efficient for there to be a group of religions that taught mostly the same thing on the key subjects, than to have various religions that teach and contradict each other. I believe that mankind has misinterpreted much of what God attempts to communicate, and because of selfishness has devised other ways.

Side Note: If you want a good book that will give you and introduction of the various religions of the world see the book God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World–and Why Their Differences Matter by
Stephen Prothero. He breaks each religion down and shows that each religion solves a different problem in its own way.

However, if you find yourself in any of these other belief systems that are opposed to Christianity, the Bible claims:

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:30,31

In closing, the similarities that you might find among the religious systems of the world do not matter if they disagree on the fundamentals; who God is, who we are, and what is the solution to the Human problem. As Christians we have to recognize this. If you believe Christ, you cannot sit buy and not share this knowledge that you have with the persons you love. You don’t love them if you keep them ignorant. Friends don’t let friends commit theological fallacies.

This week  I received a third place prize for an essay competition by the Center for Adventist-Muslim Relations. I received a monetary prize and a plaque. It was judged by Christians and Muslim experts. You can be open minded, but you also have to be grounded. However, don’t become too open minded so that your brains fall out!  If we want to reach souls, we have to know how different people groups think. We have to be dialogue, we have to be respectful, but don’t let this lead to a denial that Jesus Christ is and will always be: the Truth, the life and The Way

Did Jesus Sail Across the Mediterranean?

I was watching History Channel’s H2 this past Easter (April 8, 2012) and they had this series called Secrets of Christianity running all day (how appropriate -_-). Being a Christian, the title caught my attention. The series’ six episodes were aired and repeated later in the afternoon, beginning with Vesuvius and the Fear of God, followed by The Messiah Before Jesus,  and continuing with The Lost Voyage of Jesus, The Roman Army’s Secret Christians, Selling Christianity, and ending with Nails of the Cross. I didn’t watch all of them. I caught half of The Messiah Before Jesus and the whole of The Lost Voyage of Jesus–the episode I will be focusing on.

Secrets of Christianity is a documentary series done by documentary director and producer, Simcha Jacobovici. Jacobovici has a background in philosophy, politics, and journalism. He is most famous for his series The Naked Archeologist.

 

Find out more about Simcha Jacobovici at: <http://www.apltd.ca/pages/people/simcha-jacobovici> and <http://www.hellomagazine.com/profiles/simcha-jacobovici/>

So the premise of the episode The Lost Voyage of Jesus is that Jesus’ journey to the region of the Gadarenes, or Gerasenes, depicted in the Gospels of Mark (4:35-5:20), Luke (8:22-39), and Matthew (8:18-34) did not take place on the Sea of Galilee but on the Mediterranean. He claims that the storm described in this story could not have taken place on the placid waters of Galilee but rather on the Mediterranean Sea, which is known for violent storms. He sites further evidences to prove this claim.

The central point to his argument is that Jesus set out to fulfill “the sign of Jonah.” What Jacobovici believes the sign of Jonah to be is bringing the lost sheep of Israel back to the fold, that is, those tribes that were scattered during exile returning to Jerusalem. He then goes on to say that part of the tribe of Gad had settled in Spain. His reasoning for this is that in the ancient world, there was a region in southern Spain called Tartessos. Situated in the area of Tartessos was a coastal town called Gades/Gadir/Gadira, now modern-day Cadiz. He speculates further that because the town of Gades has Gad in its name, it is evidence that it was inhabited by members of the tribe of Gad. Jacobovici believes Tartessos to be the place referred to in the Book of Jonah as Tarshish.  It is his assertion that Jonah set out to minister to these Gadites in Tartessos before God caught up with him. Since the sign of Jonah is interpreted to mean the reunification of the twelve tribes of Israel, it is essential that Jesus undertake this journey as part of his Messianic duty. From this perspective, Gades, Spain could easily be seen as the land of the Gadarenes that Jesus and his disciples traveled to.

Upon arriving at Cadiz, Spain, Jacobovici examines the coastal landscape and compares it to what is described in the Gospel story.

Mark 5:1-14, from the NIV

1  They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.  2  When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him3  This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain.  4  For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him.  5  Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.  6  When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him.  7  He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!”  8  For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”  9  Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.”  10  And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.  11  A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside.  12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.”  13 He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned14  Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened.

He remarks that  the scenes described in this passage indicate that the tombs were not far from the shore but were actually quite close, and that there were hills among the tombs. The passage explains further that the hills were on the coast and that they were steep. The fact that the pig herders ran to the town to tell the people what had happened and that the people came out to see, suggests that the town was nearby. Jacobovici continues by saying a cemetery with a nearby town means that it was a necropolis, or city for the dead. That there were pigs leads him to believe that this was not a Jewish community but a pagan or Gentile one since contact with pigs is considered a sin in the Torah. He believes the pigs described in the story were used as sacrifices in celebration of the dead. This fact is more evidence for Jacobovici that this event did not take place in the Jewish area of Galilee.

After examining the evidence and the surrounding landscape, Jacobovici concludes that the area matches the description found in the Gospels. Not only are there steep hills along the coast, but there is a fairly large number of tombs with a nearby village where pigs are minded. However, because Jacobovici is using the NIV Bible, he points out a problem in the translation. He says that the word translated as ‘lake’ in the original Greek actually refers to salt water, not fresh water, and should be rendered more accurately as ‘sea’; further evidence to support his claim that the events described took place on the Mediterranean Sea rather than the fresh water lake of Galilee.

Although the area checks out as a possible location for the events found in the Gospels, Jacobovici reexamines the story and suggests that the storm encountered at “sea” forced Jesus and his disciples to dock at the nearest port, which he says would have been on the Balearic Island of Majorca off the eastern coast of Spain. He remarks that this location fits the description found in the Gospels also. Interestingly, there is a group of Spanish Jews that Jacobovici spends some time with on the island who claim they are the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. These supposed descendants of Jesus believe that Jesus was an ordinary man who lived a normal life, died, but was not resurrected. He is regarded as a good teacher, nothing more. There is even site in Majorca under a certain tree where a footprint is preserved that locals regard as the footprint of Jesus. As much effort as Jacobovici puts forth in demolishing accepted biblical interpretations, he spends little time scrutinizing these claims and passively accepts what is being said.

Central to his objective, he sites the passage near the end of the story about the villagers asking Jesus and his disciples to leave.

Mark 5:15-17 , from the NIV

15  When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.  16  Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man– and told about the pigs as well.  17  Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

Jacobovici interprets this to mean that Jesus’ attempt at persuading the Gadarenes to return to Jerusalem was unsuccessful. He then comments that the language used in the Gospel story is obscure and that the exact location of the land of the Gadarenes was meant to be concealed, since it would reveal that Jesus failed at this central task of reuniting the lost tribes of Israel as his role of Messiah. This leads Jacobovici to conclude that Jesus was not a true Messiah.

The thing about this show is Jacobovici knows where he is going and is just stringing the viewer along by using references and facts that support his views, while ignoring or casually brushing aside others that contradict them. The show purports to reveal secrets about Christianity but does more to create a work of fiction similar to Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” By the end of the documentary, it is clear what Jacobovici’s agenda is. That he travels extensively on the show to the places relating to the subject of each episode does make for an interesting watch though.