Friday, June 26, 2009

Is Salvation Exclusive?

I would like to take this time to discuss salvation, which is the essence of the Christian faith. Truth be told, it is the essence of ancient and modern religions alike. Salvation, the act of redeeming mankind from their sins, is why Jesus Christ came to this world to begin with. There is a great gulf between the world's religions and fundamental Christianity (I use the word "fundamental" because much that was Christianity has drifted into a liberalism that has defiled and corrupted Christ's teachings).
I know the popular and catchy mantra of the day "co-exist" is everywhere, and highly endorsed. I have seen it at work and abroad, and its inclusive feel sounds very loving and sensitive. All the world's religions should set aside their differences and get along, essentially. Allow me the pleasure of asking, has anyone who promotes this mantra dug into the nature of said opposing religions to see what lay at their core? Co-exist is casually tossed out at the population as if religion (man's effort to find and know God's will) were a minor problem, a speed bump on the way to global peace. Yet man has been a deeply devout and religious creature for thousands of years, and that is not going to change. There is something ingrained in humanity, that compels us to worship; it's what we are built for, whether we worship God, nature, the universe, ourselves, etc. At the very core of this problem lies a kernel of truth: man recognizes that there is a God, and seeks to establish a relationship with Him. Every civilization has their religion, for good or ill, and all such religious activity must have begun at a common source.

It is silly to consider that at some time in our distant past our ancestors huddled about and took counsel with one another, saying, "I think we should invent a Being named God, who we'll pretend governs the universe, so we don't have to bother explaining anything." A reasonable counter-argument to this theory is that there is a God, and all mankind once knew Him. No one in the beginning of creation was an atheist. As centuries elapsed, and man desired his own will, he supplanted God in his heart with idols in the form of men, beasts, and nature, Romans 1:23, 25. "Co-exist" walks hand in hand with "all roads lead to the same place." They have to be a conjoined idea; "all roads lead to the same place" is the soothing balm that numbs the conscience of the person who thinks their particular denomination/religion is the only way, or best way. Now there are 57 varieties of salvation to choose from, and the Buddhist can say with the Judaist or Muslim, "co-exist," because your way works for you, and mine works for me! Some would call this 'pragmatism 101.' In fact, religion in this regard would be utterly undone, because even atheists and agnostics must be on that broad road, all inclusive, since it appears to devour everyone on the planet. Is this God's doing, to leave fragments of His truth in every religion across the face of the planet, and then be disinterested in which we choose to follow, if we elect to follow any? Only Christ has died and returned from death to show that His way "works," to coin the phrase. It is about truth, not popular opinion; truth is a rare commodity that ought to be valued, especially in our age when peace-at-all-costs seeks to erode any measure of what is right, replacing it with what "works" to keep a temporal peace.

This argument falls apart for a number of reasons. First of all, a fundamental rule of logic counters this poorly constructed ecumenical band-aid: The law of non-contradiction. It states that two contradictory statements cannot both be true. If this holds fast in the world of logic, and is essential in daily functions (we put this simple rule to use more times during the day than most realize), why should it not enter the realm of religion? Consider several: Roman Catholicism states that sacraments, prayers to Mary, and one's own suffering (including Purgatory) gain one entrance to Heaven; provided that you remain within the pail of the Roman Catholic Church. Islam teaches loyalty to Allah, who rewards only good men who are unswervingly faithful, and a chief teaching within the Koran (Islam's religious book) is that Islam can be spread by the power of the sword. Judaism is keen on Mosaic law keeping, including circumcision. In essence, he who keeps the law will be saved. Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ saves you when one places their faith in Him alone as Savior. Three of them teach various works; one teaches God's grace and no works. None agree. I did not even mention Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Parsees, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, even secular humanism or goddess worship.

Here are a bevy of highly contradictory claims, many of them boasting exclusive ways to Heaven or enlightenment. Can we even begin to grasp the gross error of simply saying "co-exist?" Simple logic forbids a rational mind from saying all of these are true. Would God be so perverse as to smuggle snippets and snatches of salvation into every known religion? Who would ever know God, have the proper answers to eternity, or the criteria for salvation?

The second problem is this: Jesus Christ claimed to be the only way to God. In John 14:6 He stated without reservation or apology that He was the only way, truth and life there was in the world. He went so far as to accuse every other religious leader teaching something contrary to His revealed truth of being a thief and a robber, John 10:8. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained, "Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow (difficult or confined) is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it," Matthew 7:13-14. To define His meaning beyond all doubt, in John's gospel we find Jesus saying, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep," John 10:7 He also declares, "I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins," John 8:24. Here was a Man who apparently did not agree with our presently popular mantra. In fact, He said this sort of lukewarm sentimentality was the broad road which would lead one not to Heaven, but destruction. Jesus does not want that any should perish, which is why He died for the sins of the world. But one must accept His gift of salvation, or it does us no good. What good is food to a starving man if he never eats it?

Solomon, writing about one thousand years before Christ, said, "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man; but the end thereof are the ways of death," Proverbs 14:12, 16:25. It is an important truth God the Holy Spirit wishes to impress upon us if He deems fit to have this morsel be fed to us twice. Consider again this ecumenical movement that would slowly amalgamate all religions into some universal quilt. Solomon, and Jesus Christ after him, both warned that man's wisdom unchecked and unrestrained by God, will lead us eventually to our own destruction. Solomon was wise, and warned us that there is only one right path, known by God alone. Does God horde the secret of salvation? God forbid! Jesus Christ is the living revelation of God's salvation for mankind; that was His ultimate purpose for His first advent. Jesus clarified the narrow path Solomon hinted at: Himself. Jesus was born into this world to save us from our sins, Matthew 1:21. How did He accomplish this? "As many as received Him (Jesus), to them gave He power (or authority) to become sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God," John 1:12-13.

The Bible declares man to be dead in sins and trespasses, Ephesians 2:1. This statement alone places the Bible at odds with all other religions. A dead man can't work for salvation; a dead man can't do anything. First God must grant one life, and by this miraculous infusion of spiritual life, we are born again as children of God. We have passed from death unto life, and have eternal salvation. Work is no longer needed, because we are already saved the instant God quickens us to life. Isaiah writes, "We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags," Isaiah 64:6. Mankind is spiritually dead, endeavoring to offer up to God their defiled works as payment to Him. This is how God views unsaved man.

So here is the impasse: Christianity does not fit the mold of "co-exist" and "all roads lead to God". Christ claimed to be the exclusive way, and no man would get into Heaven outside of Him. Either Christianity is indeed God's revealed word to mankind, written in the Bible, and the world's religions are counterfeits, fashioned in one form or another to appear at first glance to be genuine; or Christianity must be a fraud because of Jesus' dominant and clear claim of exclusivity. All roads can't lead to God if this particular book (the Bible) teaches there is only one single approach. Why would God lie in the Bible, and so confuse mankind? And if He lied there, then where do the lies cease, and how does one separate lies from truth? Any hope of knowing God fades into hopeless obscurity, because such a Being would be untrustworthy, who vacillates in His word, and contradicts Himself so often as to be the height of embarrassment. Or...regardless of how aggravated we become about being "limited" in our spiritual choices, there may logically be only one way. Would that not simplify matters, and ensure that when you found the truth, it would be whole, unblemished, and capable of being understood? God once stated, "Come now and let us reason together," Isaiah 1:18. Paul writes, "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints," 1st Corinthians 14:33.

Lastly I pose this: whose Heaven are we trying by force to enter? Surely we must acknowledge that if there is a Heaven, then God built it, and not us. Would He not know the way there better than we, and provide a clear explanation for mankind how to arrive at this coveted destination? The Bible is a road map to Heaven; Jesus Christ is the starting point, route, and destination. He is the author (originator) and finisher of our faith, Hebrews 12:2. Why dictate to God how we come to His Heaven? You can't reach someplace unless you are given directions, and this knowledge always comes from without, we don't inherently know how to go somewhere. We are always informed: we do not and can not make it up, or we would never arrive at our intended destination. If this applies here on earth, how much more so for Heavenly matters? Is man so filled with pride that we invent our salvation, tailored to our tastes, and then thrust our ignorant demands on an omnipotent, omniscient Creator? Again, Jesus has come from Heaven to reveal God's salvation to us; had He not done so, we would die in our sins, because natural man cannot know the things of God by his intellectual power, 1st Corinthians 2:14.

If you wanted to enter my house, and I told you to come in through the door, would you try to barge in through the wall? I offered the invitation to enter through the door, but if you insisted all paths led into my living room, and continued to smash into the wall I would call 911, and you would be hauled off to the local hospital to have your mental stability examined. The invitation is similar with our Lord, who stands and calls for anyone with wisdom to hear Him, and come inside. Soon, as in the parable of the ten virgins, you may be standing outside, shouting, Lord, open to us! But you will receive the same terrible reply, "Verily, I say unto you, I know you not," Matthew 25:12.

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