It’s a popular bumper sticker.
It contains only one word “Co-exist.”
In large artistic lettering various symbols of the world’s great religion are all unified in an appealing call for informed tolerance and global religious harmony. The implicit message of this one word bumper sticker sermon is “Let’s all just get along because we all worship the same God.”
Who can argue with that?
While people of good-will and normal civility all should agree with the principle of religious tolerance and the practice of peaceful religious co-existence, must we embrace as well the subliminal doctrinal tenet that all religions are equal? That all religions essentially teach the same truth? That differing faiths are simply variant expressions of the same core cosmic Force we call sometimes call God?
To answer that question we as Christ followers we must first ask another question, “Is this what Jesus believed?” Did He teach that all roads lead to heaven? Did he preach the differing names for God were only a matter of semantics not substance?
If so then we as Christ-followers need to embrace and celebrate the powerful syncretistic impulses of our time. We should do on a theological level what Europe has done on a political level: erase all our borders and announce we are all now members of one Union
But what if Jesus did not believe nor teach that we all worship the same God? What if He openly refuted the idea that all religions are the same? What if He warned that a different eternal destiny awaits those who believe anything they want to believe?
Well if Jesus rejected such ideas, then we as His followers must as well.
Regardless of how unpopular it may make us in the media, how sectarian and narrow-minded we may appear to the cultural elite, and how uncomfortable we may make politicians and theologians with a progressive agenda to drive, we must courageously resist and lovingly deny the mistaken notion that all roads lead to the same Paradise.
While such an important question is certainly deserving of a longer and more in-depth analysis of the teachings of Christ, let’s examine some of His more significant statements on the subject. We shall do our best to present them in context as well as from recognized and reliable translations of the Scripture.
Let’s start with what Jesus believed as a young child of twelve years old.
He was taken by his parent to Jerusalem for an annual religious celebration. However on the journey back to Nazareth they discover their son is missing. That begins a frantic search that lasts three days. Finally they discover Jesus in the great Temple discussing, of all things, theology, Scripture and issues of faith with religious leaders, “Why are you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house (or about my Father’s business)?” (Luke 2:49)
Even as a child Jesus claims that He has a special relationship with the Father. He calls the Temple in Jerusalem “My Father’s house…” From that point onward He would never refer to any other place, structure, or building in such a unique and exclusive way.
Though the ancient world of His day abounded with other faiths, places to worship, and different deities such as the pantheon of gods the Greeks worshiped, the warring divines of the Romans, the Temple of Diana in Ephesus, the pyramids in Egypt the exalted Ra the Sun god, the mystery religion of Isis and Osiris, Jesus ignored them all. His focus was exclusively on His Father’s House in Jerusalem and the only Father He worshiped was found only in the pages of the Law and the Prophets.
As Jesus grew up He didn’t change His mind (though He said the day was coming when true believers would no longer worship the Father in Jerusalem alone but in spirit and in truth with Jesus as Messiah).
Did Jesus believe and teach we all worship the same God? Consider these statements made by Jesus during His three years of ministry:
“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:27)
“6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14: 6-7)
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me….44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.” John 8: 42-44
What do we learn from just these three samples of the teaching of Christ?
- No one can know the true and living God except through Jesus Christ.
- No one is accepted by the Father except through Jesus Christ.
- No one can love the Father except if they first love Jesus Christ.
If all religions are equal in their expression of eternal truth, if all faiths ultimately drive us to the same God, if all doctrines ultimately support one cosmic expression of faith, then why did Jesus so vigorously disagree? Moreover, why did He ultimately offer His life as an atonement for sin if all other religions offer the same forgiveness and pardon albeit by a different method? If that’s true it would seem that the death of Jesus Christ was perhaps history’s most terrible and unnecessary waste of a life.
What did Jesus teach about the after-life? Did he believe we all will find ourselves in the same place regardless of the name we use for God or our understanding about the nature of salvation?
Unfortunately for our age, the message Jesus offers is far from reassuring universalism:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
“41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Matthew 25: 31-34; 41.
Obviously, if popular thinking argues all roads lead to Paradise, Jesus suggest when He returns there are going to be some significant eternal detours.
While we need not denigrate anyone else’s religion for its apparent sincerity, moral virtues or desire for truth, if we are to follow Jesus Christ we must be intellectually honest and straightforward about what He teaches. Jesus taught that He and He alone on earth was the co-equal member of the Trinity: Father Son, and Holy Spirit. He taught that He alone knows the Father is the only One qualified to reveal Him to us. He taught that at the end of the age He will separate the nations and peoples and only those who worship Him as Savior and Lord will enter the Kingdom of heaven.
There is much more than could be said on the topic.
But, just as driving west will not take you east, nor flying north will take you south, so will believing any religion you prefer ultimately bring you into a saving and eternal relationship with the God of Gods and Lord of Lords.
Only when we place our faith in Jesus Christ alone for His atoning sacrifice and glorious resurrection, will we come to know and enjoy an eternal relationship with the One true God and Father.
We live in a time where Christians face the intimidating pressures of political correctness, or the seemingly irenic call for theological unity to help end religious strife, or the seductive invitation to become a selfless citizen of the world committed to global religious harmony.
But, we must do what Christians in every generation have been called to do – follow Jesus Christ. That is the one road, indeed the only road that will ultimately will lead us to heaven.
by Bob Moeller