May 7, 2000
EVERYBODY OUGHT TO KNOW
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:18-19
Shame, shame, shame on those rude Southern Baptists! Baptist leaders have been encouraging people in their congregations to pray for, and to share Christ with, atheists, agnostics, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and people of every background. They want everyone to know Jesus, and they’ve caused quite a stir.
Some leaders of Jewish organizations became upset. The national director of the Anti-Defamation League accused the Southern Baptists of projecting “a spiritual narrowness that invites theological hatred.” He said, “It is pure arrogance for any religion to assume that they hold ‘the truth.'” Even harsher reactions were expressed by other Jewish leaders who accused the Baptists of “spiritual intolerance,” “spiritual annihilation,” and “theological genocide.” The Baptists would have to be pretty bad to be compared to mass murderers.
Hindus objected to Baptist efforts. The president of the World Hindu Federation said the Baptist mission “is nothing but to misguide the people. They are claiming that they can give salvation to the sinners. It is nothing but a farce.” Another Hindu leader complained, “Those who believe in one god, one book and one messenger, they talk of conversion. Hindus have many gods and many messengers, and we do not believe in conversion.” A spokesman for India’s governing party thundered, “The missionary approach to Hindus and Hinduism has always been illiterate and offensive… Is it not an insult to India to tell Hindus that they are all sinners and that only Jesus can save them?”
Some government officials also got involved. Jim McDermott, a U.S. Congressman sided with the Hindus and against the Baptists. In a letter to all of his fellow members of the House of Representatives, McDermott charged Southern Baptists with “an aggressive, intolerant approach” which “has inflamed Hindu communities worldwide.” McDermott’s letter, sent on official congressional stationery, called on fellow House members to urge Southern Baptists to “end your conversion campaign directed to members of the Hindu faith.” Six other members of Congress joined McDermott in sending a letter to the Southern Baptist leadership.
The Baptists wouldn’t budge, saying that “the attempt to use any governmental office to pressure Christians to change their doctrines or practices is improper and reprehensible.” They reaffirmed the necessity of taking the gospel “to every person, of every ethnic background, in every place in the earth.” The Baptists then told the congressmen, “Your letter presents us with a real dilemma. Do we attempt to obey God, or do we take our signals from some Hindu spokesmen … or from persons such as you who counsel ‘a more tolerant and enlightened’ approach?”
Eventually, the White House entered the fray. President Clinton and Vice President Gore are Southern Baptist themselves but are at odds with their own church leaders. When the official White House spokesman was asked about the campaign to pray for and share the Gospel with Hindus, Jews and Muslims, he responded, “I think the president has made very clear … his views on religious tolerance… I think he’s been very clear in his opposition to whatever organization, including the Southern Baptist, that perpetuate ancient religious hatred.” A Baptist official responded that “obedience to one’s faith by witnessing to those of other faiths” is not an act of intolerance or hatred, and that the White House was wrong to imply that it was.
Baptist mission plans have even roused opposition from other churches. The Southern Baptist Convention plans a campaign this summer in the Chicago area, where I live. The Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago released a letter, saying, “While we are confident that your volunteers would come with entirely peaceful intentions, a campaign of the nature and scope you envision could contribute to a climate conducive to hate crimes.” The Council urged Baptist leaders not to tell Chicagoans about Jesus and instead to focus on “service projects, such as food delivery to the homeless and building or rehabilitating affordable housing.” Baptist leaders responded, “We will indeed provide for those in physical need, but we will also point people to the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.”
Shame on the Southern Baptists! How dare they act as though the church is more than a social service agency? How dare they do anything that offends others? How dare they talk as though the Bible is really true? How dare they insist that Christ is too good to keep to themselves? What will those fanatics do next?
Commissioned by Christ
Actually, I think the Baptists are on the right track, despite the shrill objections of their critics. Everybody ought to know about Jesus. Christians ought to share the Bible’s message with people who haven’t yet heard it. People of every background should have an opportunity to follow Christ. The gospel must be spread without force or violence, but it must be spread. The gospel must be shared in a way that respects the dignity and intelligence of others, but it must be shared. If Christians decide not to urge non-Christians to trust in Jesus, they violate their own faith and disobey their Lord.
Other churches, rather than criticizing the Baptists, ought to redouble their own efforts to lead people to Christ. Political leaders, rather than denouncing peaceful mission efforts, should stand against the persecution Christians face in many places. And followers of other religions, rather than saying it’s arrogant of Christians to proclaim salvation in Jesus alone, should focus less on their feelings toward Christians and focus more on finding out whether they might actually be telling the truth.
When Baptists prayed for the salvation of Hindus during Divali (a festival dedicated to Laksmi, goddess of prosperity and goodness) an American Hindu leader said the Baptist attitude was “not only absurd but also ignorant. I don’t think Jesus himself would have said not to respect other religions.”
But why speculate about what Jesus “would have said”? Why not listen to what he actually did say? Jesus said “whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And what about those who believe in something else and not in Jesus? “Whoever does not believe stands condemned already,” said Jesus, “because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18).
Jesus encourages respect for all people and a desire for their well-being, but he does not encourage respect for all gods or say that all religions help people’s eternal well-being. “Eternal life,” said Jesus, “is to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ” (John 17:3). There are no gods or goddesses besides the only true God, and there is no eternal life without Jesus.
So it’s not merely an option for Christians to tell others about Jesus; it’s an obligation. People’s need for a Savior demands it, and Christ himself commands it. After Jesus died and then rose from the dead, he told his followers:
“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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
These words of Jesus are called the Great Commission. Jesus the Messiah has ordered his followers to bring his gospel to everyone in the world, starting with the Messiah’s own people of Israel and reaching out to the ends of the earth. It is not arrogance toward others but obedience to Jesus which moves his followers to keep calling Jewish people and everyone else to faith in Christ.
Some people find it offensive to be told to believe in Jesus for their salvation, but that’s nothing new. From the very beginning, there has been opposition to the gospel message. When Jesus’ early followers, who were Jewish, told their fellow Jews that Jesus was the Messiah who died for the sins of the world and rose from the dead to bring eternal life to those who believe in him, some leaders got angry and
commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:18-20
The apostles were beaten and thrown into jail, but the moment they got out, they picked up where they had left off, urging people to trust in Jesus. This made the hostile authorities even angrier. They brought the apostles in and angrily reminded them, “We gave you strict orders not to teach” (Acts 5:28). The apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29) They couldn’t forget their Lord’s Great Commission. They had to do what God said, even if some people were offended and wanted them to be quiet.
When I urge people who don’t follow Jesus to believe in him, it’s not because I think I’m wiser or better than others. It’s because Jesus is wiser and better. If I kept my mouth shut about Jesus to avoid offending anyone, I would be offending Jesus himself. If I said that every religious system is as true and helpful as faith in Jesus, I would be calling Jesus himself a liar. Jesus did not say that every religion works equally well. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
What Is Tolerance?
Jesus has plainly said that he is the ultimate truth, the only way to God. There is no other. Some object to this and say that it’s intolerant to believe in Christ as the only way. But what is tolerance? Does tolerance mean we assume that everyone is equally right? No, in that case, there would be no need for tolerance. Tolerance is not the notion that all views are on the right track; tolerance is putting up with people even when we are convinced that they are on the wrong track. There is no need for tolerance except when there is sharp disagreement on important matters. In such cases, tolerance means that although we are convinced other people are badly mistaken about something, we try to persuade them in a kind and respectful manner, rather than forcing them to change or killing them if they refuse to change.
For example, if you are a heterosexual person, you may think you’re tolerant if you believe that homosexual activity is just as normal and moral as the union of a man and a woman. But you’re not tolerating homosexual behavior; you’re approving and endorsing it. If, on the other hand, you believe homosexual behavior is a disordered and sinful expression of sexuality, but you still love persons who engage in such behavior and show kindness to them, then you being tolerant.
If you try peacefully to persuade people to change their minds and their conduct, you may sometimes be accused of “hate speech.” But is that because you hate them, or because they hate and resent you? What if you consider adultery and swearing to be wrong? Does that mean you are intolerant and hate all foul-mouthed adulterers? No, you may tolerate them and even love them very much. Indeed, the more you love them, the more you will want them to change for the better, and the more earnestly you will pray for them and try to persuade them.
Tolerance is not approval or agreement; tolerance is gentleness and respect in spite of disagreement. Religious tolerance is not the notion that all religions are true and lead to God; religious tolerance is recognizing the differences among religions and at the same time loving those who differ from us. There is nothing intolerant about praying for other people and trying to persuade them to choose a better path. Indeed, a hallmark of true tolerance is that people of different religions can speak freely to one another about what they believe.
Christians who try to persuade others to follow Jesus are accused of intolerance, but how tolerant are people who tell followers of Jesus to shut their mouths about him? David Frawley, a Hindu also known as Vamadeva Shastri, says, “In the modern world we must recognize a pluralism not only of races and cultures but also of religion, which means that Christianity is not the only way. Such religious hate statements should no longer be tolerated and the organizations promoting them should be challenged.” Without asking whether it’s true that Christ is the only way, he simply dismisses the claims of Christ as “religious hate statements.” This would-be champion of tolerance insists that Christian efforts to share their faith with others “should no longer be tolerated.” He is so tolerant that he’s intolerant!
Are We God?
Hinduism has a shloka, a motto, which many find appealing: “That which exists is One, sages call It by various names.” In other words, different religions are simply different ways of talking about the same thing. A Hindu writer says that “each person has a unique way towards salvation, which is best suited for him/her. To be able to do this, each person has to generate his own spiritual experience… Tolerance means that while one has chosen a path for oneself, one accepts that another may chose a different path, and that eventually both will meet at the same place in salvation.”
Now, if that were true, there would be little point in trying to persuade anyone to follow the way of Christ. Hindu David Frawley complains that in Christianity,
There is only one God, one book, one saviour, one final prophet and so on. Most Christian missionaries try to get people to accept Christ as their personal saviour and Christianity in one form or another as the true faith for all humanity.
A religion that is pluralistic in nature like the Hindu cannot have such a conversion-based ideology. Hindus accept that there are many paths, so naturally they will not feel compelled to get everyone to abandon their own path and follow the Hindu path instead. In fact there is no one Hindu path but rather a variety of paths, with new paths coming into being every day.
Conversion is a sin against the Divine in man… As we move into a global age, let us set this messy business of conversion behind, along with the other superstitions of the Dark Ages.
We are all God. There is only one Self in all creatures. Who is there to convert and what could anyone be converted from? The soul is Divine… The soul cannot be saved. It is beyond gain and loss.
It sounds nice to say all religions are true, but in the same breath, Christianity is declared to be false. Christian teachings that all people should believe one Bible and one Savior are called “superstitions of the Dark Ages.” In the Bible the Lord says, “You shall have no other gods before me,” but Hindus flatly deny this. They honor various gods and goddesses and even say, “We are all God.” No wonder a Hindu spokesman called it “an insult … to tell Hindus that they are all sinners and that only Jesus can save them?” If all of us are God, who needs a Savior?
But we’re not God; we’re human sinners. There are not many gods and goddesses worthy of our worship; there is one God. There are not many paths to God; there is one, and his name is Jesus. True religion is not a matter of “generating your own spiritual experience.” It is a matter of God revealing himself to you through his Word.
Does it sound narrow-minded and arrogant for me to say this? Well, would you call it narrow-minded and arrogant to believe that the earth is round and to say that the flat-earth society is wrong? It’s just the truth. Likewise, it’s not narrow-minded or arrogant to say that Jesus is the way to God and other religions aren’t; it’s the truth. Some non-Christians claim to be open-minded toward other religions, but how open-minded are they if they don’t want the Christian message to reach the ears of non-Christians? Christians are accused of arrogance for saying Jesus is the only way to God, but Jesus himself said that. Which is more arrogant: to believe Jesus or to believe those who deny Jesus is the only way and thus make Jesus out to be a liar? Nothing is more arrogant than calling the Son of God a liar.
Taking the Lord Seriously
People have a tendency to dream up their own ideas and to invent their own brand of religion. In Ezekiel 8 the Bible describes a time when the Lord’s people weren’t satisfied with the one true God. They thought nature worship, various images, or supernatural occult powers might be more useful. Meanwhile, the priests and religious leaders who were supposed to serve the Lord decided to go with the flow. They crammed the Lord’s temple with images and symbols honoring many different gods. These leaders appeared to be tolerant and inclusive, but what was the real reason they felt free to mix many religions in one pot? They didn’t take the Lord seriously. God told the prophet Ezekiel that deep in their hearts these leaders were telling themselves, “The Lord does not see us” (Ezekiel 8:12). They thought the Lord Almighty was out of the picture. That’s why they felt free to put all sorts of different religions into the Lord’s temple.
Something similar happens among some church leaders today who pride themselves on open-mindedness. When leaders claim that any religion is as true as any other, when they want to blend various religions together, when they want to prevent Christians from persuading people of other religions to follow Jesus, they show that they don’t take the God of the Bible seriously. They don’t believe that eternal life comes only through Jesus’ death and resurrection. They say all roads lead to God, but how would they know? They don’t know God themselves. They don’t recognize the light of God’s glory in the face of Jesus. They are following their own fantasies. They are willing to endorse almost any religious claim except the claim of Jesus himself: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
If you think all religions work equally well, you are not thinking like a Christian. You are thinking like a Hindu or a humanist. Hindu doctrine teaches that all religions are true because everything is ultimately God, including you. Humanist doctrine teaches that all religions may be “true” as useful myths only because all religions are false as fact. There is no God, say the humanists, but they grant that religious stories and rituals may help and encourage some people. If you believe that there is no God, like an atheistic humanist, or that everything is God, like a pantheistic Hindu, you can claim that all religions belong on the same level. But if the God of the Bible is real, and if Jesus really died to pay for the sins of the world and then rose from the dead, then you must believe it and do all you can to persuade others to believe it.
Introducing people to Jesus as the only one who can save them is not “hate speech.” It is the most loving thing a Christian can do for any other person. It is also the only obedient response to the command of Jesus himself. So if you are not yet a follower of Jesus, please don’t expect those of us who know the Lord to be quiet about him.
If you are a follower of Jesus, please realize that everybody ought to know what you know. Be ready to tell others, and do it in a way that shows the love and truthfulness of Jesus. The Bible says, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their conduct” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
People cannot be won to Christ by bullying or cruelty or political power. As the great missionary Paul wrote in the Bible, “We do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). Rather, we spread the gospel “in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God, with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and the left” (2 Corinthians 6:6-7). Let all who follow Christ cast aside any unrighteous weapons and use only the weapons of mercy and truth. At the same time, let all who follow Christ cast aside cowardice, not fearing the jeers and complaints of those who try to shame us into silence. All authority belongs to Jesus, and his command is clear. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.