“Christianity is the only true religion!” For many, that claim rings true, but for others that claim seems pompous and intolerant. The exclusivity of Christianity has been, since its inception, a controversial and often debated topic. In the New Testament, the early Christians waged war with two primary groups. Since Jesus, the Savior of Christianity, was a Jew, much of the early church was comprised of Jews. Because of Jesus’ claims, and ultimately the early church’s claims, you could not simply remain a Jew after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Jesus had changed things. Because of this, Jews were challenged to believe in Jesus and the fulfillment he brought to Judaism.
At the same time, as Christianity grew, its influence spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. The Christian claim, “Christ is Lord,” was in direct contradiction to the claim, “Caesar is Lord.” Not only was Christianity in direct opposition to the Roman Empire but it was also directly opposed to the Greco-Roman Pantheon of gods. In the Greco-Roman world, you would worship a plethora of gods, including the Roman emperor, and therefore to swear only allegiance to Christ was to cut yourself off from the rest of society. Christianity has always been an exclusive religion.
Tolerance & Relativism Today
Today’s world is not unlike the world of the New Testament. Our world, and particularly our Western, American culture, is defined by two words: tolerance and relativism. There is no such thing as absolute truth and one’s personal preference reigns above any collective conviction. In The Reason for God, pastor Tim Keller outlines several responses to religion, including: (1) outlaw religion, (2) condemn religion, and (3) keep religion completely private. Often people argue that all religions basically teach the same thing; however, when someone really begins to compare different religions, they realize they cannot co-exist. They realize that the religions are in direct opposition to one another. Not surprisingly, Christianity is in direct opposition to tolerance and relativism. In John 14:6, Jesus himself says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Have you ever really thought about the claim that all religions are true, or that all religions can co-exist together? While for many those two assertions sound promising, the claims simply do not make sense. For instance, if Christianity holds that Jesus alone is to be worshipped and followed, how could Islam or Hinduism or any other religion be true? The teachings of Christianity compared to any other religion are not the same. Often they are in contradiction. Therefore we cannot be a Christian and still assert that other religions are true. If Christianity is true, then every other religion is false.
Why Christianity Is Exclusive But Christians Are Open
Despite such exclusivity, of all religions, Christianity should be the most open and loving religion. Tim Keller rightly notes, “Why would such an exclusive belief system lead to behavior that so open to others? It was because Christians had within their belief system the strongest possible resource for practicing sacrificial service, generosity, and peace-making. At the very heart of their view of reality was a man who died for his enemies, praying for their forgiveness. Reflection on this could only lead to a radically different way of dealing with those who were different from them. It meant they could not act in violence and oppression toward their opponents.”1 While the truth of Christianity must be exclusive, at the same time Christians must be open, loving, and tolerant of others. As Christians, we can hold to the exclusivity of our faith and at the same time care for and love those we differ with. Throughout history, it has more often than not been because of the acts of Christians rather than their beliefs of Christianity that brought people to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. As we proclaim the exclusivity of Jesus and his Christianity, let us love and care for all people, regardless of our differences.
1Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Riverbed Books, 2008), 21.