Opinions on faith and life

One God Fits All?

2010-09-03

When Jesus said open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest (John 4:35), who’d have thought this could one day apply to the Body of Christ itself? Of all the people on the face of the earth who should know the gospel and be united around our faith, it should be us, yet a large number of Christians don’t seem to know what makes them such. But scripture tells us: There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph. 4:4-6).

But Jesus also had this to say about a past/future congregation: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead (Rev. 3:1), and Paul said in 2 Tim. 3, But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days... having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. This late in the church age, we should hardly be surprised that such conditions exist now. But at the same time, we have to go about the task of spreading the gospel— even if that means witnessing to professing believers as the largest mission field of all.

There are very disturbing teachings coming from Christendom these days. Take this quote from Tony Campolo for example:

When it comes to what is ultimately important, the Muslim community’s sense of commitment to the poor is exactly in tune with where Jesus is in the 25th chapter of Matthew. That is the description of judgment day. And if that is the description of judgment day what can I say to an Islamic brother who has fed the hungry, and clothed the naked? You say, But he hasn’t a personal relationship with Christ. I would argue with that. And I would say from a Christian perspective, in as much as you did it to the least of these you did it unto Christ. You did have a personal relationship with Christ, you just didn’t know it. And Jesus himself says: On that day there will be many people who will say, when did we have this wonderful relationship with you, we don’t even know who you are. . . Well, you didn’t know it was me, but when you did it to the least of these it was doing it to me. (emphasis mine) — (source)
A slight variant of this teaching is that since there is only one God, then every god is that one God. But aside from the fact that Campolo ripped Jesus’ words completely out of its context of judging how people treated Tribulation believers, esp. Jews (or we’d have to say that salvation is not by faith but by good deeds alone), his reasoning is absurd. Can I say that I’m really married to Johnny Depp but just don’t know it?* Can someone who worships a tree or a rock be worshiping the one true God and not know it? Can you visit me at my house but say you really went to England to visit the queen? Jesus wasn’t saying that all worship of any god or thing is really worship of God; that is nothing but scripture-twisting. He was simply saying that how people of that time treat His followers shows their attitude toward Him.

Such wild interpretations can only be sustained by ignoring the many scriptures that teach against them and show that salvation must be by faith in the Jesus who died for our sins and rose from the dead, and that He is the God not of every religion but of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob— which unmistakably distinguishes Him from even the so-called god of Islam, for not all of Abraham’s descendants are children of promise (Rom. 9:6-8). And even the Jews of the first century had to accept the crucified and risen Jesus as Messiah (Acts 2:38), for no one can have the Father without the Son (1 John 2:22-23, 5:10-12).

If everyone who worships something is really worshiping the one true God, then of what purpose is the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20)? And what sense can we make of the words of Paul in Rom. 10:9-15?

If you declare with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!

If in fact people can be saved by sincerely practicing their own religion, then it would be better to never send out missionaries to them! But the predictable objection is raised, Then what about those who aren’t told? There are several ways to answer this, but I think it really boils down to whether or not we trust God to be just and fair and merciful, that all who sincerely seek Him (Acts 17:27, Hebrews 11:6) will be told the gospel. The God who knows the number of hairs on your head and sees when a sparrow falls to the ground (Luke 12:5-7) cannot send someone to hell on a technicality. And no, rejecting the gospel one hears is not a technicality (or cold doctrine), but rebellion.

That reference in Acts 17 is very applicable on another level as well. Look at vs. 16 through 31 and note especially the last two verses:

In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.
In the past God overlooked people worshiping God in ignorance, but now He does not. In fact, He COMMANDS all people everywhere to repent. And of course, the Greek word repent doesn’t tell us what is to be repented of, but only the context. And what is the context? Ignorance of the one true God. Certainly, Paul was using the unknown God inscription as a hook or way of introduction, and not validating their worship as having merit before God. But even if some take it that way, it seems obvious from the command to repent part that this age in history is one where worshiping in ignorance just doesn’t count.

God has stated clearly that He will not share his glory with another (Isaiah 42:8, 48:11), that He is a jealous God (Ex. 20:5, 34:14, Deut. 32:16 etc.), and that there is no name besides the Jesus who rose from the dead by which anyone can be saved (Acts 4:10-12). If there were no other gods, then God Himself spoke nonsense in the very first of the Ten Commandments! Worshiping anything or anyone but the God who sent Jesus His Son to die for our sins and rise again is worshiping an idol, and those who do not know God by name/identity are lost. That’s scripture. That’s the gospel.


* To my husband John: you know I’m being facetious. :-D

11 Comments

Joe Blackmon

What sickens me is people like those on SBC Voices that say "Salvation is exclusively through Christ" and then in the next breath say "Those saved by Christ will know that He saved them" leaving open the idea that they may now be saved and not know it. Makes me want to take one of those Nerf swords, which are uber cool by the way, and wack them upside the head.

Paula Fether

Yep. And unlike their Bible, ours says "they will look on Him who they pierced and MOURN", and "Hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!" Or as James says, "even the demons believe in God and shudder". So knowing who God is and being reconciled with Him through the blood of Jesus by faith in His death and resurrection are two very different things.

Paula Fether

PS: Did you notice that a certain perpetual victim is over there taunting someone to invite me back? Tells anyone with half a brain who the real antagonist was.

Lydia

"Can I say that I’m really married to Johnny Depp but just don’t know it?"*

Excellent and funny analogy.

“Then what about those who aren’t told?” There are several ways to answer this, but I think it really boils down to whether or not we trust God to be just and fair and merciful, that all who sincerely seek Him (Acts 17:27, Hebrews 11:6) will be told the gospel"

Lydia and Cornelius are both excellent examples of those seeking the One True God who are sent messengers.

Lydia

"Or as James says, “even the demons believe in God and shudder”. So knowing who God is and being reconciled with Him through the blood of Jesus by faith in His death and resurrection are two very different things."

Exactly! Oh... that those who claim Him would understand this and quit trying to water down what is salvation!

Paula Fether

Yes, we have plenty of examples in scripture of God reaching out to any who seek Him. I don’t know why this is so hard for so many.

Deb Hurn

Paula, if you get time, you might want to re-examine the doctrine of hell. It really is a cruel notion, damages our view of the character of God (what kind of God would send the unenlightened to eternal suffering?), and is only inferred from a few poetic or prophetic bible images.

Paula Fether

Hi Deb, here are some passages to consider:

Matthew 25:41,46 Revelation 20:15 Luke 16:22-24, 31 (Note that Jesus is not giving a parable here; he never named names in parables.) John 3:36 Romans 2:6-8 Hebrews 6:1-2 Jude 1:7

I look at it this way: God lets us choose whether or not to be reconciled to Him, and there must be some eternal place for those who reject Him. So He had to make a place of "not God", a place where there is nothing that comes from God. Such a place would necessarily be devoid of all good, since all that is good comes from God. This is not cruel but just.

Another thing to consider is that God isn’t asking us for much, but only to trust Him and the desire to be reconciled with Him. All we need is faith.

Lydia

I think we should also consider how we respond to a unjust judge on earth.

God is perfect justice. What would be cruel is if He wasn’t. He has already sacrificed Himself, was horribly punished for OUR sin even though innocent. That is Grace.

If there is no Justice there would be no reason for the Cross.

Deb Hurn

The eternal place for those who reject him is the same as the eternal place for those who never hear of him :-( Oblivion. That’s ’not God’ and ’no good’ too, and a kinder view. Eternity is a long time to suffer. No-one deserves that, not even the greatest sinner. Even earthly judges don’t give this kind of sentence. And especially not to the ignorant. Oblivion is sad enough.

Thanks for the quotes... I know what some of them are, need to look up the others. I could provide quotes and a biblical case, forgive me for not taking the time. I know you are as committed to your view as I to mine. Just throwing in the seed.

Paula Fether

God is not willing that any should perish, scripture tells us. So if anyone goes to hell it will not be God’s fault. He will see to it that anyone who seeks Him finds Him, as Jesus told us. So those who never heard never sought. This being the case, there is no need for oblivion. This is in line with both the love of God and the holiness of God, and demonstrates perfect fairness and kindness, since no one goes to hell except by choice.

I think you operate from a flawed premise, and pray that you will come to understand that God would be most unjust to either destroy those who reject Him or force them to spend eternity with Him. After all, the suffering and testing of all who accepted Jesus would have been wasted otherwise.