Why Should Christianity Be Accepted As The Only Way To God?
Just before Easter Sunday, I had the opportunity to share with a lady who claimed to have had a profound religious experience. She was once a Christian, but this other incident had totally transformed her life. She did not clearly state what her religious experience entailed, but it resulted in a firm belief that her personal encounter with deity was a genuine revelation. Moreover, she was convinced that Jesus was just a man who achieved “Christhood” through His own spiritual enlightenment (in a way, I suppose, similar to her own), and that Satan was a myth. She considered Jesus one of many prophets and the Bible one of many holy books. The writings of Buddha, Confucius, Muhammad, Moses, and others were all divine revelations that ultimately lead faithful searches to the same God.
As our conversation progressed, it became apparent that she had never considered Christianity in light of its historical evidences. Rather, its truth-claims rested solely on one’s subjective opinions. Thus it merited no more or no less consideration than any other religion, allowing her to decide in her own mind its authenticity. She is not alone in this view.
Many non-Christians assume that all religions are paths to the same mountain top, that all religions lead to the Supreme Being and eternal bliss. The implication is that all religions are equal, similar in their teachings, and acceptable to God. It seems that most people who embrace this belief either have no affiliation with any kind of organized religion, or they belong to a religious group, such as the Unitarians and followers of the Bahai Faith, that accepts this belief as a central doctrine. The lady I was sharing with had become a Unitarian.
This belief, however, is born of ignorance. A little reflection shows how illogical it is. Not only do many religions believe that theirs is the only true revelation and the only path to salvation, but almost every major religion has a dramatically different view of the nature of God. How could they all be right? How could they all point to the same reality when they all perceive that reality so differently? It’s simply logically impossible. Opposing views cannot all be right. In fact, only one can be right, and all the rest have to be wrong. Like arithmetic, there is only once correct answer to any figure, and all others are wrong, no matter how close to the right answer they may be.
Let me put this another way. Many people claim that all religions will ultimately be acceptable to God because they represent mankind’s corporate attempt to find religious truth. They say that even if Christianity is God’s only true revelation, He will still accept other religions because they represent sincere attempts to find Him.
As much as people may wish this to be true, it simply isn’t. We’ll soon see that religious beliefs and practices other than Christianity’s are not an attempt to find God but are actually rebellion against Him. Non-Christian religions are unacceptable to God. I’ll demonstrate this by giving some examples of exactly how the major world religions differ from Christianity, focusing on their views of the nature of God; showing why non-Christian religions represent willful rejections of God; and summarizing why God chose one particular plan for the redemption of man and no other.
THE GOD OF GODS, THE LORD OF LORDS
Christianity, like many other religions, claims to be God’s only revelation of spiritual truth. And it maintains that Jesus is the only path to salvation. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The New Testament writers agree: “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, nasv).
The Bible reveals that God is an infinite-personal Being who is perfect in truth and goodness. He is creator of the universe and thus stands apart from His creation (transcendent). However, God also upholds and maintains the universe and in that way is immanent in nature. God is not one in essence with nature (pantheism), but He is fully aware of and sovereign over all He created, and He reveals His existence and power through His creation (general revelation). God is also holy and can tolerate no sin. Indeed, He will punish wrongdoing, as decreed in Scripture.
Space allows for only a superficial look at the nature of God taught in the major non-Christina belief systems. But even this glance will demonstrate that their gods are incompatible with the God revealed in Scripture. The majority of the world’s religions fall within the following divisions.1
Eastern religions (such as Hinduism) and its Western offshoots (such as the New Age movement) differ in many ways, but most of them accept the same basic picture of God, which is pantheistic. This view denies a personal-creator God and identifies God as somehow being one in essence with nature. In other words, the universe and all that is in it is an extension of God itself, and this extension is frequently viewed as an illusion that needs to be transcended. What appears to be material may not really exist.
In addition to a pantheistic concept of God, most Eastern religions entertain a pantheon of lesser gods, many represented by idols.
Pantheism clearly contradicts Christian theism. God cannot be both impersonal and personal, no creator and creator, all that is and different from creation, the greatest God and the only God. Either pantheism is true or Christianity is. Neither represent a view of God even remotely similar.
Animism covers the religious expressions of the early American Indians, Australian aborigines, and many other preliterary cultures. Although most animistic religions possess a latent concept of a supreme God, generally, their religious beliefs focus on spirit beings that supposedly indwell both animate and inanimate objects such as stones, mountains, lakes, lightning, manufactured articles, trees, and animals. These spirits often have great power and cunning and exhibit the spectrum of human emotions, including hate, joy, anger, jealousy, fear, and love. Spirits influence every aspect of life (sickness, injury, marriage, childbirth, hunting, agriculture), so animists seek to appease the spirits by paying proper respect through prayer, offerings, sacrifices, and other appeals to the spirits’ often capricious egos.
Obviously, the godlike creatures of animism and the creator-God of Christianity have next to nothing in common.
The Islamic concept of God is much closer to the Christian concept. In Islam, God is both personal (monotheism) and creator. However, the trinitarian aspect of God is denied in Islam and, therefore, Muslims reject Jesus as the Son of God. “Allah,” as the Muslims call God, takes little interests in his creation. He is generally strict, aloof, capricious, and unpredictable, and he is responsible not only for good but also for evil. Allah sorely lacks the attributes of love, grace, forgiveness, and holiness so clearly revealed in the God of Christianity.
A cult can be defined as a perversion of biblical Christianity. Most cults claim some affiliation with Christianity and even accept the Bible (with their own reinterpretations and modifications) as one of their holy books. However, all of the cults reject many of the central beliefs of the Christian faith, including the Trinity. Consequently, and without exception, all of the cults reject Jesus as the eternal Son of God, as one in essence, power, and authority with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The assorted views of God found in the cults run the gamut from nontrinitarian monotheism (Jehovah’s Witnesses) to polytheism (belief in many gods, such as Mormonism) to pantheism (Christian Science). None of these views square with orthodox Christianity, and their various gods are far different from the God revealed in the Bible.
Because the nature of God differs fundamentally in the cults and the world’s many religions, it is impossible to harmonize them and conclude they all mirror the same God. A religion’s view of God will influence all of its subsequent doctrines. Consequently, the doctrines of sin, salvation, man, and other beliefs taught in these religions all conflict with Christianity. Either Christianity is true or some other religion, but only ignorance and irrationality could maintain they’re all basically the same or all point to the same God. The Christian God—and Him alone—deserves and demands our worship. When people turn to other gods and worship them, the only true God declares that totally unacceptable, worthy of judgment (Exod. 20:3–6; Rom. 1:18–32).
ALL PEOPLE HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO KNOW GOD
The Bible teaches that God has revealed Himself to man in two specific ways. One is through special revelation, which is directed to specific peoples at specific times in history and includes very specific information about God (e.g., that salvation is through Jesus Christ alone). Special revelation is recorded in God’s written Word (the Bible) and is most explicit in the person of Jesus Christ.
The other way God unveils Himself is through general revelation, which is that revelation that can be understood by all people at all times throughout history. It is a perpetual or continuous revelation, and it occurs in two primary ways: nature (Rom. 1:20; Ps. 19:1; Acts 14:16–17) and an intuitive (innate) moral consciousness God has placed in all human beings (Rom. 2:14–15).
General revelation in nature, according to Romans 1:20, reveals to everyone everywhere that God exists, that He is infinite and almighty, created and governs the universe, and judges evil. From this evidence, all people have the opportunity to know God.
General revelation through moral consciousness exhibits itself in a number of ways, but one profound way is in a fundamental, world-wide moral code that finds expression across cultural, religious, and historical barriers.2 God is a moral Being who created a moral universe. Man, created in God’s image, is instinctively aware of God’s moral law. It is seen in every culture through prohibitions against such sins as murder, stealing, rape, lying, and betrayal. Like nature, this moral consciousness is designed to point people to God, the moral Lawgiver. When we respond positively to this intuitive moral code, we respond to its divine Author (Rom. 2:13–16).
Because God has revealed Himself to all people through nature and a moral consciousness, He expects all people, including those who have never heard of Jesus, to respond favorably to Him. He has revealed enough information about Himself so all people have the opportunity to seek Him. Non-Christians who have never heard of Jesus will be judged according to whether or not they respond to God’s general revelation (Rom. 1:20). Thus people who have never heard of Jesus Christ are still accountable to the God of Scripture because He and the God of nature and morality are one and the same.
ALL PEOPLE HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO KNOW THE GOD OF SCRIPTURE
Since the personal-infinite-creator God we read about in the Bible is the same God revealed in nature and our moral consciousness, we can be sure that general revelation will not contradict special revelation. This is the key to understanding why other religions are not acceptable to God. If God has revealed Himself to all men equally through general revelation, and if people choose not to respond to this revelation and instead seek other gods, then they are guilty of rejecting the God of Scripture. Thus, other religions are forms of rebellion against God. Let me explain how this happens.
The Bible teaches that God created the universe and revealed Himself to the first man, Adam. Adam knew God and had a close personal relationship with Him. Nevertheless, Adam rebelled against God by willfully disobeying Him. This incurred God’s judgment, and the first couple were banished from the Garden. Following Adam’s footsteps, subsequent generations continued to rebel against God, resulting in the judgment of the worldwide flood (Gen. 6) and later in the dispersal of humanity at the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11).
Sometime after Babel, God began to build the nation of Israel, starting with Abraham, as the focus of His special revelation. Through Israel, God began to reveal to the world fuller truths about Himself and His plan for mankind’s redemption. Prior to the Babel incident, the Bible does not relate that man, even in his rebellion against God, practiced idolatry, polytheism, or any other false religion. In other words, all knew of the one true God even if they rejected Him. It was only after the dispersal of humanity into various cultures and God beginning to focus His special revelation on the nation of Israel that we see the rise of false religions. Except for Israel, the nations of the world quickly turned away from their previous knowledge of God. They rejected God’s general revelation of Himself and began worshiping idols and practicing polytheism and other deviant religions. Israel, alone among the world’s nations, practiced monotheism and worshiped the one true God. So pantheism, polytheism, animism, and all the other false views of God grew out of human rebellion, not genuine searching.
This biblical teaching is substantiated by secular studies in comparative religions. In the nineteenth century, due to the influence of Darwinian evolution, it was thought that modern religions actually evolved from animistic roots into polytheism and later into monotheism (that is, belief in countless spirits evolved into the belief in specific gods which in turn evolved into the belief in one supreme God). If this is true, primitive societies would have no concept of a Supreme Being (monotheism). However, not only is there no evidence that animism evolved into polytheism and later into monotheism, but there is tremendous evidence supporting just the opposite. It appears that monotheism de-evolved into polytheism. Today, anthropologists and ethnologists have proven that most primitive animistic religions have a latent monotheistic belief, even though they also believe in other spiritual forces. This is a common element in the oldest cultures on earth: the Australians, Polynesians, Zulus, bushmen, Congo tribes, and Mongolians. All of these cultures worship a primal Father. Belief in an all-powerful supreme Being also predates polytheism and pantheism in Eastern religions. For example, the earliest reference to religion in China refers to a Supreme God called “Shang Ti.” This belief goes back more than two thousand years before Buddhism, Taoism, or Confucianism arose in China. Similarly, an original concept of a supreme God is found in the early histories of Sumeria, Egypt, and other ancient civilizations.3
What were these religions like? Were they kind, loving, merciful, and pure as Christianity is? Not at all. Nineteenth-century Harvard law professor, Simon Greenleaf, gave an appropriate description of the depravity of humanity once the true God of Scripture was rejected:
But the fact is lamentably true, that [man] soon became an idolater, a worshiper of moral abominations. The Scythians and Northmen adored the impersonations of heroic valor and bloodthirsty and cruel revenge. The mythology of Greece and of Rome, though it exhibited a few examples of virtue and goodness, abounded in others of gross licentiousness and vice. The gods of Egypt were reptiles, and beasts and birds. The religion of Central and Eastern Asia was polluted with lust and cruelty, and smeared with blood, rioting, in deadly triumph, over all the tender affections of the human heart and all the convictions of the human understanding. Western and Southern Africa and Polynesia are, to this day [the nineteenth century], the abodes of frightful idolatry, cannibalism, and cruelty; and the aborigines of both the Americas are examples of the depths of superstition to which the human mind may be debased. In every quarter of the world, however, there is a striking uniformity seen in all the features of paganism. The ruling principle of her religion is terror, and her deity is lewd and cruel. Whatever of purity the earlier forms of paganism may have possessed, it is evident from history that it was of brief duration. Every form, which history has preserved, grew rapidly and steadily worse and more corrupt, until the entire heathen world, before the coming of Christ, was infected with that loathsome leprosy of pollution, described with revolting vividness by St. Paul, in the beginning of his Epistle to the Romans.4
God made an adequate revelation of Himself to all people everywhere. He expects them to respond to this revelation by acknowledging Him and by seeking to obey their moral consciences. Yet most people reject this revelation and therefore reject God. Rather than worship Him, they create their own false religions and disobey their moral consciences. They worship creation instead of the creator. Thus other religions are not attempts to find God—instead, they represent rebellion against God.
ONLY ONE WAY
One final question needs to be answered. Why did God choose Christianity as the only means by which one can be saved? To a large degree, the answer should be clear. Only Christianity preserves an accurate picture of God as He is revealed in both general and special revelations. Nevertheless, let’s probe a bit further.
According to the Bible, the presence of human sin is a direct result of Adam’s fall. This was the historical event in which sin first entered humanity (Rom. 5:12). When God created the earth and life, He said that it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). The earth was a place free from sin, evil, and human (and animal) suffering. It was also a place where man could have known and worshiped the one true God. Yet today the world contains sin, evil, human suffering, and false perceptions of God. And all of this originated with Adam’s first act of disobedience.
Without going into all the details (see Gen. 1–3), it can be briefly said that when God created Adam, He gave him the freedom to choose to obey or disobey Him by not eating from a certain tree. This was a test for Adam to prove his obedience and love for God, and God warned him of the consequences of not acting wisely. Adam would be punished if he ate the forbidden fruit. Nevertheless, Adam chose to disobey, and, as a result, he became separated from God, sin entered the world, and numerous false religions eventually arose.
The Bible teaches that Adam was the corporate head of the human race—the representative of mankind. Just as the decisions made by the ruler of a nation affect all the people under that ruler, so Adam’s decision to rebel against God affected all mankind. Furthermore, when Adam sinned, he not only represented us, he acted in precisely the same manner as any other man or woman would have in his place. Like Adam, we too rebel against God and are equally guilty and deserving of punishment.
Christian theology teaches that in his fallen state, man is totally unable to reach out to God. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:7 that the mind of man is hostile toward God, and man does not subject himself to God because he “is not even able to do so” (nasv; see Rom. 7:15–25). It is natural for fallen man to “suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18) and “not see fit to acknowledge God any longer” (Rom. 1:28, nasv). Thus for man to become reconciled with God. God Himself must take the initial step to achieve reconciliation. I believe God has taken this initial step by providing all people with an innate awareness of His existence (Rom. 1:18–2:16) that includes the ability to respond to or reject saving truth, whether it comes through general or special revelation (Rom. 2:4; Titus 2:11). Explains the late Henry Clarence Thiessen of Dallas Theological Seminary, “Because man is without any ability or desire to change, God responded by prevenient grace. This grace (sometimes considered a part of common or universal grace) restores to the sinner the ability to make a favorable response to God.”5
However, the Bible also clearly teaches that the possibility of salvation is made available in only one way. Out of His immeasurable love for man and His creation and of His own sovereign will, God chose to make a fuller revelation of Himself. God came to earth as the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, to reconcile humanity to Himself.
The work of Christ here on earth is called the atonement. Literally, the word means “to cover.” It involves the removal or covering of man’s sins by the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross (Rom. 5:8). Instead of guilty human beings making payment (redemption) for their own sins, Jesus—God Himself—did it for us (Mark 10:45; 1 Cor. 6:20). This opens the door to reconciliation between God and man. Through Christ, man stands before God justified. That is, on the basis of Christ’s work, man is accounted righteous in God’s eyes (Rom. 3:23–24). Just as sin was charged to man’s account through Adam, so righteousness before God becomes ours when we accept this work of Christ (Rom. 5:12–21).
We must realize that this forgiveness is not based on anything we can do. We could never do enough good works to earn God’s favor. Salvation is a free gift from God based solely on our acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; Eph. 2:8–9; Tit. 3:5). To receive this free gift and the eternal benefits that go with it, we only have to invite Jesus into our lives, accepting Him and His work by faith (Rom. 10:9). The Christian message and hope are that simple.
So the reason Christianity claims to be the only path to salvation is because it is the one true revelation of God, and it is the only way God has ordained for mankind to become reconciled to Him. All other socalled paths lead away from the true God of Scripture and the work of Jesus on the cross. That Jesus actually had to die on the cross proves there is no other way to God. If there were, God would not have sacrificed His beloved Son.
In light of all this, we can clearly see how irrational it is for someone to say, “It doesn’t matter what I believe so long as I am sincere.” Sincerity is not the issue. One can be sincere and still be wrong. The facts are facts, whether one understands, accepts, or rejects them. Believing does not make a thing true anymore than disbelieving makes it false. Christians say that Jesus is the only way to God not because they invented the concept but because God Himself said it (John 14:6). Christ is the only way.
1 For more information on the different concepts of God, I would recommend these resources: Norman L. Geisler and William D. Watkins, WORLDS APART: A HANDBOOK ON WORLD VIEWS, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989); Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, HANDBOOK OF TODAY’S RELIGIONS (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life, 1983); James W. Sire, THE UNIVERSE NEXT DOOR: A BASIC WORLD VIEW CATALOG, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1988).
2 C. S. Lewis’s MERE CHRISTIANITY, and his THE ABOLITION OF MAN.
3 Henry Morris, THE GOD WHO IS REAL (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1988), 51.
4 Simon Greenleaf, “The Testimony of the Evangelists,” quoted in Montgomery, THE LAW ABOVE THE LAW, 95.
5 Henry Clarence Thiessen, LECTURES IN SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1983), 106.
Story, D. (1997). Defending your faith. Originally published: Nashville : T. Nelson, c1992. (109). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.