Exclusive: should Christians claim to have the only way?

All rights reserved by dkhlucyThere is a great outcry against the claims of Christianity to be the one right way and that Jesus Christ is the one true God. How could one religion have the arrogance to say that it is the only right way and that it has a monopoly on truth?

Something that must be understood is that truth must be exclusive. If it doesn’t claim to exclude falsehoods it cannot claim to be true. So all statements of truth are exclusive statements. Because of this each religion is making a claim to exclusive truth. Some are more willing to try to include (or really to co-opt)  others but even they do so within the parameters of what they say is true. But no belief system can be a belief if it’s designed to not be believed. That would be a bit silly.

I think one would also find it rather uncomfortable. Nobody wants to live in a land without borders. You see, if Jesus might be admired but is not making claims at the expense of other claims then we cannot even bother to trust him. If we say that there must be another “way” we automatically beg the question: another way to what, exactly? At that point we cannot even say what the goal is anymore. That is because goals that are not exclusive will never be reached. And what about Christ’s claim of love? Would we prefer a non-exclusive love? Would we like it better if Jesus loved not only goodness but also evil? Or that he makes promises we can trust but they are not exclusive? You cannot be satisfied by a belief with which you are merely shacking up.

But the offer of Christ is not exclusive. The gospel is not only for those of the right ethnicity or the right gender. It is not for the healthy and strong or the intelligent or wealthy. You do not have to be good enough for Christ, if anything you might have to be bad enough.

In our world we have “exclusive” clubs making the word synonymous with luxury and elitism. Places are said to be better because of the people they keep out: those who not good enough. The kingdom of heaven could understandably make the same claim. In fact, no institution of man really has the right to call itself great because it keeps out other men. Only the realm of God in all its holiness can do something like that. But God did not choose that way. He made a place that was magnificent not because of whom it kept out but because of who gets to come in.

Of course not all are accepted and this is one of the aspects of the kingdom which many are offended by. But it does not exclude because of who you are; it excludes those who cling to who they are… shall we say “exclusively”.

The truth of Christ is exclusive; the offer of Christ is not.

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Still

It is the enduring buzzword of the revolutionary of all stripes and it connotes such a multitude of individual meanings that it is batted about without ever being examined. Struggle: the clarion call of all who would seek to overthrow the perceived overlords in their lives and rise to their own independence.

The word “struggle” is ubiquitous in revolutionary literature. Voltaire said, “My life is a struggle.” Engels wrote that “[T]he whole history of mankind […] has been a history of class struggles, contests between exploiting and exploited, ruling and oppressed classes […].” Mao Tse-Tung wrote: “Once all struggle is grasped, miracles are possible.” Hitler entitled his book Mein Kamp (“My Struggle”). And what does jihad mean but “struggle”?

What is the implication of the use of this word in social rhetoric? Just this: that if I try hard enough I can overcome the power over me with my own power or with the collective power of those who agree with me. I can do it. We can do it.

There is something very telling in the depictions of people in socialist propaganda posters. They are always very healthy, strong, intelligent. The farmer with his ramrod posture and sinewy forearms stands in front of a tractor or field of golden wheat. The thinker stands next to the soldier, both robust and enthusiastic. The only people who do not appear as glowing specimens of humanity are the actual leaders. Lenin looks like an old man. Stalin can’t lose the double chin. Mao is overweight. Hitler looks a bit too puny. But these are when photographs are used. When an artist drew the men they looked much more dashing and strong. The depiction of Hitler as a knight comes to mind. The years seem to fall away from a more spritely Lenin. Mao never improved much either way. The strength of the people is highlighted but the inconvenient reality remains: people are still just people. The message that our struggle is enough because we are strong enough does not reflect the reality of who we are.

The Bible holds a quite different message. At the impossible prospect of escaping the pharaoh’s chariots at the Red Sea Moses told the people: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” In Samuel’s last address to the Israelites he said, “Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes.” Before a great battle the prophet Jahaziel told the king, “You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.” In Psalm 46:10 the sons of Korah wrote, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth!”

“Stand firm”. “Stand still”. “Stand firm”. “Be still”. What the Bible offers is a mighty God, sufficiently powerful to overcome on your behalf. Scripture does not have to alter a person’s image in order to hide the weakness of reality behind the power of the paintbrush. It is honest about the weakness of man and like the father to whom the little child says, “I can do it myself!” is never swayed by vain professions of strength.

When the Jews hailed Jesus as the one who would complete their struggle over their political oppressors they forgot that he had said that the truth shall set them free. When they nailed him to the cross with that sign above his head they forgot that he told them that the one who sins is a slave to sin. When they buried him in the grave the disciples feared both Rome and the Jews under Rome. But when he rose they knew the Son had made them free indeed.

Precious in the Sight of the Lord

I couldn’t help but notice that the last several memorials at our church have come on days when the news ran stories of the death of someone famous. While the workers in newsrooms scramble to gather biographical information and get it on a teleprompter small families gather together and tell stories of their loved ones recently lost. These precious people were never famous, never even terribly successful in the eyes of the world. You will not hear their lives outlined on the news, no dedicated fans will leave flowers at the front gate of their mansions. They die without any pomp and there are no traffic snarls because of their funerals. But these seemingly quiet deaths sing loudly in the ears of the Lord.

The day Steve Jobs died a lady from our church also died and the reaction of the world to the death of Jobs could never compare to the love this lady’s family showed at her memorial. Comparatively few people knew that she died and yet her death, not Jobs’, was the more momentous.

When a celebrity dies the usual news report is full of their life achievements. It is because of these achievements that we are expected to find their death to be of great moment. But a life full of achievements is not what makes one’s death important. The elderly lady who died on the same day as Steve Jobs had perhaps not had as industrious a life as Jobs and yet her death had greater value in the sight of Lord. This morning the news carried a story of the death of a member of the Beegees while this afternoon our church had a memorial for an infant boy. A baby has had no opportunity to live a life full of accomplishments. But it is not such a life that finds favor with the Lord.

Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” When one of His own dies the Lord does not look upon fame or fortune, success or failure. He looks upon His own and lovingly welcomes them into His kingdom and His rest. Their death is so precious to Him because they are so precious to Him and the Shepherd knows His own. And therein we find our life.