Bible Studies for Life
Isaiah 44:6-11; John 14:5-7
John Hull, lead pastor
Eastside Baptist Church, Marietta
Recently, a sobering national survey about religion in America revealed that Christianity is in decline. In the past decade, Americans identifying themselves as “Christian” fell by 16%. Experts and commentators, from one theological camp to another, expressed genuine concern about what this rapid decline (viewed by many as a collapse) will mean for local churches and overall charitable giving in the decade to come. An even more recent survey revealed charitable giving down in the US, with the chief conclusion being that fewer people are going to church, therefore, giving less.
Without question, historically, Americans have inherited the profound positive impact of Christianity in the country. However, as essayist John Briggs wrote, we are moving from “Christendom to Pluralism.” Secularization has and is diminishing the influence of the church on the culture and the institutions.
What is happening now in the US, has been taking place for decades in other western nations. England, Wales, Scotland, and Canada have, since the end of World War II, experienced significant shifts to secularism. Recognizing faith, scripture, and the acknowledgement of God in any forms of public life has been frowned upon by a myriad of politicians, court decisions, and policy.
In addition to secularization, there is the rise of pluralism. Pluralism, from a religious standpoint, is the idea of various belief systems co-existing in society. In a “worldview” perspective, it embraces that one’s own religious view “is not the sole and exclusive source of truth.” In a secular society, to suggest that one religious truth is above another is interpreted as bigoted, narrow, and in some global circles, imperialistic.
In an increasingly secular and pluralistic culture, Christ-followers feel the tension. Christ-followers follow Jesus and believe He, alone, is absolute truth. Christ-followers do not believe Jesus to be one choice in the midst of many options.
For the hundreds of millions who follow Jesus on this planet, we believe Jesus died on the cross for mankind’s sin – and confessing Christ as Savior is the only way one gets to heaven. That conviction comes from a myriad of biblical sources including Jesus own declaration: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6).
The core conflict for the Christian is that if a dedicated Hindu can be saved because he’s devout, or a moral Buddhist can be saved because he’s moral, that means they don’t need Jesus. Thus, the tension in pluralistic America only escalates!
For 2,000 years, people who believe Jesus is the only truth have been driven to get His message and His glory to the nations. Followers of Jesus see the world as a potential harvest to be gathered – even pioneering the Gospel message into nations with other established religions. Secularists and pluralists often respond to this evangelism strategy with disdain.
It’s politically correct to say that there are many paths to enlightenment. One religious leader in Calgary, Alberta, claimed, “Life is like climbing a mountain. There are easy passes and difficult passes. But when you reach the summit, you see the same moon.”
This sounds nice and would probably get audience applause on one of today’s talk–oriented television shows. But that’s not the claim of Jesus. The New Testament presents a Jesus as the one and only Son of God who is the only way to heaven. The gate, we’re told, is narrow – and there are only a few that discover it (Matt. 7:13-14).
Isaiah makes it clear in the Old Testament: The Lord Almighty says, “I am the first and the last. Apart from me there is no God … Is there any God besides me? No. There is no other Rock; I know not one” (Is. 44: 6-8).
Do we impose our view or engage people?
So, in any culture of any country with Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Hindus, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses and others, should Christians impose our views regarding Jesus Christ? Or, should we be passive or laissez-faire? How can we live a quiet and peaceable life in these pluralistic days and yet be convictional regarding our devotion to the Lordship of Christ?
Perhaps the most realistic approach is for Christian believers and churches to be influencers and persuaders in the culture, as opposed to legislators or passive observers. When it comes to evangelism in pluralistic America, we should never try to force someone to believe, nor should we be silent of hostile attacks on Christianity, or sarcastic statements about Jesus Christ.
If we engage (be salt and light) and build relationships which can build trust, the Lord God can open doors for us to have conversations about biblical values and the benefits of Christian morality in the world to those who see the world and eternity in a completely different way.
Doctrine and ethics
One writer called for a “doctrinal apologetic in evangelism” (arguing the truth of the Gospel) and an “ethical apologetic in social action” (arguing the goodness of the moral law) as agents of ministry by Christians to non-Christians. That seems like a good place to land in a world that increasingly believes that all religions are the same.
We can have convictions which embrace the teachings of Jesus while graciously living out our faith among people whom we believe need to experience His saving grace!