IS EXCLUSIVISM ARROGANT?

 

The Tennessean, middle Tennessee’s most influential newspaper—like most newspapers—always includes a number of “Letters to the Editor.” Each day the editorial staff gives three stars to a letter the editors apparently think is the best letter of the day. Sometimes the letters are quite good, but at other times, they are so poorly reasoned one wonders how they ever made it into publication. Do the editors of the paper delight in publishing letters that are way out in left field?  Do they give three stars to those letters that most closely agree with the agenda of the newspaper’s editors? Frankly, I have agonized over the liberal and illogical messages of many of the letters to the editor.

 

On April 22, 2003, The Tennessean published an Alabamian’s letter with the title “Other countries see the U. S. as arrogant.” Tragically and inexcusably, many Americans who travel abroad give the impression that America has the greatest history and culture in the world. That is the reason some people in foreign countries call us “ugly Americans.” Do some Americans appear to people of other countries to be arrogant? Is it possible that people of other nations and cultures are simply jealous of America’s scientific and technological accomplishments?  The truth is: There is no reason for anyone—Americans included—to be arrogant.

 

The letter to the editor says it is time for Americans to be honest about the religious image we present to the rest of the world. He affirms that Americans see themselves as a caring people who want to help the rest of the world to enjoy freedom of life and religion.  He argues that many of us presume that we are a “Christian” nation and we assume that Jesus Christ is our model for personal behavior (p.8-A). I know America has made some tragic mistakes and continues to do so. But no nation on earth has ever done more to help other nations to be free than the United States. How many countries in history have defeated their enemies and then spent billions of dollars to help those countries rebuild? What would be the condition of nations like Germany, Italy and Japan were it not for the compassion and generosity of our great country? And would weak-kneed France even exist were it not for the United States?

 

I do want to say in passing that the United States of America is not a Christian nation; it never has been and by definition cannot be. The Bible has no pattern for making any nation Christian. There are millions of devoutly religious people in our country, but that does not make the United States a Christian nation. The vast majority of so-called “founding fathers” claimed to be Christians, but never were the majority of Americans Christians, almost regardless of how one defines the term “Christian.”

 

The letter writer says Americans have a problem we almost never consider with openness and honesty.  And what is that problem he so wisely understands that the rest of us ignore? “The posture of our religious bearing to the world at large is one of basic arrogance.” Please listen carefully to this writer’s conclusion. “Our traditional presentations of our faith propagate the belief that only those of us who are Christian really know God. Our commitment to culturally influenced visions of Christianity as superior to other faiths paints a picture of a faithful people with haughty, theological manners” (p.8-A). It would take a full-length book to deal with the observations this man makes about Christianity, but I shall respond as time permits to some of his views.

 

Are Christians the only ones who can really know God? You may not agree with what I am about to tell you, but those who have committed their lives to Christ must accept his word on every topic, including the truth about God. If we are truly followers of Jesus Christ, how can we entertain views on any topic that differ from his?  What he thought about God or about the plan of salvation or about moral values, we must think. Is that not what having the mind of Christ means? Paul charged the Philippians: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5)

 

Jesus had much to say about his Father. How could it be otherwise since he was the very Son of Almighty God? No founder of any other religion could make that claim and prove it to be true.  I am aware that founders of some cultic groups have claimed to be manifestations of God, but no knowledgeable Bible student has taken them seriously.  Those religious leaders did not and could not prove by supernatural means that they were God manifest in the flesh. Yet Jesus was marked out to “the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4).  Luke says that Jesus “showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs” (Acts l: 3). Who but God manifest in the flesh has the power to lay down his life and the power to take it up again (John 10:18)?

 

Will you please listen to what John writes about Jesus Christ? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men…He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not” (John 1:1-4, 10). The affirmations contained in these verses could not be said about the founder of any other religion or about any other religious teacher. Please think about John’s statements. Jesus Christ—the Word—existed from eternity past. He was with God in the beginning and he is God. He—not the founder of any other religion and not Shirley MacLaine—was the Creator of the world. It is in him and in him alone that men can have eternal life. The apostle John adds: “And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

 

From what I have read to you in the book of John, would you not expect that Jesus Christ alone had complete access to the mind of God? He alone is the Word made flesh; he alone has existed with God from eternity past; he alone made the world and provides for life eternal. The apostle John affirms: “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has declared him” (John 1:18). The word “declared” in the Greek means to reveal, to explain, to make known.  Only Jesus had existed from the beginning with God and only he could fully explain the Father.

 

On one occasion, Jesus informed the apostles that he would soon be leaving them. They wanted to know where he was going, although he had told them before that he was returning to the Father. He said to them, “And where I go you know, and the way you know.” Thomas asked, “Lord we do not know where you are going; and how can we know the way?” Jesus told him: “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes unto the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you should have known my Father also: and from henceforth you know him, and have seen him.” The Lord’s statements must have surprised even shocked the apostle Philip. He pleaded with Jesus: “Show us the Father and it suffices us.” Our Lord’s reply to Philip is one of the most remarkable teachings from Genesis to Revelation.  Jesus said to Philip: “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:3-9).

 

Do we have adequate reasons to believe what Jesus said to Philip? Thomas Carlyle was speaking with a friend about Jesus. He quoted our Lord’s words to Philip: “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” The friend said to Carlyle: “I could say the same thing.” Carlyle responded: “But Jesus got people to believe it.” We know beyond any doubt that Jesus is indeed equal with the Father (John 5:17)—that he and God are one (John 17:21-22).  Since he is God the Son and has existed with God the Father from eternity, would he not be in a perfect position to know God and to reveal his will to fallen men?  The apostle Peter wrote of Christ’s precious blood, “as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, who by him do believe in God, who raised him from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God” (1 Pet. 1:19-21). To put it as precisely and concisely as I am able: We have in Christ the complete and perfect revelation of God the Father.

 

Since Christ is God and had been with God the Father from the beginning, should he not know the moral and spiritual condition of man? Is it even remotely possible that anyone could speak on matters of salvation with the same authority Christ possesses? Just before Christ ascended to the Father to await his second coming, he explained the authority God had given him and then gave this beautiful and powerful commission to them. “All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth, Go therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you all the way, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:18-20).

 

What purpose does baptism serve in the scheme of human redemption? Mark’s account of the Great Commission gives us some insight. “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who does not believe shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:16).  If you have any doubt about the meaning of baptism, please listen to the climax to Peter’s sermon on Pentecost. When the Jews asked Peter and the other apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”  Peter by divine guidance answered: “Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all who are afar off, even as many as the Lord your God shall call” (Acts 2:38-39).  Incidentally, when the three thousand Jews on Pentecost responded to the Lord’s command by repenting and being baptized, were they born again? If they were not, what further steps did they have to take to be born again?

 

No sane person believes that anyone who has committed himself to Christ always lives above sin. We all have sinned and continue to come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). But teachings of Christ and of his apostles provide the foundation for the moral values God demands that we honor in our daily lives. The first step for the newly converted person is to remember the words: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness: and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33).  Paul outlines what it means to continually seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness. “If you then be risen with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God. Set your affection of things above, not on things on the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with him is glory.” Paul commands Christians to mortify our members that are upon the earth—sexual immorality, uncleanness, evil passions, covetousness, which is idolatry. We must put off the old man with his deeds and put on the new man “which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him who created him” (Col. 3:1-10).

 

We must freely admit that some of the world religions and cultic groups teach many of these ideas and concepts. In many cases—although not in all—they teach these truths because of their indebtedness to either the Old Testament or to the New. But no other religion or cult or sect teaches the whole truth about God, about salvation and about righteous moral values. Many of the adherents of the other religions are good moral people. They do not lie, steal or abuse their wives and children. They pay their taxes and are responsible citizens of the countries where they live. But they do not believe in Christ and will die in their sins (John 8:24). But am I not being intolerant? If these were my words, the answer would be yes. They are not my words; they are the words of God’s Holy Spirit. They come from the very mind of God almighty (1 Cor. 2:6-13).

 

The letter writer says: “Our commitment to culturally influenced visions of Christianity as superior to other faiths paints a picture of a faithful people with haughty, theological manners” (p. 8-A).  Am I preaching “culturally influenced visions of Christ” when I tell people: Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life?” If Christianity is not superior to all other faiths, then I may be haughty in my theological manners. The author of Hebrews argues that the gospel is greater than the law of Moses (Heb. 1:5-7). Until the gospel came, the Mosaic covenant was the best law any people had ever known. But the gospel is better in every way than the Old Testament law. From a biblical viewpoint, there is no question of the gospel’s superiority to every other religious worldview. If that is arrogant, it is because Christ and his apostles were arrogant. That is precisely what they taught. Are you happy to accuse Christ of being arrogant?

 

The following excerpt from the letter to The Tennessean defies logic. “Thoughtfully and theologically, I cannot imagine the Jesus of the scriptures being proud of such pride-filled piety among his personal followers” (p. 8-A). What the letter writer imagines has absolutely nothing to do with the facts in the case.  What did Jesus teach about his knowledge of God and about his place in the plan of salvation?  Did not Jesus affirm: “Except you believe that I am he, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24)? Can you imagine a more exclusive claim than that? You may or may not believe what Jesus taught—and that is your prerogative—but how can there be any debate about his meaning? And how could words be more exclusive than these words: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6)? Christ’s Parable of the Good Shepherd can hardly be misunderstood. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep…I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep” (John 10:7, 11)

 

The apostles Peter and John healed a man who was born lame. The Jewish leaders could not deny that a notable miracle had been done, but they were angry with the apostles. They were afraid that their followers would grasp the significance of he miracle and desert Judaism for Christianity.  The apostle Peter quoted the prophet Isaiah’s prediction about the Jews’ rejection of their Messiah (Isa. 28:16). “This is the stone that was rejected by your builders, which has become the head of the corner” (Acts 4:11). Peter then said to the Jews: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

 

Millions of people who claim to be Christians, including prominent evangelicals like Clark Pinnock, reject the apostle Peter’s words, but that in no way changes their significance. According to the apostle Peter, salvation is in Christ alone and in no other. To unbelievers and to liberal theologians, these words appear intolerant and bigoted, but all the Bible writers taught the same truth on this topic. There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. Those who reject Christ reject God. They have no hope of eternal salvation. Is that the message Jesus Christ and his apostles intended for Christians in every age to teach?  Is that the only message that will save men and women from eternal damnation?  Paul told the Romans: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein (that is, in the gospel of Christ) is righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16-17).

 

Please meditate on the following questions relating to our topic, “Is Exclusivism Arrogant?” Have there been professed Christians who have shown a spirit of arrogance in preaching Jesus as our only Savior? If you know human nature, you know there have been. Does that mean that everyone who preaches Christian exclusivism is arrogant?  If we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that the apostles were inspired of God, what choice do we have about preaching Jesus Christ as our only-Savior? If we can be saved without believing in Christ and obeying his gospel, was not God cruel in sending Jesus into the world to suffer and to die for our salvation?

 

If you are not a Christian, I urge you to confess your faith in Christ, to repent of your alien sins and to be baptized into Christ for the remission of sins.  Then walk in the light as Christ is in the light that you may continue to have the remission of sins (1 John 1:7).

 

Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334

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