U2's, globetrotting third world relief front man, Bono, has been preaching a familiar theology/ideology during their recent tour. Bono wears a headband with the words CoeXisT, with the C as the Muslim Crescent, the Star of David as the X, and the Cross as the T and he repeats varying versions of how "Jesus, Jew, Mohammed" all are sons of Abraham.
Now, there is no denying the tireless work that Bono is doing to bring water to the thirsty and clothing to the naked, for which God will certainly show mercy on him. It appears that religious pluralism, however, is always seeking new converts and any attempt to smooth over religious differences and dogmas have become de rigueur.
In today's multi-cultural world the new reality is one of tolerating all beliefs as simply complementary. The unique Christian message of abundant life has become lost even to those who claim to believe in Christ as the only begotten Son of God. The "idea that Jesus is the only way to God or that only those who have been washed in the blood of Christ are ever to be listed among the saved...has become anathema," writes Episcopal bishop John Spong.
A widespread misconception is that all religions are the same in their basic beliefs and morality, and that all paths lead to the same realization of godhead. And because all religions are equally true and valid, any claim to the truth becomes bigoted and intolerant. The new spirit of tolerance requires no conversion of anyone. The well-known western philosopher of religion,
John Hick says it well:
So the bottom line, I am suggesting is this: we should live wholeheartedly within our own faith, so long as we find it to be sustaining and a sphere of spiritual growth, but we should freely recognize the equal validity of the other great world faiths for their adherents, and we can also be enriched by some of their insights and spiritual practices. We should not see the other religions as rival or enemies, or look down upon them as inferior, but simply as different human responses to divine reality, formed in the past within different strands of human history and culture.
While scholarly theologians debate the merits of religions being exclusive, inclusive or pluralistic, the fact remains that all beliefs are not equal. Christianity is a missionary faith. "Go into all the world and preach the good news to everyone, everywhere. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned" (Mk 16:15-16).
Christianity is also an absolute faith and a faith of absolutes. "I am the way, the truth and the life" (Jn 14:16). Jesus doesn't allow us any room for compromise. Two thousand years ago, people were willing to accept Jesus as a prophet or a teacher or good man, but Christ didn't give them that option. So they crucified Him.
Jesus says He is the Son of God -- God Himself. There are no nice platitudes here we can all agree on. There is just truth. Jesus is God. Otherwise, Christians are all fools and the "most miserable people in the world" (1 Cor 15:19). St. Paul tells us that if Jesus' claims that He is God are not true, then our whole faith is a fraud...a counterfeit that can't deliver on its promises (1 Cor 15:12-19).
When the rulers and scribes confronted Peter after healing a man who was crippled from birth, Peter responds that the man was healed "by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead." And Peter doesn't stop there. In verses 11 and 12 of Acts 4, Peter boldly proclaims that "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Peter doesn't tell us that Jesus is one of the ways or one of the paths or one of the lamps towards God. In the empty relativism of today, these are bold and confrontational statements, because all of a sudden, if we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then there is no other way to God and no other hope for being rescued from a life of sin and judgment than by the name of Jesus.
God came in the flesh, in His Son Jesus, to open this up to us. Our responsibility is to go and make disciples of all nations, otherwise how can those around the world be saved by Jesus, if they've never even heard of Him. We are to proclaim the wonderful news of God's salvation, not by being intolerant and coercive and not by persecution and hate. Christ commands us to make disciples of everyone by demonstrating our love and by being the ones that are hated, despised, and persecuted. We are God's witnesses, and nothing can set us apart more than the exclusive claims of Christianity. This is our mission; otherwise we have no message for the world because, in the end, one is true and one is truth, Jesus, who said, "before Abraham was, I am" (Jn 8:58).
John Kapsalis has an M.T.S from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and is an Orthodox Christian layman of the Metropolis of Canada.