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Do all religions lead to God?

A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

preached by the Reverend Canon Simon Everett

at St Nicholas’ church, Arne, Sunday 4th March 2018

 

Do all religions lead to God?  It is a question that is often asked of us and indeed a question that invariably crops up in most religious debates, in our syncretistic age. 

Is our faith simply a reflection of the culture in which we have been brought up, taking into account the geography, climate traditions etc, of a particular part of the world?

There are many who would say a resounding yes to both of these questions, without giving it a second thought, especially in the more liberal Western world (yes all religions lead to God and yes our faith is culturally defined).  It sounds so reasonable; and so totally unreasonable, dogmatic, even, to suggest otherwise – how can some say that there is only one religion that leads to God?  Surely it is such teaching that has led to so many wars and conflicts in the past, and what lies behind the Islamic terrorism that so blights our world at the present time.  If we could all just agree that there is only one God, but that there are several ways of reaching Him, Her or It, then we could have peace and harmony in our world.

Is it as simple as that?  Well, I suggest that nice as it would be, as a theory at least, it is not.  If we are to ask the question, do all faiths lead to God? We need at least to consult the Scriptures before answering.  I will just refer to the Bible because that is the scripture I know best and being a Christian that is what I use as my reference and guide in matters of faith.  But I am confident that if you ask leaders of other faiths and consult their holy books of you will nearly always reach the same conclusions.

If we simply insist that it makes sense to have just one God with different routes to Him, then we run the risk of putting our reason, and our own intellects, above the word of God and the teaching of the Church down through the centuries.

Let us think about what we are saying if we say that all faiths ultimately lead to God.  If we take the Jewish faith, can we say that that ultimately leads to salvation?  If we do then the obvious question to ask is “If Judaism leads to God, then why did God the Father send his Son Jesus?”  If the OT law, the Torah, was sufficient for salvation why was their any need to send Jesus?  If Judaism had just gone a little astray why not send a prophet as God had done in the past, rather than send his own Son?  And if Salvation is achieved by means of the Law be it the Torah or the Koran (or any other sacred code) why then did God send his Son into the world to die the most horrific death imaginable? 

Others will say, “What about devout and Holy people of all faiths, surely they will get to heaven won’t they?”  Again I say if devotion or holiness is the qualification for eternal life, why the cross?

If eternal life could be achieved by any other religious means would not God have highlighted that rather than sending his Son to die?  Let’s face it, if eternal life could be achieved by following the law, or living a life of holiness and devotion, then what does that say about God?  Because if salvation is achieved by these means it seems to me that Jesus went to the cross for nothing, which in turn means God is little more than a sadistic tyrant; rather than a loving heavenly Father.  And I for one would not want anything to do with such a deity. 

And this leads me to another point if we were to say that all religions lead to God, why did Jesus command the Apostles to go out and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?  Why did the Apostles go out and risk their lives and reputations and face almost certain martyrdom in order to convert people of other faiths?  And why have Christians down through the ages followed their example? 

Why have people of other faiths risked ostracism, persecution, torture and even martyrdom by converting to Christianity?  Are they misguided or deluded in some way?  Or have they found a living way into the presence of the Almighty that they did not find in their old religion?  These are important points to ponder.

There are those who argue that maybe Christ’s death on the cross has won salvation for all people - such was the stupendous, superlative nature of what happened there.  Again that is a nice thought until you sit down and think about it, in particular what does it say about the judgement of which Jesus and the prophets spoke.  Can it be right that the likes of Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Chairman Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Jong Un, and other tyrannical dictators, mass murderers, abusers etc. get off scot free?  I have to say it doesn’t make sense to me, and it certainly is not justice.  And what about atheists and those who want nothing to do with God?  Are they going to be forced into the Kingdom of Heaven?

At the heart of our faith is the Cross, on which the Son of God was crucified.  In today’s world we like to glamorise the cross rather than remember it as a grotesque instrument of torture and death.  But in the early Church they knew what the cross was, and what it did to people, and this made preaching about Jesus very difficult.  As St Paul said to the Corinthians, “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles…”  And to this very day the cross continues to be a stumbling-block or utter foolishness to many.   Whether it is a red cross painted on the side of an ambulance in a Muslim Country, whether it is on a headstone in a secular council run cemetery, or whether it is the inconvenience of the cross in inter-faith discussions, the cross continues to cause problems.

So am I saying that the Christian faith, the way of Christ – crucified and risen – is the only way to salvation?  Well, by my reading of the Holy Bible, yes. 

However, I would want to qualify what I have said because as a simple statement of faith it sounds rather arrogant and imperious.  First of all, I would like to stress that in all matters of salvation Jesus is the arbiter and judge.  I know that those whose faith is in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour are promised eternal life.  As for everyone else, and this includes those who have never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel and those of other faiths and none, I leave the matter in the hands of Jesus: who, I believe, is far better qualified than I to decide who is worthy of eternal life.

This leads me to my second point, which is that the Teaching of Jesus and the NT writers makes it clear that there is a heaven and a hell.  If Christ Crucified is not the way to eternal life, who or what is?

But my third point is one that I cannot stress too much.  To say that Jesus is the only way to salvation should never be used as an excuse for intolerance, discrimination or persecution.  If our doctrine of salvation is based on the teaching of the Holy Bible, then so should the outworking of our faith.  And right at the very heart of the Gospel are the two great commandments, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul,” and “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.  And who is my neighbour? Well, everyone!  The old baptism prayer says we are to go out into the world as soldiers and servants of Christ: as soldiers to fight for what is right and just and decent – in other words for Kingdom values; and we are to go out as servants humbly putting others before ourselves.

St Paul says, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1Cor 1:18)  It seems to me in many churches in our land we have lost that ‘power of God’ and we see numbers decline as a result.  Could it be that in recent years, with the advent of thinking that all faiths lead to God, the Church has in many places given up on mission and evangelism (regarding it as politically incorrect)?  If this is the case, we have some serious thinking to do and some important work to carry out. 

So by way of conclusion, three questions:

1.  Just what does the cross of Christ mean to you?

2.  What does the power of the cross look like in your life?

3.  What does the power of the cross look like in this parish?

 

Canon Simon Everett

 


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