CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Offence of the Gospel

Jun 13, 2008

Preaching the biblical gospel is offensive. All true believers should know this. Jesus offended many with his message. The New Testament speaks about the offence of the gospel in various places. Paul talked about the “offence of the cross” (Gal. 5:11), and Peter speaks of Jesus as “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence” (1 Peter 2:8).

When we preach the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the fact that there is no salvation to be found outside of the person and work of Christ, people will be offended by that. It can’t be helped. Which is why religious vilification laws are so, well, diabolical. Of course an atheist or Muslim or Jew will take offence at the truth claims of the Christian gospel. If Christianity is true, then other religious worldviews (including atheism) are false, at least in certain areas.

Thus the taking of offence is inevitable in a world of sinful people who hate God and want nothing to do with biblical Christianity. Yet that does not minimise our responsibility one iota in proclaiming the good news of the gospel, no matter how negatively people may react to it. We are obliged to preach the gospel, as Paul tells us.

Indeed, Paul could say, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16). But unfortunately some people who call themselves Christian are saying exactly the opposite: “Woe is me if I do preach the gospel”. Some of these folk are so heavily into the interfaith movement (the new name for an old problematic endeavour: the ecumenical movement) that they really think the best thing Christians can do is not preach the Gospel. I kid you not.

There are plenty of examples of this. Consider the head of the Uniting Church of Australia who made this quite clear. According to the Uniting Church newspaper, Crosslight, (June 2008, p. 3), UCA President the Rev Gregor Henderson thinks believers are better advised to shut up than actually share their faith with those of other religions.

In an article entitled, “Other faiths, not for conversion” the President is quoted as saying, “Evangelistic targeting of other faith communities – Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc – is very likely to create tensions between these groups and Christians. We have a strong commitment to positive inter-faith relationships [in which] we are committed to bearing witness to our faith in Christ and to acting always with Christian integrity. But deliberate targeting of people of other faiths has a touch of disrespect about it; it will not contribute to inter-faith understanding and harmony; it will not contribute to peaceful relationships in the Australian community.”

What is one to make of this amazing statement? Well, if we accept the premises of a wishy-washy, watered-down Christianity which argues that there are no real Christian distinctives, and that the best thing we can do is have one big religious family, where no one is seen as superior to another, and all can offer equal truths, then such a statement makes good sense.

But, if one is a Biblical Christian and believes that the Christian gospel is unique, and salvation can be found in no one other than Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12), then this is rank foolishness, if not damnable heresy. If my language sounds strong, so does that of the apostle Paul, who said exactly the same thing: “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal. 1:8-9)

“Let him be accursed.” Them’s fightin’ words. Paul was not mucking around here. The eternal destiny of every man, woman and child is at stake here. If we are afraid of offending others, then we are demonstrating cowardice and foolishness, not real Christian love.

The most loving thing we can do to our neighbour is tell them that they are lost sinners going to a Christless eternity, and only by repenting of their sins and trusting in the atoning work of Christ can they get right with God and live with him forever.

That is the Christian gospel pure and simple. Yet our UCA President is more worried about showing “disrespect” to Muslims and Buddhists. Sorry, but the most respectful thing we can tell someone of another religious faith is that they need to come to Christ, that their own good works will not save them, and that their false beliefs are simply not acceptable, and are in fact a barrier to a relationship with God.

This is not to say there are no truths or no things of value in other faiths. It is to say that if the claims of Christianity are true, then it logically follows that the claims of other religious systems must be false, at least as far as they contradict Biblical truths.

For example, Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ died on a cross, and rose again. Islam teaches that he did not. Both religions cannot be true here. If Christianity is true on this point, then Islam is false, and vice versa.

In the article the UCA President does say that there are many Australians of no religious faith, and many nominal Christians. Concerning these groups, congregations “are to be congratulated where they are reaching out in witness and service to spread the gospel and call people to faith in Christ.”

While this sounds a bit better, questions still remain. Just what “gospel” is it that should be shared? What Christian distinctives, if any, does the UCA still hold to? And why does the President arbitrarily draw a line between those with no formal faith along with nominal Christians, and those belonging to “faith communities”?

Does not everyone need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ? Why seek to argue that only some should? Atheists, nominal Christians, Buddhists and secularists all need to hear the gospel. There is nothing biblical about such arbitrary and unhelpful distinctions.

Moreover, as the Bible makes quite clear, everyone is inherently religious. Even those with no formal religious adherence are deeply religious. It is just a question of what god they worship. If they do not worship the one true and living God, they will worship other gods, such as self, or money, or sex, or power.

Everyone is religious, everyone has a god, and everyone worships that god. The job of the Christian is to convince non-Christians that they are worshipping false gods, and that they are therefore guilty of violating the first commandment (‘You shall have no other gods before me’). Idolatry is about worshiping false gods. According to Scripture, everyone who does not worship the true God is an idolater.

It does no good whatsoever for believers to somehow claim that people of other faiths are quite alright. With all due respect, they are not. They worship false gods, and they are headed to a lost eternity. Christian love demands that we share with them the biblical gospel, and not get bogged down in some mushy, sentimental interfaith movement where we simply allow the majority of mankind to go to hell, all in the name of tolerance and respect.

That is what we are doing when we refuse to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. And again, as Paul said, let such people be anathema, or accursed. Paul knew that strong words were needed when people compromise the gospel and lead others astray.

We can do no less when Christian leaders today effectively tell us that we should not preach the gospel. This is an idea which does not originate from God. This is very dangerous ground indeed to be standing on, and some believers need to take a long, hard look at just what it is that they are claiming to believe in.

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32 Responses to The Offence of the Gospel

  • Whilst every school boy knows that the UCA is APOSTATE and therefore is The False Church it is not commonly known that the ship cannot be turned around because Gregor Henderson and his cronies keep changing the Rules. This has resulted in the shackling of the silent majority and throwing them below.
    Stan Fishley

  • The unseen but not unfelt pressure to water-down the offensiveness of the Gospel is very pervasive and difficult to resist. I often find myself using terminology that seeks to do this even though I know it to be wrong. Most of us would use terms such as ‘Christless eternity’, ‘lost eternity’ or ‘eternity without God’ to avoid the more biblical and offensive terms like ‘eternal torment’ or ‘lake of fire’ for example.

    Ewan McDonald.

  • Rev Henderson sounds as though he is (whether consciously or not) laying a stone to pave way for a One World Religion … but now I break into conspiracy theories!
    Mathew Hamilton

  • Thanks Mathew

    While I am no fan of conspiracy theories, we are warned in the NT about false believers, about wolves in sheep’s clothing, and about what Jesus referred to as the “synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9; 3:9). Those are very strong words, but Jesus in Revelation is portrayed as a very strong and serious opponent of the false religions which war against the true faith. Jesus took such things very seriously, and so should we.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill,

    Do you think/feel it is possible to be a “good person” yet have no desire/interest to be devoted to God/gods? My interest is in what makes a person “good”? I suspect the want/desire to be “good” does not merely come from books since we can find “good” people/children that cannot read or write. It is a question I have pondered more than once.

    Ben Green

  • Thanks Ben

    That is a very good question. It all depends on what you mean by ‘good’. The biblical position is there is no one that is good, that seeks after what is right. Sure, we all have a veneer of being good and civilised, but it is a very thin veneer indeed. Our natural disposition (because of the fall) is to gravitate toward sin and self, and away from God.

    And whatever goodness we have is derivative anyway. It is a gift of God when we do ‘good’ things. It is called common grace. Left to our own devices, we want to go our own selfish way. That is why we need redemption from above, not self-reform.

    We need to admit our real condition before a perfect and holy God. As Lewis said, we are all rebels who need to lay down our arms. But the first step is to recognise our fallenness and rebellion against God, and our desire to be as God, to usurp his place, and deny his existence.

    Thus the biggest sin may be pride, the idea that I am good enough, and have no need of a saviour. The whole purpose of Jesus coming to earth was to save sinners – and that means all of us. To deny we are sinners is to call Christ a liar, and reject his provision for our healing and redemption.

    These are the simply Biblical truths, but they cut against the grain of our way of thinking. At the end of the day there are only two sorts of people in the world: sinners who know they are sinners and have cast themselves upon the grace of God and mercy of Christ, and sinners who see no need of a saviour.

    So I am no better than anyone else – I am just a beggar who has found food, and now want to share that with other beggars. Whether they avail themselves of that food is up to them. But I am called to share the good news that food is available for our hunger, that a doctor is available for our ills, that a saviour is available for our sins.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill,
    Just a note on your answer to Ben’s question on being a good person. If Ben knows as much about christianity as I did two months before i became a christian he probably has no idea what you mean by: “the fall” “cast themselves upon the grace of God” “desire to be as God”.
    Although I do admire your ability to write so much so well I think you may have assumed too much preknowledge in Ben’s case.
    Roger Branford

  • Dear Bill

    I dont think that God leaves it up to us to determine the eternal home of the majority of mankind. Its not us that decides whether a person goes to hell or not. The way a person lives on earth determines his or her eternal abode in the afterlife.
    I agree with you that there are falsities in other religions as well as a core of truth but I also believe that sincere adherents of other religions will also go to heaven. What they have to do down here is to believe in God and live according to the teaching of their religion. Living a good life is simply loving God and loving each other and this in essence is what all the great world religions teach. In the afterlife falsities of religion will be corrected or removed before moving on to heaven.
    A child raised as a Moslem and as an adult lives as a devout Moslem will ultimately end up in heaven. The fact that Christians haven’t reached out to him or he has not come into contact with Christianity surely will not determine his eternal home in the afterlife.
    I think that while we do have the true religion it is rather arrogant of us to imply that we have the power of determining the eternal home of individuals or the majority of mankind by what we do or not do.
    Yes we should seek to share our faith as Christ has commanded us, but Christ has also given us rationality and common sense. There is little point in trying to share our faith with people of other religions who are not prepared to receive it. We can only share our faith with those who are prepared to receive it. Those not prepared to receive are not necessarily condemned to hell.
    I admire your zeal Bill and the good work you do with ‘Culture watch’ but we must remember that it is not us that determines the spiritual outcome for others.

    Philip Richards

  • Dear Philip,

    You are right when you say “it is not us that determines the spiritual outcome for others”. That’s because it is the other person’s response to God’s word which determines their spiritual outcome (ie heaven/hell).

    So what do you say in response to the fact that Jesus Christ himself said in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”, and also in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”?

    These are pretty black and white statements from Jesus himself. Either he’s wrong and we shouldn’t be bothered trying to convert others because our own faith is futile, or he is right. If he is right, how can you possibly say “that sincere adherents of other religions will also go to heaven”? If they haven’t sought God via “the way” (note, it didn’t say “I am A way and A truth and A life…”) where does that leave them?

    There is no basis for your assertion that “In the afterlife falsities of religion will be corrected or removed before moving on to heaven”. Where did you get this from? Certainly not the Bible.

    It’s important to get the correct understanding here, because if you are wrong (as I believe you are), then your attitude towards evangelism may result in many people being lost who may not have been if someone was committed to telling them the Gospel. I’m struggling to understand who you think Jesus was talking about when he said in Matthew 28:19-20: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

    Who would you suggest we should be evangelising? Only those of insincere faith? But who are we to determine the strength of somebody’s faith? You almost make us play God if we must determine who is worthy of being evangelised and who isn’t.

    Regards,
    Mathew Markey

  • Thanks Bill. I guess if one has a small/dismissive view of God, it’s not hard to have a long list of objections to what this god may claim. If we treat God like a mere human with all the infirmities of being finite, it’s pretty intolerable that this god should claim to be “I AM” and to say “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life …” . It sounds so exclusive, because it is! After all, THE truth cannot accommodate whatever politically correct, post-modernist, faddish ideas that are in vogue for this moment in time.
    And there’s more, THE life and THE way, which are by definition the opposite to any other religious paradigms, are unambiguously absolute. Like the absolutes of Atheism and Hinduism and Islam and any other worlview, they exclude the alternatives. We cannot escape it, neither should we be ashamed of it.
    Christianity is inclusively exclusive. It invites in and reaches out to all those in need. But it’s strength comes from a Truth that is exclusive of those who reject THE way.
    And to those who declare, absolutely, “It doesn’t matter, they all lead to the same end….” their’s is a hybrid, homogenised, gutted worldview that is just as exclusive of any who dare to disagree.
    There is no mileage in diminishing the absolutes of any worldview. In this scenario, one ends up like the pluralists: fighting phantoms!

    Bob Johnston

  • Thanks Philip

    I meant to respond right away, but had other commitments. In the meantime several others have written comments along similar lines to what I wished to say. I agree with some of your thoughts. Yes, God alone knows who are his and who are not. God is the ultimate and only judge of which eternal home (heaven or hell) we each will end up in.

    But that is not the end of the story. Jesus commanded us to share with others the good news about how we might become right with God and live with him forever. And he gave us some pretty good indications as to whether people are on the right road or not. As one of many examples, Jesus said this in John 3: 18: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only son.”

    Not only is this a very straight-forward passage; not only are there many more like it; but how does this compare with what you just said about the devout Muslim? With all due respect, it is the exact opposite of what you have said.

    You would know (or should know) that a devout Muslim finds talk about God having a son to be blasphemous. So in relation to the express words of Jesus, a Muslim would strongly disagree with what you just said. And Jesus said such a person (who rejects the Son) is condemned already. The gospel message is quite clear: we are all dead in our trespasses and sin, and we are all headed to a lost eternity.

    Jesus Christ is the only provision God has made for getting right with God. “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus said, “no one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6) Now we either accept what Jesus said here or we reject it. If we reject it, then we can no longer call ourselves biblical Christians.

    Being devout or sincere saves no one. A person can be sincerely wrong. And you said that you think that we have the true religion. Yet with all due respect, if you really believed that, you would not be so hesitant to proclaim the truth claims of Christianity.

    A biblical Christian takes the words of Jesus very seriously indeed. He sent us on a rescue mission, and made it clear that we all need rescuing, not just some. Sure, as you say, we should be wise in how we share the good news, and some people may be more ready than others. But as Paul said, “Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel”. We have an obligation to share the good news with everyone. And we are not to assume that everyone is headed to heaven. Jesus made this quite clear. Without repentance and belief in him, they are not at all heading to heaven.

    If you knew that the road bridge ahead was washed out, and those heading there would all fall into a deep ravine and perish, you would of course do everything you could to warn them, to persuade them to stop and turn around, and to avoid that danger.

    In the same way a biblical Christian has an obligation to warn others that unless they follow God’s directions, and repent, turn from sin, and make Christ lord and saviour, they are heading for a lost eternity. Thus believing something to be true means you will act on it. You seem to claim that Christianity is true, but you seem very hesitant to act on it. Thus one can rightly ask, just how serious are you in your beliefs?

    My advice would be – if you do not mind me offering it – that you sit down and read through the entire Gospel of John, and see if you can still say the same things you have said to me, after reading what Jesus had to say in that Gospel. It seems to me that if what Jesus said there is in fact true, then much of what you have just said cannot be.

    So again, it is not an issue of me or anyone else judging someone. It is simply taking Jesus at his word, and lining up our point of view with the words of the one we claim to be followers of. And the fact that some have not yet heard the gospel means only one thing: we should be doing all we can to make sure they do hear it. “The fields are white for harvest, but the labourers are few” said Jesus. He said pray that more workers are sent into the harvest. In other words, we need more Christians out there telling non-Christians the good news of the gospel, not lamenting the fact that they have not heard.

    I hope I am not being too strong here. I think Jesus was quite strong in what he said, because he loved and cared enough about people to tell them the truth, even if that truth hurt. The most loving thing I can do for a devout Muslim (or an atheist, or anyone else) is to tell them that their only hope of reconciliation with God comes only in the person and work of Jesus Christ, That is the biblical gospel, pure and simple. It is what we must fearlessly and consistently proclaim.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • If your faith in Jesus is not causing you some discomfort then I would query your apparent fence sitting. Comfortable christianity, comfortable pews and comfortable preaching is the reason our faith makes no impression on anyone; it may cost some of us to lose our lives for what we believe in; perish the thought you say; then read Hebrews and look at the plight of real believers.
    Ilona Sturla

  • Thanks Bill and Mathew

    I have no problem with your Biblical quotations but I do have a problem with how you use them. There is much truth in the saying that ‘God lets more people into heaven that you or I would’. God is a God of love and wisdom and it is absurd to suggest that just because of an accident of birth, a devout Hindu raised in India goes to hell while a devout Christian raised in Australia goes to heaven.
    Yes Christianity is the true religion but where does this leave people who have been raised in the religions of other cultures? Are they by definition cast into hell in the other life even if they have lived according to the teachings of their religion? I think not. Remember in the afterlife there is a separation of the sheep from the goats with the sheep being those who have lived good lives on earth. This includes those who have lived well but have accepted falsities of religion through ignorance or for cultural reasons. They are not condemned because they have believed some falsities on earth but introduced to the truth that the Lord God Jesus Christ reigns. When they accept this they are qualified to enter heaven. This is consistent with the teaching that Christ is the way and the truth and the life and no one comes into heaven except through Him.

    What advantage do we get from the truths of Christianity? We get greater clarity and guidance in how we should live on earth and that’s it. Each of us, Christians, Budhists, Hindus etc have to earn our place in heaven by how we live down here and not in the number of spiritual truths that we know, although knowledge of spiritual truths is a great help in guiding our actions.

    So what about evangelising. Yes we should do this because Christ commands us to do it. So how do we do this? There are many ways of doing this. Bill does it through his web-site and many other ways. We need to take advantage of opportunities to share our faith and we also influence people with the way we live and through our dealings with others. But we also have to use our common sense. For example it would be counter-productive to stand outside a mosque with a loudhailer bellowing out the truths of Christianity. We can’t compel people to believe as we do but instead we should try to find people who are ready to receive Christian philosophical and religious guidance. There are many of these out there and they should be the focus of our efforts.

    Bill hope this is not too long. Let me take up your quote John 3: 18: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only son.” True ultimately. There are many people out there who have rejected Christ including teenagers, atheists, lapsed Christians and so on. In this state and if it continues to death they are off to hell. But what of those who turn and embrace Christianity or some other religion and lead a useful, caring life? Are they condemned because they once rejected Christ?

    Philip Richards

  • Philip,

    The question of what happens to other believers used to bother me a lot more until I realized that it is not my concern how God judges them as much as how He works in me. Am I fulfilling His will in my life? Am I endeavouring to build His Kingdom? These are far more important questions, and whilst we must not abandon those who have not heard the Good News or accept false doctrine, it is simply not useful to speculate at length on what God will do with those who have never heard the Gospel. To do so is to place yourself on the throne that is rightfully His. In more practical terms, it is also a waste of time because – answer me this – do you think God would change His criteria for judgment even just a little based upon your thoughts? We need to trust that He knows a lot more than us!

    And btw, if others haven’t already flagged one glaring error of teaching in your letter, may I point out to you that we do not “earn” our place in heaven. To suggest otherwise is to devalue Christ’s death on the cross. This difference (the concept of grace) is the fundamental dividing line between what Jesus taught and every other system of faith (including cults derivative from Christianity)

    And given that the idea that we are helpless to save ourselves seems to correlate far more accurately with the history of us humans, it’s a nice little signpost to the truth of Christ.

    Mark Rabich

  • Mark, I agree. See Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV) “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

    This is part of what makes the gospel so offensive to many unbelievers. They believe that if they live good enough lives God may be willing to let them in to heaven. But the Bible says that all our righteousness is as filthy rags (see isaiah 64:6). Our good works, will not save us. Jesus has taken the punishment for our sin, so that he may forgive us and enable us to do good deeds.

    Romans 3 is a good chapter to read too. I will just pick out a few key verses (but you should read it all)
    “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” (Verse 20)

    “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (verse 23-24)

    “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (verse 28)

    Christianity is not a set of rules, we are not saved by rules.

    It is important to understand that Paul was keen for his readers not to get caught up in legalism. But Gentile license is also a problem. James 2:14-25 is also worth reading.

    People often look at James 2:24 “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” and believe it contradicts Paul, but it doesn’t. James was concerned that believers did not feel they could do whatever they want and get to heaven. He demonstrates that “faith without deeds is useless” (v20). You demonstrate whether you value what you believe by how you act. If you believe that you are saved by Jesus, then act appropriately in response. Show that you care for others. Do what you know is the right thing to do. Believing intellectually is not enough, for even the demons believe (see v19). We don’t live up to God’s standard all the time but it’s something to aspire to and with God’s grace he will enable us.

    We are not saved by works of the Law, but we do need to understand that God expects us to live differently once saved. We need to keep on believing and an important part of this is our actions. It should be so much a part of our reformed character, not legalistic at all, that it comes naturally. Indeed Jesus’ actions could not be regarded as legalistic, as he offended legalistic people because he healed on the Sabbath (needless to say, Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy).

    As in the Old Testament, when God saved the people of Israel out of Egypt and then gave them the Law, so we are saved and then expected to change our ways. To argue that we are saved by our merit in obeying a set of laws, as if we could add to Jesus’s perfect work is heresy, but to argue that God is happy for us to do whatever we want so long as we believe is just as invalid. It is important to keep a balanced view.

    Matthew Mulvaney

  • Dear Mark
    You’ve come a little late to this discussion – its centred on other faiths and how should we treat them so this is not the place to say there are more important questions than what we are discussing.
    “earn” was an unfortunate word to use. Let me rephrase the sentence as follows “Each of us, Christians, Budhists, Hindus etc have to deserve our place in heaven by how we live down here and not in the number of spiritual truths that we know, although knowledge of spiritual truths is a great help in guiding our actions.”

    Philip Richards

  • Something brief I forgot to mention in my comment.

    If one looks at the great examples of faith in the Bible, one can see that in regards to those commended for their faith in places such as Hebrews 11 that their faith was part of their character, it affected how they lived. It is not just an intellectual thing that many make it out to be today.

    This is one of the important things about the passage in the book of James for us today, a good example of how the Bible is an up to date book. God knew we needed that passage to remind us that faith goes hand in hand with action.

    Matthew Mulvaney

  • Thanks Philip

    Sorry, but I have been interstate so things have been busy. You again raise a number of important issues. Most of your concerns and questions are again answered by the clear words of Jesus and the teachings of the New Testament. Acknowledgment of our sin, repentance and faith in Christ is the only entry ticket into heaven; end of story. This is the clear teaching of the New Testament. The question is, do we accept what Jesus and the NT teach, or do we not?

    Indeed, I think a more central issue is at stake here. It is the question of authority. Are God’s word and the teachings of Jesus authoritative or are they not? That is the real issue. With all due respect, it seems that you are sitting in judgment on God, his word, and the clear commands of Jesus. You seem to have decided that you are not happy with what God has revealed about the entry requirements into the Kingdom, and you are going to set him straight about it all.

    I should think a follower of Jesus is above all one who submits to the teachings of Christ, who lets God be God, and recognises the final authority of Scripture. The impression one gets from reading your comments is that God is really not quite up to the task of deciding who should be saved and who shouldn’t, and you perhaps have a better idea.

    Forgive me if I am wrong, but you appear to think God might be a poor judge of who should be saved. You seem to imply that you are in a better position to make these judgments than God is, because you seem to keep disagreeing with God’s clear Word on all this. But I am quite happy to trust God on this, and accept what he says about those who do not have his son. “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:25)

    If all good religious people are going to heaven, then that implies Jesus wasted his time coming to planet earth. Jesus said I have come for the sick, not for those who are well. And he made it quite clear that every one of us are sick and in need of a doctor.

    But human pride says, “Other people may be dirty rotten scoundrels and need Christ’s help, but I am basically a pretty decent chap. I am a nice guy, a good person, a religious person. I am not a sinner, and I do not need a saviour”.

    Scripture says otherwise. “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). “You were dead in your trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). There are heaps of these sorts of passages. The Bible makes it absolutely clear that every one of us is a sinner, and we all rightly deserve the wrath of God and eternal separation from him.

    The Bible is equally clear and insistent that only those who avail themselves of the finished work of Christ on Calvary, and agree with God about His solution to the sin problem, will finally be reconciled to God.

    Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:20, “We implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God”. Why would he urge us to be reconciled to God if we are not separated from him in the first place? You seem to think that if a person is nice, or devout or sincere, that he is right with God. Nowhere does Scripture teach that. Indeed, Paul says we are dead in our trespasses and sin. How can dead people do anything? Jesus said people pass from death to life when they receive him (John 5:24). Without Jesus, we are all dead men walking.

    In your newest comment you replace the term “earn” with deserve”. But I am afraid that is no better, from a biblical point of view. We deserve nothing good as sinners. Indeed, the only thing we deserve is eternal separation from God because of our sin. Thank God we do not get what we deserve. Because of God’s unearned, undeserved and unmerited grace and favour, those who acknowledge they are sinners deserving of wrath, and repent and seek to make Christ lord of their life get the free (unearned and undeserved) gift of salvation. It is completely of grace. Not of works, says Paul, but pure grace (Eph. 2:8-9)

    At the end of the day there are only two options for each of us. Either we let Jesus be Lord, and we submit to him and agree with him, including what he says about the state of the nonbeliever, or we make ourselves Lord, and tell Jesus we will call the shots, we will determine what is true and false, right and wrong, and we will decide how people get to heaven.

    I would urge you to think carefully about who is the real authority here. Does the word of God deserve to be believed and obeyed in all this, or do we just say something is “absurd” and tell God we intend to correct him on what he has clearly said? Again, it is a question of final authority. Are God and his revealed word the authority, or am I?

    I am sorry too if I have gone too long here, but these are life and death issues which we must get right.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Dear Bill
    You are well read in scripture but what worries me at times is the use you make of it. I have read many of your articles and you write very well on ethical issues, euthanasia, abortion, homosexuality, atheism etc but in regard to other religions you seem to take a narrow, black and white approach. Let me explain.
    In your last piece you make a number of negative remarks about me. (Philip) seems to suggest that God is not quite up to the task of deciding who should be saved and who shouldn’t and perhaps you (Philip) have a better idea. You say I appear to think God might be a poor judge of who should be saved. I (Philip) seem to keep disagreeing with God’s clear Word.
    It’s hard to see how you could draw these false inferences from what I have written. Now I am a fellow Christian and you have completely misjudged me. Another disturbing point that emerges from your piece is your intolerance with anyone who questions the use you make of the biblical passages you quote.
    The implication of your personal remarks is that its your way or else! The Inquistion had exactly this approach. If the “offender” didn’t comply with the exact black and white wording of Holy Scripture as they understood it they often declared the offender a heretic and burnt him at the stake. Holy Scripture never prescribed this remedy for those with a different take on scripture or who rejected scripture. Burning at the stake was added by man and its equivalent these days is ad hominem attack on those with a different or more nuanced view.
    Back to the religions of the world. These have been provided by God so that almost everywhere there should be some form of religion. There is a core of truth in all the world religions. Everyone who acknowledges God and refrains from doing evil because it is against God should have a place in heaven. In other words, if a person believes in God and lives according to the teachings of his or her religion he or she will go to heaven. As I have said earlier, Christianity is the true religion and all the passages you have quoted I believe in and they are true. But when it comes to the afterlife our eternal home is determined by how we live on earth. Do we repent of our sins and strive to live in accordance with the teachings of our religion? If we have wrong or false ideas or no knowledge about Christ as Jews or Moslems do, are we sent to hell by God even though we have lived caring and useful lives on earth, loving God and our fellow man? Could there be some further instruction provided by angels in the spiritual world to newly arrived good spirits from earth correcting their false ideas and thereby preparing them for heaven? Those entering heaven fulfil all the requirements of scripture without exception.
    Philip Richards

  • Thanks again Philip

    Actually if it is of any help I am quite happy to step out of this discussion altogether. By which I mean, what I think or say really does not matter much at all. So feel free to take no notice of me. The only thing that really matters is what God thinks.

    My point here all along in my discussion with you has simply been this: your version of events concerning the eternal destiny of those of other religions seems to be greatly at variance with the biblical account. And with all due respect, you continue this with your latest comment. For example, you say the religions of the world have been provided by God. I would plead with you to show me even one verse in the entire Bible that comes even remotely close to saying this.

    While this is nowhere found in Scripture, there is much about doctrines of demons, demonic deception, false prophets, false teaching, warnings about false Christs, wrong doctrine, and so on.

    Philip, at the end of the day it does not matter one bit what I think or believe. But everything matters as to what Scripture says. If it is of use, simply ignore everything I have said to you thus far. Who cares what I believe? Let me simply reiterate my challenge to you: read the Gospel of John and ask yourself if what you have been saying here lines up with is said there. That is really the only point I have been trying to make

    I apologise for causing you any grief or offense. It has not been my intention. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Dear Philip,

    I would like to comment that I agree with Bill. I think that if we can get to heaven and be with God and be holy by other means than the cross, than why did Jesus do it? Why would Jesus die if it was not necessary? In my view that would be the epitomy of masochism, God suffering without need for that suffering.

    And Philip, when I think about what you read, I think that it sounds so nice. It sounds great actually… My muslim friends or other non-Christian friends can still get to heaven without Jesus. I do not really have to worry about them because, as long as they live a good life, I will meet them again! Even better, I do not have to go through the whole work of trying to evangelize because it is not really necessary. Christians all over the world do not have to go through the persecution they are facing, because ‘living a good life’ is good enough.
    So to be really honest, it is very appealing to believe what you are saying and it would perhaps be true if Jesus had said that we would have an easy time as Christians on this world. But did Jesus say that?

    Paul gives us the example of running a race. I am working as a missionary using sports and I can tell you that running a race is not easy life. Ask any marathon runner if it was an easy race and listen to what they have to say. At about 30 km in the race you reach the point where you simply think you can not continue, it is a fight to break through and mentally you have to be strong enough to break through this barrier to be able to finish what you started. I think it is the same with Christianity, we do not have an easy life in the way that everything is going for us, but we do have Jesus with us along the way. That is something other religions do not have… Jesus said himself that He is the way, without Him, no one will get to the Father.

    Our lives are not easy, we do have to go into the world and preach the gospel because it is the only way.

    I am sorry Philip, I do not want this to seem like a ‘tag-team against Philip’, but Biblically Bill is correct in what he said. And this is my first comment on websites such as these, so maybe I do not fully make sense. But you said that you are a Christian, then I ask you to take the scriptures that Bill quoted to heart, read them over and over again, ask God to reveal to you what the meaning of that word is! That is what I do every time again and I believe that is what Bill does as well. By doing that, I have come to this conclusion…

    Mendel Ottow

  • Dear Philip,

    Regarding your notion that common-sense should be used as to who we choose to witness to or don’t, I would urge you to read a very challenging book by Brother Andrew and Al Janssen of Open Doors International called “Secret Believers”. This documents how many Muslims IN THEIR OWN ISLAMIC COUNTRIES, are being led to Christ. They then conclude the book exhorting us in western countries not to rule out witnessing to those Muslims in our own communities, but to pray for them and to display a Christian life to them as a witness, because most of them have never seen what true Christianity is. According to your thinking, we shouldn’t bother because they are already going to heaven anyway. Do you want to stake these people’s souls on your interpretation of scripture? I know that sounds harsh, but this is important stuff.

    Note also that we wouldn’t have thought it necessary to witness to the Pharisees of Christ’s day under your system, because they would have appeared very sincere in their faith and impeccable in their works. And yet Jesus, who could discern more than others (being God), saw straight through their works and condemned them because he knew that they were not sincere (see Matthew 23). I’m not quite sure how under your system we are supposed to decide who is sincere and good enough (so leave them alone), and who is not (so witness to them).

    Regards,
    Mathew Markey

  • Phillip, I side with Bill on this issue. The teaching of scripture is clear.

    Look at Romans 3:9-20 which concludes in verse 20 with “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”

    You say that “if a person lives according to the teachings of his or her religion he or she will go to heaven.” I would challenge you to name one person (apart from Jesus) who has unswervingly throughout their life lived according to the teachings of their religion. Can’t think of anyone? I thought so. If living by rules will get us to heaven then we all stand here condemned. If you’re guilty of breaking one law it’s as bad as breaking the lot of them.

    You say “But when it comes to the afterlife our eternal home is determined by how we live on earth. Do we repent of our sins and strive to live in accordance with the teachings of our religion?”. You are saying that if we repent and obey a set of rules we’ll get to heaven. That’s sounds awfully legalistic to me.

    The Bible is clear. Only Jesus can save us.

    You wrote:
    “Could there be some further instruction provided by angels in the spiritual world to newly arrived good spirits from earth correcting their false ideas and thereby preparing them for heaven?”

    Hebrews 9:27-28 “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

    There is no mention of a purgatory or some instruction from angels changing us to become right with God once we die. Jesus will come to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. It says nothing about those who are not waiting for him. They are not given any assurance of salvation.

    No one comes to the Father except through Jesus.

    I feel that this highlights a reason why the Great Commission is so important. Jesus doesn’t want anyone to be lost. He would like as many as possible to believe and be saved.

    Then once all nations have heard the gospel of Jesus he will come back.

    Matthew Mulvaney

  • Dear Bill
    Let me reiterate that I admire the work that you do and the only difference we have concerns your comments regarding the eternal destiny of people of other religions. I quote from your last piece “…you say the religions of the world have been provided by God. I would plead with you to show me even one verse in the entire Bible that comes even remotely close to saying this.”
    My answer is John 10:16, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold : them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”
    Then there is John 14:2 “ In my Father’s House there are many mansions…”
    We have the criminal on the cross in Luke 23:42,43 who said to Jesus, “Lord remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” And Jesus said unto him, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” The self-confessed criminal was not even a Christian because the Christian Church was not in existence then, and he was a law-breaker but he was saved.
    Do you think that the criminal on the Cross, who was in Jesus’s presence because he happened to be crucified alongside him for his crimes can be saved, while in our time a God-fearing Moslem or Jew who has lived on earth according to the teachings of his religion will be denied salvation? Are they not sheep of another fold? Surely we have to admit the possibility that they will also be saved. Not that any of the Biblical passages that you have quoted will be negated but ultimately they will have to apply before final admission to heaven.
    Philip Richards

  • Phil;

    I am just coming along now in this. I think honestly; someone in your past has hurt you in regard to spiritual things.

    This is real, there is no denying the plain facts as they are. I greatly would like to think there was no Hell, for anyone.

    But think about how strongly you would think if your son died to save someone’s life and they were rude about not wanting to. It is understandable. God is right.

    Love and prayers
    Br Jim Junkins

  • Thanks Philip

    With all due respect none of the passages you mention has the slightest thing to do with Hindus or other non-Christians going to heaven. It is a basic principle of hermeneutics to study passages in context. The clear context of John 10 is the fact that as the Jews continue to reject Jesus and the gospel, others will receive Jesus, namely the gentiles. The gentiles will become part of the fold. The gospel is not only for the Jews, but for anyone who will listen, repent, and turn to Jesus. Thus this passage merely refers to a wider audience, but the need to come to Christ is the same criteria for kingdom entrance.

    As to John 14:2 the imagery of the Father’s house with many rooms was a common Jewish description of heaven back then. Jesus is simply comforting his followers here, and is saying that they can be assured of a final eternal abode. Of course the passage says nothing in the least about those of other religions who follow their own teachings going to heaven. Nothing whatsoever. Why are you clutching at straws here Philip?

    Anyone can play fast and loose with Scripture. Back in my hippy days (before I was a Christian; when I may have been “good” and a devout New Ager, but I was still on the way to hell), I was sure this passage was a proof for reincarnation. My spin on John 14:2 was just as reckless and off the mark as those who use it to argue for the salvation of people from other religions.

    Finally, the Lukan passage equally has nothing whatsoever to do with those devout followers of other religions going to heaven. Unlike the other crucified criminal, this man knew he was a sinner and knew that only in Jesus did he have a chance of forgiveness and eternal life. Once again there is nothing here to argue that a Muslim or Buddhist is somehow going to heaven simply because he is devout or a nice guy. So yes, in answer to your question, the criminal knew his need, repented, and cast himself on the mercy of Christ. That is the only way a person will make it to heaven today; not by thinking one is quite alright and devout, and has no need of a saviour.

    Thus I am afraid you are still left without a scrap of Scriptural evidence for your position Philip. For some reason you continue to ignore passage after passage that we quote to you about no one being righteous, about all our righteous being like filthy rags (literally, menstruous cloth – Is. 64:6), and about Jesus dying for everyone, not just “bad” people. So I ask you once again, is God’s word the final authority on these matters, or mere human opinion and wishful thinking?

    For some reason (even if well intentioned), you keep seeming to think that God is not merciful enough, and you have to help him out here. Sorry Philip, but God sets the rules, not us. If you do not like the ground rules that God has set, fine, but pretending to somehow be more merciful than God (which is the clear implication of what you are trying to do here) is not helping matters much. With all due respect again, it is effectively to call God a liar, and to say that mere humans know better than God and can do a better job than God.

    You simply seem to have a very low view of the horror of human sin. That corresponds with a very low view of the holiness, purity, perfection and righteousness of God. While Scripture clearly teaches we are all lost sinners deserving of eternal punishment, you do not seem to think so. Well, again, I must be true to Scripture. So I cannot go along with you here.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • G’day. Always remembering the strong statements of scripture: “There is no peace saith my God to the wicked”. I remember being in that catagory and feeling as if I would fall into Hell at any moment. It may be too late for Phillip in the morning.

    What you do with the Gospel, is what you believe about the Gospel. If you leave folk with no Death, Burial, and Res… to justify us in the court of God without Good works. They have no hope, no peace, no indwelling Christ Jesus. You’re just [Phil] patting them on the back into Hell. You got to tell folk about Him !!!!!!!!!!

    Jim Junkins

  • Philip,

    You wrote,

    We have the criminal on the cross in Luke 23:42,43 who said to Jesus, “Lord remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” And Jesus said unto him, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” The self-confessed criminal was not even a Christian because the Christian Church was not in existence then, and he was a law-breaker but he was saved.

    Why would you believe the criminal was not a Christian when he clearly acknowledged Jesus’ authority and identity, his own need of this power and his own helplessness? That is profoundly the very essence of being a Christian! Look again at your argument – you seem to be saying that God needs the church to give the label ‘Christian’ before one can be saved. I rather think it is the church that needs God’s authority to do anything first!

    Also, consider this verse: “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.””
    Romans 10:9-11

    My view is, this episode at the crucifixion with the criminal is a good example of how simple God has made it for us to be saved and consequently how strange (and offensive to God) it is for people to invent other ways to achieve it. He has made it as easy and as graceful as is possible. The criminal made a confession of faith in Jesus directly to Him (interestingly, before the resurrection but yet still acknowledging life after death) and in so doing certainly became a Christian at that moment.

    I’m not sure why you want to persist in discussing this issue. Jesus made it clear to his followers that we are to preach the Gospel, and what happens to those where the message does not get to them before they die is not an issue that we need to spend much time on – at least, not over and above concerns of our own faith and how it is expressed.

    The reason why I believe this is so is because I can only admit to God so often of my failure to take seriously the Great Commission and therefore, if less people know of God’s offer (and therefore proliferate the extent of the dilemma) who is responsible for the problem? Me. I am therefore disqualified from giving too much time in the discussion of this. I have only assisted in creating the problem, therefore it would be rather arrogant of me to give God advice (or speculate at length on what He must do) on the solution. I could be wrong, but I doubt it if you could say that you were in any better a situation than me.

    In other words, if it is a problem to you what happens to those who have not yet heard the Gospel when they die, then may I respectfully point out you have a clear mandate to become a missionary first and become part of the solution! I think I understand why you are concerned about this issue, but to discuss it at length (ie. speculate on what God should or might do) is simply a waste of time. The biblical position on what we should do is pretty well defined.

    Mark Rabich

  • Dear Bill
    How arrogant it is to claim to know ultimate and final answers for people of all cultures based on an interpretation of a text! Your interpretation is narrow and excludes other passages which have a bearing on this matter. Jesus asked us to raise our minds from the natural, material world to the spiritual realm and all his actions and discourses are to be understood in spiritual terms so that we can draw out the spiritual sense. Remember that as the Apostle Paul said, “ the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
    Are you seriously suggesting that two God fearing people of comparable spiritual attainments, one raised in a Christian culture and one raised in a different culture, say Judaism or Buddhism, are going to have widely differing afterlife outcomes because of an accident of geography?
    The vision of love inspired by John’s Gospel itself provides a motivation to strive toward constructing an adequate interpretation that would account both for the experiences of people of obvious spiritual attainment and for the kind of God whom Jesus revealed the Father to be.
    Christians over the centuries have come to realise that knowing God wasn’t a consequence of where you worshipped (in Jerusalem or at Gerizim) or where you came from. They realised that God could be worshipped (known) only in spirit and truth. People of all backgrounds could find God in the same place : in their hearts and minds and hands.
    John’s Gospel constantly presents salvation as a self-transcendent affair through the New Commandment to love others just as one would want to be loved. Following this Commandment brings us into a constructive relationship with others, with creation and with the Creator. It brings us into the Father’s household, or the Kingdom of heaven. The only way to be excluded from eternal life in the Father’s household is to reject the New Commandment, to turn one’s life away from others (including God) and toward oneself exclusively.
    Emanuel Swedenborg says that no one is born for hell, for the Lord is love itself, and His love is to will the salvation of all. Therefore He has provided a religion for everyone, and for those who live a moral, good life according to their religion and who acknowledge a Divine Being they are accepted by the Lord and come into heaven.
    Finally Bill I would urge you to be very careful how you apply particular verses of scripture and especially in relation to the spiritual fate of people of non-Christian Religions. It is not for us to speculate or pronounce on their spiritual fate.

    Best wishes
    Philip Richards

  • Thanks Philip

    Ah, but finally you let the cat out of the bag! Finally a bit of honesty comes forth here. All this while you were feigning to be a biblical Christian, but now the truth finally emerges. You are a Swedenborgian. That explains everything of course.

    It is now all quite clear why the words of Jesus and the Bible mean so little to you. You have latched on to a spiritualist fruit loop, and worship at his altar, instead of at the living and true God’s altar.

    OK, so now that your cards are finally on the table, we can have a proper debate. Swedenborg is of course the very sort of false prophet that Jesus warned about.

    One could ask whether he was eating too many funky mushrooms, for all of his visions, dreams and “spiritual” experiences match those of other cultists, occultists, sectarians, spiritualists, and false teachers. He of course rejected all of the mainstream biblical doctrines, including the Trinity, salvation in Christ, and the authority of Scripture.

    His Arcana Coelestia (Heavenly Secret) is just the sort of nonsense that people like Oprah would be happy to parade today, and deceive many. It is just more New Age foolishness. Indeed, I was heavily into all these sorts of teachings and esoteric doctrines before I became a Christian. After I became a Christian I realised I had to make a choice: either Jesus is the final and sole source of truth, or these other mystics and spiritualists are. I chose Jesus.

    A Swedish contemporary of his called Swedenborg “nothing but a fool”. Quite so. There are so many warnings in Scripture about these kinds of charlatans, and the fact that so many people will fall for this mumbo jumbo hook, line and sinker.

    He is just one of countless heretics who have emerged to deceive the very elect. Indeed, no wonder why the Swedenborgians reject so many books of the Bible. Being a medium, a shaman and a “seer”, Swedenborg was involved in the very things the Bible clearly condemns (eg., Deut. 18:9-12). His occult involvement made him a perfect channel for demonic deception.

    Now that you have finally spilled the beans, answering you is quite easy. You have rejected Jesus Christ and the Word of God for this bit of psychobabble. Now that we know where you are coming from, I will have to remind you of my blog rules. If you want to push your own agenda, do it on your own website, not mine.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • This is a ‘Thank you’ and not a comment on any article.

    I have just come across your website and have found much about it that I like.

    As a former UCA minister (now retired) who felt compelled to resign from the UCA some years ago, I am delighted to hear the voice that boldly witnesses to authentic Christianity has not yet been silenced in the denomination.

    Thank you for the contents of your site.

    Jim McClure

  • Many thanks Jim.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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