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.