Thursday, January 20, 2011

Only One Way?

Several years ago my wife Kathy and I spent a memorable two weeks of ministry in India. While there we visited the Lotus Temple of the Baha'i Faith, known as the second most beautiful building in India (second only to the Taj Mahal). Of greater impact to me than the beauty of this building was the sign located at the entrance.

“All religions welcome. Except those narrow minded religions that believe they are the only way to heaven.”

One of the cardinal tenets of the Christian faith, and the concept often cited by skeptics and unbelievers as most objectionable or unreasonable from their perspective, is the idea that there is only one way to Heaven. Yet Jesus asserted, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” (John14:6)

Baha’i is but one of many religions that proclaim that there are many pathways to heaven. ” Put another way, the contention is that it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere in your belief.

It seems to me that the core issue for those who hold this position is an unwillingness to accept absolutes. Of course to hold such a position would be considered absurd in many other disciplines or areas of life.

Let me point out a number of reasons why this objection to absolute truth, or “one way” is both unscientific and unreasonable.

Physical laws

We employ absolute or “one way” thinking in the realm of physical laws. No reasonable person wastes time objecting to or arguing against the law of gravity. When an object of mass is dropped from a height, there is always one law that prevails. The same would be true in aerodynamics (the bumblebee excepted). If I wish to “fly” from one location to another hundreds or thousands of miles away, I must submit to the principles or laws of aerodynamics—typically inside an aircraft!.

Another illustration can be found in the toxic or healing properties of chemicals. For example, hydrocodone can be used under appropriate supervision for pain relief. Unsupervised, it can lead to addiction and serious danger.

These are examples of immutable physical laws that impose limitations on us. Clearly they can be very narrow in both application and effect.

Judicial laws

In a free society, the law of ownership implies certain rights. As a homeowner, I have the right to insist that you refrain from smoking in my house. No reasonable person would argue that we do not have the right to set boundaries in our own home.

We often experience this “one way” principle when we attend a public event. Typically there is only one means of access – by invitation only, or by the purchase of a ticket or pass. I cannot insist that there should be “many ways” for me to enter an event if legal boundaries (like tickets or special passes) have been prescribed. The owner of the event has the right to enforce “narrow” requirements for participation.

We also accept laws regarding the judgment of temporal crimes – in fact we demand that they be applied. Steal, kill, or drive drunk, and you will face the consequences.

“One Way” to Heaven

In much the same way, given that God is in charge of heaven, and the Kingdom to come, as the Creator/Owner He certainly has the right to set the ground rules for entrance to His property or event.

Why then, the insistence that there are no absolute laws governing spiritual realities, or the afterlife? I believe there are three reasons why many people are reluctant to accept the idea that there is only one way to heaven, or to experience the ultimate happiness of eternal life…

The power of ideas

First the concept of pluralism, which has been defined as the theory that there is more than one basic substance, principle or guiding belief, runs deep in the American or western psyche. We accept many ideas on a wide variety of issues. It is one of the strengths of a free society, and a unique part of American and European culture. Tolerance is regarded as one the supreme western values – even a virtue by many.

This concept has become deeply ingrained in our society and has been reinforced from many sources and directions. But we must acknowledge that not every good idea has universal application… For example, most people applaud freedom in selecting a husband or wife, but we have decided as a nation that polygamy is not in our best interest as a society. In fact, we impose limitations on our freedoms in this and other ways every day.

The mysterious nature of death

Second, the effects of laws such as gravity, aerodynamics, and disease can be witnessed and experienced daily. We know what happens when someone falls from a two-story building. We understand the kind of damage a speeding bullet can do. We have seen the devastation of floods. But death, and what follows, still remain a mystery.

People have heard stories, read books, and heard sermons, but we cannot experience on a daily basis what it is like to be dead, or to come face-to-face with God. We cannot journey back and forth from the other side to tell with certainty what awaits us, like one might travel to New York City, then return, and report on the visit. Death remains a mystery as far as our experience goes.

Thus we are compelled to form our opinions based on partial knowledge. As Christians, we refer to the  knowledge we have as revelation. We believe that God has revealed these truths that are beyond our knowing from experience by His Word, the Bible.

Human nature

Finally, the Bible teaches that rebellion against God is deeply embedded in human nature.

As I stood beside the sign at the entrance to the Lotus Temple watching the thousands of pilgrims visiting from all over the world, my heart was gripped with a desire to see each individual recognize and respond to God's provision of salvation through faith in the death and resurrection of his Son. As Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4, this is the good news that offers the only way into God heaven.

Here at Southeastern Bible College, we are committed to Biblical revelation, not only because we desire to honor God’s word, but because we deeply care about the eternal destiny of men and women. Thus we believe that what the Bible teaches about this critically important issue is THE TRUTH, not one of many “truths.” We are further committed to equipping men and women to effectively carry this life-giving message to people both here and around the world.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this subject and welcome your response.

1 comment:

  1. I agree 100% that "an unwillingness to accept absolutes" is the core problem! It is post-modernism at it's finest...YOUR truth is not necessarily MY truth. However, as Christians, we KNOW that the Bible is TRUTH.
    That ALL are rebellious by nature is certainly part of the equation. I think Paul says it best as he quotes the OT in his third chapter of Romans; "There is NONE who seek after God, no not one."
    I have been looking forward to January 24 since we dismissed in November!!!