My Facebook friend, Sisterlisa Bertolini (who has a blog called SoulLibertyFaith) regularly posts comments that are springboards for interesting discussion, like this one:
In my studies of ancient paganism history and their beliefs, I have come to the conclusion that either Christianity is more pagan than Frank Viola has indicated in his book OR God was telling the pagans about himself all along. Perhaps we’re all really pagan and exploring the Divine. Maybe we should stop arguing so much about it & be at peace.
If one were to google “what is unique about christianity” he or she would find all kinds of gems and lots of fluff, too. Like this quote:
Christianity is also the only religion that recognizes the hopeless gap between man and a Holy and Righteous God, teaching that salvation can only be obtained through God’s grace. All other religions teach that salvation can be achieved through human effort.
This statement is composed of bits of truth and lots of fluff. Let’s sort it out:
1. “Christianity is the only religion…” Christianity is one name given to two concepts – religion and relationship. The former is the most common use of the word, in both definition and practical application, in my opinion.
2. “the hopeless gap between man and a Holy and Righteous God” – the gap is recognized, indeed, and sadly, it is overemphasized and even worshipped in a way. Traditional views leave that gap there for eternity and punish/shun anyone who claims otherwise.
3. “teaching that salvation can only be obtained through God’s grace. All other religions teach that salvation can be achieved through human effort.” – this is true in one sense and false in another. Christianity (the religion) in its orthodox view teaches salvation as the drowning man grabbing hold of the salvation-life-preserver or the dying man swallowing his salvation-medicine, but the truth is the grace of God makes a living person out of a pile of bones. The former scenarios show effort on the part of man while the latter example demonstrates it is truly all God’s work.
This is what I believe Sisterlisa Bertolini is talking about; correct me if I’m wrong, Lisa. Christianity (the religion) can be lumped right in there with all the non-Christian religions, because even though God has done something unique, they have gone and made a mess of it, as Jesus pointed out:
…gathered together unto [Jesus] are the Pharisees…and having seen certain of his disciples with defiled hands…for the Pharisees, and all the Jews, if they do not wash the hands to the wrist, do not eat, holding the tradition of the elders… Then question him do the Pharisees and the scribes, “Wherefore do thy disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but with unwashed hands do eat the bread?”
and he answering said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy concerning you, hypocrites, as it hath been written, ‘This people with the lips doth honor Me, and their heart is far from Me; and in vain do they worship Me’, teaching teachings, commands of men; for, having put away the command of God, ye hold the tradition of men… and many other such like things ye do.”
…And having called near all the multitude, [Jesus] said to them, “Hearken to me, ye all, and understand; there is nothing from without the man entering into him that is able to defile him, but the things coming out from him, those are the things defiling the man. If any hath ears to hear – let him hear.”
And when he entered into a house from the multitude, his disciples were questioning him about the simile, and he saith to them, “So also ye are without understanding! Do ye not perceive that nothing from without entering into the man is able to defile him? because it doth not enter into his heart, but into the belly, and into the drain it doth go out, purifying all the meats.”
And he said, “That which is coming out from the man, that doth defile the man; for from within, out of the heart of men, the evil reasonings do come forth, adulteries, whoredoms, murders, thefts, covetous desires, wickedness, deceit, arrogance, an evil eye, evil speaking, pride, foolishness; all these evils do come forth from within, and they defile the man.”
I do believe that Jesus Christ died for everyone, from every walk of life, every background, orientation, religion, etc. In this sense, Christianity (the relationship, not the religion) is unique. God stirs in the hearts of all different kinds of people, making preparations for their “born again” eyes-to-see-ears-to-hear-experience, where they recognize how salvation does not come from their own efforts, but it has been accomplished on their behalf by the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. They can’t help but be radically changed, so much so, that the awakening could be described as being born a second time.
Some people are further along than others in the work of the Spirit that leads to this spiritual awakening, though. Take for example, a hypothetical Muslim man. Like his Christian neighbor, he believes in the God of Abraham, although he calls him by a different name, based upon his religious tradition. He struggles with the idea that his good deeds will not outweigh his bad deeds and that he could end up in Hell instead of Paradise, because he fell short of the standard. It seems to him that every time he makes an effort to do the will of God, there are two or three or more situations where he screws up. He is “with fear of death, throughout all [his] life, [a subject] of bondage.” His dissatisfaction with his religion’s failure to give him peace and hope is the beginning of his awakening. Many practicing “Christians” feel this same dissatisfaction, not really sure if they have “believed” in the manner prescribed for keeping one out of Hell. Perhaps the Muslim man will spend his entire lifetime in this state, or, perhaps his eyes will be opened. If his eyes were opened, it may be that by the Spirit of God he understands that God has rescued him from sin and death, that his post-death security is not found in himself, but in God. This, essentially, is the same faith Abraham had – knowing that God can and will bring resolution to the tension of existance as we know it, but not ever knowing how God would do it. In other words, not knowing Jesus Christ. That’s right, Abraham did not know Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately for the man who practices Islam (and more times than not, for the man who practices Christianity) religious tradition does not adequately explain how God accomplishes salvation on our behalf. In our hypothetical situation, the Truth has set the man who practices Islam free, but he is missing a Name for that Truth (Jesus calls Himself “Truth”). He unknowingly believes in the power of Jesus Christ, that the work of Jesus Christ is effective for him, personally, to be free from fear and living in the glorious truth, but he has yet to be introduced to the One and only Jesus Christ, Who “seeing, then, the children have partaken of flesh and blood, he himself also in like manner did take part of the same, that through death he might destroy him having the power of death – that is, the devil – and might deliver those, whoever, with fear of death, throughout all their life, were subjects of bondage…”
I see Christianity (the religion) as pagan these days. Christianity is part of a long history of human traditional ceremonious efforts to overcome fear of death. These traditions are important for one reason – they point out that something is wrong, a puzzle to be solved, a problem to be fixed, a prisoner to be set free. The universal desire to be reconciled to the Creator is demonstrated through various mythological archetypes such as ritual sacrifice, offering of crops/goods/(these days, money) to the Deity, the virgin birth, prophetic announcements/fulfillments, a Messiah figure, etc. Some religious traditions can even boast of actual evidence to support one or more of these mythological archetypes. To me, this is proof that God whispers the same longings and the same truths to all people for all time. How we interpret these ideas is where we go all wrong. In calling Himself the “Way, the Truth, and the Life” and specifically stating, “no one can come to the Father but by me”, Jesus did not draw a line in the sand between Himself and the mythological archetypes, He declared Himself as the fulfillment of that universal longing for a Redeemer found in the various archetypes. He isn’t saying, “your archetypes are pagan-devil-worship,” he is saying, “your archetypes are like kindergarten drawings of quantum physics.” Jesus effectively silences the storm between all those claiming various religious traditions and practices in this three part claim, basically saying, “whatever ideas you have about making right what went wrong, these ideas were meant to help you recognize Me, the Ultimate Idea, the fulfillment of every religious standard.” Some may ask, if Jesus effectively silenced the storm, why does the storm still rage? To this I respond with E=mc2. In other words, Christ (slain before the foundation of the world) has accomplished it, but because we live in the dimension of time/space/matter, we must consider relativity. We do not yet see it accomplished, because we are struggling to wrap our brains around a concept that defies linear (time – bound) thinking. There will come a time, a culmination or end result of the Plan of the Ages, where we see the storm calmed, everyone at peace with their Creator and with each other.
…God our Saviour, who doth will all men to be saved, and to come to the full knowledge of the truth; for one God, one also mediator of God and of men, the man Christ Jesus, who did give himself a ransom for all – the testimony in its own times…