Exclusivity - How can there be just one true religion (1 John 4 : 1~10)
Passage Title: Test the Spirits
[이 설교는 기독교의 독선성과 배타성이라는 비판에 대한 성경적인 해답을 주는 설교이구요 postmodernism의 시대에 살고 있는 크리스찬들이 대답해야할 여러가지 질문에 대해 생각해보고 답을 준비할수 있게 해주는 아주 좋은 설교입니다.]
Summary: Religion poses a danger of creating division or intolerance between groups of people. However, the gospel leads us to three things: humble service, reconciling behavior that is neither patronizing nor self-righteous, and a love toward people who hold different beliefs than we do.
Forty years ago, if you ask people what is the main barrier for the peace in the world they probably would said political ideology because that was during the cold war, communism and capitalism. But today most people would say that the main barrier to the peace of the world is religion, especially religious exclusivity. Religion divides nations and even families. Religion has very strong tendency to divide people. If you tell a group of people that you have the truth and you are saved by performing that truth. That has to lead to a feeling of superiority to the people who are not performing the truth. In turn, that leads to separation and you tend to pull yourself away from those people and you became unfamiliar with them and then you begin to believe what worst about those people and you start building a stereotype. That finally creates a condition for you to either passively or actively lead to marginalization of the oppression of the people with other beliefs. You can dehumanize them in mind. You can feel like they deserve it. There are so many examples in the world. Once you realize that religion erodes the peace between human beings. When you realize that religion deeply divisive effect on people, what are you going to do with that? [This is a tough question, but Keller is trying to answer to that]
There are two ways people taking as solutions for this in order to deal with the divisiveness of religion and I think it won't work.
1. They are hoping for and helping religion to weaken. (Secularism) They are calling for religion to weaken. In western history, especially western European believed that as science progress religion eventually dies out. It is a kind of evolutionary view of religion. But that doesn't happened at all. Rather today religion grows rapidly. Some government think that they will control the religion and it will dies out or keep it from growing. For example China controlled religion, but it is still growing. Why is religion doesn't seem going away. When people try to weaken it, why is it so grow? Why? [Good qustion]
In verse 1 John said that test the spirits because many false prophets have gone out into the world. He said test the spirit, not teacher, why? Here spirit means something that people want to connect to or worship. It is not just intellectual recognition of something, but something beyond that. The message of this versus is that the need for worship something is unavoidable part of human nature. This is why any kind of government that try to weaken won't work. It is a part of human nature.
The second approach to deal with the problem of religion is...
2. Confine religion in private room (Relativism)
This approach is not against the religion, but keep it private, then we can all live together. What this approach saying is that there are all kinds of religion that lead to God and have equal value. So that you don't have to try to convert others. And also you are ok as long as you don't bring your religion to the public. never argue in public values in society that based on your particular religious faith.
Neither of these approaches will not work. There is a hint for why in versus 5, "They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world and the world listened to them." Who is they? They are critics of Christianity. Interestingly John said that they are also from religious faith.
Counter argument to the first solution
When people say how can there be only one true religion and all religion has its own perspective of God. Here is a good analogy for it. An Elephant and a bunch of blind men. some blind men say that elephant is like long and flexible while they are touching the trunk. some may say, no elephant is short and stiff while they are touching the leg. some may say, no elephant is wide and flat while they are touching the back. When they argue about this, all of them are right and at the same time all of them are wrong. They all have a part of reality. They grasped the part of it, but no body can see the whole picture. Therefore none of them say that they see the whole picture. So the conclusion of this illustration goes no body has the truth and should not argue that they have a whole picture. This is how we should understand the religion.
Lesslie Newbigin, who was British missionary to India for many years, wrote a book, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. He was listening to this elephant illustration so many times and finally he realized that the only way to understand the elephant is for you to see entire elephant. The only way you could tell the story of blind men and elephant is if you saw whole elephant. The only way you could possibly know that every religions partially see the truth is you assume that you see all of the truth. That is the only way you could know. if you say all religions have a part of the truth, that means you have the whole truth which is to say the very thing that no body is God. This is very arrogant statement to say all religion is equal or all religions have their own way to God.
quote from Lesslie Newbigin
In the famous story of the blind men and the elephant, so often quoted in the in the interests of religious agnosticism, the real point of the story is constantly overlooked. The story is told from the point of views of the king and his courtiers, who are not blind but can see that the blind men are unable to grasp the full reality of the elephant and are only able to get hold of part of it. The story is constantly told in order to neutralize the affirmations of the great religions, to suggest that they learn humility and recognize that none of them can have more than one aspect of the truth. But, of course, the real point of the story is exactly the opposite. If the king were also blind, there would be no story. The story is told by the king, and it is the immensely arrogant claim of one who sees the full truth, which all the world’s religions are only groping after. It embodies the claim to know the full reality which relativizes all the claims of the religions.
When you say no one should convert everybody else to your view of religious reality, that is the view of religious reality. You want listeners to convert too. There is no way for you to know all religions are equal unless you assume the kind of knowledge that you say no body has the truth and how dare you have it. How can you have it? So this kind of approach does not work. It looks humble but it is not.
[Good question] 종교는 모두 다 마찬가지 아니냐? 결국 누구도 정확히 하나님을 알수는 없고 모든 종교는 다 같은 하나님을 추구하는 인간의 노력일뿐이다
이 질문에 대해 나는 뭐라고 대답할것인가? 생각해보면 지금까지도 난 이 질문에 대해 확실한 대답을 준비하고 있지 못했다. 이 설교를 듣고난 후 난 뭐라고 대답할 것인가? 코끼리와 장님의 예화를 하면서 만일 내가 결국 하나님을 알수 없는 존재이고 모든 종교가 나름데로 진리에 이르는 방법이라고 얘기한다면 그 얘기는 내가 바로 하나님처럼 모든걸 다 바라보고 있다는 뜻인데 내가 결코 그럴수 있을까? 꼬끼리와 장님의 이야기를 할수 있다는건 난 장님이 아니고 코끼리와 장님을 동시에 바라볼수 있는 존재라는 뜻. 우리가 모든 장님의 얘기가 일리가 있어라고 한다면 그건 우리는 장님이 아님을 전재로 한다는뜻이된다. 우리가 결코 그럴수 있을까?
Counter argument to the second solution, religion as private sector.
American philosophy, Richard Rorty who was Stuart Professor of Philosophy at Princeton and he holds pragmatism, said that you got to leave religion at the door when you come out to public square. you got to leave your view of truth or morality at the door when you come into the public square because these things are based on faith. No one can ever say that for sure. Therefore it will be controversy and you will fight forever. So let's simply look for a strategy that works.
[Good question] 많은 사람들이 얘기하길 종교얘기는 말해봐야 끝도 없고 결국 쌈만 나니까 얘기 않하는게 났다. 믿을라면 개인적으로 조용히 믿고 겉으로 표현하지 말라. 이런 얘기도 많이 들었었는데 난 이런 말에 대해 어떻게 반응할것인가?
맞어 종교는 자체적으로 분쟁하고 분열하게 만드는 성질을 가지고 있지. 하지만 여기서 말하는 종교가 정확히 무엇이지? 종교가 만일 어떤 믿음체계이고 정기적으로 예배를 드리는 행위에 불과하다면 맞어 종교얘기를 접어두고 살수 가 있지. 하지만 종교라고 우리가 부르는것은 다르게 정의 할수도 있지. 종교란 삶의 큰 여러가지 질문에 대한 해답들이지.
This sounds very plausible, but there is a huge problem in this statement and it will never work. Here is why. What do you mean by religion? Sometime people say that religion is a set of beliefs and you go to the service once a week, etc. No, not this. What is the religion in fuller sense? Don't hide the idea of institutional religion. What is religion? Religion is a set of answers to the big questions: why are we here? what is right and wrong for human beings for doing? what's wrong with human race and what will fix it. what are the most important things in our lives? no body can operate in life without this set of answers to those questions. Those answers are implicitly religious because you can't prove the answers in the lab. Whatever your answer is, it is faith assumption. It is religious belief.
Thus it is impossible to do what Rorty said. It is impossible to leave your religious view at the door when you come into the public square. Here is an example, divorce law. Let's decide to choose a good divorce laws that will work for everybody. But that will depend on your purpose of marriage. In western society the need of individual is more important than the need of group in traditional society. So depending on the value of the society you belong the divorce law could be easier divorce or difficult. You can't come to the conclusion about what law works for marriage without deeply rooted belief on human flourish and what make people happy. Thus if you say keep your out of the public square, what you really means is, my enlightenment and western individualistic faith assumptions about human nature are privileged over yours. I can bring mime into public but up can bring your traditional religious view. What a hypocrisy that is.
Michael Perry said to say religious reasoning must be kept out of public square because it is faith based and controversial is itself faith based statement which is extremely controversial. Therefore in its own terms it needs to be thrown out.
So everybody should have a set of exclusive beliefs. Therefore what really matter is, not who has a set of exclusive beliefs, but which set of exclusive beliefs that can produce loving and inclusive reconciling peaceful behavior. You may say, Christians you have a set of exclusive belief but I don't.
No you may not think you do, but you do have a set of exclusive beliefs. Everyone has it. So the main question is which one?
3. The solution that will work with dealing with the divisiveness of religions.
The solution is to look at the things about Christian gospel that are unique to Christianity and different from all other religions. You may say that do not stress on the difference, but just talks about what's common. Let's stress with what we have in common. Of course Christianity has lots of things that are common with other religions, but those are not features that radically turn you into an agent of reconciliation of the world.
I will tell you three things that this text tells us that are unique and distinct in Christianity.
The origin of Jesus' salvation
The purpose of Jesus' salvation
The method of Jesus' salvation
First, The origin of Jesus' salvation. In verse 2, "every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God." Here it says "Jesus Christ has come". Of course he was born, but no one say that. What Jesus Christ has come means that he already existed somewhere else. Every other religion says that the founder is human being, but only Christianity in Jesus Christ God comes into the world. That's the first uniqueness. In short, Jesus is God, not human being.
Secondly, the purpose of Jesus' salvation. The verse 2 says, "come in the flesh." Why is it so important? In other religions the purpose of salvation is to liberate from the flesh, to escape the flesh, which is the problem, the physical world. Some religions even say that the physical world is illusion and you overcome it and liberate yourself through the changes of consciousness. These are mainly eastern religions. Western religion says that the flesh is real, but it is bad. Through morality or spirituality you can escape from it and go to heaven. All other religions say escape from this physical world and go to heaven. But in Christianity the purpose of the salvation is not to escape from the body, but to redeem it. At birth Jesus Christ took on the body and at resurrection He redeem it. This is what is unique to Christianity.
Vinoth Ramachandra said, "Christian salvation lies not in an escape from this world but in the transformation of this world. You will not find hope for this physical world in any other religious system or philosophy. The biblical vision is unique and that is why if someone says, ‘Surely there is salvation in other faiths’, I always ask them ‘What salvation are you talking about?’. Not this salvation. No faith holds out a promise of eternal salvation for the world like the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ do." (also quoted in the book, The Reason for God, p224)
In short, the purpose of the salvation is restoration of this material world.
Thirdly, the method of salvation is the method of Grace. In all other religions, we were told, if you want to be saved, you have to perform the truth which means you love God, you have to love other people. If God see you loving him or loving your neighbors then God will bless you and save you. But that is not what gospel says at all. The verse 10 says, "This is love, NOT that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an astonishing sacrifice for our sins." God comes sacrificially pour himself out and suffers for the people who don't love him, who aren't good, who aren't loving others. Jesus was not mainly a teacher who comes to us and tell us how we should live so by that living so we can be saved. But Jesus is a savior who lives the life we should have lived, dies the death we should have died in our place.
Those three things are unique in Christianity.
At the method of Grace, the bible says you are not saved because of your performance, but in other religions you saved by your performance, that is what creates slippery slope. If you believe you are saved because of your performance, you got to be superior to others who don't perform. You've got to look down on people. That's what creates a slippery slope such as self-righteousness, superiority that leads to depression. The groups that have this kind of view look down on each other. But the gospel is the only faith system I know that lead you to expect that people who don't believe like you believe is better than you. why? the gospel says that you are sinners and you are no better than any other else and you are saved by God's performance, not yours. You can't get salvation unless you admit that you are sinner and no better than any others. Therefore the gospel leads you to expect others who don't agree with you could easily be and usually are better, nicer, wiser, more disciplined, more self-control. Every other belief system lead you to think you are better than others, but the gospel says you are no better than others. In other word, the gospel humbles you before those who don't agree with you.
Secondly, resurrection. If all other religions say that this world does not matter, go to hell. What matters is heaven. All matters is next life. But the gospel says that we go to this secular world and transform the world the kingdom of God. The gospel not only humble you before those who don't agree with you, but make you serve them. Make all this world good place to live in because that's what God is looking for.
In the early days of Christianity, in the world of Greco-roman, the government encouraged people to have their own religion. It sounds very inclusive. But Christian said that Jesus is only Lord of all. That seems so exclusive. Paganism seems inclusive belief. Christianity seems exclusive belief. But in history only Christianity created the most inclusive community. The rich and the poor. Jews did not mix their race, but Christian did. Why does such exclusive belief that Jesus is only God leads to the most inclusive loving behavior?
The answer is that if Jesus isn't just a great guy, but God, then in Jesus Christ the ultimate reality become visible. When an ultimate reality become visible, do you know what it is? You see the man on the cross for the people who don't love him. The ultimate reality for Christians is the man on the cross loving people who don't love him, forgiving people who are abusing him, sacrificially serving people who are opposing him. When early Christian took that into their heart and their life, that is ultimate reality. How could they trample or crush or be cruel to anyone. They couldn't be. If you take this into the center of your life, you can't be either.
Everyone got to have a set of exclusive beliefs. Christian got to have a set of exclusive beliefs. Which set leads to the most inclusive beliefs? I submit.
If you take moralistic religion into the center of your life, you will feel superior to the secularists. If you take the secularism into the center of your life, you will feel superior to all the stupid religious people. If you take the gospel into the center of your life, you will be humble before those who don't believe what you believe. Then you will know the man who loved the people who don't love him is what your whole life is built on. If you believe the gospel, then believe more deeply, if you don't, consider believing it and become a part of what the world needs.
Father, thanks for giving us this remarkable and almost paradoxical truth that exclusivity of Christian teaching leads to humble service, reconciling behavior, non-patronizing, non-selfrighteous love of people who differ with us. There are a lot of people in the name of Christ who did not thought that out because they are not showing that behavior, we repent as a body. You help us to believe the gospel and become what we ought to be. We pray all these in Jesus name. Amen.