Is Christianity Exclusive?

Is it a problem if Christianity is an exclusive belief system? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I just started pondering this question as I was reading “New Testament History: A Narrative Account” by Ben Witherington on how Luke wrote to show an inclusive faith and that today, we are told that Christianity is an exclusive faith.

This is often seen as a mark against Christianity. If Christianity is true, why is it so exclusive? Some could want to support universalism in this case. I don’t doubt that many of us would like it if universalism is true. We would love to empty out Hell. Wanting it to be true does not make it true and at the start, we need to realize that just because we want something, there is no requirement that we get what we want.

Let’s start by comparing Christianity at the start to other religions. What was required?

To be a good Jew, you needed to observe the Torah and you needed to be circumcised. I think most men today in considering whether to choose a religion would be quite thankful if they did not have to undergo something like that.

Paganism also had its requirements. You had to practice the rituals in order to learn the secrets of knowledge to keep going forward. You would often have to offer sacrifices. (Aren’t you glad you don’t have to sacrifice an animal regularly to please god? It’d sure change the pet industry) On the other hand, some might consider it a benefit that to be a pagan in some cases, you had to have ritual sex.

There is no doubt that Christianity called for a life of holiness, but at the same time, the initiation rite was quite simple. You simply had to believe in Jesus and get baptized. Baptism could even be put off.

Friends. I have been hydrophobic all my life and I had my baptism years after I had surgery, a surgery that involved putting a steel rod in my spine. Despite having dread about going underwater and despite having a steel rod, I was able to be bent long enough for a good traditional baptism. Don’t give me excuses about why it couldn’t be done. (And I do not doubt that in some cases it could not be done that are extreme, such as paralysis)

Did it matter if you were a Jew or a Gentile? Nope. Did circumcision matter? No. Did you have to keep the Law? Nope. Did you have to offer up sacrifices? Nope. Did you have to look after secret knowledge? Nope. Did it matter if you were male or female? Nope. Did it matter if you were free or slave? Nope. Did it matter if you were rich or poor? Nope. Your social status did not matter one iota.

But yet Christianity is still claimed to be exclusive because we believe we are right on religion and everyone else is wrong.

So does everyone else who has an opinion on religion!

Even if you are an inclusivist, you think that people are exclusivist are wrong! They’re just included in the blessings of your system as well. It will not do to say “Christians think other opinions are wrong!” It boils down to saying “Anyone who thinks a religious opinion is wrong is exclusive.” If that is the case, then to say that someone’s opinion on religion is wrong is also a religious opinion and that is exclusive!

This is just the way that truth is. If you believe something is true, you are automatically excluding all that disagrees with that opinion. If you think 64 times 64 = 4,096, you are automatically excluding all answers that are not 4,096. Saying that that equation is exclusive will not change reality.

This is problematic if you want to go after Christians for believing that their belief system is true. What other reason should they have for believing it? Now some Christians could have dumb reasons for thinking it is true, but that will not change the fact that if it is true, then it simply is true.

“But why should it be that only Christians get the benefits of being Christians?”

Now in our society, you can get some benefits you have not invested in, but those are benefits equally given to everyone and not specifically given to you because of who you are. In the Roman society, everyone was allowed to use the Roman roads, but everyone knew who paid for those roads and built them. Today, we can all use the road system or systems like a public library. However, if there are some systems that you have to pay into, then only paying members get those privileges because they are the ones making the commitment.

This is the case even with instances that we don’t necessarily pay for. For instance, if somebody decided they wanted my wife sexually, I would not allow that at all. Why? I’m the one who has made a lifelong commitment to her and I’m the only one who can have that privilege. No other person no matter how close they are can have that. The same for me. I do not give myself to any other woman. Only my wife can have me sexually.

Does that mean I hate other women? No more than it means that she hates other men. It means that we recognize the commitment and what benefits come with the commitment. It would be cheapening to our lifelong commitment to say that other people can enjoy the privileges of the commitment without the sacrifice.

For the person on the outside of Christianity looking in, what good does it do to say Christianity is exclusive? You are not going to get Christians to change their belief system or the Scriptures just because you don’t like it. Christianity will always teach that Jesus is the only way a man can be justified. That would be for us an insult to the sacrifice of Jesus if we said otherwise and to the dignity and honor of God.

So you complain that you do not get the blessings of Christianity? Bear with this thought. If Christianity is not true and the Christian deity does not exist, then you definitely don’t get the benefits because there is no one to give the benefits. I see Islam as an exclusive faith, but I do not complain about not getting my seventy virgins when I die, simply because I do not believe Allah really exists as thought in Muslim thought and therefore, there is no one to give me those seventy virgins.

Likewise, Christian revelation to be true must come from the Christian concept of God, but if that concept is not true, then there is no blessing that can truly be given. If they are not given, then you are missing out on the blessings of Christianity to begin with.

Do you think you should get the blessings of Christianity without being a Christian? Upon what basis? Should you get the benefits of exercise without exercising? Should you get the benefits of study without doing study? I could bring up the benefits of marriage but several already think they should get all the sex they want without commitment. Still, I hope most would agree at least with the first two.

Our entitlement society often says otherwise so much so that we think the laws of the universe ought to alter in order to make sure that we’re happy. If you are one who thinks that God owes you the benefits of being a Christian without having to be a Christian, then on what basis are these benefits owed to you? State your case! Why should God have to do this for you? What obligation to you is He under? (Keep in mind, it won’t do any good to say He doesn’t exist since you don’t get the benefits any way then.)

In all this complaining about Christianity being exclusive, sadly there is one question that is not asked and it seems that the question of exclusivity is often raised to avoid this question. That is the question of if Christianity is true. If it is true, then asking it to change will not have any effect. One must accept truth as it is. If it is not true, then what do you care? Why complain that a false system is not giving you any blessings? Just forget it and move on.

But if Christianity is true, it is your duty to believe in it. To not believe in it when it is shown to be true is to live in a denial of reality. It shows that you are definitely one who Christianity would say shows what the nature of Hell is, reshaping the world so that your will and desires are paramount. If you come to the belief that God has spoken, you will have to decide if His will and way are better or if yours are. If you think yours are and that you want to live a life without the way of God impacting it, then He will grant you your wish. If you want to live a life that thinks His way is most important, He will also grant your wish.

At any rate, let us cease talking about attitudes of a system and instead just discuss the fundamentals of the system. Is it true?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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10 Responses to “Is Christianity Exclusive?”

  1. Walt Says:

    I grew up with Calvinism and I think that took the natural, normal sort of exclusivity of Christianity (that it’s true and other religions are false) and turned it into a twisted, abnormal sort of exclusivity (God picked me and not you, and there’s nothing you can do to fix it). I think you’re right to point out that having exclusive beliefs is totally appropriate and normal, but my complaint would be more directed toward the “you can’t get in the group even if you want to” doctrine of Calvinism.

  2. Prayson Daniel Says:

    Thank you Nick and Walt.

    I doubt if what you describe is true of the doctrine of grace(” Calvinism” was a tag given to undermine this teaching. I prefer, as John Calvin, a tag reformed, since Augustine and Martin Luther taught it before Calvin)

    Would you be kind, Walt, to explain why you think Calvinism say you can’t get in even if you want too?

    In Christ,
    Prayson

    • Walt Says:

      Prayson,
      I’m referring to Calvin’s total depravity, unconditional election, and limited atonement. God, in His infinite wisdom and foresight, chooses who to rescue from total depravity and who to leave there and he makes to the Elect an offer they can’t refuse.
      This doctrine made sense to me for awhile, but then I wondered for a moment what it would be like to be someone who wasn’t called by God our of my depravity. Moreover, I couldn’t even desire a relationship with God unless He gave me that desire. I think in this horribly tragic state of affairs, I would want to have a choice in the matter rather than be excluded from the group without any measure of recourse.

    • Prayson Daniel Says:

      Hej Walt,

      I totally understand your concern. I know how TULIP can give a very wrong first glance understanding and I do know Christians who abuse this doctrines.

      I believe the doctrines of grace “Calvinism” does not teach that God gives an offer they can’t refuse. I found “I” for irresistible grace, is so misleading. If you read the Canon of Dort, you will discover that reform do believe grace can be resisted and is resisted. Effectual grace is a better name, thus it destroys tulip.

      Arminians, Molinist and Calvinist do all teach “total depravity”, I prefer calling it radical depravity, since “total” gives a wrong meaning. This is a Biblical teaching that we, in human flesh after the fall, are hostile to God, dead in sin and as Jesus point,in John 6 Can(having no ability) not came to Him

      Everyone teach limited atonement, Walt, unless one is a universalist “everyone is saved”. Reformed argues that God limits it to his people, the ones he elect and call, why Arminians argues, it is us, Human, that limits it(accepting or not accepting its work). I believe a better name is Definite atonement.

      Unconditional election is hard to deny if you read Romans 9. I would love, Walt, to hear your view to what passages lead you to believe otherwise.

      I would encourage you to read the original position of TULIP because what you wrote is far from what I know. I used to be in your shoes. I was Arminian in Bible College. My Philosophy teach help me move from Arminian to his view Molinist, then from Molinist I moved to Reformed Theology.

      Walter, this teaching is not new and did not start with John Calvin. It was taught by Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian of Carthage, Cyprian of Carthage, Athanasius of Alexandria, Georgory of Nazianzus, Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo, Isidore of Seville, Gottschalk of Orbais, Anslem of Canterbury, Bernard of Clairvauz, Thomas Bradwardine, John Wycliffe, John Hus, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, William Tyndale, and Heinrich Bullinger before John Calvin.

      I would love to help you, not accept, but understand each of the points and more.

      Prayson

  3. Walt Says:

    Prayson,
    I certainly would like to understand these doctrines better. It sounds like there’s a lot to talk about, so maybe we could focus on the issue of exclusivity to stick with the post.

    You say that grace can be resisted, but how is this possible if God does in fact successfully save everyone that He elects? If He has a 100% success rate on His list of people, where is the resistance?

    The two types of limited atonement that you offer represent the key problem here that explains why I brought Calvin into the picture. Plenty of doctrines of course say that a saving belief in Jesus is the only way to get to heaven, but Calvin (and other clearly that I’m not familiar with?) teach that it is God’s choice rather than a person’s choice. I have no problem with someone not choosing to be in a club – this doesn’t mean that the club is exclusive, it just means that not everyone chooses to be in it. The club is exclusive when it is God that decides who gets in the club and who doesn’t. All of the reformed theology that I’m familiar with teaches this unconditional election, predestination-based exclusivity.

    When I protest that this system is arbitrary, unfair, and exclusive, the only response I have received from folks I’ve talked to is that God knows more than I do and by definition makes good choices, because He’s God. The exclusivity of the system never seems to be denied.

    Thanks for the conversation so far – I hope I don’t sound hostile…I’m just fired up :P

    • Prayson Daniel Says:

      Walt, you did not sound hostile at all. I enjoy God glorifying dialogues that shows that we treasure Christ Jesus above everything.

      Luther, Augustine, Aquinas and Anselm taught unconditional election which is indeed predestination-based and exclusive.

      I believe its fair to protest as unfair and exclusive, this is what the Romans did and what a correct exegesis would lead if one exposition Romans 9.

      Paul argues 10-13 + 16:

      “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—  she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”  As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” + ” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”(ESV)

      God chose Jacob and not Esau not because of what they have done or because of what they will do, but because of his own Sovereign choice.

      The reaction to this, is what Walt, you and I correctly feel:

      v. 14 “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!”

      Romans found this to be unfair. Paul answer was very hard, to me when I was Arminian(v15. Paul answered that God have mercy on whom He has mercy.

      Paul explained(17-13):

      “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
       
      You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”

      Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?  

      What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory”(ESV)

      Walt, I believe we have to be care with “unfair” since all have sin and God did not have to save anyone. God gave justice to all, but to those whom He gave to Christ, those whom He choose(believers), Christ Jesus took upon himself that justice.

      We can demand justice for all, but never can we demand mercy. I believe Jesus was the one who mostly teach very exclusively. Not to give you much to read, I will go through the whole John, in the next comment(or if you would love us to exchange mails) to show you that Jesus taught this very exclusive election. I will also show that, yes, if understood correctly, this teaching gives assurance for our salvation, and gives God glorify that He did chose us because we chose Him, we chose Him because He chose us first.

      In Christ,
      Prayson

      • Prayson Daniel Says:

        Correction: God glorify that He did “not” chose us because we chose Him, we chose Him because He chose us first.

        I discovered I did not answer your question Walt. You asked:

        “[I, Prayson] say that grace can be resisted, but how is this possible if God does in fact successfully save everyone that He elects? If He has a 100% success rate on His list of people, where is the resistance? ”

        I believe the grace is effectual. God promised to change our heart of stone, that resists Him, to a heart of flesh. We resist because we are spiritually dead, deaf and blind in our sin. When the Holy Spirit wake us, bring us to spiritually alive, open our ears and eyes, we freely run towards God.

        Jonathan Edwards give a wonderful illustration that help me understand. He reasoned that human will always choose what they desire most. Example, I lust for another woman because I sexually desire her most in that given moment. I freely choose to lust because I think that is what I want most. When the Holy Spirit regenerate our heart, God becomes what we desire most. The effectual grace transforms us that we freely desire God above everything.

        Did I answer your question Walt. I can try coming from another angle to make it clear.

        In Christ,
        Prayson

      • Walt Says:

        Prayson,

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I should probably try to correct a false pretense that I seem to have given – I’m actually atheist after leaving Christianity several years ago. I don’t think this changes our discussion, but I don’t want to mislead you.

        It seems that you are arguing for the truth of the exclusivity of this doctrine that we are discussing based on Biblical principles. I agree with you that Paul is crystal clear on the subject of predestination, but I would disagree with you that Jesus was before he was reinterpreted by Paul. I certainly haven’t studied the original language, but the message that I get from Jesus is that people can “come to the Father” through a belief in Jesus, and this pretty consistent theme seems very different to me than Paul’s notion of predestination.

        Nevertheless, when you look at the Bible as a whole, the doctrine of exclusivity does fit well. It doesn’t seem like you would deny this fact, but instead you argue that “fairness” is not for us to judge. You argue that we have all chosen sin and want only death unless we are called by God. The exclusivity of God’s group remains.

        I was originally commenting on Nick’s post demonstrating that it is perfectly reasonable that salvation comes only to those who choose Christianity. I was suggesting that what more bothers me and I’m sure other non-Christians is the doctrine that we depraved people are actually unable to choose Christianity but are instead at the whim of a God who chooses who is in and who is out. This is a much more severe level of exclusivity that I think is what seems really horrible to non-Christians who are familiar with it. It’s not that I want to be saved without following God’s commandments, it’s that I have no choice in the matter that is really objectionable.

        If you want to keep talking about fairness and all of that, I’m happy to do so by email or on a more related thread. My email is dinoflatulate@gmail.com. Thanks for the discussion!

      • Prayson Daniel Says:

        Walt, I was an atheist too and I totally respect your view.

        I am so willing to go further not only on this issue but also reason why I found atheism wanting and reasons/arguments that compell me to move to Classical Christian theism.

        I will send you an email and I am looking forward for a wonderful exchange.

        In my blog, withalliamgod(dot)wordpress you will discover my passion for atheists and my mission to restore a gentle, loving and respectable way to discuss these issue.

        Thanks Nick, for a wonderful post.

        Prayson

  4. Nick Peters Says:

    Lovely to see the discussion. To clear matters up, I’m not a Calvinist. Still, my point in this blog does not really rely on Calvinism.

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