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Wrestling with the "exclusivity" of Christianity... please help!

post #1 of 279
Thread Starter 
From what I can understand reading the bible and from what I can understand by what my pastor says, Christians believe that Jesus is the ONLY way to God. DH and I struggle with the notion a great deal. Our church is fairly conservative, and when we have spoken to our Elders there they have affirmed that the only way to God/Heaven/Salvation is through Jesus. All others need to be saved.

DH and I have friends of other faiths. Maybe we aren't being good Christians, but we've never attempted to convert them. We don't believe they are going to hell... we just can't believe that. I don't understand how someone who seeks God and lives a moral life could be condemned to hell just because he or she is not Christian.

Our elders have told us that such thinking is just the result of modern liberalism. They tell us (and we do see) that the bible is pretty clear on this issue.

How can we accept this? Do we have to accept this? This is such a troubling issue to us. Are there any alternative ways to interpret the scriptures? How do other Christians reconcile this? Do other Christians really believe that (for example) Gandhi is in hell right now? That just seems ... unthinkable!!

Please help... anyone! Thanks!
post #2 of 279


I know this is not going to help you in the immediate.

But... woman to woman....I think you have to search and decide what you believe on your own. Wrestle with these hard questions and give yourself time to think and reflect on them while retaining kindness, openness and a very appropriate and good mistrust of arrogance.

Seek out the theological information for yourself. It may take time and lots of reading and praying but I encourage you to read the Bible for yourself and over time and with prayer...see what you believe. Make it personal.

I hope this helps you!

----------------------


FWIW, I do not know if Ghandi is in hell right now. I would be arrogant to presume such a thing. I think he was an amazing man who did tremendous good for humanity and whose legacy will teach others. His heart and his personal relationship with God is something I would not dare to assume or speculate about.
post #3 of 279
Quote:
Originally Posted by hotmamacita View Post


FWIW, I do not know if Ghandi is in hell right now. I would be arrogant to presume such a thing. I think he was an amazing man who did tremendous good for humanity and whose legacy will teach others. His heart and his personal relationship with God is something I would not dare to assume or speculate about.
I agree with this!

I am a believer who believes that Jesus is the only way. But here is my issue. I think churches have screwed it all up. Do you not read that Jesus hung out with the prostitutes and the tax collectors more than the people who followed Him? It's not our job to judge who will go to heaven and who won't, who REALLY knows Jesus and who doesn't. (that's His job) There will be pastors and whole churches who claim to know "Jesus" that will end up at the judgement throne of God and He will say, "Depart from me. I never knew you." But it still doesn't mean that 'Jesus' is not the only way. And you don't have to stop being friends with or loving people who don't agree totally with what you believe.

You know the old saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."

God/Jesus is like a dad. (that's the way I think of him) Does your dh set rules for your children? For their own benefit? To keep them safe? Do your kids get disciplined if they disobey? (whether it's 'gentle' discipline, time out or a spanking?) Do your children always understand all this? Do they understand why you make them eat yucky vegetables and sometimes take nasty medacine? Do they always understand that you have their best interests in mind? NO! But hopefully, as they mature and become parents themselves, they begin to understand why you love them enough to set boundaries in their lives.

God sets boundaries because He loves us. Hell was ONLY created for Satan and his fallen angels. It was never meant for humans. "We" choose our own path, though. You can't stay on the fence forever. You must choose a 'side' and those that don't choose a side "choose" by default. If you don't choose to obey your parents' rules and just think "I can do what I want as long as I'm not hurting anyone," then you have chosen to disobey your parents rules and their will be consequences to pay. Does that make any sense? I do believe, however, and I can't seem to find the verse right now... but it says in the Bible that "all men shall be given the chance to hear about Jesus" before He comes back. For those who have been mislead or have never heard, I do NOT believe God sends them to hell. Hell is for those who have heard of Him and rejected Him.

My suggestion? The bible says, "the greatest of these is love." If your priests/pastors are not preaching 'in love', tho, and are saying things like "our denomination is the only ones going to heaven" or anything that makes you feel goofy, it may just be time for you to do some soul searching to see if you really believe what they teach. You can do a lot of google searching and come up with some great explanations to what you are asking but you have to realize there are just as many "wrong" ways of interpreting the scriptures.

I hope some of this makes sense as it's hard to write it all down in condensed fashion. I think it's great you are asking questions and not just taking your church's leadership as 'the whole truth'. My dh and I have been in some goofy churches before and you have every right to question what they are teaching you. I hope you find the answers you are looking for. And remember, these are my 'very human' opinions and I'm no bible scholar!
post #4 of 279
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post #5 of 279
Im walking down the path you are starting on. Questioning these things. Ive come to the point where hotmamacita said...
Quote:
Seek out the theological information for yourself. It may take time and lots of reading and praying but I encourage you to read the Bible for yourself and over time and with prayer...see what you believe. Make it personal.
I started to be unable to trust anyone elses research, no matter how clever they were, from either side of the argument. I wanted to know from God Himself. He's real, I know it and surely He knows the answer to the questions I have.

I personally have come to the conclusion that I do believe that Jesus is the way, the Truth and the Life. Ive come to a better understanding of what that means. I do believe there is a hell, to deny that, to me, would be ignore a very important part of the bible's teaching. Who goes to Hell isnt for me to decide. I talk to people about Christ who the Lord leads me to. He knows those who are His. I believe he seeks out those who are hungry for Him. Many people arent. I do believe Jesus is the only way but I dont think we really understand what that means. There is a man who describes it very well imho. He's called Tony Anthony and his book is called Taming the Tiger. My dh and I found his website the other day and there is a video link to him describing why God made a place called hell. Its very sad, but I understand it. I think the misunderstanding comes from not understanding what Holiness is, and Who God is, His Holiness, what sin is. I can see it more clearly now. When I meet someone who isnt interested in Christ, or the Gospel, my hope for them isnt lost. I only plant the seeds, God does the work in their hearts.

here's a link to the website I mentioned. At the bottom is a small video link where Tony Anthony talks about why God created hell.

http://www.avantiministries.com/home.php?PageID=1

See. The way I 'seek' answers from God is to go to Him in prayer. I then wait, sometimes answers come immediately as thoughts, sometimes they come days, weeks, months, even years later. God, for me, will string together information that comes out of nowhere, unrelated events. Ill read scripture and verses will come to mind, He will lead me thru scripture. Then (for example) at church, the minister or someone speaking will talk about the same verses. This will happen with the books Im reading. I will have never considered the fact that I could find the answers Im looking for in the book. Eventually, SO many 'coincidences' will occur and I realise the Lord is answering my questions. Ive learned how to trust Him to show me things in His special way. I dont know if its different for others but this is how the Lord led me to Him in the first place so its kind of special to me. I dont really go to anyone else and take their word for it anymore. I go straight to God now. I know if the answers dont come, I can still trust Him. I am one who does believe the bible is the written word of God, that its complete as it is. Ive come to trust that thru my own personal experiences with God. No one can convince me otherwise. I had to go thru doubting in order to get here, in order to stop letting others interpretations of the bible to confuse me. To come to completely trust that still quiet voice over anything else.
post #6 of 279
I'm interested in this. I've read enough about Christianity that it seems fairly clear to me that Christians must believe that salvation through Jesus is the one and only way to God.

On the other hand, I know there are plenty of Christians who have a "many candles, one light" understanding of different religions. And there are Christian churches with that approach, as well. As a non-Christian, I definitely appreciate that! But at the same time, I don't really understand how they can arrive at that conclusion, given what the Christian Bible says about Jesus's statements, i.e. "No one comes to the Father except through me" (if I have that right?)

Maybe someone can explain?
post #7 of 279
Quote:
Originally Posted by zinemama View Post

On the other hand, I know there are plenty of Christians who have a "many candles, one light" understanding of different religions. And there are Christian churches with that approach, as well. As a non-Christian, I definitely appreciate that! But at the same time, I don't really understand how they can arrive at that conclusion, given what the Christian Bible says about Jesus's statements, i.e. "No one comes to the Father except through me" (if I have that right?)

Maybe someone can explain?
Christians with that belief, do not believe that the whole Bible is literally true. They believe (generally speaking) that, while it was inspired by God, it was interpreted by flawed humans when it was written down, and that those humans were all products of their own times, prejudices, and places.

Obviously, that belief means that one has to interpret and figure out which parts are true and which are not. The criteria and methodology for that kind of interpretation, varies widely.
post #8 of 279
Quote:
Originally Posted by lolar2 View Post
Obviously, that belief means that one has to interpret and figure out which parts are true and which are not. The criteria and methodology for that kind of interpretation, varies widely.
Can you expound upon that a little? Because to be honest it has always confused me *how* one would embark on such a venture without it coming basically down to "what we like is true, and what we don't is the product of human flaws."

ETA: I had actually already been thinking about starting a Religious Studies post more or less on this question ... it's come up in my mind many times when I see Christians who believe heavily in the interpretive and "through the hands of man" nature of the Bible go on to quote Jesus from the Bible in a very direct, "Jesus said" kind of way. I don't understand how an individual might feel confident in doing that while also believing the basic nature of the book is explicitly not to relate a clear, factual history. If there are criteria by while the Bible is divided I'd like to hear about it.
post #9 of 279
Christians believe that the Trinity is a fundemantal truth about the nature of God. The connection between God and creation is through the Word. On a personal, individual level, people say they are saved by Jesus - but that is because he is part of God's nature and being.

If you actually believe that God is that way, then by definition, any relationship that a person has with God or Truth is through Chrsit and through the Word, whether they know it or not.

It's exactly parallel top a Christian, (or Jew Muslim etc) saying that he or she believes that God created everything. If that is so, then he also created people who are atheists, members of other religions, or whatever.

It's simply a logical consequence of the Christian understanding of what God is and how he relates to the world.
post #10 of 279
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bluegoat View Post
Christians believe that the Trinity is a fundemantal truth about the nature of God.
Not exactly. Many Christians are strictly non-trinitarian.

Just throwing that in there.
post #11 of 279
Quote:
Originally Posted by lolar2 View Post
Christians with that belief, do not believe that the whole Bible is literally true. They believe (generally speaking) that, while it was inspired by God, it was interpreted by flawed humans when it was written down, and that those humans were all products of their own times, prejudices, and places.

Obviously, that belief means that one has to interpret and figure out which parts are true and which are not. The criteria and methodology for that kind of interpretation, varies widely.
I really think that even Christians who do say they believe the whole Bible is literally true still pick and choose which parts they are going to believe and which they are not. You cannot read the Bible without interpreting it in some way.

There are Christian universalists who believe that yes, no-one can come to the Father except through Jesus, but everyone eventually comes to believe in Jesus and comes through him, ykwim? There are also verses in the Bible that say things that support this, such as "God wants all to be saved," and "Jesus is the savior of all" etc. Sorry, I don't have my Bible at hand right now to give specific references but I'm pretty sure 2nd Peter has one of those.

For example, maybe "heaven" is just a state of being near to God and in communion with God and Jesus. And "hell" is just a state of being further from God, not in communion with Him but going your own way. And even after this life, people can move closer to God, eventually through the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit coming into communion with Him.

Just a thought.
post #12 of 279
I know this won't be much help, but the question you raise is exactly the reason I am no longer a Christian. I prayed on this, and the answer that came to me was that Jesus is not the one and only Way.

I think it's cool how people can come up with different answers to the same prayer.
post #13 of 279
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bluegoat View Post
Christians believe that the Trinity is a fundemantal truth about the nature of God. The connection between God and creation is through the Word. On a personal, individual level, people say they are saved by Jesus - but that is because he is part of God's nature and being.
Quote:
Originally Posted by smeisnotapirate View Post
Not exactly. Many Christians are strictly non-trinitarian.

Just throwing that in there.
Agreed. I know plenty of non-trinitarian Christians.
post #14 of 279
Thread Starter 
Thanks for your many thoughtful answers. Please keep them coming! I have a lot to think and pray about.

I do trust the bible. So this is a conflict between what I know must be true (jesus is the only way), and what I feel must be true (there are many paths to God)-- if that makes any sense. So what I think and feel are in conflict.

I'm a newer Christian, though, and I have so much to learn. I trust things will make sense to me someday, or at least I'll come to just accept them and be at peace.

Thanks again for your posts.
post #15 of 279
Quote:
Originally Posted by AbigailGrace View Post

I am a believer who believes that Jesus is the only way. But here is my issue. I think churches have screwed it all up. Do you not read that Jesus hung out with the prostitutes and the tax collectors more than the people who followed Him? It's not our job to judge who will go to heaven and who won't, who REALLY knows Jesus and who doesn't. (that's His job) There will be pastors and whole churches who claim to know "Jesus" that will end up at the judgement throne of God and He will say, "Depart from me. I never knew you." But it still doesn't mean that 'Jesus' is not the only way. And you don't have to stop being friends with or loving people who don't agree totally with what you believe.

You know the old saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."

God/Jesus is like a dad. (that's the way I think of him) Does your dh set rules for your children? For their own benefit? To keep them safe? Do your kids get disciplined if they disobey? (whether it's 'gentle' discipline, time out or a spanking?) Do your children always understand all this? Do they understand why you make them eat yucky vegetables and sometimes take nasty medacine? Do they always understand that you have their best interests in mind? NO! But hopefully, as they mature and become parents themselves, they begin to understand why you love them enough to set boundaries in their lives.

God sets boundaries because He loves us. Hell was ONLY created for Satan and his fallen angels. It was never meant for humans. "We" choose our own path, though. You can't stay on the fence forever. You must choose a 'side' and those that don't choose a side "choose" by default. If you don't choose to obey your parents' rules and just think "I can do what I want as long as I'm not hurting anyone," then you have chosen to disobey your parents rules and their will be consequences to pay. Does that make any sense? I do believe, however, and I can't seem to find the verse right now... but it says in the Bible that "all men shall be given the chance to hear about Jesus" before He comes back. For those who have been mislead or have never heard, I do NOT believe God sends them to hell. Hell is for those who have heard of Him and rejected Him.

My suggestion? The bible says, "the greatest of these is love." If your priests/pastors are not preaching 'in love', tho, and are saying things like "our denomination is the only ones going to heaven" or anything that makes you feel goofy, it may just be time for you to do some soul searching to see if you really believe what they teach. You can do a lot of google searching and come up with some great explanations to what you are asking but you have to realize there are just as many "wrong" ways of interpreting the scriptures.

I hope some of this makes sense as it's hard to write it all down in condensed fashion. I think it's great you are asking questions and not just taking your church's leadership as 'the whole truth'. My dh and I have been in some goofy churches before and you have every right to question what they are teaching you. I hope you find the answers you are looking for. And remember, these are my 'very human' opinions and I'm no bible scholar!
Yes, Christ hung out with the prostitutes, the tax collectors, etc., but as he said to the woman taken in adultery, "Go and sin no more." I've run into a fair number of Christians who preach the "God is love" thinking, but that's as far as it goes. They continually preach that "God loves you as you are" but conveniently leave out that Christ actually told the woman taken in adultery to "Go and sin no more."
post #16 of 279
There are Christians who do not accept that only Christians go to heaven (and when you get into the nitty-gritty of what exactly qualifies as being "saved" it really can get hairy). I am very cautiously considering re-embracing the title "Christian" but I am extremely progressive and inclusive in my beliefs. I do no think there is only one path to God. I believe that different paths speak to different people. As a pp said, there are literalists who still pick and choose which things to take literally in the Bible. To me, faith does no hinge on whether something truly happened or if it's metaphorical. I find deep truth in the pages. Others may not. To me, the ultimate message of Jesus, the message he was willing to die for, is that we need to love and include all people, regardless of their lives (the protitutes, tax collectors, etc.) or religious beliefs (the Samaritan woman at the well). If Jesus fully embodied absolute love, forgiveness and inclusion, and he also said that no one comes to the Father (God) except through him, then maybe all he was saying is that the only way to connect with God/Divine is through fully loving, forgiving, and including all in our lives.

Suffice to say, there are universal-salvation Christians who do not begin to question whether someone is saved or not, because it is a non-issue. A book I'm hoping to read soon is The Gospel of Inclusion by Bishop Carlton Pearson. From what I've read, he got to a point where he could no longer believe in hell, or that God, who is supposed to be all-loving and our creator, would ever d*mn anyone there.
post #17 of 279
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tradd View Post
Yes, Christ hung out with the prostitutes, the tax collectors, etc., but as he said to the woman taken in adultery, "Go and sin no more." I've run into a fair number of Christians who preach the "God is love" thinking, but that's as far as it goes. They continually preach that "God loves you as you are" but conveniently leave out that Christ actually told the woman taken in adultery to "Go and sin no more."
It's funny, I was just thinking of this passage this morning in the shower (usually the only place where I can think deeply!). He did tell her to go sin no more, because in her sinning, she was hurting people - she was hurting herself and the man she was involved with, as well as his wife and children. If we are to love God with our entire being and love our neighbors as ourselves, then anytime we inflect hurt on someone (our self or another), then we are "sinning" against God. But, Jesus didn't tell her, "Go and sin no more and believe in me exclusively for your salvation." He simply told her to go and sin no more. In stopping her sin, her hurt of herself and others, then she was forgiven. There was no other string attached.
post #18 of 279
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tradd View Post
Yes, Christ hung out with the prostitutes, the tax collectors, etc., but as he said to the woman taken in adultery, "Go and sin no more." I've run into a fair number of Christians who preach the "God is love" thinking, but that's as far as it goes. They continually preach that "God loves you as you are" but conveniently leave out that Christ actually told the woman taken in adultery to "Go and sin no more."
I understand this and agree with you. But... I was addressing what the OP said about her friends who have different beliefs than hers. A lot of well-meaning "Christians" insist you must only hang out with others that are "Christians". I was merely stating what I did because there is no reason for her to give up her friends just because they have different opinions of how to get to Heaven. And she shouldn't feel like she has to "save" them either. It's not her job.

Do you try and convince all your friends to parent like you do? Eat like you do? Drive like you do? Have the same goals as you do? Of course not. We are supposed to live our life "as a witness" to others. Not cram things we believe down other people's throats, regardless of how important "we" think it is. (Now don't get me wrong... if they ask, answer. And if you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Lord wants you to say something, then by all means do) But too many people walk around all high and mighty with their "Jesus, Jesus" pins on and think it's their right to tell people how they should live.

Please don't think I am being argumentative. It's not what I'm trying to do. Just merely trying to explain that it's more important to answer the poster than to state fully my beliefs down to the last detail. Again, this is still just very much MHO.

------------
Note: As other posters have said, EVERYONE'S version of "CHRISTIANITY" is so very different. I cringe at admitting I'm a Christian. But it's because of what people have done to the word, not what it's original context means.
post #19 of 279
Quote:
Originally Posted by MyLittleWonders View Post
There are Christians who do not accept that only Christians go to heaven (and when you get into the nitty-gritty of what exactly qualifies as being "saved" it really can get hairy). I am very cautiously considering re-embracing the title "Christian" but I am extremely progressive and inclusive in my beliefs. I do no think there is only one path to God. I believe that different paths speak to different people. As a pp said, there are literalists who still pick and choose which things to take literally in the Bible. To me, faith does no hinge on whether something truly happened or if it's metaphorical. I find deep truth in the pages. Others may not. To me, the ultimate message of Jesus, the message he was willing to die for, is that we need to love and include all people, regardless of their lives (the protitutes, tax collectors, etc.) or religious beliefs (the Samaritan woman at the well). If Jesus fully embodied absolute love, forgiveness and inclusion, and he also said that no one comes to the Father (God) except through him, then maybe all he was saying is that the only way to connect with God/Divine is through fully loving, forgiving, and including all in our lives.

Suffice to say, there are universal-salvation Christians who do not begin to question whether someone is saved or not, because it is a non-issue. A book I'm hoping to read soon is The Gospel of Inclusion by Bishop Carlton Pearson. From what I've read, he got to a point where he could no longer believe in hell, or that God, who is supposed to be all-loving and our creator, would ever d*mn anyone there.
"Christian" is definitely an overused and abused word these days. I sure do agree with that.

On the subject of hell, though, my same question still stands: Are there not ramifications for a child disobeying his parent? For an employee who steals from the company he works for? Aren't there rules and regulations in our lives? And if we don't follow them, aren't there consequences? If we steal, we go to jail... a horrible place noone would ever want to go. But were jails and prisons made for good, honest people who obey the law? Who live inside boundaries and do the morally right thing? No. Jails and prisons were made for people who refuse to live by the laws or think they are "above" the law and can do what they want. They are for people who don't think policemen (and the judicial system) have the right to tell them they can't steal and kill. Whether you CHOOSE to steal or you steal because you don't think the rules apply to you, you are still going to prison.

Why is it so hard to think that God, then, put rules into place? (including, but not limited to, accepting His Son into our life as we have accepted the Father?)

If we love our children enough to tell them they have to obey their parents or there will be consequences, why is it so hard to believe that about the Lord? I am a good Mommy. I LOVE my kids! But they better obey me or they will get time out, punished, etc. And if they continue to disobey me as teenagers, they will be told that they cannot live under my roof and they will have to find somewhere else to live due to their disrespect toward me as their Mother. Does it mean that I don't love them? Of course not. But I cannot continue to take care of someone who shows me disrespect, disobeys me, etc, on purpose, when they know better. That means they don't "choose" me as their mother, to love and cherish. They've decided I am just someone who pays their bills and puts a roof over their heads and they owe me nothing for that. Uh-uh. No way. Not in my house. And not in the Lord's...

(Again, Hell was only created for Satan and the other fallen angels. The Lord never intended for us to reject Him and not choose Heaven. For every up, there is a down. For every right, there is a left. Why is it so impossible to believe that because there is a Heaven, there just might be a hell?)
post #20 of 279
Quote:
How can we accept this? Do we have to accept this? This is such a troubling issue to us. Are there any alternative ways to interpret the scriptures? How do other Christians reconcile this? Do other Christians really believe that (for example) Gandhi is in hell right now? That just seems ... unthinkable!!
Well, the thing is, Christianity is not about being good enough to get into Heaven, or bad enough to get an eternal "spanking" in hell. If it was, none of us would end up in heaven. And none of us can ever say with certainty the status of anyone else's salvation.
That idea has been called "works righteousness", and it has caused trouble to many generations because then you do get this confusion with assuming that an outwardly righteous person will burn in hell because they haven't said "the magic words" to be saved, while an outwardly vile sinner spends a luxurious eternity in heaven because they said a certain prayer at some point in their life. Yeah, that's off-putting.

The way I view it, *anyone* can choose to spend an eternity with God. And I believe that because God is just and loving, he does give every one a clear choice. We may not see it from our perspective, or understand how he works, but I believe that every single person has been or will be presented with the opportunity to choose and eternity with God. Heaven is not exclusive based on race, social status, relative "goodness" of behavior, or any other factor. But I do believe that Jesus is the only "gate" to the Father. Believing in him and in his sacrifice on the cross would be rather pointless, if it didn't apply to the whole of humanity. So I do believe we must be "washed clean" through Jesus before we can enter into heaven, but I do not believe that there is anyone, no matter what their "status" in humanity is, who is not offered eternal communion with God through Jesus nor anyone who will be rejected if they choose that.
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