THE WORLD TODAY SERIES #24

All the Other Religions of the World

If the skeptic who flung the accusation at me about the dissension within the Church were to return, I’d now have a ready answer for him. But what about his other accusation, the one about the vast number of people who comprise the non-Christian religions of the world. Would God indeed toss them all into His big spiritual Dumpster?

From a casual look at Scripture, one might readily form that opinion. In John 14:6, after all, Jesus plainly states that those who don’t acknowledge Jesus as Lord won’t get into heaven:

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

It’s also pretty plain that all the non-Christian religions of the world don’t acknowledge Jesus as Lord. But the situation is more complicated than that. Jesus also said in Matthew 7:21-23 that not every person who belongs to a Christian Church or claims to be a Christian does, in fact, acknowledge Jesus as Lord:

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father, who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out demons? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

In other words, there always have been and always will be ‘bad apples’ within the Christian Church. But that coin has two sides, namely that there undoubtedly are many, many ‘bad apples’ within the non-Christian Churches as well, those who do worship Jesus and acknowledge Him as their Lord but haven’t yet reached that point in their walk with God that they have the courage to deny the customs in which they were raised and can speak out about it despite the certainty of reprisal if they do so.

This would apply to, say, a resident of India, whose parents were devout Hindus. This fellow surely would have been brought up in the customs of the society to which he belonged. Such customs would have included the common faith, perhaps leading one to think that his upbringing would result in his knowing little or nothing of the Judeo-Christian God. But such a thought process denies a characteristic unique to our Judeo-Christian God, that of the active work of the Holy Spirit throughout the world, both in communicating with individuals and in creating events favorable to the impartation of faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul had an excellent answer in Romans 1:18-32 to the skeptic’s complaint. We’ve just read it in the previous chapter. What we can take away from it is the guarantee that, thanks to the Holy Spirit, everyone on earth is given a chance. If there’s any doubt remaining, after reading that, about whether the non-Christian is consigned to hell, the following quotation of Jesus from Luke 12:48 should be of great comfort:

“But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”

The bottom line is that to social or inherited adherents to any faith, their god of any flavor is irrelevant to them. They have refused to think about their god.

The Holy Spirit uses a variety of means to bring about the salvation effected by Jesus Christ, both directly through spiritual communion, and indirectly. The indirect methods are frequently performed with politeness and are usually of such a nature as to be perceived as the result of random chance. But they are there. We have seen how God might act upon a wayward society. He also can create happy situations through a coordination of events attributable to serendipity. I have experienced several such events in my own life.

Luke’s beautiful book The Acts of the Apostles vividly illustrates the intervention of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and their followers to create and multiply the early Church. There is abundant evidence of that support throughout the Church’s history, up to and including the present time. The secular media give minimal, if any, coverage to this phenomenon, but Christian news sources are full of accounts of the remarkable growth of the Christian Church in the most unlikely places, in the midst of great persecution involving terrible suffering and wholesale slaughter. At present, these places include Africa, China and Iran, all of which are extremely hostile to Christians. Yet the Church there endures and grows, just as the early Church did in the midst of Roman persecution. Hebrews Chapter eleven beautifully summarizes the nobility displayed in this process:

“And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edged of the sword; whose weakness was turned into strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put into prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated – the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

The moving account of the persecution of the Apostles of Christ as told in John Foxe’s Christian Martyrs of the World represents an example of the nobility displayed by early Christians under the Roman thumb. This nobility is typical of the many martyrs who followed them throughout the Age of Grace.

“The first apostle to suffer after the martyrdom of Stephen [Acts Chapters 6 and 7] was James, the brother of John. Clement tells us, ‘When this James was brought to the tribunal seat, he that brought him and was the cause of his trouble, seeing him to be condemned and that he should suffer death, was in such sort moved within heart and conscience that as he went to the execution he confessed himself also, of his own accord, to be a Christian. And so they were led forth together, where in the way he desired of James to forgive him for what he had done. After James had a little paused within himself upon the matter, turning to him he said, “Peace be to thee, brother;” and kissed him. And both were beheaded together, A.D. 36.’

“Thomas preached to the Parthians, Medes, Persians, Carmanians, Hyrcanians, Bactrians, and Magians. He was killed in Calamina, India.

“Simon, brother of Jude and James the younger, who were all the sons of Mary Cleopas and Alpheus, was Bishop of Jerusalem after James. He was crucified in Egypt during the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan.

“Simon the apostle, called Cananeus and Zelotes, preached in Mauritania, Africa, and Britain. He was also crucified.

“Mark, the first Bishop of Alexandria, preached the gospel in Egypt. He was burned and buried in a place named Bucolus during Trajan’s reign.

“Bartholomew is said to have preached in India and translated the gospel of Matthew into their tongue. He was beaten, crucified, and beheaded in Albinopolis, Armenia.

“Andrew, Peter’s brother, preached to the Scythians, Sogdians, and the Sacae in Sebastopolis, Ethiopia, in the year A.D. 80. He was crucified by Aegeas, the governor of the Edessenes, and buried in Patrae, in Archaia. Bernard and St. Cyprian mention the confession and martyrdom of this blessed apostle. Partly from them and partly from other reliable writers, we gather the following material.

“When Andrew, through his diligent preaching, had brought many to the faith of Christ, Aegeas the governor asked permission of the Roman senate to force all Christians to sacrifice to and honor the Roman idols. Andrew thought he should resist Aegeas and went to him, telling him that a judge of men should first know and worship his Judge in heaven. While worshiping the true God, Andrew said, he should banish all false gods and blind idols from his mind.

“Furious at Andrew, Aegeas demanded to know if he was the man who had recently overthrown the temple of the gods and persuaded men to become Christians – a ‘superstitious sect’ that had recently been declared illegal by the Romans.

“Andrew replied that the rulers of Rome didn’t understand the truth. The Son of God, who came into the world for man’s sake, taught that the Roman gods were devils, enemies of mankind, teaching men to offend God and causing Him to turn away from them. By serving the devil, men fall into all kinds of wickedness, Andrew said, and after they die, nothing but their evil deeds are remembered.

“The proconsul ordered Andrew not to preach these things any more or he would face a speedy crucifixion. Whereupon Andrew replied, ‘I would not have preached the honor and glory of the cross if I feared the death of the cross.’ He was condemned to be crucified for teaching a new sect and taking away the religion of the Roman gods.

“Andrew, going toward the place of execution and seeing the cross waiting for him, never changed his expression. Neither did he fail in his speech. His body fainted not, nor did his reason fail him, as often happens to men who are about to die. He said, ‘O cross, most welcome and longed for! With a willing mind, joyfully and desirously, I come to you, being the scholar of Him which did hang on you, because I have always been your lover and yearned to embrace you.’

“Matthew wrote his gospel to the Jews in the Hebrew longue. After he had converted Ethiopia and all Egypt, Hyrcanus the king sent someone to kill him with a spear.

“After years of preaching to the barbarous nations, Philip was stoned and crucified in Hierapolis, Phrygia, and buried there with his daughter.

“Of James, the brother of the Lord, we read the following. James, being considered a just and perfect man, governed the Church with the apostles. He drank no wine or any strong drink, ate no meat, and never shaved his head. He was the only man allowed to enter into the holy place, for he never wore wool, just linen. He would enter into the temple alone, fall on his knees, and ask remission for the people, doing this so often that his knees lost their sense of feeling and became hardened, like the knees of a camel. Because of his holy life, James was called ‘The Just’ and ‘the safeguard of the people.’

“When many of their chief men had been converted, the Jews, scribes, and Pharisees began to fear that soon all the people would decide to follow Jesus. They met with James, saying, ‘We beg you to restrain the people, for they believe Jesus as though he were Christ. Persuade those who come to the Passover to think correctly about Christ, because they will all listen to you. Stand on the top of the temple so you can be heard by everyone.’

“During the Passover the scribes and Pharisees put James on top of the temple, calling out to him, ‘You just man, whom we all ought to obey, this people is going astray after Jesus, who was crucified.’

“And James answered, ‘Why do you ask me of Jesus the Son of Man? He sits on the right hand of the Most High, and shall come in the clouds of heaven.’

“Hearing this, many in the crowd were persuaded and glorified God, crying, ‘Hosannah to the Son of David!’

“Then the scribes and Pharisees realized they had done the wrong thing by allowing James to testify of Christ. They cried out, ‘Oh, this just man is seduced, too!’ then went up and threw James off the temple.

“But James wasn’t killed by the fall. He turned, fell on his knees, and called, ‘O Lord God, Father, I beg You to forgive them, for they know not what they do.’

“They decided to stone James, but a priest said to them, ‘Wait! What are you doing? The just man is praying for you!’ But one of the men there – a fuller – took the instrument he used to beat cloth and hit James on the head, killing him, and they buried him where he fell. James was a true witness for Christ to the Jews and the Gentiles.” Perpetua suffered under the persecution which began in A.D. 200. According to Foxe, this was the fifth of ten persecutions foretold by Jesus in His message to the Church at Smyrna, Revelation 2:8-11:

“And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These things saith the first and the last, who was dead, and is alive. I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty (but thou art rich); and I know the blasphemy of them who say they are Jews, and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer. Behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried, and ye shall have tribulation ten days; be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches: he that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.”

[to be continued]

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