Dealing with reactions to a message that claims to be exclusively from God.
If you’ve ever set out to “go into the world and preach the gospel,” you’ve heard the immediate objections. What about all those other people? Who do Christadelphians think they are? How can God sit by and let so many people suffer from injustice? Why does He allow such horrific treatment of people in war-torn countries? If we don’t fight for freedom, who will? Are people really all that bad?
People can be visibly annoyed at how arrogant Christadelphians seem, as if they are the only ones who really understand the Bible — worse still, that everyone else is found in fatal error. In my experience, this is the biggest single objection to the things we profess. Diligently refraining from judgment, all we can do is reason honestly and thoroughly around scriptural verses that define the parameters of truth, faith and judgment as they have been revealed by God. We religiously leave judgment to God, and yet we frequently face the accusation of judgmental self-aggrandizement.
As for our own self-examination, none of us would suggest that holding the logic of the truth will result in worthiness at the judgment, because faith is proven by works. The “just will live by faith,” but only by virtue of the sacrifice of Christ combined with personal obedience. It isn’t a question of being better than other people. The fact is we are not, and everything we teach about the devil proves it. At times we even feel less worthy than some individuals we may know of, who, although they don’t understand the truth, seem to live lives framed in good works and worthy causes.
In spite of all the comparisons made about people, in the end everyone recognizes that something is terribly wrong with the world and someone is to blame for it. Does the fault fall along religious lines?
Who is right and who should be saved?
God is right, and people who listen to Him should be saved. In a comparison between an eternal God and dying men, God retains the right to define truth as well as the difference between right and wrong. If God says He is righteous and man is sinful, then He is also beyond argument. Many may argue, but everyone dies. God’s word remains.As for human comparisons — that is, who has the best interpretation of the Bible, or even the best formula for spirituality — the world is full of contradictory proposals. Some seek; others claim to have found. Those who have found the truth from God’s word are compelled to speak about it in the face of an accusation of arrogance. The accusation is false, unless the motive is self-righteousness.
Self-righteousness was the specific error of the Pharisees, who were in possession of the truth. They despised Jesus’ authoritative tenor as he “reproved in the gate.” Yet when he called them on their errors, his distinction was between God’s Word and their traditions. He repeatedly said, “these aren’t my words;” in effect he was saying, “I’m only the messenger.” It was as if to say, “This is about my Father, not me.” “My Father is greater than I.” In stating the obvious, Jesus nullified their argument, as well as all the objections that were to follow from the same disposition.
When the Pharisees posed their clever questions to Jesus, their motive was to trap him in logical error. Addressing their assumptions, he exposed their motive. They wanted killing; he wanted life.
In the same way, we reason with people about the truth because it’s the Truth that will make them free, from death. No lie is of the Truth, and there are so many lies in the world the truth can only be communicated through the arguments that expose them. We don’t have anything personally to gain by it, and we have no interest in condemning anyone. It’s about what is true. Nevertheless, we all face the question, if religion is constantly fouled by personal or biased interpretations, what level of knowledge constitutes faith? If understanding truth comes by degrees, one doctrine at a time, at what point does it become sufficient for the process of salvation to begin? So the question that began as, “Who is right?,” continues as, “How much is right?”
What about “all those other people?”
“All those other people” includes the good people of the world who are not Christadelphians. Most people recognize the basic lines of distinction between “evildoers” and “decent folk,” or simply between the “good” and the “evil” of humanity. In any sense of justice, the assumption is that good people should be saved, and evil people should not be. It seems so arrogant to suggest that they won’t. But those familiar with the teachings of Jesus would be reluctant to categorize anyone as being “good,” for two reasons:
- Firstly, if people can get saved by being “good,”then that is salvation by works, since it is their works that make them good. Yet, the Bible clearly teaches that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works.
- Secondly, Jesus himself rejected being referred to as “good,” and who was more “good” than Jesus? So, can any of “all those other people” be described as good? Instead, the central criterion for salvation is faith. That criterion exists to separate people who will regard God’s word, and people who won’t. Since faith comes from God’s word, “the faithful” would be those who understand it.
God’s word assures us that none of the faithful will be lost. That is fair on its face and without partiality. But there is a requirement. If the “just will live by faith,” then they have to be both just and faithful in order to be given eternal life. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine a kingdom (or a judgment) where evildoers get the same reward as the faithful — where just and unjust people are treated the same.
Even though God specifically says that He doesn’t want “any” to perish, that doesn’t mean that He won’t allow any to perish without distinction. Otherwise, you might imagine God asking, “Why did I write the Bible?” Or further, “What do you mean by claiming to hear me, if you ignore my Word?”
So when the question is asked, “What about all those other people?” (besides Christadelphians), the assumption is that there are obviously many people who should be saved from the “decent folk” category of Christianity, if not humanity in general. The inference is advanced that unjust judgment is at the root of any sentiment which leaves them out.
Once the scriptural distinction is understood between “the good,” (that is, no one in the absolute sense), “the just,” (that is, fair-minded people) and “the faithful,” (that is, fair-minded people who take God at His word), it’s easier to accept the fact that whoever “all those other people” are, they can’t be reasonably understood as everybody out there. But in what proportion are they found in the world?
Would Christians suggest that Christianity is unnecessary?
Most religions exist on the basis of their distinctions. It is central to Christianity at large to believe that people who fall under the umbrella of the Christian title (Catholics included) must at least accept Jesus based on the scriptural maxim, there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
People who reject Christ reject God, and rejecting God cancels salvation. If that isn’t true, then why did Christ go to all the trouble of dying on the cross? What did Jesus die for, if a person doesn’t even have to recognize the meaning of the crucifixion in order to be saved? What an extravagant, pitiful waste it was, if the crucifixion was unnecessary for salvation; or that being ignorant of it is just as effective as believing in it! Christianity has always been understood as being critically exclusive because of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
So recognizing the existence of good and bad people, or more specifically, good and bad Christians, even by worldly standards, rules out a lot of people. But how many would that be? Would there be any statistical evidence relating to the proportion of “all those other” just and unjust people in the world?
Does Christianity have a more just basis of selectivity?
Historically, the Catholic Church has nefariously excluded Jews for their part in the crucifixion, yet even though most Jews still reject Christ as their Messiah Paul made it clear that God has “by no means” rejected Israel. Besides that, Christianity largely understands the world to be full of people who reject Christ in deference to names like Buddha, Allah, other so-called gods, philosophies, vain deceits, or personal insistences. Moreover, many Protestants don’t believe that Catholics qualify, and the feeling is somewhat mutual in Catholics. Yet the vast majority of Christians in the world are “Catholic.” Where do they stand if Protestants are right, having protested Catholicism?
It is an observable fact that all sorts of visible lines of distinction exist in the world as to who is in and who is out, without consideration of any line drawn by Christadelphians. As a matter of fact, you can’t be a Christian without drawing a major line somewhere. So it is that Christianity itself, totaling around one and a half billion proponents, at its lowest common denominator rules out 4.5 billion non-Christian people worldwide!
Christadelphians are therefore no more judgmental than Christ himself in his claim of exclusivity. And if these billions are not ruled out by Christians, then the Christian religion is meaningless. Furthermore, another basic premise of Christianity is that you have to be a good Christian. Christians don’t believe that “evil” Christians will be saved, unless they repent. That would rule out another subset of the 1.5 billion remaining people who recognize “Jesus Christ” as the Son of God. Furthermore, most denominations under the Christian umbrella have segregated from other Christian denominations because they believe that they are “it,” so to speak.
Adding non-Christians (around 75%) together with evil Christians (speculating another 5%?) excludes 80% of the world’s population, according to reasonable, widely-accepted Christian standards. So why would it be an unreasonable thing for truth to be an additional requirement of faith, when the vast majority of people have already been logically excluded by most Christians on the grounds of either behavior or belief?
As large and extensive as it is, this proportion is still a lot more palatable to people than the suggestion that a few thousand Christadelphians and their views define a fatal error in the 1.5 billion other Christians in the world! That would exclude just about the entire world population, leaving less than .001%. That kind of proportion offends a fair-minded person. Short of the knowledge the gospel’s promise is to bless all the families of the earth eventually, saving so few hardly sounds like Jesus came “to save the world.”
How does anyone know where to draw the critical line?
Once a person accepts the distinction of their faith, it is not unreasonable to wonder where the line is, especially if there is a genuine desire to help include as many people as possible.
How far does it go?
It would be unreasonable to make arbitrary stipulations from opinion, or without scriptural basis. To make the line too broad nullifies the value of understanding. How can there be faith in a void of reason? To make the line too narrow is just as wrong, because it unreasonably excludes people on trivial points or opinions. Both ignoring the truth of God’s word on one hand, and inciting debates about words on the other are strictly forbidden in the Bible. The ultimate judgment about uncertain details can only be left to Christ at his coming.
But does that give anyone a license to ignore truth when it can be known, or to set it aside as being extrinsic to salvation, when God Himself felt that it was important enough to record? Does ignorance in other people require abandonment of knowledge? Should anyone believe in a false idea because it makes him more comfortable? Or further, should anyone play down things they know to be true to avoid conflict? Would a doctor be right to lie about a positive diagnosis of cancer so his patient doesn’t worry?
Whether the truth is comfortable or not, at least people are given a chance to work with reality when they know it. It would be a shame to know what is true and sit on it in some pretense of care. That’s what the false prophets of Israel did. When they told the king false but palatable news, they found favor with him. But when the true prophets spoke of God’s stipulations, they were killed. It’s one thing to wonder where the line is, it’s another to erase it.
When we know the truth, like any protective boundary marker, we are compelled to alert people if they are at risk in its breach. All law and all truth is based on moral, legal, and physical rules and boundaries. Should God’s truth be any different? It’s the boundaries that people don’t like. And it was the grave mistake of the priests of Israel to remove them.
If salvation without distinction is unfair, then it is just and fair for a distinction to be made. If it is just for the distinction to be defined by God, then it would be fair for Him to disclose it. If it is disclosed by God for the general benefit of humanity, then He would make His message available without partiality. If that message is rejected by some, then a proportion would be set up and it would be observable. That proportion exists and it isn’t arrogant to acknowledge it. It is a broad system of self-determination based on the choices of free will. Whether there are more or less is a matter determined by the will of world population made up of billions of individual choices. In the end, to blame God (or those who choose Him) for any general rejection of His Word, is unjust.
In the 2nd installment of this article, God willing, we will look at the hard facts relating to the scope of sin in the world, raising the question, who ultimately is responsible for the injustice of most human suffering?