As a pastor, I’ve had many conversations with people both inside and outside of the church regarding the beliefs of Christianity. I love having these conversations because I find the message of Christian faith to be incredibly rich and compelling, enough for me to want to commit my life to it wholeheartedly.
One of the common assumptions and puzzles I hear from churched and unchurched folks alike is that Christianity is an exclusive religion, and because it’s exclusive, it’s also dismissing of other religions, thereby disqualifying it from being legitimately true.
I can understand the sentiment behind being against any religion or sect that has the market on complete, absolute knowledge (After all, we are people of faith, and as a pastor I’ve experienced how dangerous extreme dogmatism can be), but it can be equally problematic for folks – both logically and in terms of having a haughty disposition – to become doctrinaire about “all religions being the same”.
Instead, I think it’s fair to say that there are many similarities between religions, but there are also fundamental differences. Hopefully, religious and secular discourse can affirm both realities of sameness and distinctness and still relate with civility and commitment to the common good.
Now this brings me to something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and that’s the fact that Christianity is indeed an exclusive religion. As much as I’d like to get around it, I can’t skirt around that fact.
However – and this is a big however – the reason I’m uncomfortable with the designation of exclusivity is because Christianity is essentially an inclusive religion at its core.
Time and again we see Jesus bringing together people from various backgrounds and social stations (see the 12 disciples, Jesus’ treatment and depiction of Samaritans, women, and others in the Ancient Near East who were considered “other”), the Bible talking about God bringing together all the nations, and the apostle Paul speaking of lines of hostility being broken (Ephesians 2) and the gospel having an equalizing effect when it comes to race, class, and gender (Galatians 3:28).
In other words, Christianity is thoroughly inclusive because literally anyone can be a follower of Jesus, and there are no ethno-linguist-class-other-ways-that-humans-like-to-separate distinctions of inferiority or superiority found in the gospel message.
At the core of Christian belief is that God is the author and perfecter of faith, and more specifically, God is the one who took initiative to move toward humans in bountiful, sacrificial love, all demonstrated in a Savior who would live and die and resurrect on our behalf.
In other words, God does the work, the saving, the forgiving, the strengthening, the wooing. And because the Christian gospel is based on Jesus’ life and work and not our own, and because it’s a pure gift to be called a friend and even a child of God as a result, it really doesn’t matter what country I’m from or what a good person I’ve been or how much is in my bank account or what I struggle with or what language I speak or what my last name is or how well I can throw a football or how tall I am or how old I am or who I root for to win the World Series.
Christianity is about an incredibly inclusive grace, so scandalous that most of our sensibilities are piqued when we discover that even sinners whom we all deem to be the worst of the worst, whether in prisons or in hiding, can also be welcome to the Christian faith if they wanted to be.
All it takes is a willingness to embrace this loving, inclusive Christ and confess that I need Him to be God in my life.
And this invitation is for anyone, because that’s what grace is, an unmerited gift.
So is Christianity exclusive?
Why yes, it’s unique as an exclusively inclusive religion that speaks of good news so daring that anyone can receive God’s love and be called His child.