How is the exclusivity of Christ alone under attack in different cultural contexts?
DE CHIRICO: The seal of the gospel that my city and my nation have received as the standard form of the gospel was a Rome-alone kind of gospel. In our twenty-first-century context it has been substituted with a mercy-alone gospel. This is the keyword of the present pope: mercy.
Mercy has no limits, it has no place for an exclusive Christ. It has shifted into an inclusivist Christ, a pluralist Christ, and a multifaceted Christ to the point that, while still maintaining the forms of traditional Christianity, it has quickly adapted to become a multi-religious type of offer.
So even though we are in a different context than Britain or the rest of Europe, we are constantly dealing with this difficulty for ordinary people to come to terms with exclusive claims of Jesus and the exclusive way of salvation.
LOPES: Latin American and South America—and I mean Brazil, mainly—we have been privileged at this time. We do enjoy freedom of speech and religion. Even though the state is secular, still, there is no resistance. I can go to a public street and just preach openly about Jesus as the only way. And I can even say openly that I am against gay marriage or homosexuality, and nothing is going to happen to me. We still do enjoy this kind of freedom.
Of course as you preach that Jesus is the only way, that will shock people who don’t believe in truth or who are sold to a pluralistic view that every religion will lead you to God. But even though they think like this, I can still go to my TV or radio program and say, “There is only one way: Jesus Christ,” and nothing will happen to me.
So we are enjoying this freedom of speech and religion in Brazil and in Latin America as a whole. But I don’t know for how long, of course, because there are forces working, operating to finish and to end that. Just recently we had to fight against a law proposed by some people that the evangelicals could only express their views about homosexuality within their temples, not in public. But that was defeated and we can still say what we think and what we believe; and this is a great privilege that we enjoy now. We thank God for that. We know that in other places it is not possible; but as for now, we are very thankful to the Lord for that.
TONG: In Indonesia about eighty percent of the Muslims are moderate, and only a small percentage are very radical. But when the radicals try to make riots, it is a very harmful phenomenon for the society.
In my preaching, I’m mostly in the Christian population area. But Muslims are allowed to come, and some of them try to come.
When we preach about Jesus Christ, Muslims cannot accept three things: first, the concept of Trinity; second, that God became a man, our mediator; and third, that the blood of a man can save and cleanse another’s sin. These they cannot accept, but if we don’t preach all of this, we are not Christian. So we should be very insistent of our faith, but we must be very friendly in how we treat other people. But we are waiting.
I myself have promised to God to be a martyr. If someday I am killed by our enemies, I am willing. That is the reason I chose my name. My name is Stephen. Stephen is the first martyr, and Stephen means the “crown” from God, the crown of life. So I am ready to sacrifice for my Lord. And when I preach, I am not hindering and I’m not hiding the Christian faith behind a screen, but I speak it very bravely. Until now, I still am not qualified to be a martyr. I still let my God preach.
I believe some Muslims are awakened. Sometimes I encounter Muslims, old men, who say, “Are you Stephen Tong?” I say “Yes.” They say, “We like to listen to your preaching,” and I ask them, “What church do you go to?” “No, no, no, I’m not a churchman, I am a Muslim; but I like to listen to your preaching.” So we just pray that God will change their hearts.
Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country, but I know in the Middle East, within ten years, Muslims will turn to Christ more than in the past one-thousand years to become Christian because of this wicked ISIS and so on. God has allowed them to appear in this world so that those hidden Muslims, which will become Christian, will see the difference: Christians, with love and kindness, and the extreme Muslim, who have only hatred, only revenge.
For Muslims, so-called righteousness is equal to revenge. Righteousness is revenge, and one-thousand years ago, the Crusaders from Christianity caused a Muslim hatred. They hated Christians. They all cannot understand why Christians tried to invade their land, and that is the reason Christians must be very careful and very wise in preaching the gospel.
And I believe when we are a minority, that is a blessing of God. When Christians become the majority that is very dangerous. But when a minority is working for the benefit of the majority, ultimately the minority will no more be a minority; they will be appreciated by those people.
PARSONS: That’s very helpful Dr. Tong. Thank you, sir. I think it was Francis Schaeffer, when towards the end of his life he was asked about what is one of his greatest concerns about the future of the church, maybe particularly in the United States. But he said something along the lines of his greatest concern being the church’s inability to do the antithesis, to preach the antithesis.
It’s one thing to preach Christ and to preach Christ alone; but it’s an entirely another thing to say that if you don’t trust in Christ alone then you’ll perish. And that’s what we must keep.
I think in America we’re facing much the same challenge, or at least we’re beginning to. As we often follow the course of England and Europe, we’re finding the same thing.
It’s one thing to talk about Jesus. People are very happy to talk about Jesus and happy to hear about the teachings of Jesus, the life of Jesus, the ministry of Jesus. But once you begin to preach the words of Jesus that cut like a knife, that bring a sword, that divide, that tell people that, “If you don’t trust Him and Him alone, you’ll perish,” you’re cut off.
REEVES: I think it’s worth being very clear what we mean when we speak of “Christ alone.” The doctrine of Christ alone has two parts to it: when we talk about solus Christus or Christ alone, we mean first that Jesus Christ’s identity is absolutely unique. But we mean secondly that His work is entirely sufficient.
It was the sufficiency of His work that was primarily under attack in the Reformation five-hundred years ago. The more multi-faith a culture is the more it’ll be the uniqueness of His person that’ll be under attack. But we need to ensure that we are preaching, proclaiming both those truths: the absolute sufficiency of His work, and the complete uniqueness of His person. Those need to be held together.
PARSONS: That’s very helpful.
Chris, you’ve heard me tell this story about my time in Iran in 2004. I was invited along with a small delegation to travel to Tehran. And some of this panel, this delegation, had been asked to come at the behest of the Vice President for Parliamentary Affairs, at that time Muhammad Ali Abtahi, and his wife Mrs. Mousavinejad, to the Centre for Interreligious Dialogue.
And in the capital, in Tehran, these meetings were being held. And the meetings came to a halt as the panel, the delegation that I was with—the year before they had delegates from the Vatican, and this was one of the first, really Protestant, Evangelical and American delegations that had ever been to Iran like this, at the behest of a Vice President or parliamentary official.
But the meetings, this discussion of sorts, came to a halt when we began to talk about the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. And as Dr. Tong was talking about both moderate and radical Muslims, what I found in my time there as I studied a good bit about, at least, Iranian Islam is that the truth of the matter is that the radical Muslims are the true Muslims. They’re the ones who take the Quran literally and seriously. The rest of them are just a bunch of nominal liberals. They don’t take the Quran seriously one bit. The radicals are in fact the true Muslims; and when you begin to preach the exclusivity of Jesus Christ, it’s then when you drive them away.
FERGUSON: Looking over my period between leaving homeland on January the 13th, 1983—the day that lives in infamy in my memory. Putting out the lights in New York City and weeping under the covers at my loss—then going back home, all my Christian life up till that point, like the first half of my life, people would be angry, or you would be demeaned, or there would be hostility if you claimed that Jesus Christ was the only way of salvation. People would be angry in the Presbyterian church if you claimed that.
That was where Scottish Christianity was. But if you were convinced of the lordship of Christ, you were perfectly free to live that out in the public square. Whereas today I look at, for example, my grandchildren, and they’re moving into a world where they may not be permitted not only to live out their convictions about the lordship of Christ but to speak out their convictions about the lordship of Christ.
One of the things that I have noticed happening in the demise of public Christianity is the role of the Ten Commandments. My own conviction is that when a society that has been Christianized removes the Ten Commandments, it is a field day for the lawyers, because you then have to multiply laws for the dysfunction that’s created socially by the abandonment of what I call the Big Ten. You know they really do work, and they really do something to society.
And so what we are seeing in Scotland, which is a different government by and large now from the one that sits in Westminster, we are seeing governments seeking to legislate for the lifestyle that the Ten Commandments produced while abandoning those Ten Commandments.
And in the middle of all that, especially in our multi-cultural society, one of the things that happens is that the government now steps into the realm of education and the realm of the family. It oversteps what is its properly constituted authority, and, for example, brings education contrary to the basic contours of the biblical teaching on creation right down into the school at which my seven-year-old granddaughter is now a pupil.
That has never happened before in my lifetime. Back then I needed courage in a class where there weren’t any other Christian boys to confess my faith in Jesus Christ, but they expected me to live it out. Indeed, they would poke me if I didn’t live it out. Now a new generation needs courage not only to believe and have those convictions but courage to live out those convictions, to speak out those convictions, and extraordinary wisdom.
Our youngsters, if things continue the way they are, will all need to be sufficiently taught to be able to say with the Psalmist, “Your law has made me wiser than my teachers,” and to have that kind of confidence that no matter what is said, what is done, the Lord is sovereign, and the Lord gives wisdom.
My conviction is that as our society continues to disintegrate, these young families in our church will in ten years find the other families on their streets turning to them and saying “How do you do this?” Because the government cannot legislate in a way that will reverse the disintegration that is actually taking place in society, which our society in Scotland can now no longer afford. And from that point of view, it’s a tremendously challenging time; but from another point of view, as Mike was saying, it’s really a kind of exciting time, however painful it’s going to be.
We’ve been immunized against it, we’ve complained that Christians suffer. Well, we weren’t reading the New Testament if we thought that Christians don’t suffer. But it is a new challenge for us in Scotland.
Lightly edited for readability, this is a transcript of Leonardo De Chirico’s, Sinclair Ferguson’s, Augustus Lopes’s, Burk Parsons’, Stephen Tong’s, and Michael Reeves’ answers given at our 2017 National Conference. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.