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I'm In, You're Out

Have you ever wondered why so many religious people, especially conservative Christians, believe that they are the only ones going to heaven? Why do we insist on making our salvation a competitive thing? I'm in, you're out. I win, you lose. God blesses me, God curses you. Why can't I feel good about my salvation unless I'm convinced that you're going to hell?

Jesus tells us not to judge others, but this form of judgment is built into the Christian faith. Christianity thinks of itself as the only true religion and teaches that all other religions are wrong. If you don't accept my savior, you will be lost eternally.

The reason for this is quite simple, and quite political. If it should ever be established that Christianity is not the only true religion, it would mean that people do not need a savior. And that would indicate that the central teaching of the church is false. If this ever happened, that whole religious tradition would come apart. So in order to defend its pivotal belief, the church condemns everyone who does not accept it.

I was once teaching a Bible study with a group made up of people from several churches. The subject of one session was heaven and hell. I suggested that the idea of hell was not consistent with the loving God about whom Jesus taught. After the meeting, a minister's wife came up to me, obviously unhappy with what I had said. She retorted, "I could not believe in a God who didn't send unbelievers to hell!" Her self-righteousness was quite obvious. I wanted to remind her that Jesus warned that we would be judged in the same way we judge others, but I bit my tongue.

When I was a teenager, I served as a staff member at a very religious, very conservative family camp in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. The staff was picked for its superior religious experience and exemplary moral lives. While I was there, I was recruited by one of the older counselors to join a prayer group. Our main purpose was to pray for other members of the staff whom we thought were "unsaved." When someone asked me how I knew I was saved, my instant reaction was, "Well, I'm in a group praying for the unsaved. So that must mean I'm saved."

The world thinks in terms of either/or. If you and I disagree, either I'm right or you're right, because one of us has to be wrong. But the spiritual world operates on the basis of both/and. In the mind of God, conflicting truths can both be true. Men can be the equals of women. Jews can be as precious to God as Christians. Vastly different ways of thinking about God can be equally valid. Heaven can be home to both sinners and saints. So when the church engages in either/or thinking, it is functioning from a worldly, not a spiritual, perspective.

Many people reject this view of spiritual reality because it takes away their sense of superiority. But in John 21:21, when Peter asks Jesus about the fate of the apostle John, Jesus answers, in effect, "That's none of your business."

My salvation is not based on whether I get a higher grade on my end-of-life exam than someone else. It's none of my business whether that other person is "saved" or not. That's up to God. Certainly, I need to witness to others about what makes my spiritual life tick. But that is far different from demanding that they accept my beliefs. My primary job is to focus on my own final exam. The only questions I will be asked are, Did you love? Did you learn? Did you make the world a little more like the kingdom of heaven?

Copyright: John W. Sloat 2004