In the issue of Newsweek commemorating the September 11 attacks on America, in an article entitled, “How Should We Think About Islam?” (Newsweek, Dec. 31, 2001/Jan. 7, 2002, pp. 102-103), Kenneth L. Woodward wrote the following:

… even the acceptance of other religions as valid paths to God is insufficient.  What theologians from various traditions are beginning to realize is that we cannot truly understand the uniqueness of our own religion unless we also develop a deep understanding and appreciation of at least one other religion.  What committed Christians and Jews and Muslims must do is find within their own traditions sound theological reasons for valuing other faiths without compromising the integrity of their own.  (pp. 102-103)

He goes on from there to applaud the fact that some Catholic theologians are now asking how “the Holy Spirit might be at work within non-Christian religions” (p. 103).  Of course, he also tells us that some Muslim scholars are using the Quran to make the point that Allah blesses religions pluralism, too, and then opines, “Clearly, this will be the most important theological agenda of the new millennium” (p. 103).

I am sorry, Mr. Woodward, I beg to differ.  As an American citizen, of course, I am called to tolerate other religions.  We have religious freedom – a great blessing because it means I am free to live my faith and so is my Muslim neighbor.  As a Christian, one baptized into Jesus Christ, I am called to love my neighbor, no matter what his religion (or lack thereof).  Religious differences are never an excuse for hatred.  However, tolerance, freedom and love do not mean giving up the uniqueness of Jesus as the one and only Savior of the world. 

What Mr. Woodward does not understand (or has rejected) is that if I grant that another faith has value before God or if I accept another religion as a “valid path to God” then I have already compromised the integrity of my faith in Jesus.  There is a fundamental, radical difference between Christianity and religion.  Every manmade religion claims to be a “path to God.”  Christianity, however, is not a path we make to God, but is God coming to us in the One who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6).  Christianity is not at heart a religion (a set of rules to follow), but Christianity is at heart God’s rule, God’s reign, in the person of Jesus Christ. 

In Jesus, God has come to us.  “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14).  “In him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). His desire is to bring us under His sway, fully and completely.  And He brooks no rivals. 

This Jesus, God in our flesh, still comes to us in His Word, in the water of Baptism and in His body and blood.  Christian faith is receiving Jesus, receiving Him where He has promised to be present for us.  “There is no other name…”  (Acts 4:12). 

So despite the pressure of “the most important theological agenda of the new millennium,” we cannot give up the uniqueness of Jesus.  Why not?  There is no comfort anywhere else.  When you are at the grave side, every other religion (and unfortunately some Christians) will point you to the good things that the dead person has done, to the efforts he made to follow the path to God.  In the face of death, we who believe in Jesus know we cannot trust anything we have done, but we cling to everything Jesus has done for us. 

Here’s the real difference between our faith in Jesus and every other religion.  The initiator of every other religion is still dead and buried.  Jesus’ grave is empty.  And it’s not because his body was stolen, but because He is alive, bodily raised from the dead.   By His resurrection He forgives our sins.  Because He lives, we shall live also.  “You have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.  When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory”  (Colossians 3:3-4).

My sisters and brothers in Christ:  I know there are many pressures (often subtle but still very real) to “fudge” on the uniqueness of Jesus.  Even many of our people have bought the “spirit” of this age that, no matter what the religion, “we are all praying to the same god anyway.”  That’s why God is calling you and me to renewed faithfulness and trust in Christ, who “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins,” and “sat down at the right hand of God”  (Hebrews 10:12).  

We are in the midst of the season when we examine over and over again the reason for the uniqueness of Jesus – His cross and His resurrection.  His victory there over our last enemy, death itself, is what fuels our confidence and joy.  It is as the great Easter hymn has it:

They who sorrow here and moan
There in gladness shall be reigning;
Earthly here the seed is sown,
There immortal life attaining.
Here our sinful bodies die,
Glorified to dwell on high.

Then take comfort and rejoice,
For His members Christ will cherish.
Fear not, they will hear His voice;
Dying, they shall never perish;
For the very grave is stirred
When the trumpet’s blast is heard.

Laugh to scorn the gloomy grave
And at death no longer tremble;
He, the Lord, who came to save
Will at last His own assemble.
They will go their Lord to meet,
Treading death beneath their feet.  (TLH #206, st. 7-9)

And that’s what we are doing already this Easter Season, by our preaching and teaching, by our joy and gladness even now: “treading death beneath (our) feet.”

Yours in the living One!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President – LCMS