Smith: Christianity is open to everyone
I recently posted a meme that – in an obviously playful way – suggested Christians should block romantic partners who don’t share their faith. I was amazed that some people were seriously offended by the post, believing it to encourage Christians to shun unbelievers. This erroneous conclusion is based on their unease or their misunderstanding of Christian doctrine.
Above all, I recognize that such unease and misunderstanding is often based on unpleasant interactions with Christians, who can be bad ambassadors of our religion. Yet most atheists and agnostics agree with me that people should not judge a belief system based on its worst adherents. Additionally, the fact is that most Christians actively cultivate friendships with people who do not share our faith.
Most Christians focus on eternal life. Conversely, most people who identify as spiritual focus on the temporal life. So while Christians have friendships with unbelievers, being “unequally harnessed” is another matter – practically and theologically. Indeed, a basic biblical saying is that only Christians will spend eternity in heaven. It is almost impossible to overstate this point. Thus, some Christians reject unbelievers as potential spouses because, according to the Scriptures, they will not inherit the kingdom of God.
In the immortal words of this great psalmist, Prince: âI am here to tell you that there is a better way. Would our Lord be happy if he came today? I’m not saying I’m better, not better than you. But if you wanna play with me, you better learn the rules. Critics of Christianity would be justified if we rejected all relationships with non-believers; they are quite wrong to claim that not choosing a partner who you think will not spend eternity with us is a leak.
Consider Pascal’s bet: if Christians are wrong about eternal life, the worst outcome is that we would give up life on Earth with a loving, but unbelieving spouse. But, if we are right, the worst outcome is that we will go through eternity without our unbelieving spouse. In the words of avowed atheist Woody Allen, “Eternity is very long, especially towards the end.”
Inclusion tends to be a core value of people who identify as spiritual; there are no admission requirements. No race. Not classy. Not the kind. Not geography. Not education. No perceived beauty. No physical ability. In short, few of the human traits we use to separate ourselves – or subjugate others – prevent people from being spiritual.
There is another belief system that has the same admission requirements: Christianity. Consider, for example, John 3:16. It is perhaps the best-known Bible passage, even among non-believers. God’s invitation to eternal life through faith in Jesus is open to all. It’s still conditional. Most people focus on âFor God so loved the worldâ but often forget âhe who believes in (Jesus)â. As theologians have long observed, God is sovereign, but he has given mankind free will (or “agency” in contemporary parlance). Of all the criticisms of Christianity, the idea that it is exclusive is perhaps the strangest.
Likewise, all people are also subject to the same punishment for rejecting Christ. Given our agency, many Christians argue that God does not send anyone to hell; if we find ourselves there after death, it is of our own accord. (I recognize the crucial question of what happens to those who have never heard of Jesus in their lifetime. I may address this question in a future column.)
Consider the following analogy. Someone invites you to an incredibly lavish, free banquet. You choose to eat leftovers instead. Is it reasonable for you to be angry with the host (or those who accepted the invitation)? While the analogies are flawed, this is essentially the mindset of many who knowingly reject Christianity but are angry with God and / or Christians.
No one is forcing anyone to become a Christian. Likewise, no one prevents anyone from becoming a Christian. I respect the free will of those who reject Christ. But they should not criticize Christians who follow what our faith teaches. It is intellectually – not to mention spiritually – dishonest to consciously reject faith in Jesus and yet be angry for missing out on its rewards.
On resigning from the Friars Club, legendary comedian Groucho Marx wrote: âI don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members. Fortunately, Christianity is not a club. It is a religion that accepts anyone, regardless of their characteristics, circumstances or background. The choice to believe in Jesus is yours alone.
Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at [email protected]