When Pastor James Bing of Fort Meyers, Florida, was asked to pray at a presidential event, he did the unthinkable. He self-censored his own prayer, explaining: “For some strange reason, the word Jesus is like pouring gasoline on fire for some people in this country…. You learn how to work around that.”1
While it is unimaginable for any Christian to repress the name of Christ in order to avoid offense, it seems to be the trend. People of all faiths are becoming more and more sensitive to individuals and groups of differing belief systems.
Even Pope Benedict XVI, while visiting Jordan, spoke of his “respect” for Islam—a religion that the Roman Catholic Church teaches is both erroneous and incomplete. The pope has done much to build a friendship between Islam and Rome since he was criticized for remarks he made about Islam in 2006. In 2008, the Vatican hosted a group of Islamic leaders to discuss interfaith topics. In the letter of invitation, the Pope urged “Christians and Muslims to develop their common ground of belief in one God.”2
Tolerance or Pluralism?
To tolerate a religious viewpoint that is contrary to your own does not mean that you have to accept it as fact. The very meaning of the word tolerance implies that you have differing beliefs, but that you respect each other as individuals. On the other hand, pluralism requires that you accept other religious teachings as legitimate expressions of faith.
Pluralism is reshaping the religious landscape of America. In the United States, there are nearly as many people who attend worship services in several places as those who just attend a single place of worship.3 Over a quarter of Americans believe in one or more Eastern beliefs such as reincarnation, astrology, and spiritual energy in physical objects like trees or mountains.4 Religion has become a buffet of beliefs from which individuals can pick and choose.
Our culture will accept and defend any belief system, no matter how outlandish. You may build a Wiccan altar in shop class or teach any mix of Eastern philosophies, and the ACLU will rush to your defense.5 But if you carry a Bible to class or claim that Jesus is the only way to salvation, you are labeled a fringe zealot. The world speaks of tolerance but shows little to the name of Christ (or the unborn and elderly for that matter). We are told that you can believe whatever you would like, but don’t disagree with anyone else.
The very idea that only one religion is true is immediately labeled as intolerant.
‘There Couldn’t Possibly Be Just One Way’
Oprah Winfrey may be the most spiritually influencial person in the US. One-third of those polled by beliefnet.com responded that “Winfrey has had ‘a more profound impact’ on their spiritual lives than their clergy persons,” and USA Today called Winfrey “a spiritual leader for the new millenia.”6
Winfrey has wielded her deep influence to promote Westernized New Age beliefs to her estimated 6.9 million viewers per day, but what does she think of a single way to God? As she said in one show, “there couldn’t possibly be just one way.” She is dogmatic in her lack of dogmatism. “I’m a free-thinking Christian who believes in my way,” Winfrey has said, “but I don’t believe it’s the only way, with 6 billion people on the planet.”7
And most Americans agree with Oprah. According to a 2008 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion, 70% believe “many religions can lead to eternal life.”8 Our country has shifted from a belief in religious tolerance to a belief in religious pluralism.
Hiding the Cross
Leaders today with a bent toward pluralism often give credence to religious and moral beliefs that absolutely deny the teaching of the Word of God. However, in an attempt to show their broad-mindedness and acceptance of all people, we are seeing a movement away from the name of Jesus Christ.
In April 2009, President Obama spoke at Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall. A monogram “IHS” which represents the name of Jesus and which normally perches above the stage in Gaston Hall where the President spoke, was covered over with black wood during the President’s address. University spokesman Andy Pino said, “In coordinating the logistical arrangements for the event, Georgetown honored the White House staff’s request to cover all of the Georgetown University signage and symbols.”9
Former Presidents and First Ladies who have spoken at Georgetown have not requested the covering of such religious symbols. Would the President, or any other government leader for that matter, go into a place of worship for Hindus, Muslims, or another faith, and cover the symbols of their worship? Then why cover a symbol that represents the name of Jesus Christ?
I understand it is not the responsibility of government to exalt the name of Christ above all other names. That is the responsibility of the local New Testament church and the people of God. Colossians 1:18 says, “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.” It is our responsibility as believers to give Christ first place in our lives, in His church, and in all matters of our faith and practice.
On the other hand, the removal of the Ten Commandments, the removal of prayer from public school graduations, and the covering of Christian symbols does not settle well with my spirit. It is an attempt to remove all historical norms from a new generation’s memory. As pluralism rises, many will desire to place the name of Christ on the shelf with the names of all the other gods.
Tolerance Ends with the Name of Jesus
Judge David Hamilton was asked to rule on this question in the Indiana case Hinrichs v. Bosma: Can clergy pray in the name of their deity before official state meetings? Judge Hamilton (who was recently appointed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals) ruled that while it was legal to open an official government meeting in prayer, that prayer must not include any language that may be considered “sectarian.” Clergy could pray in the name of God in their language (Theos in Greek, Elohim in Hebrew, even Allah in Arabic), but they could not pray in the name of Jesus Christ.10
In his sixty-page ruling, not once did Judge Hamilton mention Buddha, Vishnu, or any other deity, but forty-two times he named the name of Jesus.11 While all other religions are tolerated, that tolerance ends with the name of Christ.
This should not surprise us, because the world has never been tolerant of Jesus Christ. It accepts spirituality, but not the work of the Holy Spirit. It will embrace religion, but not the One who brings conviction, repentance, and salvation. The world is just as Jesus Christ described it in John 7:7, “The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil.”
The world hates Jesus Christ, and that hatred defines what the world will accept, and what it will reject.
One Name above Every Name
The name of Jesus has always divided, even from the very beginning of Christianity. When Peter and John preached in the temple the morning after their release from prison, the high priest spat the accusation at them: “Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name?” (Acts 5:28a). The religious leaders would not tolerate the name of Jesus.
The apostles were not shaken by this command to hide the name of their Saviour. They said plainly, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29b). They could not follow any law which forbade them from preaching in the name of Christ.
How could the apostles not speak in their Saviour’s name when Scripture exalts it? “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth” (Philippians 2:9–10). One day, every person will bow to the Lord Jesus Christ, regardless of their religions.
To hold back the name of Christ is to hold back the only way to eternal life. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). If we are narrow in our beliefs, it is only because we hold true to our Saviour’s teachings. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6b).
“You cannot have unity without compromising the truth,” C.H. Spurgeon said, “and to forsake truth for the sake of unity is to betray Jesus Christ.” If we accommodate our faith to an intolerant culture, we betray our Saviour and lose our identity. We call ourselves Christians, meaning “little Christs.” His name is how we identify ourselves, and in eternity, it is how God will identify us. “And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads” (Revelation 22:4). To separate ourselves from the name of Christ is to deny the One who gave His life for us, just as Peter did before the Crucifixion. “Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man” (Matthew 26:74).
We cannot spread the Gospel as God has commanded without preaching in the name of Christ. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19). But be warned, if we do lift up His name, we will face rejection and persecution.
Persecution Should Not Surprise Us
The ultimate result of our intolerant world will be outright persecution. Jesus warned His disciples of this in John 16:1–3, “These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.”
Persecution for our faith is not just a possible threat, it is a promise to those who will live godly. “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). If we will stand for Jesus Christ without compromise, we will be persecuted.
We do not enjoy the prospect of persecution, but God has promised to bless those that stand for their faith. “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11–12). Believers may suffer for Christ now, but they are promised a reward in Heaven.
Christians in China, North Korea, Afghanistan, and other closed nations worship and witness under the threat of imprisonment and death. They have no protected right to pray, even in their own homes, yet they courageously stand for the name of Christ when it could mean their life and their family’s lives. With our protections in America, we would assume that religious persecution is decreasing worldwide, but this is not so. It has been reported that in the last century, more Christians have been martyred for their faith than in the previous nineteen centuries combined.12
The social pressure we face today to be more “tolerant” of other ways to salvation is nothing compared to the persecution early Christians endured. (Again, this is not true tolerance that is being demanded, but rather the acceptance of pluralism). They were torn by wild animals, burned alive, beheaded, tortured, and watched as their families were murdered because they would not recant their belief in Jesus Christ. Persecution strengthened their faith.
The Apostle Paul didn’t let his trials stop his service for God. He called them “light afflictions.” Neither imprisonments, nor beatings, nor shipwreck, nor stoning could stop him from proclaiming the name of Christ. While in a dank Roman prison, close to what he knew to be the end of his life, he encouraged Timothy to embrace the afflictions that come because of his faith. Paul wrote from his cell:
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:7–8).
Paul never backed away from the Gospel. He never worried whether or not his message would be accepted. He preached the Gospel—unchanged and unfiltered—because of his faith. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
Living Our Faith in a Hostile World
As the world grows more intolerant of biblical Christianity, there is more pressure on churches to compromise the Gospel. Many churches have neglected the message of salvation in favor of social causes—civil rights, environmentalism, political reform. These politically safe issues draw no criticism from the media.
But the church can never be accepted by the world without compromising the truth of God’s Word. Our message will always offend some people, even though it is preached with a spirit of love and kindness. Remember Jesus’ words, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).
The world will hate Bible-believers, but our response can’t be reclusiveness. We can’t close out the world when God commanded us to let our light shine. “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:15–16). Tolerance as defined by culture is a myth, and worse, it is a smokescreen to stop churches from spreading the Gospel.
The answer to a culture which hates Christ is not to downplay Christ. We can never please the world without giving up that which makes us Christians.
As Christians, we must do our part to preach the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ around this world in these needy days!
We must also pray for our leaders and to take every opportunity to share the message of Christ and the uniqueness of His claims with each and every one of them. And finally, may we pray today for revival in our land as we seek God’s face in this needy hour.
1. Gilgoff, D. (2009, February 29). A New Tradition for Obama’s Presidential Events: Opening With a Prayer. US News & World Report. Retrieved from www.usnews.com.
2. The New York Times. (2008, January 2). Catholic and Muslim leaders to meet in Rome. Retrieved from nytimes.com.
3. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. (2009, December 9). Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths. Retrieved from www.pewforum.org.
5. NBC Station WOTW. (2010, March 2). Student Told He Can’t Build Wiccan Altar in Shop Class. Retrieved from www.wowt.com.
6. Oldenburg, A. (2006, May 11). The Divine Miss Winfrey. USA Today. Retrieved from www.usatoday.com.
7. Banks, A.M. (2008, July 9). Oprah’s ‘gospel,’ influence concern some Christians. USA Today. Retrieved from www.usatoday.com.
8. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. (2008, December 18). Many Americans say other faiths can lead to eternal life. Retrieved from www.pewforum.org.
9. Iovino, J. (2009, April 17). Jesus Missing from Obama’s Georgetown Speech. NBC Washington. Retrieved from www.nbcwashington.com.
10. Whelan, E. (2009, March 26). Seventh Circuit Nominee David Hamilton: ‘Allah’ Yes, ‘Jesus’ No. National Review Online. Retrieved from bench.nationalreview.com.
11. Hinrichs v. Bosma Findings of Fact and Conclusions of the Law. Retrieved from www.insd.uscourts.gov/news/1-05-cv-0813%20opinion.pdf
12. 43 million Christians have become martyrs, and over 50% of these were in the last century alone. World Evangelical Encyclopedia.