The Historical Supremacy of Christianity
by Rick Shrader
Christianity claims to be both exclusive and inclusive. It is exclusive in that it claims to be the only way to God, and it is inclusive in that it claims it is the only way to God for every individual in the world. Diogenes Allen wrote, “We cannot relinquish the claim that Christ is the Savior of the world. If Christ were our Savior only, he would be a parochial god, and that for Christians is impossible.”1
Jesus said He was the light of the world. It is either the most ridiculous thing anyone has ever said or the most profound! The world itself has never accepted it but where ever it has taken root, Christianity has done nothing but lift societies and cultures to higher levels of civilization. Calvin Linton wrote, “It would appear that if anything about the past two thousand years is obvious, it is that the world has not been run in strict obedience to Christ’s teachings. But when Christian principles have been tried, even with very imperfect obedience, the alleviation of human misery has been immediate and dramatic.”2
The truth is that there will always be Christian civilization somewhere in the world. It will grow like a green plant because it is an offshoot of the root which is Christianity. And Christianity will always be the living root because it is intrinsically tied to Christ Who is the Light and Life of the world. The smallest form of Christian civilization is the local church. The world can never stop its appearance and growth because it has a divine promise to exist. But churches are people and people affect society at large. In times of revival and blessing, communities and even entire nations can be lifted to the lofty heights of Christian principles and morality. Such times in history, however, quickly diminish as Christian individuals diminish from societies, cultures and even churches.
There have always been those nonbelievers and detractors who felt Christianity was a curse rather than a blessing. Friedrich Nietzsche said, “I call Christianity the one great curse, the one enormous and innermost perversion, the one great instinct of revenge for which no means are too venomous, too underhand, too underground and too petty — I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind.”3 Perhaps that is what motivated his admirer, Adolf Hitler, to say things like, “Do you really believe the masses will be Christian again? Nonsense! Never again. That tale is finished. No one will listen to it again. But we can hasten matters. The parsons will dig their own graves. They will betray their God to us. They will betray anything for the sake of their miserable jobs and incomes.”4 But regardless of such invectives, Christianity remains and they are gone.
The supremacy of Christianity over all religions and philosophies is obvious to anyone who sees with open eyes and mind. We can see this superiority, however, by examining the Source Himself and moving upward to the manifestation of that Life in the world.
The moral authority of Jesus Christ
What kind of a man is to be taken seriously who claims: that He forgives people their sins (Mk 2:7); that the angels in heaven do His bidding (Mt 13:41); that He is supreme in heaven as well as on earth (Mt 25:31-46); that He will assign the mansions in heaven (Jn 14:2); that He will give the right to the tree of life (Rev 2:7); that He is Lord of the Sabbath (Mt 12:8); that He directs the Spirit of God (Jn 14:16); that He can raise Himself from the grave (Jn 10:18); that He is equal to God (Mt 11:27)? Other self-claimed messiahs and holy men went to great pains to be careful how they spoke among men, and how they were perceived in the public eye. But not Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Many others have taken note of this marked difference. In 1917, John Stock wrote,
“But can such representations as these be harmonized with the notion that Christ is merely a gifted man? Would they not deserve to be called hyperbole run mad on such an hypothesis? And imagine a mere man to stand forward and proclaim himself the choicest gift of God’s love to our race. What a monstrous exaggeration and egotism! If Christ be greater than all other divine gifts combined, must He not be the God-man?”5
Not long after Stock wrote, G.K. Chesterton, in 1925, penned these words,
“No modern critic in his five wits thinks that the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount was a horrible half-witted imbecile that might be scrawling stars on the walls of a cell. No atheist or blasphemer believes that the author of the Parable of the Prodigal Son was a monster with one mad idea like a cyclops with one eye. Upon any possible historical criticism, he must be put higher in the scale of human beings than that. Yet by all analogy we have really to put him there or else in the highest place of all.”6
Then, shortly after Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, in 1943, penned probably the most well-know words to this effect regarding the moral authority of Christ,
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”7
What other person than this God-Man could provide redemption and forgiveness from our sins; save us and call us, not according to our works but according to His own purpose and grace, but the One who has abolished death and hath brought life and immortality to light through His own gospel than the holy Son of God, Jesus Christ? (see 2 Tim 1:9-10).
The infallible witness of the Scriptures
In his article in The Fundamentals, William Moorehead used the fact of Christ’s peculiarity as proof of the inspiration of Scripture. He wrote, “Who taught the evangelists to draw this matchless portrait? The pen which traced these glories of Jesus—could it have been other than an inspired pen?. . . . Men could no more invent the God-man of the Gospels than they could create a world.”8 That is, it would be impossible for mere men to invent the Christian Scriptures. The same moral authority that resides in Jesus Christ, the Living Word, is passed to the Holy Scriptures, the Written Word. Among all the things Jesus claimed, He also declared the Scriptures to be His, and to be about Him! “Search the scriptures,” Jesus said, “for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (Jn 5:39). “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” Jesus said with all the moral authority of the very Creator, “but my words shall not pass away” (Matt 24:35).
“The Word of God is living” (Heb 4:12, zwn, the root for zoology, the study of life), created by the very breath of God and containing life-giving characteristics such as no other piece of literature could ever claim. Peter spoke of “the word of God which liveth” (1 Pet 1:23). It claims to have characteristics as a living person would have: it searches the heart (Heb 4:12); it cannot be bound (2 Tim 2:9); it takes a free course (2 Th 3:1); it abides in believers (1 Jn 2:14); it withholds the judgment of God (2 Pet 3:5-7); it engrafts itself to us (Jas 1:21); it framed the world (Heb 11:3); it can be blasphemed (Tit 2:5); it sanctifies (1 Tim 4:5). It is also described with words of personality and volition: it is the Word of God (1 Thes 2:13); of life (1 Jn 1:1); of truth (2 Tim 2:15); of righteousness (Heb 5:13); of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19); of wisdom (1 Cor 12:8); of faith (Rom 10:8); of grace (Ac 20:32); of promise (Rom 9:9); of salvation (Ac 13:26).
No other book in history could ever claim and accomplish what the Christian Scriptures claim and accomplish. Calvin wrote in his commentary on 2 Timothy 3:16, “This is a principle which distinguishes our religion from all others, that we know that God hath spoken to us, and are fully convinced that the prophets did not speak at their own suggestions, but that, being organs of the Holy Spirit, they only uttered what they had been commissioned from heaven to declare.”9 In like manner the Living Word declared, “He that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of Him” (Jn 8:26).
In addition to these things, what other book could endure the foreign travel on which the Scriptures thrive? All other books are stuck and become stagnant within the culture and times of their writing. Attempts at translation and cross-cultural application fail, and are relegated to the library shelves of ancient history. Not so this Living Word. The darkest corners of time and space await its arrival and are immediately transformed by its Light. As Francis Schaeffer wrote, “It is possible to take the system the Bible teaches, put it down in the market place of ideas of men and let it stand there and speak for itself.”10 It becomes bread for the hungry, light for the darkness, water for the thirsty, and hope for the hopeless, a standard of supremacy for the Christian faith.
The peculiar testimony of the Church
As the life of God was incarnated in the God-Man Jesus Christ, and the Living Word is manifested in every respect in the Written Word, this life is given as a gift to His creatures as they will receive it. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not, but as many as received him, to them gave he the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (Jn 1:11-12). Through that transaction, He is “not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb 2:11) seeing He has become “the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom 8:29).
The Scriptures call this life “peculiar.” Our Lord “gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Tit 2:14). We are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” (1 Pet 2:9a). If this life of Christ is truly in us, and if we truly live by the Book which mirrors His life, then the Life in us will cause us to “show forth the praises of him who hath called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). This showing forth of His praises is what makes Christianity unique in a world of mere religions. Oswald Chambers put it, “If sin is a radical twist with a supernatural originator, salvation is a radical readjustment with a supernatural Originator.”11
Consider what qualities the new person in Christ has: We are “dead,” “buried,” and “risen” with Christ (Col 2&3) and now sitting together in the heavenly places with Him (Eph 2:6); We have been “baptized into Christ” (Gal 3:27), “reconciled unto Christ” (2 Cor 5:18), “justified by his grace” (Rom 3:24), made “members of his bone and of his flesh” (Eph 5:30) and are now waiting for Christ from heaven (1 Th 1:10); we have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16), the “Spirit of Christ” (1 Cor 1:22), are “crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20), are “the body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:13), with the “treasure” of Christ (2 Cor 4:7) and have the “Word of Christ” dwelling in us richly” (Col 3:16). The description “convert” carries no parallel among this world’s religions.
And so . . . .
As the old adage goes, history is truly His Story! How sad is life’s perspective without that knowledge. One American statesman said, “The end of history will be a very sad time . . .[in the future] there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history.”12 How strikingly different are Martin Luther’s words,
That world above all earthly powers—no thanks to them abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours Thru Him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also; The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still—His kingdom is forever.
Notes: 1. Diogenes Allen, Christian Belief In A Postmodern World (Louisville: W/JKP, 1989) 186.
2. Calvin Linton, “Man’s Difficulty—Ignorance or Evil?,” Readings In Christian Theology, Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992) 129.
3. Quoted by Dave Robinson, Nietzsche and Postmodernism (New York: Totem Books, 1999) 9.
4. Quoted by Erwin Lutzer, Hitler’s Cross (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995) 104.
5. John Stock, “The God-Man,” The Fundamentals, II (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000) 270.
6. G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993) 203.
7. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: MacMillan, 1960) 56.
8. William Moorehead, “The Moral Glory of Jesus Christ A Proof of Inspiration,” The Fundamentals, II, 71,74.
9. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, XXI (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981) 248.
10. Francis Schaeffer, Escape From Reason (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 1968) 85.
11. Oswald Chambers, Biblical Ethics (Grand Rapids: DHP, 1998) 277.
12. Francis Fukuyama, quoted by David Ashly, “Postmodernism and Antifoundationalism,” Postmodernism and Social Inquiry, Dickens & Fontana, eds. (New York: The Guilford Press, 1994) 53.