Opinion polls frequently make headlines in these United States. Media outlets, in particular, seem obsessed with reporting on things like the approval ratings of the president and, less frequently, the congress. The results are always reported as a percentage so that we learn how seventy percent of Americans disapprove of the president in 2008, with the disapproval of congress hovering around ninety percent.
Honestly speaking, I have always been a bit skeptical about the whole process of polling. I have no way of testing my theory, but I believe that the reporting of such numbers has the effect of swaying many uninformed voters into casting their ballots for whatever they have been told the majority of Americans believe. Not wanting to be left out of the crowd, these voters will side with what they think most people are doing. After all, how many want to admit that they voted for the loser?
Given that we are currently in an election year, I was surprised a bit when the media paused its coverage of political polling to report on a poll of religious beliefs in the United States. If the polls are to be believed, approximately seventy percent of Americans believe that there is more than one way to God. The pluralistic environment in which we find ourselves does not make that finding all that remarkable. What is discouraging, however, is that the same poll tells us nearly sixty percent of professedly evangelical Christians in America believe adherents of other religions can find salvation without trusting in the biblical Christ.
In one sense we should not put much stock in these results, for the term evangelical is increasingly applied to such a wide variety of theologies that it has nearly lost all meaning. Yet such a high percentage of evangelicals surely includes those who would say that they believe the Bible is the Word of God. Of course, those who confess both that the Bible is God’s Word and that there are many ways to the Almighty at best show their ignorance of the content of Scripture. Jesus teaches plainly that He is the only pathway to God (John 14:6), and there is nothing in God’s Word that suggests this is anything but an absolute statement.
At worst, those who say the Bible is the Word of God and believe in multiple ways to find one’s way to our Creator display their hatred for that which they claim as Scripture. Doubtless some people claim submission to God’s Word disingenuously, but given the ignorance of the Bible also evident in our culture, it is probably more likely that the sixty percent of evangelicals who embrace pluralism do so because they just do not know the Word of God.
Ignorance of Scripture is always a dangerous business, especially when peer pressure does nothing to encourage biblical fidelity. Given the choice to agree with seven out of ten Americans or to be seen by the same seven as intolerant, the natural inclination is to embrace the will of the majority. When our neighbors seem to be as law-abiding as we are, it can be hard to believe that without Jesus they are running themselves into hell. That most people believe they are on the right path without Christ only compounds the difficulty.
Dr. R.C. Sproul often reminds us that “God does not rule by referendum.” What God says defines truth and falsehood, not the will of the majority. And plainly, God says that He may be approached, worshiped, and adored through His Son Jesus Christ alone. We will see this truth with particular clarity as we move into the final few chapters of Matthew in the next two months.
Christ’s broken body and shed blood is the means by which we can find forgiveness for our sins (Matt. 26:26–29), not the teaching of Mohammed, Buddha, or anyone else. The shame of the cross fulfills the Scriptures and the promises of God, not a glorious revolution or other kind of political “salvation” (vv. 47–56). If Christ does not bear the Father’s curse on our sin (27:45–46), we will bear it ourselves forever in the outer darkness, the place of weeping and the gnashing of teeth. The risen Lord and Savior alone takes away our fear of what is to come (28:1–10); reincarnation, jihad, and nirvana do not answer the need for reconciliation between the Creator and His creation.
This same Jesus commands us to go forth and make disciples of all nations (28:18–20), informing us that apart from Him there is no way to please His Father. Christ cares not if His teaching is fashionable. He does not determine the way to eternal, resurrected life based on what the majority of people say. Instead, Jesus sends us forth, armed with the truth of His Word and the power of the Spirit, that the seven out of ten Americans who are clueless about His finality might hear the gospel and its absolute claims. He commissions us to go to the ends of the earth, regardless of what the survey says, to proclaim Him as the only One in whom life can be found.