This is a thought that struck me as I was on the bus to campus last week, as we passed a sign for a Universalist church. If you don't know, a the doctrine of a Universalist church states that God would not have created any of us knowing that we would be destined for Hell. In fact, many Universalists believe that Hell doesn't even exist; in other words, they believe in "Universal salvation." It is known as a Christian denomination, but it couldn't be farther from Christianity. Its most core belief directly contradicts so many passages in the Bible, such as Matthew 7:21, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father, who is in Heaven," with the will of the Father being the greatest commandment: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself."
While I personally have no experience with Universalists, I have been told that in such a church you will often get people of other religions and worship together with them, because it doesn't matter what you believe because God has already saved you and everyone else. So while it might seem progressive to have a Christian worshiping alongside a Muslim or a Buddhist, in reality it just shows how far they are from God. These people are worshiping a doctrine they have set up for themselves, an idol that makes them feel good and holy. To be blunt, it is not progressive, it is foolish and is leading them towards the very destruction they do not even believe in.
But when you look at other religions, you see that they are not very progressive at all. You still see Jews following the same customs in the same way that they have been for the past 4000 years; Buddhists still practice the same things in the same temples they have always occupied. Many Muslims still hold onto the Pillars of their faith in exactly the same way that their parents and grandparents did. Nothing ever changes. Ever wonder why you don't hear of "Buddhist bands" in the way you do "Christian bands?" Or with literature: The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia are some of the best known books of the 20th century, and they are both strongly Christian, but I can't think of any book as an allegory for another religion.
So why is this? Why is it that Christianity so pervades our culture when no other religion does? I think a large reason is because of the single most fundamental difference between Christianity and every other religion on earth, the one thing that definitely proves to me that Christianity is the one True religion. That difference came in the form of a baby boy, born in a manger, the Son and very being of God. The Bible states that there is an infinite gap separating us from God because of the way that we have broken his perfect Law in our selfishness. This gap cannot be bridged by anything on this earth because we are all broken, and something that is broken cannot fix anything. And so God sent this baby to live in obedience to his Law, never breaking it once, and being obedient even to the point of death on a cross. But because death is the punishment for our sin, of which there was none in him, Jesus could not stay dead, and he rose from the dead so that anyone who believes and trusts him with our lives will be saved. Faith is the only way to be saved according to Christianity, and it is the Truth that I hold onto.
How are you saved in Buddhism? From Wikipedia, "Nirvana is achieved after a long process of committed application to the path of purification taught by the Buddha." In Islamic, the Qur'an says in 3:195, "Those who perform good deeds will be rewarded with heaven." And while Jews have the same Holy Book as Christians, they fail to see the prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus, and instead hold that their traditions, ritual cleansing and sacrifices will save them, because by faith they do these things. So do these all have in common? Works. You are saved by works. If you do good things, if you are a good person, if you follow these laws as best as you can, then you will be saved.
But what does Jesus say? Ephesians 2:8-9: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast." Our salvation is not something that we could ever do for ourselves, it if a gift. God gives this gift freely though his Son Jesus Christ, and yet not everyone is saved, because we must accept this gift. We must look up to God and say that this gift of eternal life later is worth the persecution we will face now. But if you look at the verse following the one above, we see not that we are just saved, we see that salvation is just the beginning: "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God created in advance for us to do." While other religions tell us to do good so that we may be saved, Christ says we have already been saved through Jesus, not by anything we have done, and because of the joy we get from receiving this gift, we should naturally want to do good as we discover our true purpose in life.
That being said, I haven't even gotten to what I really want to address in this post. But to understand the rest, that all is completely necessary to understand. But I want to go back to the fact that there is a very obvious difference in the way that Christians worship from the way other religions do, and it is based off this fact of grace versus works-based salvation.
So like I argued earlier, Christianity pervades the life and works of Christians so much more than other religions. And when you think about salvation by works it makes sense: how can you possibly change the way you love your god when you are so busy worrying about how you can do good enough to be saved. The slightest change in the way you live your faith will upset many people, because someone will find a way that the new way of worship contradicts the old, traditional way, even if the traditions are not necessarily a part of that religion's scripture. A perfect example is the Jews when Christ was walking this earth: they had taken the principles that God had put before them, the Law that they were unable to hold perfectly, and had added their own laws based on those given by God. To "rest on the Sabbath" became a list of dozens of activities you could not do on the Sabbath, and when Jesus began healing people on the Sabbath, breaking one of these laws, it infuriated the Jews.
Other religions are bound by their archaic laws that were written and had purpose when then were written, but in this modern world many of these laws are simply unnecessary on completely contradictory to modern culture, and yet they are still observed. And that is the beauty of Christianity, because it is so simple and yet so powerful. Since we have already been saved, we do not have to worry that changing our lives could make us lose that salvation. Furthermore, we are not given a list of rules to live by, but rather a man to follow with out lives. It should not be that our actions follow his actions, but that our lives and our love reflects his love. For this reason, our every action becomes an act of worship, as stated in Romans 12: "Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God". Our lives are no longer ours, but we gladly give them up to God so that he might use our lives for His glory.
This is how we get bands as Killswitch Engage, Mumford and Sons, Skillet, and Lecrae consistently making names for themselves with huge concerts and #1 hits on secular music charts. They do not seek to make music to God and forget about the creativity and soul that goes into it; they make music with all their soul and it naturally is an outpouring of the love that Christ has shown them. It is how you get J.R.R. Tolkien making one of the most epic stories ever told where every bit of it is somehow a reflection of Jesus, and from this bringing C.S. Lewis to Christ who also wrote a beautifully memorable allegory of the Bible.
In the end, we know that Jesus is unchanging and we know that we do. Humans are annoyingly fickle things, and our minds are constantly changing, unreliable, but when we fill ourselves with something that doesn't change, we can trust that Jesus living in us will keep us true to himself when we are so prone to wander. And so how we worship may look different now than it did fifty, a hundred, a thousand years ago, but it is the same, unchanging God living in us, knowing how the world works and will respond best to His message. This is how the Church, throughout history, has changed so much, and yet the Bible has not, and so the way we worship, though not the same that it used to be, is no less filled with Jesus, because He is still the author and perfecter of our faith, through the ages, forever and ever.