Is Christianity true? Almost as soon as we ask that question, we find ourselves asking related questions about other religions. Are Muslims, for example, given a chance to accept Christ after they die? Is a life devoted to Judaism essentially wasted, without some last-minute conversion? What should the Christian's attitude be toward people who lead good, moral lives but practice non-Christian religions? What is the Christian's mission regarding morally upstanding atheists?
Before we respond to any such questions, we should do well to define exactly what it means for a religion to be "true." What are the characteristics of a "true" religion — indeed, how can we tell if any religion is "true"? And do we assume that, of the many, only one religion may be true?
Simply put, if we wish to determine whether any given religion is "true" or not, we must look to the teachings of that religion. Clearly, a religion based on hatred, intolerance, and the debasement of others cannot be considered (by any sane and rational person) to be a "true" faith. But what about a religion that preaches love, respects the dignity of every human being, and encourages healing and reconciliation in response to evil? It is obviously quite possible for more than one religion to be "true," if by "true" we mean true to the values we (as Christians) learn from Christ Jesus.
Despite what many of my fellow Christians seem to think, it is absolutely not necessary for Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, or any of the world's Great Faiths to be false in order for Christianity to be true. Christianity is not somehow rendered meaningless if it does not possess some "divine secret" that is utterly exclusive to Christians and belongs to no one else. On the contrary, if Christianity were completely alien to, and differed utterly from, every other great religion in this world, we should then be more skeptical of it, not less.
The reason I say that is simple: as Christians, we know that Christ is co-eternal and co-creative with God the Father. We know that from the opening verses of St. John's Gospel, among other Scriptures. If Christianity is true, we're talking then about Universal Truth, and we should logically expect to find evidence of that Truth everywhere in creation and at all times and in all cultures throughout human history, right from the very beginning. The things that the Christ-manifest-in-Jesus teaches ought to echo and resonate with the greatest teachings from the entire history of humankind. And they do.
For example, the Christ and the Buddha are widely held to be two of the greatest moral, ethical, and spiritual teachers who ever lived. At the core, their teachings are essentially the same: love God; love each other; treat others as you would be treated; be in the world, but not of it. The differences between them may be summed up by saying that they lived at different times and in different places (i.e., in different cultures). And to this day, no one has been able to improve upon the integrity, the nobility, the spiritual truth of those teachings.
Now, if their teachings were fundamentally different (as opposed to being merely superficially different) — if the teachings differed in their essence — then we would have to decide which one is right and which one is wrong, which one "true" and which "false." But if these two masters are teaching essentially the same things, and if we agree that those things are right and good and true, then we must conclude that God's Truth is God's Truth, even if it appears in the guise of Buddhism. We must then face the fact that God's Truth keeps turning up in our world again and again and again. The names may be different, and the languages, and even the rituals, but these are man-made differences of culture. The Truth behind it all is the same, and it does appear everywhere, at all times, and in all places.
And that's more than just encouraging; it's evidence of a loving God who cares for our well-being, for our evolution and understanding, and who wants us to grow into the full measure of what He created us to be. A God who loves us so fully and completely that He has never once, in the entire history of humanity, left us—any of us, anywhere in the world—orphaned and alone, without any Teachers to guide us. A God who wanted so much goodness for us that eventually He Himself came fully into the manifest world in Jesus so that we could see His face, touch His wounds, and know His Truth.
Jesus Himself was unconcerned with such petty distinctions as nationality, ethnicity, or religious labeling. He freely consorted with Samaritans — who were known for their "unacceptable" worship practices. Jesus was concerned with the truth in people's hearts, and that is where we should look in exploring the question of whether Christianity is true.
It has been said that if Christianity is true, it is true for everyone. Does that mean that everyone has to call it "Christianity"? Was Jesus concerned with whether people were called Jew, Samaritan, or Gentile? That's not "truth"; that's merely a label. If Christianity is true, we should learn its teachings, and we should expect to find the truth of those teachings everywhere we look, regardless of what it's called or how it's packaged on the outside.
Now, does that mean we have to accept anything someone says or does in the name of "religious freedom," and respect that person and that action simply because we respect other faiths? Absolutely not! If Truth is Truth, regardless of what it's labeled, then Wrong is Wrong, no matter how it's packaged. Does seeing the truth in religions other than our own relieve us of the responsibility of combating evil? Absolutely not! But it does mean that we cannot simply take the easy way out and label anything that's different as "evil," just because it's different. That's a cop-out. Truly discerning good and evil is a part of our Christian responsibility, and it's a little trickier than just reading the labels on the packages. But if the Path were easy, the Son of Man wouldn't have had to die on the cross...
On the other hand, if we accept the universal nature of God's Truth and see it not only in Christ's teachings, but also in the basic teachings of the other Great Faiths, how do we deal with Christ's assertion that "I am the way and the truth and the life," and that "no one comes to the Father except through me"?
To understand what Christ is saying in those passages, we must understand what Christ is. As the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Christ is the Word made flesh—God made manifest in the world. If we understand Christ that way, it becomes immediately obvious that no one could ever come to know God fully, in His true, Heavenly existence, without first coming to know God as He is manifest in the created world. The true reality of God is beyond the scope of frail, limited, human understanding; the only way we can hope to perceive God is to discover Him as He appears within and throughout His creation. Likewise, if you cannot see God's grace, love, and healing power here on Earth, how can you hope to perceive Heavenly things?
So of course it's impossible to come to the Father without going through the Son, the Christ. It's impossible to know the First Person of the Trinity—God in His full, divine existence—without first knowing the Second Person of the Trinity—the Godhead made manifest in the world. If you're climbing a ladder, you can't get to the top rung by skipping the ones in the middle.
Problems only arise when we attempt to limit Christ's presence in the world to that brief, 33-year period of time that occurred two thousand years ago. When we attach importance only to the letter of what one man taught in one specific culture at one specific time, rather than to the universal Truth behind His teachings. When we assume that those specific lines of Scripture refer only to the flesh-and-blood man and not to the eternal Second Person of the Holy Trinity.
To sum up these rambling thoughts:
1. Christianity's being true does not require other religions to be false.
2. The validity of Christianity is not dependent upon any teaching that is exclusive to Christians and no one else.
3. The essence of Christ's teachings does in fact appear in the basic teachings of the other Great Faiths; the differences may be easily explained by differences in human culture.
4. The fact that the same Truth which Christ taught appears in the other great spiritual teachings is corroboration of that Truth. It is a strength of Christianity, not a weakness, that it shares common teachings with the other Great Faiths.
5. Christ is co-eternal and co-creative with God. Evidence of the Christ's activity in the world cannot be limited to a 33-year window two millennia ago. We should expect to find Christ's teachings throughout creation and throughout human history.
6. None of these ideas subtracts in any way from the majesty, the miracle, or the mystery of Jesus Christ's life, ministry, death, and resurrection. There is not a finite amount of God's Truth in the world. If another faith is true, it does not make our faith any less true.
7. Lastly, it is not enough for us to say that Christianity is true. We as Christians must work to understand what that Truth really means. It is in that struggle that the mysterious, transformative power of Christ takes hold of us, redeems us, and reconciles us to God.
To conclude … The most common concern underlying the question "Is Christianity true?" is this: if we accept that Christianity is true, and that it's true for everyone, does that mean that everyone everywhere needs to be Christian? Do we, as Christians, have a moral or ethical (let alone a spiritual) obligation to make Christians of the people we meet? You can probably tell from this essay what sort of answer I would give to that question.
However, I say a far, far better question to ask oneself is this: why do I need to be Christian? For my part, being a Christian means living in a certain kind of relationship with God; it means understanding the value of every person, regardless of label or category. For me, Christianity is the meeting place of Divinity and humanity, of God and man, and therefore it contains the very purpose of our creation and existence. That is why I need to be Christian. That is what the Truth of Christianity means to me. I look forward to hearing what it means to you.