What Makes Christianity Unique?
How would you answer the following:
- Why is the Christian faith more important than any other faith?
- Why is Jesus more important than any other prophet?
- Why do we have so many different other beliefs?
Thank you for writing! I hope the site has been an encouragement for you. The questions you ask are perhaps a bedrock for Christian apologetics. In the marketplace of ideas, there are many belief systems from which to choose. How can we objectively say that one should choose Christianity over all other faiths? Let's look at your questions and see if there is any substance to our reliance upon the Christian faith.
1. Why is the Christian faith more important than any other faith?
This is the primary question. Why, when there are hundreds of belief systems in the world, should Christianity be deemed "better" or "more important" than any other? Really, the answer to this is simple. You should only believe in what is true. The only good reason to put your faith in any set of teachings or world view is if it corresponds to reality. Just because someone was raised in a family or culture that is predominately Islamic, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, humanist, or something else is a terrible reason for holding onto their set of beliefs as your own. Each person is influenced by family and their culture, but when they have matured there is an obligation for each of us to make sure we are operating within reality. Otherwise, we are intentionally deluding ourselves, and thus cannot claim that ours is the more relevant position in life.
Now, I said that the answer to this question was simple. However, the support for this answer can be more difficult to explain, though not unattainable. We will examine further the truth-claims of Christianity in your next question-
2. Why is Jesus more important than any other prophet?
Jesus is considered in Christianity to be the most important person to ever walk the earth. He is the center of the faith (this is evident even in the name "Christian") and Christians interpret all of their Scriptures through a specific set of beliefs on who He was and what He taught. Other faiths have had prophets whom they deem as the ideal: Islam with Mohammed, Buddhists with Buddha, Baha'is with Baha'u'allah, among others. Christ is unique among them, though, because He claimed to be different from the rest, He brought a different message than the rest, and His actions proved His claim.
In first looking at the claims of Jesus, we are immediately struck in how He continually asserted His unique nature among men. He said that He exclusively was the key to truth for all of mankind and was the only way to God (John 14:6, John 5:24). He claimed to be able to forgive other people's sins (Luke 6:20), to hold power over life and death (John 10:18), and to be the fulfillment of all the recognized sacred writings of His society (Matt. 5:17). He claimed that anyone following Him would be given eternal life (John 3:16) and that He was the Jewish Messiah (John 4:26). Although all of the above claims of Jesus were exceptional to say the least, He also claimed something even bolder, more preposterous than all of the others: He claimed to be God in the flesh.
Along with His claims, Jesus also taught radically different concepts about God and how to please Him. He taught that God required perfection not only in actions, but also thoughts (Matt.5:21-36, 48). He said that people should offer help and service to their enemies (Matt. 40-45). He taught that God did not value the same things men do (Luke 16:15), but looks on each man's heart. He taught that a person could know the Father by knowing Him (John 8:19).
All of these claims and teachings are extraordinary. If someone would preach these concepts today, most people would consider him crazy or dangerous, or perhaps both. The local authorities might investigate such an individual and perhaps detain him or punish him for creating a disturbance. This is exactly what happened to Jesus. He was arrested, tried, and executed as being a troublemaker. Why then do so many believe in Him and His words? The best answer to that is His actions validated His claims.
Jesus claimed that He could forgive sins, but in so doing He also caused a lame man to walk (Luke 6:24). He claimed to hold eternal life, but He also raised people from the dead (Luke 7:14, John 11:43). He claimed to be the bread of life, and then fed five thousand (Mark 6:44). He claimed to be God in human form and then He was resurrected after being put to death by His enemies. There have been many other religious and moral leaders who have claimed to have an insight on the truth. There have been far fewer who have claimed to be the truth, and only one who has proven His claim by dying and then resurrecting again. His resurrection is a verifiable act of history (see my page "Is eyewitness evidence reliable?" for more on this.)
If Jesus was the truth and if He was God in the flesh as He claimed, then we should rightfully consider Him to be more important than any other prophet. Jesus did not just teach something new, but He made grand declarations about Himself. He then proved what He said by His actions and His resurrection. Thus, He deserves to be held in a higher position than anyone else.
3. Why do we have so many different other beliefs?
This question can be interpreted several ways, but I shall try to do my best to answer it. If by "so many different other beliefs" you mean why have so many different religious systems developed in the world, the answer starts in John 3:19: "And this is judgment, that the light came into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil." Mankind, in its fallen, sinful state, does not want to be told it must curb many of the baser instincts from which we derive pleasure. We think that we can do everything ourselves, that no one should be in control of our destiny, and that we should be the ultimate arbitrators of our fate. Thus, we develop faith systems that have us perform acts of service or obey religious rituals to gain favor with a supreme being. Others follow faiths which teach that man's improvement of himself will eventually lead to an idyllic state, such as "Nirvana" or merging with the god-source. All, though, are based on the idea of something man can do to make himself qualified or more righteous so he can merit God's favor.
Thus, in following such belief systems, mankind falls into a misunderstanding of who he is and how much he needs to be saved. As more people interpret truth to fit their life experiences, more religions are born. The problem with such tactics is that every man has only a limited view of all truth and all reality. Because we are finite beings (and with an average life span of only 80 years or so, our existence also is brief) it is impossible for us to claim first hand knowledge of all that is true.
Because of our propensity for pleasure and our limited scope, the proliferation of beliefs and ideas that are widely divergent can be easily understood. Many of these faiths contain much truth, and some stem from a shared beginning, but each man is still held accountable for the doctrines he follows. The Apostle Paul details this well in the book of Romans when he writes,
"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of an incorruptible God for an image in the form of a man and of birds and of four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore, God gave them over in the lust of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen."(Rom 1:20-25)
Now, these are very strong words that hold humanity accountable to know God and worship Him as such. It also displays how man can follow "the lusts of his heart" and create a new kind of worship which is centered on something other than the true God. When Paul speaks of impurity and lusts, he is not condemning only sexual desires, though this passage can be applied to those instances. Rather, one who worships any false belief system is considered defiled and unclean (2 Cor. 6:17).
I hope this exchange has helped you in getting a clearer view of the good reasons for seeing why Christianity is unique among the faith systems of the world. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul admonishes us to "Test all things, hold fast to that which is good." This is our responsibility. Above I had stated that man has too little experience to grasp all truth. Jesus, however, made the claim that He is the Truth. If the evidence shows that His claim was not hollow or ostentatious, then it would be wise to follow His moral teachings and example. Please let me know if I've clouded any issues and I will be happy to try and explain myself more clearly. Thanks again for your letter.