I would like to say up front, that the ‘anonymous christian’ which is the teaching that I am addressing and will describe in more detail in the second paragraph, is un-biblical and dangerous. The idea of an anonymous christian is contrary to what the Bible teaches and destroys any motivation for missions and evangelism. I do not write this to bash or hate on any person or any denomination including the Catholic Church but merely to point out a false teaching that is present in many churches including the Catholic Church. The Bible teaches us that Jesus is the only way to God. He says himself, “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also” (John 14:6). In the text I preached on this morning Jesus says, “This is eternal life; that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). This is the fact of the matter; there is no true God honoring, eternal life bringing ‘religion’ accept that which is centered on repentance towards the God of the Bible and faith in Jesus Christ.
Yet in our day there has surfaced a false teaching that says that there are many ways to God besides Jesus and that one can be an ‘anonymous’ (unknowing) Christian who does not have a relationship with Jesus. In other words, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and even Atheists with a ‘good heart’ who are ‘seeking moral goodness’ can be seeking God unknowingly and be a Christian unknowingly. This does not line up with Jesus’ words that eternal life has at its center, knowing the one true God and Jesus Christ as well as accepting Him in faith. Romans 10:13-15 puts it this way, “all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. How will they call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” This is the heart of our mission work. Jesus is the only hope of eternal life for the world, therefore we preaching Jesus to all people in view of eternal life for all who turn to him and eternal damnation for all who reject him.
Here is what the official Catholic Catechism says in relation to Muslims being ‘anonymous’ Christians:
“841 The Church’s relationship with the Muslims: The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”¹
This teaching is dangerous and un-biblical. We must recognize the need to share Jesus will all people of every religious for apart from Jesus there is no salvation.
One of the signs that come before the return of Christ is exactly what
Jude is talking about in his letter, deceivers in the church who try
to lead God’s people astray. “For false Christs and false prophets
will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray,
if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). What are we to do in
response to this warning? Peter tells us two things we can do.
“You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you
are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your
own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and
Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:17–18)
(1) Grow in the grace of Jesus Christ. God’s grace to us, seen most
clearly in his giving of Jesus, is the foundation of our lives. We are
to grow in it, be nourished, and strengthened by the grace that we
don’t deserve but do receive. Growing in the grace of God insures that
we persevere to the end and receive our eternal reward. Thank God for
his gift of grace and continually pray for more.
(2) Grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Earlier, Peter says that
God has, “granted to us all things relating to life and godliness,
through the knowledge of him” (1 Peter 1:3). We have the Bible, which
is what we need to grow in our knowledge of Christ so that we can find
joy, comfort and salvation in his presence. There is great danger in
not growing in the knowledge of Jesus (see 2 Peter 2:20-21). Let us
allow the knowledge of Jesus Christ in his word grow us so that we can
stand firm until the end. “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have,
so that no one may seize your crown” (Revelation 3:11).
We read in Ephesians 1:7 that in Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses. If you look around the world, redemption is being sought in countless places. It may be fair to deduce that all redemption outside of Christ is nothing less than self-redemption. People are looking to be saved or justified in anything and everything. This is nothing new. But what is new, is a perplexing development within Christianity of where forgiveness must be sought.
Recently within Christian circles (particularly in the counseling world) there has been a lot of talk about forgiving oneself. And the typical phrase that I’ve heard is, “I know that God has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself.” When did forgiveness of self ever become a requirement? This is a false, mistaken notion that somehow I need my own forgiveness. Doesn’t this rob God His right to forgive? Do we set ourselves up as gods when we say this? If I have God’s forgiveness, what else do I need?
This is a heresy that well meaning people have allowed to creep into our vocabulary and into the church. And this is always the way it goes with false teaching: it creeps in. When you look at Solomon you’ll notice that he did not abandon the worship of the true God; he just added the worship of his wives’ false gods to the mix. Likewise, we still have Christ’s forgiveness; but somehow, some of us have added the need for our own forgiveness. My friend, you don’t need your forgiveness; you need God’s forgiveness. You don’t need your own abominable sacrifices; you need Christ’s sacrifice. If you have God’s forgiveness, you have all you need. That’s not to say that you’ll always be content with how you act—and that’s a good thing—but you don’t need your own forgiveness; you need Christ’s. You don’t owe it to yourself, you owe to Him. You’ve not sinned against yourself; you’ve sinned against Christ. You’re not God; He is: seek His forgiveness. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses. Praise Him for that.
If we were to ask ourselves “which is most dangerous to the church?”—with the choice of either (1) a future worldwide Antichrist, who kills and marginalizes God’s people or (2) a corruption of the Good News that Christ alone can save by taking our sins and giving us his righteousness—what would we believe to be the most perilous?
We can certainly understand the effects of the first choice: life will visibly and categorically change for Christians when Antichrist takes power. He will wear out the saints (Dan 7:25). But do we see the destructive nature all around us—even rampant in our churches—where a works-righteousness pervades the teachings in many a pulpit and perverts the understanding of how one may be made right with God for many a professed Christian?
I would argue that the latter choice is the more dangerous; it is also more pervasive. We have grown lethargic in our understanding of how we might approach God. I wonder at the answers you would get if you asked your professing Christian friends on what basis they hope to enter heaven someday? Is it because they’ve lived a pretty good life, kept the golden rule, went to church, or any number of answers other than the only reason we can hope to be justified before God: on the basis of the finished work of Christ, who died for sins, of which we have repented and believed that Christ is our Messiah.
We live out the spirit of antichrist and have done Antichrist’s work when we fail to proclaim that it is by grace that we have been saved through faith. This is not our doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8-9). May it be that we would endure Antichrist, rather than a false gospel.