Have you seen the bumper sticker that uses symbols of different world religions (as well as secular symbols) to spell out the word COEXIST? The idea behind the slogan is that everyone of all religions (and those of no religion) should get along. Christians, of course, should agree to this…in a qualified sense.
The COEXIST bumper sticker is implying (or demanding) more than just “everyone live together in harmony.” What it calls for is that all people of all different religions, along with the non-religious, should recognize that no one religion is more right or true than any of the others: all religions are equally true. All of them are pointing the way to the same god; all religions and beliefs are valid. Even those of no religion are lumped into this mindset.
This is where the Christian must disagree.
When it comes to the fundamental beliefs and doctrines of each religion of the world, there is a great variety and great disagreement; there are even contradictory beliefs between religions. For example, Christianity teaches that Jesus was crucified; Islam teaches He was not crucified. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam teach that there is only one god. Buddhism teaches polytheism, meaning that there are many gods, and Hinduism has three main gods: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
Each religion of the world draws its teaching from a different source. The Christian uses the Bible. Judaism uses only the Old Testament of the same Bible but rejects the New Testament. Islam uses the Qur’an. Hindus have the Vedas and the Upanishads, in addition to other sources.
The founder of each religion taught something different from the founders of the other religions. The view of the afterlife differs from religion to religion, so we cannot establish that all religions are the same. Some do have things in common, but each also has its own unique elements, and each contains doctrines or beliefs that contradict the doctrines and beliefs of others.
Moreover, Christianity makes specific, narrow, and exclusionary claims. For example, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus, by saying this, excludes all other ways to heaven: attainment of eternal life is only through him.
The Apostle Peter echoes the claims of Jesus when he says, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The Apostle Paul agrees when he states that there is only “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:5-6).
Christianity, then, makes specific claims that exclude all other religions. This is not to say that Christianity has nothing in common with other religions. Christians can and should work side by side in their neighborhoods and communities with anyone. Therefore, Christians can and should coexist with others. Christians coexist by working in common tasks with others, including alleviating poverty or saving the lives of the innocent.
However, Christians should also be careful to heed what the Bible tells us about living in this world. We are warned over and over by Jesus, Paul, and others that this world is not to be our first love: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).
Jesus, when sending his disciples out to preach the gospel, warns them, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Jesus knew the dangers they would encounter, including false religions and enemies of the gospel.
The Christian is called to coexist in this world, just not as the world prescribes. “Coexistence” to the world means that everyone must compromise. The Christian, on the other hand, must never compromise the faith, but rather, “see to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8). Christians, by their lives and testimonies, must stand firm in the truth of the faith.