A few months ago the Southern Baptist Convention published a prayer guide urging Christians to pray for the followers of other religions to come to personal saving faith in Jesus Christ. The suggested guidelines included praying for your Jewish friends and acquaintances during the Jewish Holy Days (especially Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement). Not surprisingly, the prayer guide elicited a firestorm of controversy in the secular media. Nothing could possibly be more politically incorrect than to believe that you have discovered Truth with a capital T. That alone is bad enough since we live in a postmodern age where truth is in the eye of the beholder, but the Southern Baptists went further and committed a cardinal sin when they prayed that Jews (and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists) would be converted to Jesus Christ. This was nothing less than “religious genocide” (a phrase actually used by some critics) because it implies that one religion is somehow “superior” to another religion.
Two weeks ago I happened to catch a few minutes of a debate on “The O’Reilly Factor” between Bill O’Reilly (the host) and Paige Patterson, president of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Don’t you see how offensive this is to Jewish people?” said Mr. O’Reilly. Then he asked how anyone could believe that those who don’t believe in Jesus but happen to follow another religion won’t be in heaven. Dr. Patterson replied (quite appropriately, in my opinion) that we have no authority to talk about who goes to heaven or hell apart from what God has revealed in his Word. Then he quoted John 14:6 where Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Last Monday night I listened as John Piper (a noted author and speaker who pastors a church in Minneapolis) told about the reaction he received to an article he wrote defending the Southern Baptists. His point was simple. If Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, then praying for the Jews to come to Christ is an act of love. For saying that in print, he was branded “supremely arrogant” and “intolerably patronizing”-words meant to be intimidating. Piper’s comment: Christians must have courage to speak the truth and let the chips fall where they may.
He’s right and the Southern Baptists are right. Speaking the truth isn’t easy or popular, but it must be done. Before he left the earth Christ commanded his people to preach the gospel to everyone everywhere. That means praying for the Jews (and the Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and everyone else) to find eternal life in Jesus Christ. If some people are offended by that, let them be offended. We will do what God says and leave the results with him.