12/29/2006: A certain pastor in my community–a Baptist no less–writes columns every week. Some of them appear in the local paper, and others appear in other publications. All are posted on the web site of the church he pastors. I have been using his thoughts as the object lesson for the difference between Biblical Christianity and those who claim that sound doctrine doesn’t matter.
One of his November columns highlights the very reason why Biblical conservatism is important.
John 14:6 has Jesus saying, “No one comes to the Father except through me” and Acts 4:12 says “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” This has often been interpreted by Christians to deny the validity of the God experience of people of other faiths. These texts can however be read differently. To declare that salvation is found only in Jesus or that it is only through Jesus that one can come to the Father is to state what is true for Christians who trust in Jesus; it does not say what is true for people of other faith traditions.
Obviously, either the pastor has not given much thought about this, or he lacks the capacity to think logically.
(1) At face value, he is suggesting that one can be a Christian, trust Jesus, and not get to the Father.
(2) He is also suggesting that Stephen, Peter, Paul and others who preached boldly–an exclusive Gospel if you will–died in vain because they did not preach Gospel of inclusiveness and harmony that was non-threatening to Roman faith traditions.
(3) He is failing to accept that Jesus really said what is attributed to Him in John 14:6.
Given that the pastor makes a huge deal about the life and teachings of Jesus regarding interpersonal relations, how can he ascribe any authority to those teachings when he undermines the sayings of exclusion that do not appeal to him?
You cannot have it both ways. If Jesus didn’t really mean what He said when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no man gets to the Father except through me”, then how can one say–with any credibility–that Jesus’ teachings regarding the Kingdom (including that really hard one about the sheep and the goats) are authoritative?
You cannot pick and choose from the Gospels what Jesus said and what Jesus did not say.
Here is some more of the pastor’s wisdom:
Christians can affirm God’s particular revelation to them in the person of Jesus, while concurrently acknowledging the authenticity of the God experience of people of other religions. If the language of Christians seems to be exclusionary it is because it is the language of devotion, which is the language of exaggeration and overstatement. When I say that my wife is “the most beautiful woman in the world” I am not denying the beauty of other women; I am not stating something that is factual or verifiable, rather I am speaking subjectively, devotionally, what is true for lovers. Lovers of Jesus can utilize such language.
With all due respect, what is this guy smoking? The exclusionary language to which the pastor speaks is in Scripture, and is in first person. This is not about the disciples inventing teachings about Jesus, or putting their “God experience” in most romantic terms.
Jesus taught with authority, challenged people from all walks of life, said some very exclusive things while extending His grace to many an outcast, died a death sufficient to atone for all (even though that atonement effectively applies only to those who receive Christ), rose from the dead on the third day, and has promised to return.
When this kind of language is crystallized into doctrine then it spawns an elitist, exclusionary version of Christianity that denies the experience of other people; it says we are right and you must conform to our beliefs. There is a particularism to Christian faith, but a healthy particularism is not exclusivist, it recognizes that people of other faith traditions can know God and experience God’s healing, transforming love.
Who is denying the experience of other people? I know people who have played with Ouija boards, and have had experiences according to their “faith traditions”. I know many Muslims who have also had spiritual experiences according to their “faith traditions”. Ditto for Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Pagans, Buddhists, and Hindus.
The problem is that all spiritual experiences are not God experiences. One does not necessarily equal the other.
When Jesus said, “no man cometh to the Father but by me”, He didn’t say, “no Jew cometh to the Father but by me”.
Nor did Jesus say, “no Christian who thinketh he cometh to the Father cometh to the Father but by me.”
Nor did Jesus say, “no man cometh to the Father but by me, unless he or she is true to a ‘faith tradition’ that provides spiritual outlet.”
That many Christians have taken that exclusive teaching and used it in the most arrogant fashion does not negate the teaching. It merely affirms the natural human tendency to give in to pride. Come to think of it, Jesus often smacked down the Disciples for doing exactly that, as they were always trying to control access to Jesus, and even fought over who got to be the greatest of the bunch.
Of course, if I took the same approach as the pastor, I could always snip away at the teachings that I don’t find attractive. Like that one about sheep and goats.
But no…I won’t do that. Jesus said what the Scriptures show that He said. Accepting that reality is indeed humbling and depressing–as it provides a bleak picture of who we are.
However, those very teachings–and actions–of Jesus provide the only hope for the Jew and the Gentile.