“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.” John 14:6
When traveling the common conversation starter is “what kind of work are you in?’ My reply, “I am a Baptist minister” elicits either slightly nervous silence the rest of the trip or opens the door to some interesting discussion. I had the latter experience last week on a trip.
My companion said, “I am struggling with faith. I was raised a Christian, but I wonder about all the other people of different faiths. What happens to them?” It’s an uncomfortable but familiar question. Here’s the answer I gave him that seemed to help.
First, we cannot honestly deny, nor should we, the exclusive claims of the gospel. Jesus said, “I am the way” not “a way.” In Acts, Peter said there is no other name by which we can be saved. Paul wrote of a time when at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow. Etc. The witness of the New Testament is clear and unequivocal about the exclusive sufficiency of Jesus as the way to God. It’s not intellectually honest to claim otherwise.
In the multi-cultural world we live in our typical response to this claim is one of either quiet embarrassment or a chest-thumping “we win!” Complicating the matter is the typical response of other people that such exclusivity is poisonous, as in “ISIS believes it’s the only way!!!” I do think it’s important to point out that while ISIS beheads its neighbors, Jesus taught us to love our neighbors. That’s a pretty significant difference. The challenge is to combine conviction and mercy. And that leads to the next point in my mini-sermon.
Second, it’s important for us to be good Christians, and by this I mean that we need to believe deeply. A lukewarm faith helps no one. It does not sustain you, nor does it give a genuine seeker a place to begin asking about what it means to be a Christian. Be firm in your faith! Know the central tenets of Christianity and live the good life of the gospel. That provides a place for us to begin honest dialogue about various beliefs.
I would add here that I believe it’s equally important for people of other faiths to be strong in their convictions. Be good Jews. Be good Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. I want to know what you believe. I recently spoke with a Hindu lady and enjoyed our talk. I learned more about her faith, and she hopefully saw the effects of Christ in me. I shared my conviction, and am glad to let the Holy Spirit use me any way He pleases.
I suppose the key here is that Christians should have strong convictions without being angry or insecure about it. We never argue anyone into the Kingdom, nor should we try. Gentleness and reverence should mark our words.
Third and finally, my faith does not require me to go around rebuking or marginalizing people of other faiths. In fact I am explicitly prohibited from that kind of censorious attitude. My neighbor is increasingly likely to be someone who is quite different from me in many ways. Jesus teaches me to love my neighbors not change them. Only God can do that, and how and when and if He does is simply none of my business. I am to be a witness, not a prosecutor.
I often hear the idea that “all roads lead to the same place” or “all spokes lead to the hub.” I’m not a fan of that kind of thinking. Some roads really do lead nowhere. I simply choose not to spend time evaluating everyone else’s road or spoke.
I need to be comfortable with the road I have found in Jesus Christ. I am sure it leads me to God, and I am eternally thankful for the peace and joy I find in Christ each day. And I’m glad to talk to anyone about that with gentleness and reverence.
Dr. Terry Ellis
May 3, 2015