We are beginning new series today entitled “Controversies” where I speak on hot topics currently impacting the church. To kick off the series, let us start with the most pressing issue facing the church: Jesus.
You would think the Church bought with his blood would not have to grapple with who Jesus is and what his death and resurrection accomplished for us. Yet, sectors of the Church are suffering from a severe case of spiritual amnesia and are using John 14:6 to push their agendas.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth
and the life. No one comes to the Father except
through me (TNIV).
More than any of the gospels, John presents the clearest revelation of the divinity, Incarnation of Christ (John 1:1-18).
Are we Christians narrow minded beasts for teaching that salvation is found in Jesus Christ? Of course, at least according to more than a few pastors and acquaintances I know personally. For them, John 14:6 is not a declaration that Jesus alone is the way to salvation but rather a specific way for CHRISTIANS.
In other words, Jesus is the way “for me” but does not necessarily have to be the way for non-Christians. The Christological crisis is not just reserved for my own sphere of influence. Consider, for instance, the words of former Mercer University president Kirby Godsey in his book When We Talk about God, Let’s Be Honest:
“Christians seem to become remarkably troubled
about whether Jesus is humankind’s only savior.
Is Jesus God’s only word? The simple answer is
“Of course not.” But beyond a simple answer, the
issue is largely a mistaken one. There are no right
answers to wrong questions….For me as a Christian,
Jesus is the defining revelation. This confession that
lies at the center of my faith does not require an
exclusivist position whereby I should feel compelled
to deny every other person’s claim to know God. I can
say only that, for me, Jesus is the central event of
Jesus is not God’s only Word—there was the Law and the Prophets. As the Hebrew writer opens in the book of Hebrews: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe” (Heb. 1:1-2).
Jesus is God’s final word to humanity and in that sense, the “only” final word.
It is one thing for nonbelievers to challenge the deity and exclusivity of Christ. But when folks claiming to be Christians do it, there are some serious consequences:
1. A crisis of mission. If we do not embrace the biblical teaching on Jesus’ exclusivity, why in the world are we wasting time, energy, money, or even our own blood sharing the gospel? The Great Commission, if we accept the idea that John 14:6 actually teaches that Jesus is the way only for his band of followers, is a joke and Jesus is stone cold loser. Why? Because he went overboard by enduring the cross for the sins of humanity while not bothering to challenge all of humanity with their need to receive him as Savior and Lord. Of course, the witness of Scripture and church history stands against that nonsense. Eleven of the twelve apostles were martyred for their faith. Polycarp, a disciple of John (author of the gospel and Johanine epistles) were burned at the stake for his faith. Jesus’ parting shot to the eleven remaining disciples was not some “Whatever, bros” approach to preaching the gospel; it was a no-holds barred call to make disciples of “all” nations. The apostle Paul was so passionate about preaching Jesus as the Christ that he began preaching “at once” that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. The book of Acts stands at odds against the weak, namby-pamby “gospel” preaching that goes on in some places because it shows the church aggressively but humbly showing that Jesus Christ and he alone is the one in whom salvation is found (cf. Acts 4:12). They were not content to fit in if fitting in meant abandoning Christ. But if we embrace a Jesus who is merely “a way for me,” our faith is a fraud, our churches are dead, and people will not hear the gospel. The Great Commission is reduced to cozying up to the powers so we can figure out how to get along without rocking the boat.
To hell with that boat if it means abandoning the mission of the One who died to make us free.
2. A crisis of doctrine. Whatever we preach about Jesus directly affects how we influence the communities in which God has planted us. If we preach the Christ who weakly and glibly makes room on the stage of human history for other “saviors” of our making, then we will reproduce weak people confused about who Jesus is, who they are, and what they are to do in this life. Closely tied to this is a loose approach to the inspiration and authority of Scripture. If we do not take the written Word seriously, we will not take the Living Word (Logos) seriously either. The Holy Spirit works through the body of Christ to bring the Good News to the world. The preaching of the Cross is indeed foolishness to those who believe themselves to be wise in the worldly sense (1 Cor. 1:18). Ignatius tells us that “The cross of Christ is indeed a stumbling-block to those that do not believe, but to the believing it is salvation and life eternal.”  But I fear that Christ has become a stumbling block for believers! God forbid! Sound doctrine is not stodgy; it is vital for the nourishment of a healthy church body (Acts 2:42-47; 2Tim. 3:16-17)
3. A crisis of witness. Whatever Jesus we preach is the Jesus we are living. I have wondered why the church in America is so sick and anemic in spots. I have marveled at how gangs, meth labs, crack houses, and liquor stores can saturate the same neighborhood ten storefront churches are a part of. How can so many churches be there yet little or no transformation has taken place? Is the heat too much? Christians are called to be change agents for the kingdom of God and that means taking a stand when it is not comfortable. If we take the inclusive “for me, Jesus is the way” route, we will sit comfortably while our neighbors, loved ones, and coworkers die without the gospel. They can find salvation in the bottle or Islam or anything else but Jesus and still be right because, as some of my friends have told me, “Well, I just believe God will honor their intentions.” God will not honor our intentions but he will honor our faith when we place it in his Son Jesus. If my character is weak or my resolve to take a stand for righteousness as defined by Scripture, then I need to ask myself “Girl, which Jesus have you preached and embraced?” The early could not have turned a soggy paper cup upside down if they lived their lives according to the notion that Jesus Christ is merely “a way” to salvation.
We need to recover our theological and praxidoxical fight so that the world sees we are people of Christ-centered humility who live and preach the real thing. I end my quasi-rant with a quote from Thomas a Kempis:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. Without the way there is no going; without the truth there is no knowing; without the life there is no living. I am the way which thou shouldst pursue; the truth which thou shouldst believe; the life which thou shouldst hope for.”
1. Kirby Godsey, When We Talk About God, Let’s Be Honest., p. 133.
2. Ignatius, The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians. Chapter XVIII, “The Glory of the Cross.”
3. Thomas à Kempis, Imitation of Christ, iii. Accessed from e-Sword.