I interviewed Dr Kondrad Raiser, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches last week on radio. I asked why upon arriving at Sydney airport he criticised our Prime Minister as being racist. I asked if he had read the High Court Wik decision, spoken to any pastoralist, knew the details of the bill before parliament or whether he had relied upon opinions given to him by others. He replied he had read some papers and opinions by others only.
The World Council of Churches has lost its way. It does not represent Christians as many expect. I have become disillusioned with its acceptance of the doubtful aspects of religious pluralism and post-modernist beliefs. Many share the same concern. The next Assembly in Harare is on the theme of turning back to God. But conversion to Jesus Christ from other religions will not be affirmed. When the great former General Secretary of the World Council Dr W A Visser't Hooft was asked, "What is the major issue in missiology today?" he replied without hesitation, "The uniqueness of Christ. If Jesus is not unique, there is no gospel." Today most theologians supporting the positions taken by the World Council would not agree. Rather, they would agree with theologians John Hick and Paul F. Knitter in their book "The Myth of Christian Uniqueness." This major shift in Christian doctrine has been described as crossing "a theological rubicon" the line beyond which Christians should not step. Yet some leaders in the Uniting Church have moved to a pluralist theology rejecting the uniqueness of Christ and Christianity. Instead they believe that all religions are relative and exist on a parity with each other. These are not fringe theologians who believe this.
Bishop Leslie Newbigin, former director of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches, says that if the council goes along with these trends, it will "become an irrelevance in the spiritual struggles that lie ahead of us." Christians cannot cross this theological Rubicon. Rather we need to affirm again that unique "Rubiconcrossing" event of twenty centuries ago: the redemptive entering of God into human history in the person of Jesus Christ.Heb: 1:13 Unless Jesus is the only way to God, there is no gospel, no mission and no Saviour. The uniqueness of the person and mission of Jesus is crucial.
Dr Seuss speaks a great truth to children:
"Today you are you, and it's truer than true,
That there's no-one alive who is you-er than you.
Shout loud: "I am lucky to be what I am!
Thank God I am not just a clam or a ham
Or a dusty old jar of gooseberry jam.
I am what I am, and it's a great thing to be.
If I say so myself, "Happy Birthday to me!"
If each of us is unique, is it surprising that God's Son, Jesus, would be unique? That's the meaning behind His birth: Jesus was conceived within a virgin - no contribution by man required! That was why He was born in a manger among the sacrificial sheep for the Temple of Bethlehem - He was to be the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. That was why He healed people and raised them from the dead: He was unique. That is why He had to suffer and to die upon the cross for the salvation of humanity: He was unique. That was why God raised Him from the grave to eternal life as no other person: He was unique.
Dr John Bowden biographer of the great twentieth century theologian, Professor Karl Barth, states how Barth explained this unique nature of Jesus: "Barth explained this idea brilliantly by the illustration of an hour-glass or egg-timer. The sand in the hour-glass moves only from above to below, and not vice-versa; as it trickles through the narrow passage in the centre and falls to the bottom, it begins a move in the opposite direction, from below upwards; thus the two halves are related, for the top makes its impression on the bottom - but everything depends on the top. The narrow passage in the centre through which the sand must trickle is, for Barth, the person of Jesus Christ. God and man are separated and at the same time united through the mediation of Jesus Christ. He is the channel through which everything happens. Barth's theology is uncompromisingly Christocentric. God is to found only in Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ is to be found only in and through the scripture that witnesses to him." p63
The theology of this uniqueness is summed up in one word that is translated by two English words: "only begotten" son of the Father. In the Nicean Creed we say: "We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father". This key word "only begotten" is of great significance in the history of the Church. The NIV translates the word "God's one and only son." John writes: 1 Jn 4:9-10 "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice." Only the Son reveals God 4:9 and redeems of humanity.4:10
The two ideas are elaborated in John's Gospel. The Son reveals God as the Word becoming flesh: JOHN 1:14-18 "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." John calls the Son "God, the One and Only." "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. 18 Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."
Jesus is the only Son. Humans are creatures of God, but only believers are "children of God". John 1:12 "To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." Jesus is unique, the one and only expression of God. Jesus was both true God and true man. This double qualification is the testimony of the whole New Testament. We are saved only by God Himself, in Christ, from above and below. Nothing else will do. Jesus is unique! He is the only way!
Christians enjoy multi-culturalism and find other faiths challenging. Today pluralism is largely due to the diminishing influence of the church in both people and institutions and the increase in non-Christian religions because of migration. We want all people to live in peace and harmony. We accept the plurality of religions without sacrificing Christian claims for the uniqueness and sovereignty of Jesus Christ. Some people say: "Other cultures profess their religion. Why not live and let live? We are all going in the same direction."
Such talk is based on shallow reasoning. Two opposites cannot both be true. By definition, one is false. Jesus claimed to be the only way to the Father. Either His claims are true, or they are false. If His are true, all contradictory ones are false. Only one way leads to the Father. These religions cannot all be true at the same time, because they teach many things opposite to each another. They all may be wrong, but certainly they all cannot be right. The claims of one exclude the other. Jesus' claim "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations",Matt 28:18-20 shatters the idea that all religions are good so long as its adherents are sincere.
Jesus claims to be the only way to God. This claim is exclusive to Christianity. Only Christianity recognises Jesus as the eternal God becoming a man who died for the sins of the world and who arose again the third day. Salvation is obtained only by putting one's trust in this Jesus. The Jesus of Islam, mentioned in the Koran, is not Jesus the Son of God who died for the sins of the world. Neither is salvation an act of grace through faith, but it is a matter of you earning your salvation by merit.
Why does Christianity say Jesus is the only way?
1. JESUS IS THE ONLY WAY BECAUSE HE SAID SO.
The scriptures testify that Jesus is the only way to God. Thomas's asked Jesus: John 14:5-6 "How can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Jesus' reply is the foundation for a satisfactory philosophy of life. It is personal. He did not claim merely to know the way, the truth and the life but to be the way, truth and the life.
Jesus did not argue with Thomas. Jesus asserted He is the way to the Father because He alone has a knowledge of God unmarred by sin. He is the truth because He alone has the power to make life whole. He is the life because He alone was not subject to death but made it subject to Himself. Because He is the way, the truth, and the life, He is the only means of reaching the Father. Jesus, the unique Son, was the sole means of access to the Father. As John said 1:18: "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, He has made Him known." As Paul taught Col 1:15 "He is the image of the invisible God".
Prof. F.F. Bruce, says: "There is nothing hard in this except to those who cannot accept the claim to uniqueness implicit in the gospel. But to those who accept the presuppositions current in a pluralistic society this can be hard enough". And that is where some of our Uniting Church ministers trip up. Jesus Himself claims to be the only way, so if you want to accept that all religions are equal, you have to reject what Jesus said and the Biblical record.
2. JESUS IS THE ONLY WAY BECAUSE OF HOW WE ARE SAVED.
The term "salvation" focuses on what God has done in Christ to deliver us from the powers of death, sin, and Satan. The method of salvation involved Jesus Christ taking our place, dying for our sins, being crucified upon the Cross and being raised by God's power as the conqueror of death. No-one else in history can save us like that. Our salvation shows why Jesus is the only way.
3. JESUS IS THE ONLY WAY BECAUSE OF THE JUDGEMENT.
Christianity teaches judgement awaits us.
The world, nations and individuals will be judged. Will God eventually allow everyone into heaven? Some people contend that because God is a God of love. This view, known as universalism, considers hell a temporary place of punishment. But the Bible clearly teaches otherwise. The judgment of hell is as eternal as is eternal life. As Jesus said: Matt 25:46 "They will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." God gives each person the privilege of choice. We can accept or reject God's gift of eternal life. We are in control. Jesus is the only way to be saved from judgement. So pluralists reject Jesus, the Bible and the judgement.
4. JESUS IS THE ONLY WAY BECAUSE OF EVANGELISM.
The Catholic evangelist Ralph C. Martin says "The words of Jesus Matt 7:13-14 could scarcely be clearer. The way to salvation is narrow. The road is difficult, and few, not many, successfully follow that road." Hence we must evangelise: the message of the Gospel is to everyone that Jesus Christ alone saves. In a multicultural world we can never use force to impose our Christian views upon others. Likewise we cannot stand by with easy going tolerance, never speaking of what we believe. We do have the commands of Christ. We have to witness to what we know is right and evangelise so that others may be saved and have the joy of eternal life. Not to evangelise is to fail them. Christians have no option.
Jesus is the only way to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. You understand the Good News: that lost in sin and facing judgement, Jesus offers you forgiveness and eternal life. You can be right with God through faith in Jesus. There are many religions but only one way to God.
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
THE MYTH OF CHRISTIAN UNIQUENESS J Hick, P F Knitter Orbis Books 1987
KARL BARTH J Bowden SCM 1971
THE HARD SAYINGS OF JESUS F F Bruce Hodder 1983
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