By Bill Easum
One thing has become crystal clear over the twenty some years I have been consulting and coaching church leaders – the vast majority of growing churches in the U.S. range from conservative to ultra-conservative. And for them, Jesus is the only way to salvation. The more a leader vacillates on this belief, the less likely the church is to grow.
Why is this? When you eliminate Jesus as The Son of God and believe there are many ways to God you remove two of the most important ingredients to growth – passion and urgency. Conservatives believe so deeply that Jesus is the only way many of them are willing to literally die in order to spread the word. I don’t see that passion or urgency in the ministry of those who question this central theme of the New Testament.
I have to admit, this belief has troubled me over the years but never enough to disbelieve what is central to both the New Testament and to my life and conversion. Without Jesus, no telling what I would have become. So for me Jesus is the only way to my salvation. But I don’t make this belief a point of fellowship nor do I ridicule those who don’t believe as I do. How could I since my calling is to spread the Word to those who don’t yet believe in Jesus as their Savior.
I’m convinced that God can do whatever God wants to do. Of that I have no lingering doubts. I’m equally convinced that we can whatever we want to do. I’ve proven that with my own sin often enough. So when I come to biblical passages that speak of Jesus being God’s only Son or that Jesus is the only way to God, I take notice ….notice of both God’s ability to set whatever rules God chooses and my ability to break them or worse, to try to change or explain them away. In the tension or juxtaposition between the two actions lies a line of demarcation that may ultimately destroy mainline Protestantism as we know it.
There can be no doubt that the early church based the totality of faith on the belief that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, The Son of God, the only way to salvation. Whatever view of scripture you adhere to, it is impossible to deny how the early church felt on the matter. And, no matter how a person might feel today about this issue or how bigoted it may sound in today’s culture, without a doubt of any kind, the early Christians held this belief and were willing to die on behalf of it.
However, we are free to believe whatever we choose to believe. And we are free to re-interpret the Bible in light of our advanced, enlightened culture compared to the superstitious ignorance of the times in which the New Testaments records were penned. But when we do that we must be honest and admit that we are gutting the New Testament.
So, here is the line of demarcation facing much of the present decaying segments of Protestantism – can people profess to be Christians while denying something that the first adherents to the faith held to be the foundation of Christianity? Can we today, under the guise of enlightened world views, deny the very foundation of the Christian faith and still profess to be Christian? That’s the primary issue facing mainline Protestantism at the beginning of the third millennium.
More importantly, am I able to even ask this question without being branded either a bigot to be ignored or a prophet crying in the wilderness? My guess is that readers have already taken sides which I find amazing since I Corinthians 13 tells us that love for one another is more important than faith itself.
Here’s my point. Perhaps it’s time for mainline Christians to come clean about this Jesus person without casting stones at one another. Is that possible? Is it possible that both sides could agree that God can do what God wants to do and leave it at that? In the final analysis it won’t matter who is right. God will settle the issue, not us.
Most mainline Protestant leaders remind me of two people who got married and then one of the couple tries to remake the other into their likeness. We know the folly of this in marriage. Why can’t we see it in our faith. It is just sheer dishonesty to call our selves Christians and deny the heart of what ALL recognized Christian leaders have believed for centuries. All we are doing is re-living some of the heresy battles of the first four centuries. All of those efforts were denounced in the various Consuls. It is time we did that once again. Either we get in or we get out. Neither is a judgment against the other, simply a decision of belief. And don’t make any more of my comments than that. I have not denounced any belief or anyone. I’m just asking us to get honest. We can’t call ourselves Christians and denounce the primary condition of faith for Christians. One can’t be a Christian and rewrite the hopes and dreams of the early Church, even if one believes in further revelation. What comes later can not deny or altar the foundation on which Christianity was founded. To suggest that the early church was naive or ignorant is simply not acceptable. Many of them died for what they believed. Are we willing to do less?
I really think we have one of two choices. Either we can affirm Jesus as the only way and see the awesome responsibility that comes with such a belief or we can get honest and cease calling ourselves Christians. What we can’t do is to call ourselves Christians and at the same time deny the very essence of the Scriptures.
I know all of the arguments put forth by the theologians over the years. Still it comes down to this, everything about Christianity, from beginning to end, has been built from its inception on the belief that Jesus was THE Son of God. Not A son, but THE son. These are not my words. They are the foundation of Christianity itself. Take away this belief and you have nothing.
Much of the New Testament would have to be removed if we cease to believe that Jesus is the only way to find God. And do you know how much condemnation is already heaped on all of us who revel in either side of this issue- too much for any of us to bear in eternity. No one should feel good about division, nor use either side as a club over people’s head.
Still, what we do with Jesus will be a line of demarcation over the coming years in mainline Protestantism. Either we accept Jesus as THe Son of God or we choose to call ourselves something else. Nothing wrong with either one of these directions. But we must be honest.
Maybe this is the real question – Who is willing to die for what they believe? That’s the crowd I want to be counted among no matter which side of the demarcation line the find themselves.