DO WE STILL WHOLEHEARTEDLY BELIEVE IT?
The uniqueness of Christ is a common confession, but that today is not nearly as common as it once was—how do we deal with it?
Over twenty years ago I was invited to preach for a week in Vancouver, Canada. I said, “I will come, but please, one favor—get me an hour meeting with theologian Dr. J. I. Packer.” It was arranged. My first question to him was, “What is on the horizon in religion? What will be the issue at the forefront soon?” He hit the nail on the head, “A challenge to the uniqueness of Christ and to the claim that Christianity is the exclusive way to God’s heaven.” Today that is called by some “the arrogance of some elements of Christianity,” by much of the world religions and, surprisingly, even some Christians.
The statement quoted from Scripture that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) must be taken to mean that salvation can only be found through faith in Jesus and not through any other religion or any other way. The response to it is called by some, Christian intolerance, arrogance, or superiority, but that is not true; in fact, the opposite. All people of all cultures, whether they are Jews or Gentiles or of any other religious affiliation are welcomed to come to Christ.
With a love and concern for people of other religions and for our fellow Christians, our confession and personal testimony should be clear and unqualified. We worship only the true and living God who has revealed Himself to the world through His Son, Jesus Christ (I Thessalonians 1:9-10). God cannot therefore be fully known apart from Christ (John 1:18). Is that not our stand? So we admit the Christian faith is not a general faith in God but a particular faith in the one and only Jesus Christ. It is built on who He is, what He said, and what He has done. That is our confession.
Certainly one of the most distressing expressions that comes from recent discussion from some theological centers is the patronizing way that those historical convictions about Jesus Christ are today held by only the “unsophisticated.” I would smile and say, “Yes, but please do remember it is the simple, not the sophisticated who receive the revelation from God!” Jesus himself said that God “revealed them to little children” and yet God has “hidden these things from the wise and learned” (Matthew 11:25). There is historically the Christ-centered nature of the faith of Christians, and it always includes the uniqueness of Jesus. Some of us see it openly under attack even from those who call themselves Christian thinkers.
In theological writings and even now in sermons the word “myth” is appearing more and more. To some it means having a legendary and symbolic meaning only. The idea that the belief in the uniqueness of Jesus came to be believed and that it was a gradual process of the deification of Jesus cannot remain as recognizable Christian thought! The faith of those faithful is disturbed, include me in that number!
But, in the heart of your heart do you still seriously believe that? More and more Christians do not. William Barclay, the loved Scottish commentator, more or less said, yes, I know what the Bible says, but I think God has some surprises up His sleeve. He said, “I want to set down … the thoughts which have persuaded me personally of universal salvation.” He said that it was “impossible to set limits on the grace of God, and in the world to come the grace of God is still effective, still operative, still at work.” He said, “I am a convinced universalist. I believe that in the end all men will be gathered into the love of God.” This means salvation is possible without believing in Christ. The Catholics called the saved people of other religions “anonymous Christians.” Liberal Protestant thinkers, who now gain popularity, see the possibility of salvation apart from explicit knowledge of the gospel of Christ, because of the scope of God’s grace. Other say to die without Christ brings punishment, but like fire which separates the alloy from gold, the cleaning result will be salvation for all.
One leading Christian churchman said we must take the word “only” out of the Christian vocabulary. Karl Barth heard Billy Graham preach on “You Must Be Born Again.” Afterwards he asked, “Do you have to say ‘must’? Cannot you say ‘can’?” Another said that Christians cannot approach other religions with the assumption that our story is the only true story; it kills all communication.
All this to say, in the light of these developments it is not at all surprising that many Christians are asking if Christians can honestly make claims of the uniqueness and exclusiveness and be respected in the age of tolerance in this modern era. It is the age of pluralism. My response is: I represent Jesus Christ, and if I am going to be faithful to Him and His teaching, I must say in resolute humility, yet confidence, “That is what Jesus believed about Himself!” He said, “No man comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). If you have a problem with that, your real problem is not with me, it is with Jesus Christ. I am only telling you what He said!
Then I will add, if He is wrong, then I am wrong; but if He is right, then I am right and those who are not with me, tragically, are wrong. But, that is for you to decide. As for me, however, I will not obscure the Christian confession of God the Father and of His one true Son, who is Lord and Savior alone, and the Holy Spirit as the one source of true awakening and the only source of authentic spirituality.
Ours is an age of uncertainty, but that was not true of the apostles of Jesus. They were outspoken and vigorously confident about what they believed about Him; they had no doubts. We too can be as outspoken without appearing to be arrogant or rude. They were, after all, eyewitness scribes of New Testament truth. They were certain! Let us be as liberated and have a full respect of both their witness and God’s Word. Let us also celebrate the glory of Jesus Christ himself, praising God for the uniqueness of His Son, the Savior of the world.
We have to admit to people, if we go wrong on Christ, we will soon depart from the historic faith! “In a civilization like ours,” said C. S. Lewis, “I feel that everyone has to come to terms with the claims of Jesus Christ …” He is right! Resolve all doubt, if you have any, and never be satisfied with a shallow, unthinking view of Him. We do not need fanfare or golden trumpets to say we have settled the matter. In our heart, we exalt Him and give Him rightful glory. Like those pictured in Revelation who “bowed down and worshipped God who sits on the throne; they cried, ‘Amen! Hallelujah!’” (Revelation 19:4) We join them. It is not too much to ask for us to have such an unshakable desire to give Him the honor which is rightfully due His name. Until our final breath in this world we will devotedly hold to a confession of the authentic Jesus, giving Him glory. Together let us confess, tomorrow’s history has already been written—all of us will bow and confess Him Lord of lords, King of kings.