(An adaptation of the exposition on John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 given in The Grand Spiritual Assumption)
I remember speaking at a luncheon to a ladies group about ten to fifteen years ago that was made up of women over the age of sixty. The church had called it the three-score-and-more class. The director of this little luncheon and outreach for the ladies wanted me to teach something encouraging from the Bible and, at the end, give an evangelistic, come-to-Jesus invitation. I was told that many of the ladies invite their non-Christian friends to join them at this monthly event so I would have a chance to lead several to faith in Jesus. This was long enough in the past that I was still committed to that approach in evangelism. I was more than delighted to do all that was being asked of me.
While I can’t remember the passage of Scripture I taught the ladies, I do remember how I gave the final evangelistic invitation. Based upon my understanding of John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 at that time, I explained to all those present that God was offering a free gift to each person. That gift as called eternal life, and once it was received, it guaranteed to the person receiving it a place in heaven forever. But I was careful to explain, God only gave this gift through His Son. So you have to believe in Jesus in order to obtain your free gift of a heavenly destiny.
I explained that no one should really have a problem with there being only one way to God because He has offered this wonderful blessing to every single person. He didn’t leave anyone off His invitation list. All a person had to do was believe in Jesus as the one who had died in his or her place, paying for all of his or her sin debt. His payment was so full and complete that it released the person believing in Him from all responsibility of adding anything to what Jesus had already accomplished by dying on the cross for him.
I explained Christianity’s exclusivity (of being the only way to God) this way. I asked the ladies to imagine that a person that they wanted to meet lived on a cul-de-sac. How many ways by car was there to that person’s home? The answer “one” was whispered throughout the crowd. I said, “That is correct. And we don’t have a problem with that fact do we? It is life.”
Well, I continued, God lives on a cul-de-sac too and the only way to get to His house is through faith in Jesus. So I asked them to pray a prayer to God and thank Him for sending Jesus to die for them and for giving them an invitation to His home that is completely free. If it was the desire of their hearts, tell God that they believed in Jesus and thank Him for guaranteeing them a place in His heavenly home when they died.
I hope my little recollection helps to illustrate how I had been trained to see the theological issues that are on center stage in a typical evangelistic meeting. When we are dealing with many of the people in our Western Civilization bubble, the reaction by most people is generally amiable even if they reject the message that we are communicating.
But a very different reaction can arise from those who are more adamantly opposed to the kind of message I gave at the ladies’ luncheon. To a strongly committed Jewish or Muslim individual the exclusivity that I described that was needed to come to God is entirely reprehensible. That message smacks of a sense of superiority to the rest of the world. Is it really true that no one can go to God unless he believes in Jesus first?
In addition to this push against the exclusivity described in the typical, evangelistic, Christian message, the idea that unless a person is converted to Christianity, he cannot go to heaven also meets with intense rejection. The idea that is generally communicated today is that only Christians (and Messianic Jews) will go to heaven. The rest of the world won’t end up there because they refuse to take the only road that leads to the Father’s house, the way of faith in Jesus.
What if Christianity is not an exclusive way to God? What if no one had to be converted to Christianity before he could go to the Father’s house in heaven? Don’t you think our evangelistic outreaches might see an enormous amount of success? How unfortunate would it be if we were to find out that both the exclusivity that we had learned to preach to others was a misunderstanding on our part? How receptive might the rest of the world be, especially those cultures which have an openness to Jesus Christ but a barrier to the whole concept of conversion? In those countries where it is unlawful to attempt to convert a person of a different faith, how much less dangerous would it be if no such proselytizing (i.e., no attempts to convert people) was part of the message to those needing to be saved by Jesus?
Our traditional message in evangelism has raised barriers between Jesus and other cultures. We have been giving a message that is inherently objectionable to others. If the message is objectionable by God’s design, then I have no problem with giving it (cf., 1Cor. 1:18-25). But if the message is objectionable because of our own misunderstanding of what the Bible teaches, then we have become our own worst enemies in the task of evangelism. I think our hearts are going to break when we stand before Jesus and He looks us in the eye and asks, “Why did you make it impossible for some to come to Me by creating an exclusivity that I can never condone and by requiring a conversion to Christianity that destroyed the diversity in the Body of Christ that I desired?” Keeping people from Jesus because of our own misunderstanding! What a heavy burden that will be to bear!
Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email