Volume 29, Number 2
The doctrine of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ is the most important and the most urgent issue before the church today. The cornerstone of the Christian faith is Christ’s deity, death, and resurrection as the only basis of salvation for human beings. The deity and uniqueness of Jesus Christ is not a footnote to the Gospel; it is the heart of the Gospel itself.
Many view “salvation through Jesus Christ alone” as judgmental thinking, and see the concept as a “Christianized” form of bigotry. But to proclaim Jesus Christ as “the one and only Saviour is indeed what is declared in the Word of God. The Church of the Brethren at the 1991 Annual Conference in Portland, Oregon reaffirmed its belief in Jesus Christ as the Saviour of the world. Conservative Christians may sound narrow and intolerant when they insist that there is only one way to salvation and heaven. But in declaring that fact, we are only being faithful to what Jesus himself said in John 14:6, and to the teaching of the apostles in passages like Acts 4:12 and I John 5:11-12.
We note the words of Jesus in John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
We observe the testimony of Peter in Acts 4:12, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
We hear the witness of John in I John 5:11-12, “And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
To say that a person may adopt any form of religion and still find acceptance with God, would be a denial of these biblical truths. Sincere belief in a false teaching does not provide a valid way to God. The Christian message is that persons who submit themselves to Jesus Christ, acknowledging their sins and desiring his salvation, may be assured of everlasting life (John 3:36).
Further biblical support for the teaching that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation and heaven, can be found in other passages of Scripture.
In John 10:1-15, Jesus speaks of himself as the “door”, and “the good shepherd.” Among other things, Jesus affirms: (1) that there is only one shepherd giving eternal life (namely, Jesus himself); (2) that there is only one door leading to life (namely, Jesus); (3) that there are others who pretend to be doors or shepherds, but they are thieves and robbers. We must conclude from this passage that Jesus is the only good shepherd (the only door) that leads to life.
In Acts 10 and 11 we are told about Cornelius. He was “a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God” (Acts 10:2). In spite of all these good deeds, the angel of God came to Cornelius and told him where he can learn the true way to be reconciled with God (Acts 11:13-14). The Apostle Peter lifted up Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation, and concluded with the words, “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). Cornelius was a sincere follower of the Jewish faith, but it was only when he had met Jesus and believed in him that he could claim salvation.
There are some mysteries about God’s eternal plan of salvation that we do not understand, but we know with absolute certainty that it is our commissioned duty to preach the gospel of salvation through faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ, and to seek to make disciples of all nations. It is hard for people to believe in one about whom they have never heard, or to hear if no one preaches the truth about Jesus Christ to them (Romans 10:14).
Brethren Revival Fellowship believes that it is a colossal mistake to license or ordain persons who cannot courageously declare that Jesus Christ is the only Redeemer, Saviour, and God on earth. We further believe that church leaders who promote neo-pagan ideas about God and salvation should be disciplined appropriately. We are convinced that in the long run those who cling to the biblical message of redemption through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will survive; those who water it down or abandon it will go out of business.
The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ
By Stephen Wagoner
Tony Campolo was on a flight to Philadelphia some years ago, and a very talkative, exuberant man sat down next to him. During the conversation the talkative companion asked Campolo what he does for a living. Campolo normally has two responses to that question: (1) The reply is, “I’m a sociology professor” (which usually leads to further conversation); (2) ‘I’m a Baptist evangelist” (which usually scares people off). This time Campolo was tired and hoped to rest, so he tried the second response. But instead of being deterred, the man enthusiastically said, “Oh good! Do you know what I believe?” The man said, “I believe that going to heaven is like going to Philadelphia; you know, there are many ways to get to Philadelphia, but the destination is the same. I believe there are many religions and faiths in the world, but we are all going to the same place.”
But shortly before arriving in Philadelphia, the plane was caught in a terrible storm. The plane was being bounced around by strong winds, and passengers were holding on to their seats, and obviously scared. The pilot announced that they were having some problems coming in for a landing. Campolo couldn’t resist. He leaned over to his talkative friend and said, “I’m certainly glad the pilot of this plane doesn’t believe in your theology.” “Oh, how’s that?” the man asked. Campolo smiled and said, “Right now the pilot is depending on guidance from the control tower to make his approach. They will tell him if he is on beam, or if he needs to go a little bit farther to the left or to the right. Suppose the pilot were to radio the tower and announce, “I believe there are many different ways to land at this airport, and since the results will be the same in the end, I think I’ll choose my own approach.” His companion saw the lesson.
1. JESUS IS SUPERIOR TO HUMAN MESSIAHS
The Bible message is clear. There is only one way to heaven. Jesus said the way is narrow and few there will be who find it. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Him. He alone can guide us safely home.
Most often when Christians say that salvation is through Jesus alone, we are referred to as being “narrow-minded.” Have you heard it? But think for a moment. Suppose that today you learned that you urgently need open heart surgery to continue living. Would you trust that operation to just anyone? Or would you seek out the best available medical facility and surgical team? Most of us would prefer the best, hoping that this would ensure a successful outcome. Is that being narrow-minded?
When we face death squarely in the face, and all eternity is at stake, we won’t want some self-proclaimed prophet who is imperfect, who was not around at the foundation of the world, who will himself some day die only to be heard from no morel No! We will prefer the guarantee of the resurrected Christ who came back from the dead! We will want to know for certain that our Redeemer lives. We will want Someone who has the qualifications described in Hebrews 1:14, Someone who has the radiance of God’s glory, the exact likeness of God’s own being, and One who can make purification for our sins. Only one Messiah meets those criteria–Jesus Christ the Lord. People don’t repent for having believed in Jesus Christ when they approach the death bed.
2. JESUS HELD A STRICT VIEW OF SCRIPTURE
At baptism, we Brethren promise to turn away from evil, and with God’s help we seek to live according to the teachings and example of Jesus. Even radical Bible critics must admit that Jesus’ view of Scripture was solidly evangelical. Jesus trusted the Scriptures implicitly. At no point did Jesus engage in textual criticism, cite copyist errors, or label certain Old Testament stories as pious legend, myth, or fable. In fact, it is fair to say that Jesus was a creationist; He believed in the Genesis Flood, and that Noah, Jonah, and Adam were real persons. Jesus attributed the Old Testament miracles to God’s mighty power, not to naturalistic phenomenon. Jesus believed that the prophets wrote of things to come, and not that the prophets wrote after the events happened in order to make their predictions appear credible.
The crowning evidence for the inspiration and trustworthiness of the Bible is the testimony of Jesus. He quoted an obscure passage from Psalm 82, and then said, “The scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Jesus quoted Exodus 3:6 (in Matthew 22:31-32), and then said that what Moses wrote “was spoken to you by God.” During His earthly ministry He spoke of the flood that destroyed the world in Noah’s time (Luke 17:27), the miracles performed by Elijah (Luke 4:25), the big fish that swallowed Jonah (Matthew 12:40), the life of David (Matthew 12:3), the glory of Solomon (Matthew 6:29), the provision of manna from heaven in the wilderness (John 6:31)–and in all this record we have of Jesus’ words, there is not even the slightest intimation at any time that the Scriptures may be inaccurate at arty point.
Can it be that Jesus trusted the Scriptures more than many Brethren do today? How can it be that a denomination full of people who have vowed to live according to Christ’s teaching and example, allow teachings in our colleges, at the seminary, and among our leadership–that depart so markedly from Jesus’ view of Scripture?
In light of all that Jesus said about the Scriptures, and how they pointed to Him as the coming Messiah (Luke 24:44-48), we need to look at the Scriptures as a book to live by and to die by.
3. JESUS DECLARED HIS OWN DEITY
When Jesus accepted worship on nine occasions in the Gospels–worship that Exodus 34:14 claims is reserved for God alone our Lord Jesus claimed divinity. When Jesus calmly announced many times in the four Gospels that He would rise from the dead; when He claimed He could forgive sins; when He made clear statements like, “I and the Father are one,” and “Before Abraham was born, I AM;” when He healed the sick and broke up every funeral He attended with a resurrection; when He controlled nature, and declared that He had authority to give eternal life–Jesus claimed to be God!
If Jesus is God, why not listen to Him when He says:
“The Scriptures cannot be broken. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (John 10:35; Matthew 24:35).
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:18-19). (Why baptize and teach and make disciples of people all over the globe? Because Jesus said that all authority belongs to Him! And if all authority belongs to Jesus, that means that Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, and others have none).
“If you do not believe that ! am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24).
There is a judge for the one who rejects me, and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day” (John 12:48).
In John 10:1-15, Jesus explains that He is the door for the sheep. Those who enter the sheepfold through Jesus will be saved (verse 9). Jesus says that all who came before Him (and all who climb in by some other way) are thieves and robbers (verses 1,8). In the following paragraphs we will note what some of the promoters of the world religions say.
4. JESUS ELEVATED THE STATUS OF WOMEN
No one can read the life of Jesus without being impressed by the number of women who ministered to Him out of their personal means.
Buddha taught that women are jealous, treacherous, vicious creatures of feeling (not thought), and are not to be trusted. Hindu wives are commanded to offer incense to their husband’s big toe, and bow low, before speaking each morning. How many wives of Christian men did that this morning? On a more grim note, if your husband should die before you, the Hindu Vedas command the wife to throw herself alive on his burning funeral pyre. And as if this were not cruel enough, a Hindu woman is taught that she cannot hope to merge with the universe at death, because of her sex. The best she can hope for is to so serve her husband in this life, that hopefully she can come back as a man in the next life. Only men can achieve nirvana.
Or consider Judaism. In the eyes of the Jewish law, a woman is considered as a minor, an irresponsible person. A Jewish prayer recommended for daily use, states: “Blessed be God who hath not made me a woman.” Neither the Old Testament, nor the Mishnah, has a feminine form of the Hebrew adjectives “pious,” “just,” and “holy.” “The woman,” says the law, “is in all things inferior to a man.”
Or consider Islam. When Mohammed wanted another wife, a revelation was forthcoming to sanction it. When he wanted to marry the wife of his adopted son (Zaid), his son’s divorce was sanctioned by a revelation, so that Mohammed might have Zaid’s wife. From such things came Islam’s legitimization of polygamy, divorce by the husband at will, and slavery.
Only against this dismal backdrop can we fully appreciate the attitude of Jesus toward women. Although the women of Israel were legally defined as personal property, totally subjected to the will of their men, Jesus came viewing women as persons of value in their own right. Women are prominent in all four Gospels. From the announcement of Jesus’ coming birth to the time of the empty tomb, women play roles that no male can usurp. Strip the New Testament of its women, however briefly they are sketched in some instances, and it will become a valley of dry bones. Women have been strong links in the chain of Christian witness. Without them, where might the church be today?
5. JESUS HELD A HIGH VIEW OF SUFFERING
Not only did Jesus elevate womanhood to a new status, but He also had compassion on the poor and the oppressed.
Buddhists and Hindus alike view natural disasters, crime, starvation, poverty, disease, and mental retardation as the accepted order of things. If the law of karma is a correct understanding of the order of things, then (according to the Eastern religions), we should not interfere with nature’s handling of suffering. We should not seek to alleviate suffering, for if we do, then the one who suffers, will suffer even more in the next reincarnation.
Christians do not hold that suffering now is the result of evil deeds or poor performance in the past life. Since the Fall in Genesis 3, suffering is a part of our human experience, but mourning and crying and pain will pass away, and will not be found in God’s future kingdom (Revelation 21:4).
Suffering has a number of benefits: Suffering chastens us to make us more holy; it fits us for the ministry of sympathy; it turns our attention toward heaven. But Jesus, in healing the sick, restoring the ear of the high priest’s servant, and in teaching us to show tender mercy and compassion toward those who suffer–teaches us by precept and example to do all we can to help alleviate suffering.
By way of contrast, the fatalism of Islam; the disinterested, disillusioned aloofness of Buddhism; the pitiless “just desserts” view of Hindu karma–all leave human beings embroiled in suffering. Look at the section in the Koran where ninety-nine attributes of Allah are listed. There is none on love. That fact has to impoverish their world view.
6. JESUS IS THE ONLY WAY TO HEAVEN
So who will be our Redeemer? Many years ago Vernon Schwalm wrote, “The Brethren were not afraid of Bible study, but they were afraid of speculative theology” (page 62, Albert Cassel Wieand). Is it not speculative to insist that there are many ways to heaven, other than the Jesus way? Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
Peter and the other apostles were willing to die for that truth–and they did! So did a number of Anabaptists during the Reformation. Why should they have bothered if Jesus is not the only means of salvation?
What we have before us is a choice between apostolic faith in Jesus Christ alone (for which many martyrs gladly laid down their lives), or faith in many paths to God (which is an apostate belief system). If Jesus is not the only way, we have surely lost our Anabaptist moorings, and are being cast adrift on mere presumption and relativism. When we proclaim the truth about Jesus Christ, we are not discussing something that is negotiable or subject to our “yay” or “nay.” Our choice will not change the way of salvation; our choice will only determine who is on it.
Jesus said, “But I, when I am lifted up…will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). This is the key to renewal and growth in the church. And if we won’t believe Jesus, then let’s believe the Father, who said, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him” (Luke 9:35). If Jesus is God, let’s proclaim it and get serious about evangelism and renewal. If, on the other hand, we believe what we like in the Bible, and reject what we like, it is no longer the Gospel that we believe, but ourselves. May God help us to choose life in Christ Jesus!
Isaiah 9:6 predicted that God’s Messiah would be the “Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Brethren have seized on Jesus as the Prince of Peace, almost at times as if peace alone were the Gospel. But Jesus is also the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father. We cannot very well proclaim Jesus as the Messiah/Prince of Peace without also lifting up the uniqueness and centrality of Jesus as God, and ultimate Ruler and Judge, who claimed that salvation can only be found through Him.