The Bible teaches that Jesus is the single way to God
There are numerous points of conflict between contemporary culture and the teachings of Christianity, but the arguments leveled against Christianity all contain a common thread. All the people who want to redefine religious liberty also want to defuse the Christian claim that Jesus is the only way to God. This claim underlies all the other attacks on Christianity. Christians are accused of asking for privilege rather than liberty, and the Christian teaching that Jesus is the only way is at the heart of cultural outrage at Christians.
Jesus said it
Christians believe that Jesus is the only way, because Jesus said so. The gospel of John records that on the night of the Last Supper, when Jesus was explaining his imminent death, he said, “You know the way to where I am going.” The apostles, despite Jesus’ many attempts to prepare them, were not ready to accept Christ’s coming death, and they were not ready to contemplate the way to where death would take Jesus. Thomas, the one who would make a name for himself as a doubter after the resurrection, said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Many people feel like Thomas, and those who reject anything outside the realm of time and space not only assert that they don’t know the way to heaven but also firmly assert that there can be no such thing as heaven.
Jesus responded to Thomas by saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Christians understand this statement to mean that Christ alone is the path to God. Buddhists and Muslims and animist worshipers may be looking for that path, but Christ alone is the path. Of course, people who teach that nothing exists if we can’t weigh and measure it are not looking for God, and they don’t think it much matters if Christ is or isn’t the only way.
Peter affirmed it
Christians have great confidence in the words of Peter, who was present throughout Jesus’ ministry. He was one of the first disciples chosen, and the gospels make it clear that he was present on almost every occasion. He saw the miracles. He heard the sermons. He heard the private explanations that Jesus saved for the disciples alone. Therefore, when Peter said, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” (Acts 4:12) Christians esteemed that statement as authoritative.
Personal experience affirms it
Many Christians have life experiences that confirm that, for them, no other god or godlike power works in their lives the way Jesus does. Christians who were not born to the faith meet Jesus in the Bible, in preaching, in dreams or visions, or as the One who meets them in an hour of need, and they testify that only he met their needs, fulfilled their lives, healed them, redeemed their times and transformed their lives. Muslim background believers find that a relationship with Jesus is worth all the anguish they endure from their families. Knowing Jesus makes it possible for them to endure torture, imprisonment and the community scorn. Their experience validates the claim that Jesus is the only way.
Many people in contemporary culture dispute that claim
The USA was founded by people who largely considered Christ to be the only way to God. The first colonists in each of the original thirteen colonies on the east coast of North America were British subjects. Christianity was and is the state religion of Great Britain, and all citizens were exposed to the teachings and practice of Christian faith. Their interpretation of its claims varied and their practice of the faith varied as well, but the population in general accepted the claim of Jesus to be the only way to God, even if their lives did not necessarily demonstrate a faithful response to that claim. From the beginning, starting with the Twelve Disciples, a major threat to the witness of Christians in the name of Christ is the human imperfection which necessitates Christ’s sacrifice. Jesus said that in order to follow him, it was necessary to deny self and put him first in everything. In other words, because he is the way to God, people cannot travel some other way and get there, even though they claim his name. This mix of those who follow and those who don’t, all claiming to be Christian, give comfort to those who reject Jesus’ claim to be the only way to God.
It is unpalatable because it limits their choices
In general, people reject that claim, because it is human nature to want choices. A restaurant offers variety in entrees, appetizers and desserts, because people like to choose. Even if a meal is a favorite, the diner wants to choose it because he wants it, not because there is no other choice. When Christians tell the world that there is no other choice but Jesus, the world finds that attitude unacceptable. The world likes the smorgasbord of religions. People admire those who know and understand many religions, and they particularly like to hear from people who choose what they regard as highlights from several religions. Amazingly, even though a dominant cultural theme today is disdain for individualism and high regard for communal connections, the culture also simultaneously shows high regard for people who create individual religions by cobbling together assorted aspects of various religions in a unique religious casserole. Creating one’s own religion is a delightful and desirable concept.
It is unpalatable because it seems insulting to other religions
Some people believe that respect for all religions requires that no religion claim exclusive rights to the truth. The founders of the USA were very respectful of religion in general, but most of them followed Christian teaching and claimed Christian faith. The fact that they had made a choice and committed to Christ did not make them believe that they should run roughshod over people who had made different choices. This thinking is involved in the rejection of a state religion during the writing of the Constitution. It is likewise behind the encouragement of the free exercise of religion by every citizen, regardless of his religion. The founders demonstrated that it was possible to accept the claim that Christ is the only way to God while respecting human beings and their God-given right to choose what to believe. Contemporary culture claims that when Christians say that Christ is the way, they are insulting other religions, and this attitude plays into the behavior of other religions which believe that their exclusive claim entitles them to harm those who disagree with them.
The founders demonstrated that it is not necessary to prevent people from living by their faith principles in order to have peace and prosperity in the nation. The First Amendment was written precisely because they believed that this way of living was not only possible but highly desirable. Most Christians agree. Contrary to what critics say, and by the way, contrary to what some misguided Christians say, there is nothing in Jesus’ teaching to justify abuse of people who do not believe that Jesus is the way. Holding that teaching as a faith principle has positive value, but it does not require destruction of those who disagree. It is meant to be a call to share the love of Christ with all people, not a call to shut down anyone who might dispute the claim.
The term Christian exclusivism expresses analytical rejection of Jesus as the way
In contemporary American culture, many labels are being projected by social and political activists, and “Christian exclusivism” is one. Activists like sound bites and pithy words and phrases that encapsulate their agenda. Words that end in “-ist” and “-ism” enable them to make signs and slogans that put their opponents on the defensive, compelling opponents to deal with those harsh words rather than with the issues at hand. They use the term “Christian exclusivism” to embody a claim that Christians want privilege rather than liberty when they claim a right to act on their faith teachings. The use of this word diverts the discussion from the particular issue – abortion, marriage, and others – to an argument over the right of Christians to say that Jesus is the only way to God. It takes patience and wisdom for Christians to keep the discussion on the subject, and Christians must actually remember that Jesus promised to help provide the words needed when they are called upon to defend themselves.
Many people reject all religions by choosing to be “spiritual but not religious”
Another response to the claim that Jesus is the only way is to choose to be “spiritual but not religious.”
They believe “spiritual” to be a superior state over being “religious”
It is hard not to notice a certain smugness in people who make the claim to be spiritual but not religious. The word religious is spoken with a measure of scorn that is palpable. To be religious is viewed as virtually equivalent to a belief that the earth is flat. To be spiritual implies deep insight and superior understanding of the universe. The spiritual ones consider religion to be about rules and oppression, even outright lies, while being spiritual allows one to be personally authoritative without any painful or oppressive accountability.
They actually prefer to be their own ultimate authority
If someone is spiritual but not religious, he is accountable to himself only. In a religion, one or many gods have the authority, but a person who has escaped the prison of religion is his own authority. A spiritual person can believe anything or nothing, and nobody has any right to correct him. A spiritual person is free. Nobody can make him worship on a particular day or dress in some outlandish manner or reject the power of the state to make him do what everybody ought to do. A person who is spiritual but not religious can claim all sorts of spiritual beliefs, but will self-righteously proclaim that he will not try to proselytize anyone.
Being spiritual feels good while being religious feels constrained
Secular teaching says that the way to know what is right is to observe what makes one happy. Those who choose to be spiritual but not religious speak of experiences that make them feel at peace or quietly joyful while not being required to believe or do anything in particular. By this standard, religion is quite limiting. Christians can dispute this choice by pointing out that while those who follow Christ constitute the church, its organization and hierarchy are not established by him. Any sense that some particular practice or cleric is un-Christ-like is not a criticism of Christ or his claim. It may be difficult to educate people whose minds are already made up, but this truth must be asserted: the religion of Christianity is not the essence of Christ’s claim to be the only way to God.
There are even Christians who reject Christ’s claim
For orthodox Christians there is no dispute. Christ reigns in heaven, and he is the only way to God. There is, however, a school of thought that says that there is nothing unique about Christianity or Christ. They teach that the Bible is an ancient record of the experience of ancient people. For them, the Bible is not a guide for faith and life but rather a repository of information that might help someone understand the sacred. For them, the church is an institution with lovely rituals and colorful vestments. Church buildings are monuments to particular interpretations of that ancient experience. Progressive Christians say that Christ’s claim to uniqueness is unpersuasive, and further, that all the other religions are responses to the experience of the sacred that are as legitimate and historical as that of Christianity. This interpretation sounds as heretical to orthodox Christians as the claim that Christ is only human and not God.
There is a great deal of dispute about the road to heaven, and there is almost as much dispute about whether heaven even exists. Orthodox Christians dispute as deeply with progressive Christians as with non-Christians over the claim that Christ is the only way. For many, Christian or non-Christian, this whole dispute is quite troubling. They distance themselves from dispute without taking time to investigate the basis of the dispute. Christians who know from experience that Christ is the way, and also the truth and the life, can only participate in the conversation by living their relationship transparently and with integrity. The real answer to the dispute is Christ himself, and his chosen method to project himself into people’s lives is through the living testimony of those who serve him. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the way to God must do what he would do with or without this dispute: live faithful to Christ’s call in his life. The testimony is in the power of every Christian. Christians whose lives show Christ are the best explanation an inquiring mind will find if he is asking, is Christ the only way to God?