No-one Comes to the Father Except By Me? Sermon Notes for Easter 5A

I have noticed that often when the subject of other faiths is brought up in conversation, if a conservative Christian is part of the conversation, sooner or later the verse “No-one comes to the Father except by me” is produced, almost like a rabbit out of the hat as a final way of dismissing any possibility of good and genuine meaning being found in any other religion.

This particular verse is often taken to mean that since Jesus appears to be saying that he is essential to salvation, it therefore follows that Christ – and hence Christianity – is the only religion that counts. Regrettably it is also only too obvious that if this is placed alongside a basic intolerance of anyone who has a different faith, that it acts as an excuse for riding roughshod over anyone following another faith.

Unfortunately which ever way we look at it, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that often the excused intolerance then becomes a short step from over-looking acts of unkindness. I remember reading that in one of history’s many periods of picking on the Jews to the point where they were persecuted, sometimes killed in racist pogroms and driven out of many countries , following reports that Jews on Crete were being mistreated, the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church Patriarch Metrophanes III (1520-1580) wrote a letter to the Greek Orthodox in Crete (1568) .…. This document written by the Patriarch states, “Injustice … regardless to whomever acted upon or performed against, is still injustice.” In short he was saying you can’t actually be Christian without embracing tolerance as a concomitant of Christian love.

I want to suggest that coming to the Father by Jesus doesn’t in fact mean adopting a formula for salvation – so much as it means adopting a way of life of the sort Jesus not only advocated but lived. Jesus offered compassion to the heretics Samaritans – that is why he cured the Samaritan leper and broke the social taboos by spending time with the Samaritan woman by the well. We can hardly say we are coming to the Father by accepting the way of Jesus without accepting his good example and also making time for those who we think are heretics.
OK a test. We all get religious visitors from other faiths, how we treat them may show how we have accepted the way of Jesus. Would we pass on that one?

Another test. Jesus said forgive seventy times seven. Forgiveness is therefore high on his list of attitudes which are part of his ways. Are we forgiving as Jesus was forgiving? Remember he wouldn’t let Peter defend him when he was taken for crucifixion. He forgave people time after time. He was even reported as offering forgiveness to a robber on the Cross. Do our attitudes to crime take this into account – or do we advocate punishment? If coming to the Father by Christ means adopting Jesus way maybe we have to re-examine our attitudes to forgiveness – whether it be attitudes to those who live in our society, or those who live elsewhere.

Do we for example agree that those in our families, those who offend against society – or even those who offend our Nation by attacking our allies – are all to be forgiven?
What is often seen as placing Christianity ahead of other religions may need a rethink in the light of another of Jesus’ sayings in reply to the question…master when did we see you hungry…..? And his reply except you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it to me? I wonder if coming to the Father by way of Jesus is tied to such attitudes to others regardless of which faith leads us to that point?

Strangely enough many who remember that Jesus said – no one comes to the Father except by me – forget the next few words from that same section: Greater things than this you will do. This is not so much a challenge to outdo the master in the miracle department so much as it is a call to pick up the essential mission and take it further. We do ourselves an injustice if we think the essential mission is to come to Church to listen.
If our faith has nothing to do with the real world – why would we bother to have one?

Can I suggest that as well as the Bible we should look to the daily newspaper to keep us informed and invite us to consider where we might help in mission. For example I was delighted to hear that our Parish has given several thousand dollars (and knitted 91 beanies) for the affected families from the Christchurch Earthquake. Mind you that was an in-your-face event and we could hardly miss the need for action.

There is also what happens large scale. During the week there was a worrying piece of journalism which drew attention to the way New Zealand has reduced the amount of overseas aid it now offers. Remember two years ago it had reached 0.3% of gross national income – and is now less than 0.26% of GNI. Even worse is that one of the things that got axed was our well-regarded aid magazine called Currents which might be good from the corporate point of view since fewer can learn about how the funds are now being spent with less effect. At the same time more of the expenditure on aid is now going into corporate overheads which are now up by 40% and more to the point the recent OECD report says that we are now lacking strategic focus, and medium term planning focus. All that translates to fewer people helped in needy situations. Since Governments in democracies act on our behalf, should we not then ask that they too respond in the way of Christ.

Since Jesus was very clear that the essence of his way was showing love for our neighbour, and that when asked who is my neighbour he very deliberately chose the example of a Samaritan, I cant see that we should pretend that following the way of Jesus is compatible with doing less for our neighbours. Or that we might possibly use as our excuse that they have a different religion.

I guess when you put all this together, the question should not so much be who else is eligible to come to the Father in some other way. The more urgent question is whether or not we realise that coming to the Father by Jesus is more than an unrealised faith statement? Perhaps rather it might mean that using Jesus as our way into salvation should simply mean adopting his way as our way. An interesting thought.
(Feel free to use any of the above with acknowledgement – feed back is appreciated – and sharing your own thoughts on the passage might help others)

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7 Responses to No-one Comes to the Father Except By Me? Sermon Notes for Easter 5A

  1. Cherel says:

    I have been praying for you, Bill, and was not intending to make any more comments on your site so as to avoid contentiousness, but you invited comments again and I feel the other viewpoint is called for in response to this teaching. I would really like to agree with you but find it impossible to embrace your doctrinal perspective so I’ll respond to the ideas that stand out to me.

    Justice and tolerance are not synonymous. Tolerance is based on a superior act of forbearance– an endurance of things we disagree with. Justice is distributing merited rewards or punishments. Yes, justice involves punishment and God is just and expects his followers to be just as well. Is there room for mercy. Yes, and the merciful are blessed. But mercy is mostly an action between free individuals. If mercy is always given, then justice is always denied. It can’t work that way. Someone will have to pay- as Jesus did. If the criminals go free, society suffers in their place. And the governing authority which allows that is itself criminal.

    Your reference to Jesus on the cross forgiving the thief next to him left something out. Jesus forgave his sin but let him die for his crimes. (Yes, Jesus had the power to set him free but He did not.) Jesus was both just and forgiving. Liberals (progressives)don’t seem to understand the dual concept.

    Christians are personally forgiving but they also believe in justice as does Jesus. Christians can forgive a rapist or a murderer on a personal level but still expect justice for the crime. Society can’t run on pure mercy. Evil would most certainly take advantage of that policy. The law of the state has a duty to punish criminals and Christians should support that law.

    As for treating people of other beliefs kindly. That should certainly be a given. We should treat anyone that we spend time with, with kindness. That doesn’t mean we should embrace their faith or refuse opportunities to graciously share truth with them. Sharing truth is the most loving thing we can do for them.

    As for giving, conservative Christians give more than any other group. They believe in helping fellow believers and needs of all kinds in hopes of drawing others to faith, but also for the sake of loving their neighbor– regardless of color or creed.

    Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone–especially to those in the family of faith. Gal 3:10

    This verse advocates doing good — especially to Christians– the very people you are forever accusing, blaming and thrashing for every wrong in the world– as you attempt to elevate every pagan and heathen doctrine. You might want to think about that, Bill.

    I really think you should get a better handle on what the Bible actually teaches before you try to reinvent the faith. When Jesus said He is the only way to salvation, He meant it. Offering the world “everything” but the truth about salvation is ultimately offering them less than nothing. They need Jesus!

    Coming to the Father by Jesus is a realized act of faith which changes the heart and life of every individual who does so. They become salt and light in this world and gain eternal life with their Father in Heaven. May the truth be known and His will be done.

  2. peddiebill says:

    I guess this attitude you emphasise is why fundamentalists are so often strongly in favour of the death penalty. We certainly disagree on definitions. Justice to me is about ensuring people get treated with fairness and compassion. You see it mainly you say as supporting the need of the state to punish criminals. Tolerance, I see as trying our best not to let our prejudice affect the way we treat people, but you see it as meaning enduring things in others we disagree with. The clear message there (intentional or otherwise) is that you favour intolerance. I notice the bits in my sermon notes that were reminding about the need to find good in people of other religions, to take seriously our responsibility to give aid to the needy, and the need to forgive did not resonate with you. (Do you seriously suggest praying for them instead of helping in practical ways ). Does this mean I should never have noticed Jesus teaching these things were important? If he did say those things, why do you consider my agreeing with them as representing faulty doctrine?However I did note your need to yet again draw attention to the weakness in my theology and since there is an emphasis on practical compassion in my above post I can only presume that your theology has no genuine room for practical compassion no matter what you say about kindness. I for one do not feel treated kindly in your words. You certainly are not on the same page as the one who said “judge not lest you yourself be judged”.I know that you are continuing to pray for me but since I find the way you portray your faith as depressing in the emphasis you give to judging others, I suspect the prayers are not having the desired effect.

  3. Cherel says:

    Okay, Bill. Since you will not respond to the points I make there is no reason to continue corresponding. Your responses make it hard to believe you even concentrate on the content of my comments.

    Fundamentalists, like me, favor the death penalty because we (like our Father in Heaven Who made us and the rules for our behavior) value life. We don’t want anyone to have to die before their time– victims or would be murderers who follow that path because they believe they can get away with it. We believe fairness and compassion belong first to the victims of crimes rather than to the perpetrators. Why should 25 people die young so a serial killer can live to an old age? During the millennial reign of King Jesus on the earth, the Bible says only the sinners will die young. That’s God’s perspective on justice, fairness and compassion.

    Everything Jesus taught is important and not to be twisted to mean something He did not teach. It is not superior spiritual insight when you say you know what He said, but you don’t believe it was what He meant. Do you really think you know the way of salvation better than Jesus, who paid the price for it?

    Please note, for the record, that when you presume and assume you are judging.

    I’ll close with one more scripture which shows that kindness is not always revealed by cooing and coddling — just in case you want to really think about my motive for corresponding with you.

    Let the godly strike me! It will be a kindness! If they correct me, it is soothing medicine. Don’t let me refuse it. Psalm 141:5

    I do care about your eternal soul. Your response is your choice.

  4. peddiebill says:

    Cherel, I presume since you have frequently told me you are praying for my enlightenment you would appreciate my prayers for your enlightenment in return. Please let me know. If that would make you a little uncomfortable, that might give you some insight into how I feel when I hear you think I need praying for. I suspect you are right about my wishing to return your very many judgemental coments about me with my own assessment of what you represent. Sorry about that, but I have a weakness in that eventually I get to the point where I have no wish to be criticised further. I already know my weaknesses, but be assured that despite my failings I am still trying to do my best.Remember I only have your words to go by and for all I know you might be a Mother Teresa in real life.

  5. Cherel says:

    Bill, if you pray for good in my life as I do for you, that wouldn’t make me uncomfortable. We are on a spiritual journey full of challenges so we all need prayer.

    I am sorry that you perceive my comments about your doctrinal perspective as being judgemental. I do not have a desire to judge you. I am very aware of the “judge not that you be not judged” teaching of scripture and try to practice it, as I am very aware that we all have enough faults and failures to go around. We all need mercy and the merciful will receive it. I’m counting on that. 🙂

    Our doctrinal disagreements are not personal for me, but I realize it can feel personal when we are attached to our beliefs. My main focus in our discussions has been a defense of a Biblical perspective based on the inspired Word of God as the final authority for living our lves. I believe the loss of a Biblical perspective leads to ruin. If Christians are living like the world– as you point out– it is because they are not following Biblical precepts. And when the light is put out and the salt has lost its flavor what will we be left with? Jesus even challenged his disciples with the question, “When the Son of Man returns will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) It was, of course, to spur them to evangelistic action.

    “Making you think” is a good byline if you offer someone worthwhile material to think on. Jesus challenged the people to think beyond the law but in doing so He set a higher not a lessor standard. For example, He said, “You have heard it said, ‘Do not commit adultery’, but I say, a man who looks on a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” He gave many examples of ways to lift the bar for moral behavior. Man does not raise his standards by accident. He must be properly instructed and there is no other source of wisdom given among men that compares to the teachings of the Bible. Without God’s Word and the Spirit’s influence in this world, human life on the planet would already have been wiped out by man’s inhumanity to man.

    Proverbs instructs us on giving advice to others.
    10:31 The godly person gives wise advice, but the tongue that deceives will be cut off.
    10:32 The godly speak words that are helpful, but the wicked speak only what is corrupt.
    12:26 The godly give good advice to their friends; the wicked lead them astray.
    27:5 An open rebuke is better than hidden love!
    27:6 Wounds from a friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.
    27:9 The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.

    I am impressed with your desire to help people in the physical realm. You seem to be quite involved in an active lifestyle of reaching out in many ways. For that I commend you. I gather you are a very congenial fellow with a good sense of humor. 🙂 You said you are trying to do your best. I would encourage you to be faithful to scripture to accomplish that end.

    Our differences remain doctrinal– which for me is foundational– critical!

    Proverbs says, “Guard your heart with all diligence for out of it spring the issues of life.” The heart includes the thought life. Right thinking leads to right living. It is the easiest thing in the world to find fault and to create doubt. It’s harder to instill truth and encourage faith. But, I believe that is what we are called to do.

  6. Cherel says:

    In reading back through I decided to specifically respond to some more of your comments for the sake of clarification.

    You said, ” Justice to me is about ensuring people get treated with fairness and compassion. You see it mainly you say as supporting the need of the state to punish criminals.”

    CJ: First, strictly speaking Justice is about doing the right thing concerning merited rewards and punishments and has no room for compassion. For Compassion to act, Justice & Mercy must Kiss and find a way to cover for the wrong done. If this were not the case, Jesus would not have died. (His flesh didn’t want to.)

    Second, I see Justice as God’s desire to protect and preserve the righteous (innocent).
    Punishment is God’s way of preserving society. I personally wish there was another way. I’m very naive concerning true wickedness and have a very hard time with making a call for Justice to be done but I know it must for society to survive. The Bible actually says, “God loves justice.” That means we should to.

    You said, “Tolerance, I see as trying our best not to let our prejudice affect the way we treat people, but you see it as meaning enduring things in others we disagree with. The clear message there (intentional or otherwise) is that you favour intolerance. ”

    I don’t relate to people with tolerance because I see it as less than love. I don’t see it as a positive word but negative. Jesus never told us to tolerate our enemies, He said to love them. Love goes much farther than tolerance ever will.

    Father Dominique Pire
    Let us not speak of tolerance. This negative word implies grudging concessions by smug consciences. Rather, let us speak of mutual understanding and mutual respect.

    Edmund Burke (1729-1797) British political writer There is a limit at which forbearance ceases to a virtue. (I guess he means when justice is sacrificed.)

    You said, “I notice the bits in my sermon notes that were reminding about the need to find good in people of other religions, to take seriously our responsibility to give aid to the needy, and the need to forgive did not resonate with you.”

    All of those ideas resonated with me. I agreed with you about all three. I don’t personally know very many people of other religions but I have done some reading and found some truth in other religious writings and I believe we should accept truth wherever we find — even appreciate it — but I wouldn’t abandon Jesus for any other religion because He’s the way to eternal life.

    I’ve told you before we believe in and participate in giving to the needy.

    And, I clearly addressed forgiveness. Jesus said if we don’t forgive, we cannot be forgiven. But, He was clearly speaking of personal forgiveness not a society abandoning justice. If you think about the parable where the Ruler forgave a debtor a huge debt and the forgiven man refused to forgive another man a very small debt, you can see the personal cost involved. For the Ruler to forgive the huge debt, He had to personally bear the loss but He could afford it and he chose take a loss and let the debtor go free. Then we see the man who was freely forgiven of a huge (impossible for him to pay) debt go out and have a peer imprisoned for a very small debt that could have been paid if he’d just given the debtor a little time. The Ruler had shown compassion and exercised mercy toward him but he demanded justice of another. The message is clear that we are to personally forgive our debtors, which will cost us, because we have all been forgiven far more than we will ever forgive.

    However, again, this teaching is not dealing with society. The Bible teaches that governmental authority is ordered of God to punish wrong doers and protect society. And, Christians are instructed to support legimate ministers of justice as “they do not bear the sword in vain.”

    I hope this helps gives you a better understanding of where I am coming from.

    • peddiebill says:

      At least in your last two comments you are not continuing to tell me about my short-comings as a Christian and you are starting to respond to the issues. Things are looking up.

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