I cannot imagine why someone would dedicate himself to a religion that provides just one of many equally valid paths to salvation. That’s why I was taken aback by my old friend Neal Boortz’ somewhat harsh treatment of a man who called his show some months ago and quoted John 14:6 as evidence that Christianity is the only path to heaven.
Of course, Neal isn’t a pastor and he tends to do things just to get a rise out of people. So his comments weren’t nearly as objectionable as Joel Osteen’s sidestepping of the “How many paths to heaven?” question on Larry King Live a few years ago.
For those who missed it, Joel was asked by Larry whether people had to know Jesus in order to get to heaven. But, for some reason, Joel couldn’t bring himself to provide the simple answer found in John 14:6. It reads as follows in the NASB translation: “Jesus said to him (Thomas), ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.’”
Just in case there are any millionaire pastors out there pretending not to get it (because it may hurt their book sales), the point is also made in John 10:7-9: “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.’”
Just in case anyone read the previous passage as saying, in effect, “I am one of many doors,” Matthew 7:13-14 is instructive: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
Joel Osteen’s reply to Larry King’s question about Jewish salvation should have been addressed with a reference to the Parable of the Great Supper found in Luke 14:15-24. After rejecting Christ, Israel was shut out of the banquet. Many of those invited were killed in A.D. 70, the year the Temple fell. Luke 14:24 sums it all up (prophetically) in a single sentence: “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.”
And, finally, even the wealthiest of men aspiring to be a man of God (and multi-millionaire best-selling author) cannot possibly be confused after reading Acts 4:12: “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
It should be evident to anyone having only a passing familiarity with the New Testament that Joel Osteen is simply pretending not to know the answer to the rather direct question posed to him by Larry King. At least two inter-related motives (for his decision to feign ignorance) are rather obvious.
1. Joel is getting rich from book sales and is concerned that telling the truth about the exclusive truth claims of Christianity would result in a loss of income. It should go without saying that avoiding the truth results in a loss of souls for Christ. But Joel Osteen seems to care more about lost income than he does about lost souls.
2.Joel Osteen has a really big church and is concerned that telling the truth about the exclusive truth claims of Christianity would result in a loss of congregants. Of course, many pastors are overly concerned with the size of their churches. When they gather at conferences, “How big is your church?” is always the question most frequently asked by one pastor to another. And, of course, the bigger churches do tend to be the wealthier ones. It all goes back to the choice between lost souls and lost income.
Clearly, pastors who can’t figure out – or pretend to be unable to figure out - the clear meaning of John 14:6 will have some explaining to do when they reach the other side. Much is expected of those entrusted with the awesome responsibility of leading a church.
Perhaps less is expected of the nominal Christian who flippantly dismisses the exclusive truth claims of Christianity. But, regardless, he is wrong to do so for at least two reasons:
1. When people shy away from exclusive truth claims they reinforce a dangerous trend in our society; namely the spread of relativism as a moral philosophy. Nowadays, people so frequently utter the phrase “It’s true for you, but not for me” that the words “truth” and “belief” are seen as synonymous. They are not.
2. The moment a nominal Christian denies John 14:6 he becomes an ex-Christian. If a man says that many religions provide a path to salvation he is, in effect, saying that Jesus was not telling the truth when he said otherwise on numerous occasions. If Jesus was not telling the truth then he did not lead a sinless life. If Jesus was not telling the truth he could not be God or even a “great moral leader” as some prefer to call Him.
There is a powerful tendency these days for men to want to appear to be, above all things, tolerant. But G.K. Chesterton said it best when he said that tolerance is the virtue of a man without convictions. It might also be said that tolerance is the virtue of a man without salvation. Every man must choose between Truth and tolerance. He cannot choose both and expect to dine at the Great Supper.
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