|But what does that mean?|
They have started with an interesting one too, with follow-up at their housegroups. I don't remember the exact wording of the latter, but it was along the lines of "How would you answer someone who thinks it is arrogant to claim that Jesus is the only way to God?"
Good question, and a tricky one to deal with from a church background.
I'll just throw a couple of quotes from John's telling of the Gospel into the pot, so you can see where church people are coming from:
Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:7-10)
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)There's quite a lot of context around these quotes which maybe muddies the waters a little, but it is easy enough, I think, to see why those who believe in the Bible consider Jesus to be the only way to God.
But what does that mean?
What does a non-churchgoer understand by that phrase, what does a churchgoer think it means, and - most importantly - what did Jesus actually mean by it?
I'd guess the non-churchgoer interpretation is obvious: it's a claim that "my religion's right and all the others are wrong".
I'd also guess a lot of churchgoers would, when forced to clarify what they really mean, come up with something similar. The one that used to irritate me with its obtuseness was the idea that it must be right "because the Bible says so". Our holy writings say we are right; oddly enough other religions' holy writings tend to reckon they are right. You're not going to convince someone who doesn't already believe with that, not in this day and age, I'd have thought.
Actually it's a big jump from what the Bible says to 'other religions are wrong' anyway. Both excerpts are in a purely Jewish context, other religions are not mentioned. The context of the first is about true and false teachers, true and false shepherds, and the second is part of a rather obscure passage about Jesus' death and return and the coming of the Holy Spirit, including the repeated claim "I am in the Father and the Father is in me".
Christians believe that through his birth, death and resurrection Jesus paid the price to save mankind. I think it would be difficult to look at the child abuse, violence and corruption in the world and not feel that mankind needed changing, whether you call that 'transformation' or 'rescue'. And I also think that when you look at the compassion, heroism and beauty which people can also produce one must surely feel that mankind is definitely worth saving.
The question then is how we become part of that transformation. Is it by joining a particular religion, or some other way? John 14 suggests that Jesus will come to take his people to God and John 10 talks about his 'sheep' recognising and following his voice. Again, are those people chosen according to their religion, or by whether they trust and follow the Good Shepherd when they hear his voice.
I have a personal interest in this, due to my own experience some 38 years ago, when I was an atheist. I had no religion, yet I had an experience in which, whilst I didn't hear a physical voice, I did feel a clear message that told me that I could be a part of God's people, God's family, by turning my beliefs around and following Jesus. I did and my life followed a different path. That incidentally is what 'repentance', from the Hebrew Teshuva, means.
I didn't come to the Father because of my religion, because I didn't have one. I didn't come because I believed in the Bible, I didn't. I simply came because I heard the voice calling me and I responded. Anyone can do the same, whatever your religion or your lack of religion. When the voice of God calls you, simply respond and follow where it leads. You may be surprised.