By porthkerryandrhoose, Feb 27 2020 04:36PM
If there’s something strange in the neighbourhood, who’re you going to call? I’d be hugely disappointed if you didn’t instantly respond with ‘Ghostbusters’! There was an absolute certainty in the film, that if there were paranormal goings on – spooks and spectres causing mayhem – then the ghostbusters wouldn’t be far behind to put things right again, to rescue the citizens of New York city from their distress. Advertisers too, would have us believe that we need saving. We have a couple of cute meerkats with suspicious Russian accents offering to save us from the tedium and toil of searching for insurance and we have the heroic Juan Sheet, with his kitchen roll – ‘wettable, wringable, strong-as-bull’ – rescuing our kitchen surfaces from spills and smudges. It’s true, we do need saving, but not from ghosts, insurance companies or kitchen mess; we need saving from something a lot more serious, indeed life threatening. We need saving from ourselves, our predisposition to go our own way, to disobey God, to be caught up in sin.
The articles of religion that we’ve explored together in previous weeks have dealt with our sinful state and God’s plan to rescue us through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus. The article we’re considering today continues on that theme – and asserts that we can only be saved by the name of Jesus. Article 18 sets out Anglican belief of eternal salvation only by the name of Christ and states: ‘They also are to be held accursed that presume to say, that every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For holy Scripture doth set out to us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.’ We’re going to begin by looking at what Scripture tells us about our salvation – for the foundation of our faith must be in what scripture tells us, not in the words of a 16th century bishop, however wise he may have been. We’re then going to explore the dilemma this article leaves us in, in light of our pluralist society, and how we might overcome that dilemma.
Our primary passage of scripture that helps us understand the method of our salvation is our reading from John’s gospel, in particular v6 of ch14, in which Jesus reveals the way to God and to heaven: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ This is a direct echo of God’s words to Isaiah in our Old Testament reading this morning – ch45: 5, when God says: ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.’ The Lord – the God of the Bible – is the one true God; all other Gods (called idols in the Bible) are not the true God. Jesus is God come to earth, so he can absolutely tell us the way to heaven. Take notice of the definite and singular nature of Jesus’ words: he is the way to God, not a way; he is the truth about God and from God, not a truth about God; and he is the life – the life of God and the giver of eternal life, not a nice way to live. But Jesus doesn’t stop with a positive affirmation of who he is, he goes on to qualify it: ‘no one comes to the Father except through me’. The only way for us to know God as our Father in heavenly life is through faith and knowledge of Jesus as God and Saviour, which John articulates towards the end of his gospel in ch20: 30-31 as he concludes his account of the signs of Jesus: ‘Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ Salvation only in the name of Jesus is one of the earliest teachings of the Christian church, as we can see if we turn to the book of Acts. As Article 18 tells us that ‘Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the name of Jesus Christ whereby men must be saved’, so we see in Acts 4:12, as Peter preaches to Jewish leaders: ‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.’ Here, Peter affirms that there is no other saviour except Jesus. Only Jesus saves because only Jesus died for our sins. When Peter says ‘no other name under heaven’, he means that it is God who appointed and named Jesus as the only one with the authority and power to save and rescue humanity. Lastly, note Peter’s words ‘by which we must be saved’. There is no human option here; we cannot choose to be saved in our own way, by our own version of religion or god. No, we must be saved through faith in Jesus.
Here lies our dilemma. We live in a pluralist society, where many religions exist alongside each other, where belief in no supreme being is as common as belief in one (or many). Many of us probably count people of other faiths or no faith among our friends, maybe as part of our families. Are these different beliefs different paths up the same mountain? Are they all different ways to God? Is spiritual truth plural and is it sincerity that matters? Is it not just offensive to say that there is only one way to God? For the sake of harmonious living in society, we focus on the things that faiths have in common, but when it comes to the saving truth, we must see the contradictions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam all believe that God is one but only Christians believe that God is one in Trinity. Other religions have other ideas about God – that God is many, that God is not a personal being, that God is merely a divine force. Article 18 states that it is not our professed belief, or our sect or religion that will save us. In fact, it goes further, stating that we are accursed if we believe such things. Religion can’t save us, nor can finding God in nature or the conscience of our hearts. Yes, God revealed himself to us in creation but people rejected this knowledge of him. Christians are in a position of privilege: we believe and trust in the saving power of Jesus. With that privilege, comes great responsibility. We cannot stand idly by while there are others who do not share our faith – we are called to share the good news of Jesus, as it was once shared with us.
But how do we reconcile our responsibility to share our faith with the pluralist nature of our society? Do we risk causing offence by telling people that they’re wrong and we’re right? Some Christians do, but I wonder how effective that message is. The Reverend Doctor Rohintan Mody was a Zoroastrian who converted to Christianity. He was told by some Christian friends that he was going to hell unless he had faith in Jesus. He recalls that he was very offended by their message. And for many people, that may be the end of the story. But, he goes on to say that he read this passage from John’s gospel and says, ‘I knew I had to accept this Jesus or reject him. But I knew that Jesus had risen from the dead and so I said, like Thomas, to this risen Lord Jesus ‘My Lord and my God.’’ Yes, we must speak the truth about Jesus’ power to save but surely we can do so with love and kindness. After all, we’re offering people the chance to accept the best gift they will ever receive – the gift of eternal life in the presence of God as one of his precious children. As with the question of predestination and election, surely the gift of salvation through Jesus alone should be a comfort and a reassurance, not a stick with which to beat those who don’t share that belief. As John 3: 17 tells us: ‘For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.’ Yes, Jesus spoke of the consequences of not believing in him and following him, but he did not accusingly condemn non-believers to hell for their unbelief. Instead, he showed them the way to God through himself – in his words (as we’ve heard today) but also through his actions (or signs as John called them) and ultimately through his death and resurrection. If we speak as Jesus did and do the things he did, showing his love for others then we can point the way to him effectively.
So, a counter-cultural truth in Article 18 today. There is only one way to salvation and that relationship with God as our heavenly Father and that is through faith in Christ alone. As Christians we can have the assurance that we are saved and we can proclaim with confidence – and love – to others that they too can follow the way to salvation; that they too can accept Jesus as ‘my Lord and my God’. It’s wonderful news – too good not to share. Who are you going to tell?