Jesus is the only way?
Re “Article 17: Christianity and other Faiths” (Summer 2019)
Paul Doerksen made a courageous and good will attempt to explain how Mennonite Brethren and Christians generally do or should relate to other faiths. But this is hard when a fundamental doctrine is “Jesus is the only way to God” – implying other faiths do not have a way to God.
Doerksen tries to ameliorate that with another component of Article 17 in the MB Confession of Faith; namely, that God has not left anyone without God’s witness. However, this is almost a complete antithesis of “Jesus is the only way.”
It almost seems like an affront to God for any religion (others do it as well) to put its own doctrinal parameters around access to God and even defend it, as history testifies, with cruel holy wars as if “the first shall be last” (Matthew 19:30) could not apply.
Doerksen goes on to emphasize important aspects of Jesus’ teaching in ministry, to which might be added Jesus’ declaration, “to see the kingdom of God you must be born again” (John 3:3), meaning you must be born into loving God and neighbours and into embracing the fruits of the Spirit. That kingdom is where people make a practice of dying to self in order to have life more abundantly and where enemies become friends as Jesus demonstrated on the cross.
Does being born again not include faith in God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Does it not include seeing Jesus’ manifestation of God’s grace in the context of God? Or has faith in God been pre-empted by faith in fait accompli doctrine exclusive to accessing God? Could “Jesus is the only way” not be just as enticing without the word “only”?
Time to leave the classroom
Imagine a school that kept its students from ever graduating but instead constantly working toward no particular goal. Unfortunately, that seems like a common tactic in the church. Even though Jesus told the disciples to go out into all the world (Matthew 28:19), many of us prefer to stay in our churches, hoping that people want to join us.
Church activities, in my experience, seem to be geared mainly toward insiders. Bible studies, for example, often take place by invitation at someone’s home. Newcomers from outreach programs like Alpha or vacation Bible school can be left adrift unless they already know people in the congregation.
Part of the problem, I think, is that many Christians show little active interest in outside concerns. We need to get out of the churches to participate in projects beyond our walls. Promoting affordable housing and living wages or advocating for green spaces in the city, for example, are matters that many Christians could easily support.
The early church achieved its success in part because of its concern for the stranger, the sick, and the hungry. If we take an interest in what people care about, we might be surprised at the results.
Is it possible?
I have some questions – in no order of importance.
May we take cautious encouragement that MBs are on the verge of a new day?
Is it possible that in old and in necessarily new ways, we can re-embrace deep relational, social, and theological values that will allow us to effectively and invitingly relate to our neighbours about the Good News of Jesus with equanimity, openness, warmth, collegiality, and respect?
Could we rediscover God’s Spirit through listening and discerning together, remembering that we value the biblical notion of the priesthood of all believers and recalling the merit of a community hermeneutic?
Is it possible that our conference and congregational leaders would function as servant leaders rather than CEOs or apostles?
Might the MB Herald become where we share our family stories, our community discussions, and a safe place to wonder together?
Is it possible that our seminary is where our pastors and leaders are mentored and trained, where our Anabaptist theology is studied, shaped, and sharpened for us?
Can our conventions become family gatherings where we share good news and bad, where lay persons are as prominent as professional ministers as we build one another up and call each other out – without any risk of losing dignity and relationship?
Could we move toward those we don’t agree with or understand with curiosity rather than criticism?
I believe we have an opportunity and if we don’t take it we risk writing our denominational obituary, with no place to post it, with no one to read it. Yet, I am confident we can get back to just loving God and our neighbour.
Global and local realities
I want to commend you for the appropriate and critical focus in the editorial “Just Worship” (Summer 2019). It merits a reading for all serious-minded worshipers, especially by leadership with responsibility for worship in churches! It also invites attention to global and local realities.