Next to the orthodox Christian belief that God intends marriage and sex to be between one man and one woman, the least popular Christian belief in our culture is that salvation is found through Christ alone. In a recent sermon, I described a difficult argument that I had with a fellow United Methodist pastor on this very topic. As with sex and marriage, there’s no ambiguity on this question in scripture: If we’re wrong about the exclusivity of God’s revelation in Christ, God’s Word is unreliable, to say the least. Even if there were still a gospel, we would no longer know what it is. We would be unable to say anything for certain about God and our relationship to him.
Even a few decades ago, this belief in the exclusivity of Christ was widely embraced and uncontroversial. As of this past Wednesday, however, when a presidential nominee for deputy budget director stood for a senate confirmation hearing, this belief is now so offensive that it might disqualify someone from serving in government.
Although I’m not sure how the religious convictions of the nominee, Russell Vought, impinge on his ability to be an effective deputy budget director, I’m not interested here in political and constitutional questions. (That’s not what my blog is for.) Let me simply defend the nominee on theological grounds. Mr. Vought is one-hundred percent correct that Muslims “stand condemned” for their sins, and, ultimately, for rejecting the only means by which anyone can be saved: God’s Son Jesus. All of humanity, regardless of their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, stand condemned. Even nominal Christians who profess Christian faith but whose lives show no evidence of repentance are in grave danger.
The good news is that God loves every one of these unbelievers or nominal believers and is at work, right now, to bring them into a saving relationship with him. In fact, he’s calling people like Vought, me, and anyone else who follows Christ to play a role in this missionary effort. God’s plan of salvation includes using us Christians to save others.
In last week’s sermon (which I’ll post here soon, I promise), I said the following:
In Acts 20, when Paul was saying goodbye to the church at Ephesus, a church that he started and a church at which he ministered for over three years, he discussed his ministry there, his boldness in proclaiming the gospel to everyone he possibly could, and said, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”
Do you know what he’s saying there? He’s saying that if he failed to proclaim the gospel to someone that God put in his path while he was there in Ephesus; and that person never otherwise had an opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel; and that person died and as a result went to hell; then that person’s blood would be on Paul’s hands. Why? Because the Holy Spirit put that person in Paul’s life for a reason—so that Paul could share the gospel with him or her. That might have been that person’s only chance at salvation. Paul understood, as we so often fail to understand, that what we do here—what we do as ministers of the gospel at Hampton United Methodist Church—has eternal consequences!
I went on to say that I’m not like Paul. I can’t say for sure that I’m “innocent of the blood of all,” because I have often failed to share the gospel as I should. Moreover, I worry that my personal conduct might have turned people away from the gospel entirely!
Needless to say, I’ve repented.
I only hope that, upon close inspection of my life today, these offended senators would find my beliefs equally “indefensible,” “hateful,” and “Islamophobic.”