“I respect all people and all of the different religions and ways that God has spoken to them.”
“I’m happy to learn about other religions, but you have your religion and I have my religion, you know. We can each follow our own way.”
These are both statements that I heard this last week. The first from a Catholic and the second from a Muslim. And the statements seem logical. I have my way, you have your way. It sounds nice and makes it work out well so that we don’t really have to make a solid decision, and what is more, we don’t have to offend one another.
And in one sense, I can agree with this. I can’t, and won’t try to force anyone to believe anything. So, in that sense, of course. Everyone is free to believe as they like. But they should be making their decision about their eternity, an eternity that they are choosing even now, in a way that is fully informed. We should each be informed about the truth of history and how we arrived where we are today, and we should be informed about how our faith and its beliefs and practices align with what God has been doing throughout this same history.
Jesus addressed a similar idea of multiple ways of thinking about reaching God when he spoke of a sheep pen. In this particular case, he was speaking to the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders and teachers of the Jewish law, but I think that we can apply these same words to situations like what I outlined above with our Catholic and Muslim friends. He said:
Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.John 10:1
Jesus is clear. If you do not enter the “sheep pen” through the gate, you are a thief and a robber. And of course, that is not a good thing. The sheep pen, as Jesus is describing it here, is the kingdom of God, and no one is going to be able to enter into the kingdom of God as a thief or a robber.
Jesus goes on to describe himself as the gate itself:
“Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.John 10:7-10
Jesus is saying that he is the one and only way to enter into the sheep pen. He is the only way to enter into the kingdom of God. He doesn’t, at all, discuss his respect for other religions or other schools of thought. He tells them very simply. I am the gate.
And that is it.
So if we say that we like Jesus, as many do…or we say that we believe in him, as many do…we should make sure that we know what he taught. We should make sure that we understand who he has called us to be. We should understand that Jesus didn’t bring unity. He brought division. He spoke of one way, and one way only. In him, and through him.