This morning, I started thumbing through the couple hundred emails in my inbox, and as I sorted out the junk, I found a jewel, someone in the church asked me to weigh in on this video of Katharine Jefferts Schori teaching on "is the only way to God through Jesus?". Apparently it's been going around on Facebook. Since it was the weekend, so I missed it as I was lost in my sermon.
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)
Second I saw several problems with this, but let me take three.
First, the promise to… thing.
A) Schori gets Ishmael wrong. Straight up. At least in terms of what the bible says, which is the only turf she should be walking as a “Christian” minister. Go read genesis 21. The only thing that is promised to the Ishmael is that he will be a great nation. He is clearly not the carrier of the line of promise. He is not given some special role in the salvation plan. That goes to Isaac.
B) Schori not only blows the Ishmael discussion, She seems to be missing that Jesus is the one in whom the promises find fulfillment. He is the remnant of the remnant of the remnant; and He comes as the Jewish messiah. First and foremost, he is the Jewish Messiah. That's Matthew's whole point. He's the promised one for whom Israel has longed. When a gentile comes and asks for help, he says, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel" (Matthew 15:24). He ministered (with super rare exceptions) entirely to his own people. Paul points to this reality when he says "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile (Romans 1:16-17). In some ways, you could say that the true Jews are the ones who follow Jesus, the Jewish messiah. Someday, they will. Zechariah points out that the day is coming when the people of Israel will get it. He says, “I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son (Zechariah 12:10). Revelation repeats that promise “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. (Revelation 1:7). That day hasn’t come, but it will.
Second, line Schori up against John 3:16 and Romans 10:9-10, .
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)
She says, any action is works, yet Jesus says whoever believes is saved. Paul says the same basic thing in Romans 10. Here’s the thing, her claim that we have turned salvation into a work doesn’t hold water because you cant even believe unless God makes it so. She overlooks election. We are dead in trespasses and sin. Colossians tells us that,
"In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:11-15).
Notice that. Dead in sin. Dead people don’t respond. it’s only if God breathes life into us that we can respond. Ephesians tells us God chose us. That’s why we can respond. It says,
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-- to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding (Ephesians 1:3-8).
Schori completely misreads how the doctrine election comes into play, and therefore turns this into, "any act, even belief, is works". But election says, you don’t earn the gift, but you do have to accept it, you have to believe. But you can’t even do that unless God acts in you. She’s looking hard to say that all are saved, but it’s just not the case.
What’s funny is that she has an implicit reference to John 3 when she says he came to save the whole world. John 3:17 says
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.(John 3:17) ”
But look at the context,
16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son (John 3:16-18).
Schori needs to be sent to the blackboard and be made to write “Context is king” one hundred times (or maybe "I will not get involved in this discussion"). You can’t rip that statement out of its context. Before and after the declaration that he came to save the world, is the declaration that belief is necessary. You have to respond to the grace (and you cant do that without election).
Third, Schori is confusing Common grace with Saving grace. The basic idea of common grace is that there are some things that are given to believers and non-believers. He allows some people to be gifted with this or that ability (including likes of Gandhi- clearly a non-Christian). This concept is shown most clearly by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount when He says of God,
“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45)”.Notice that while God is allowing both good and evil to escape his wrath, and receive His benefits (for a time), there is nothing saving in it. Furthermore, while to take Gandhi, the bible makes clear that
“The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases. (Proverbs 21:1)”.
There are times that God uses non-believers to accomplish His will. Was Gandhi used to:
Humbling the British empire that had become corrupt? Free an oppressed people? Something else? All of the above? I don't know.
But keep in mind, even Judas was used by God. His evil sin was used by God to bring about the cross. But that does not mean that Judas was saved. And while Gandhi was a way better person that Judas (as are the Dali Llama and the others she sites), and while they may have That doesn't mean that they are recipient of saving grace. Let’s not act like they are.
Now, one final thought. Schori's words aren't that bold. There is nothing counter cultural in this. It's standard pluralistic boilerplate, and from the looks of the audience she was preaching to the choir. This group, from the looks of it, was an upper middle class group (based on dress). Interestingly, that kind of Christianity has never flown among the poor. Those in the upper middle class lap this stuff up. "Jesus just wanted to love all". "Jesus came with a teaching". The resurrection is a symbol". Etc, ect, etc. The gospel comes and says, "Jesus came and lived the life you should have lived, and died the death you should have died, in your place and for your sins. He took your place, and then he rose, and that changes everything. Now, if you place your faith in Christ, if you believe, you have a new standing before God. If you believe, you become his child, and that means your past is wiped clean, and your life is changed now, and your future is forever altered." Go to the poor, see what kind of faith changes them. See what they are saying in the little storefront churches. They are not saying “lets get together and feel alright”, they are saying HE IS RISEN! He bled, he died, and he rose again, and that changes everything! Peter claimed this boldly. Christians claim this boldly.What Schori's saying wont get anyone killed. it will tick off many Christians, because it is Heterodoxy (heresy), but it's exactly what the world wants to hear. Christians declare a truth that may get you killed.
"Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is " 'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone. ' Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Act 4:8-12)
That’s my response to Katharine Jefferts Schori little video (and my take on the question "Is the only way to God through Jesus?"). What's yours? How do you respond? Are you ready for this kind of argument? This is the kind of defeater belief you need to be ready to meet when you witness. I’m all fired up and ready to take the world… I hope you are too.