There are two Christian beliefs. “Jesus is the only way”, and, “Go and makes disciples of all nations”. They have been tragically misunderstood by Christ followers. Proof? Over the last two weeks, no one in Canada would even ask that question. We’re surrounded by proof. Let's start with over 100 years of residential schools.
It’s a big deal to people to hear the words “There is only one way to God, and it’s Jesus.” I was at a party, a birthday party, and I’m introduced to a couple. “This is Tim.” “Hey, how are ya?” “Tim’s a minister in town.” “Oh, you’re a minister?” Just so you know, as soon as I’m introduced as the minister, something changes. People take a half step back. It’s like this invisible guard goes up. The cone of silence comes down. Oftentimes I wonder why. But then I remember how Christians can be, and the answer is less mysterious.
So, I’m talking to this couple, and they tell me they have sailed around the world, and consequently have had a lot of contact with Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists. And the woman said “Well, because of that, I believe that God can be found in a lot of different places. I don’t know how Christianity can claim to be it. The only way”.
She was very humble and gentle about it. It wasn’t a venomous conversation. The sun was shining, and the birthday cake was ready to be cut. It was all good. But that’s the question, isn’t it? “Why do you say that Jesus is the only way?”
How we think about this is so important. This is not just some pie-in-the-sky issue that professors of systematic theology talk to their students about in the hallowed halls of seminaries. Wrong thinking about this has left sad and tragic evidence in our history with our native peoples.
It’s actually much bigger than our national history. Colonialism was global, and lasted 500 years. It’s a mentality, a way of thinking, that says “We know better than you. We have the right God, and you have the wrong God, and because of that, we’re going to separate you from what you have.” It happened in India, in Vietnam, all across South America, in South Africa, across the Caribbean, in the United States. You could add to that list. Christian Europeans who thought they knew better.
And here, in this beautiful and blessed country we now call Canada, in the lives of over 150,000 children who grew up without their parents because our leadership believed that there is only one way.
Here are words you’ve seen before. If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 1 Corinthians 13
The writer is Paul, a Jesus follower. He’s speaking to people in the marketplace in Athens. People of all kinds of different religions. Do you notice that he doesn’t say “If I have faith enough to move mountains, but do not have Jesus, I am nothing”? He says “but do not have love.” Why? Because, he’s trying to bring people together, not divide them. Of course, for Paul, Jesus is Love, and God is Love, they are one and the same. But he didn’t say to them “You need Jesus”, he said to them “You need love”.
He’s bringing forward something to all these people who are of different faiths, and he’s laying it on the table right in front of them. He knows it's the common thread. It’s Love. We need to live love in our lives. For Jesus, it’s the most important thing. When different people recognize that common thread they suddenly have a common bond. And they realize they have the same God.
In 1883, Sir Hector Langevin was the Secretary of State for the Canadian Provinces. He said this to Parliament: “In order to educate the children properly we must separate them from their families. Some people may say this is hard, but if we want to civilize them we must do that.”
They just got it wrong. Horribly wrong. Not because they knew Jesus, but, because they didn’t really know Jesus. On some level, they thought they were bringing God into the lives of the Indigenous people. They didn’t recognize that God was already there. Love was all around. Family love, compassion love, the strong helping the weak. Communion with the earth and with the Spirit. Of course love was there. It was all through not only their spirituality but also in the way they lived.
The colonialists didn’t see it. God was already there, and they walked right by Him.
So, here’s one way of looking at this. Some Christians wouldn’t agree with this, but this is what other Christ followers say. Ask the question: Are you my brother, my sister? The way of knowing whether or not you are is found in another question: Are you living this life of love? We have the definition of God’s love, that all people of all religion see and say “Yes, that is the love of our God.” Patience, kindness, not self-seeking but humble, not proud, never rejoicing in evil. (1 Corinthians 13) Yes, that’s our God.
Are you living this? If the answer is ‘yes’, then, you’re my brother, my sister, my family. We are worshipping the same God. This love surrounds all you do. It may be in a different form, but, it’s the same God. Because, that’s what God is. God is Love.
For people who aren’t living in that way, for people who live lives commanded instead by greed, and ego, and arrogance, and hatred, then the great prophet Jesus, the founder of the Christian faith, says “Go, and make disciples of them”. They are the ones that need to find another road to walk. They need to be taught to about Love.
You see, that makes sense to people of faith around the world. Jews and Buddhists, Hindi and Indigenous and all the others. Yes, people need to learn to love each other. It’s what we all need. Go and make them into disciples of this Love. Go and teach them that.
But, for the sake of all that’s Holy, if the love of God is already there, please don’t try to make it speak in exactly the way you speak.
I don’t know why my ancestors, my people, my blood, couldn’t get this right. I have no answers for that.
But for today, our Hope is in knowing that it’s the exact same Love that will make it right again. Now and always.