Friday, April 30, 2010

Claiming Jesus as Lord and Savior

The Gospel reading in the daily Eucharistic lectionary for today is John 14:1-6. This passage includes a striking (and for some, a problematic or even offensive) insistence on the uniqueness of Jesus for saving access to God:

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

It's unfortunate that some Christians use this verse as a weapon to intimidate, harass, and bully those who do not believe in Jesus. But in response, it won't do to go to the other extreme by denying the uniqueness of Jesus for salvation (as though Jesus is just one of many equally valid ways to God).

The Orthodox Study Bible commentary on this verse puts it well:

The way, the truth, and the life is a Person, our Lord Jesus Christ. He is so because of His perfect union with His Father (vv. 9, 11). The way we reach the Father is forever established through the Son. Jesus is the truth because He is the unique revelation of the Father, who is the goal of our journey through life. Christ is the life, the uncreated eternal life manifest in the flesh, so that we might have life. Because of this, No one comes to the Father except through the Son. While aspects of goodness and truth are found among all people by virtue of their being created in the image and likeness of God, salvation comes through Christ alone.

An even earlier Christian confessional statement summarizes the uniqueness of the One through whom we find salvation, and that is: "Jesus is Lord." If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not. Indeed, if Jesus is Lord, then no one and nothing else can be. And like John 14:6, the confession that "Jesus is Lord" makes a truth claim that excludes other rival claims to truth.

Fr. Matt Gunter recently offered reflections on what it means to claim Jesus as Lord on his blog "Into the Expectation." He writes:

The earliest Christian creed was "Jesus is Lord," i.e., Jesus is trump. It had to be declared. It had to be lived. It had to be, if it came to it, died for. Because it was true. If Jesus was just one among many spirit persons, even though a particular favorite, he could not – cannot – be Lord. And there would be little point in paying him any more attention than Spartacus or Socrates. Nor would there be any conflict between worshiping Jesus and worshiping Caesar. To claim Jesus as Lord means that everything else – personal preferences, familial traditions, political ideologies, national loyalties, other religious teachings – everything is measured in light of what we know of God and life in light of the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

This does not mean that there is no truth or wisdom to be learned elsewhere. One can hold emphatically that Jesus is uniquely Lord and still believe that the Holy Spirit sings in and through the hearts and scriptures of those who do not know him as Lord. Listening carefully and respectfully to their wisdom can be edifying. But, we lose something essential when we abandon the scandal of particularity that is the declaration that Jesus is Lord. With reverence. With gentleness. With humility. With forbearance. But, it must be declared.

I am concerned that in our reaction to simplistic, heavy-handed fundamentalism, we not slip into a simplistic pluralism that has more to do with the intellectual agnosticism of modernity than with Christian witness to the mystery of God.

Fr. Matt is right: as Christians, we must resist heavy-handed, holier-than-thou proclamations of the Truth at the heart of our faith. But we must also resist the intellectual agnosticism that downplays or denies the Truth. For Jesus, and Jesus alone, is Lord and Savior. And no one comes to the Father apart from him.

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