One of the more common accusations leveled at Christianity is the charge that we are too narrow, too restrictive.
Why do we believe for instance that Christ is the only way to heaven? What about people who have never heard of Christ? What happens to them? What about good people of other faiths? Surely God will accept them won't He?
Let me begin this column by saying that such questions are legitimate questions and need to be asked. Sadly, while this seems to be a charge laid regularly at the feet of Christianity, the reality is every major world religion is exclusive in their claims.
There is a reason for that. Truth, by definition, is exclusive. The idea that two opposing ideas can both be true is only advanced by those who are not thinking.
Why do Christians believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven?
Those of us who claim to be Christ followers realize two important things.
First, Christ made the claim himself. "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" (John 14:6, NIV84). If we are going to follow Christ, it is incumbent that we believe His claims. If we don't believe this key claim, then why in the world are you claiming to follow someone whose word you don't believe?
Second is the prayer in the Garden (See Matthew 26:36-45). Jesus' prayer is simple, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me." What is Jesus asking here? In effect, He is praying "If there is any other way of salvation, don't let me go to the cross."
The fact that He did, in my mind, seals once and for all that Jesus is, in fact, the only road that leads to heaven.
What about those who have never heard of Jesus? The answer to that question is easier than most realize. It is found in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah where God says, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13, NIV84).
I believe that is applicable today. I believe that if people are truly seeking God, God in His mercy will find a way to bring them face to face with Christ.
We see examples of this happening all around the world.
One stunning example comes from India where a Hindu man bought a pack of cigarettes. In his area, these cigarettes were made from whatever paper was available, and in this particular case, one of those cigarettes contained a part of a gospel tract.
The man was mesmerized by the small portion of the tract that he had read, and went back to the store to inquire where the man had gotten his paper. The owner didn't know, and the seeker left dejected.
Arriving back at home, this man decided to check the rest of his cigarettes to see if he could find more of the message that had fascinated him.
He didn't find that, but to his surprise and joy he found the address of the tract society. He wrote them, they sent him the tract, and the man became a follower of Jesus as a result.
God does and will make a way for those who are truly looking for truth to find it.
Finally, what about all the good people of other faiths? Well, certainly if they are good, God is going to accept them.
But you see, here is the rub: the Bible tells us that there is no one good and that all have sinned and fallen short of the goodness of God. (Romans 3:10-18;23).
Our problem is when we define goodness we set the bar too low. We determine goodness by comparison, but the goodness that could earn heaven, if that were possible, is the goodness of God.
In order for a person to get to heaven based upon his or her own merits, they would have to be perfect.
Romans 10:5 puts it this way, "For Moses wrote that if a person could be perfectly good and hold out against temptation all his life and never sin once, only then could he be pardoned and saved." (Romans 10:5, The Living Bible).
As I see it, you have two options. Option one is to get angry over the fact that there is only one way to God, and refuse to accept that message. Option two is to thank God that He has made a way possible, and take it.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. Visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.