Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Heaven - Members Only?

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Over at BelieffNet, I got into it with a member whom I will refer to as a Christian Exclusionist (CX). Now, I truly believe that everyone needs Christ Jesus as their Lord, but it just doesn’t make sense to threaten people with damnation. The simple fact, as I see it, is that the Holy Spirit moves us if we are going to accept Jesus, so there’s no good purpose in calling someone lost, just because it may not be their time yet. Worse, the CX was telling other Christians on the board that they were ‘heretics’ and ‘deceivers’, simply because they brought up Scripture indicating God might forgive everyone of their sins, and save the whole world.
This is a mystery from God, so far as I see it. What I mean is, we can see part of the truth, but not all, anymore than any person can tell the fate and resolution of every person of the earth. Some things we just have to accept on faith.
The CX presented these verses for his side:

John 14:6
John 8:24
John 3:3
Acts 4:12
2 Corinthians 6:1-3


I thought it would be enlightening to examine them in greater detail, to see their context and meaning:

In John 14:6, Jesus was speaking to His Disciples in the Upper Room, privately. This was not a saying to the crowd at large, but to men already promised as Christ’s disciples. Do you see the distinction, especially since this is a statement not made to the crowds in such words. Also, in this same chapter, Christ explained “In my Father’s house there are many rooms” (John 14:2). What might that saying mean? Also, Jesus said “it is the Father living in me, who is doing His work” (John 14:10). This means that what Jesus is saying, comes from the Father. This is critical to understanding how Christ may be relevant, after all, to people who lived and died without ever hearing the name. In that same chapter, Jesus also said about the Holy Spirit, “The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him” (John 14:17). Therefore, if anyone shows signs of the Holy Spirit, they must be right with the Father in their hearts, or else they could not have the Spirit! Further, Jesus in that same chapter explained “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” (John 14:21) That is, the words of a doctrine are not the measure, but whether one does what is right.

In John 8, before verse 24, Jesus addressed the matter of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus knows her guilt, but instead of acquiescing to her death, He simply wrote on the ground, then said “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). When the men went away, Jesus asked the woman, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’
“No one, sir
’ she said.
Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now, and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:10-11)

After this, the Pharisees, angry that Jesus did fall for their trap (see verse 6), tried to claim Jesus was speaking without authority. Jesus explained, “You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.” (John 8:15). The verse you cited (24), in that light, is quite a different thing, a warning to change but not a threat. Jesus was not speaking to people trying to do what was right, but warning the Pharisees that if you embrace sin, you cannot be free of it.

In John 3:3, the CX quoted Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, but stopped short of the full explanation. Jesus explained to Nicodemus, “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:5). Jesus went on to further explain that “the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6), meaning that the distinction is not part of this mundane, physical life at all, but a creation of a spiritual being. Jesus warned that “whoever does not believe stands condemned already” (John 3:18), not to threaten the non-Christian but to explain our need for Christ; after all, it would be fair to say that Peter did not believe at the moments he denied Christ, and that Thomas did not believe until he saw Christ risen from the dead, yet neither of those men was condemned for all time, as you seem to think. John the Baptist explained that salvation comes from God, as do all good things, saying “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven” (John 3:27), which is to say that we cannot choose to believe, but will believe as God makes it possible for us.

In Acts 4, Peter and John are seized by the Sadducees (Acts 4:1-3), and brought before the Sanhedrin. The verse (4:12) cited was part of their explanation for how they healed a crippled man. Note further that they specify that Salvation is found “in no one else”, and under “no other name under heaven” (Acts 4:12). They do not deny truth of justice and obedience, but simply explain the name of the Savior, to prove to the Sanhedrin that the Jesus put to death on the cross was and is the promised Messiah, the Anointed One who would be the servant through whom the Father would work Salvation (see also Acts 4:25).

Finally, I found the 2 Corinthians 6:1-3 citation interesting, for in that same chapter Paul wrote that a believer should act and speak “in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love” (2 Corinthians 6:6). This is a crucial element to the message.

So, a deeper look at the verses, shows that God acts with complete Sovereignty, that forgiveness and love are His hallmarks at all points, and that no one may act in love for God or their neighbor without the Holy Spirit’s presence. I note also, that the only Gospel account he cited was John. I wonder if one might consider the Beatitudes, or perhaps the faith of the Centurion? These too speak to God and Christ, in a gentler manner than some seem aware.

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