In the January issue of The Parish Paper, the newsletter of my parish, Trinity Fort Worth, our rector responded to the accusation being made repeatedly by Bishop Iker, members of the Standing Committee, and others in our diocese that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori does not believe Jesus is the only way to salvation. Indeed, some have been saying she denies the divinity of Christ.
I am sharing what Fred wrote because I think he does an excellent job of putting this issue to rest, and to make it available to others in our diocese who have been told the same thing about the presiding bishop.
The Way to the Father: The WORD
By Fr. Fred Barber
The Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, has taken a lot of grief over a brief answer she gave in a Time interview.
When asked if belief in Jesus is the only way to get to heaven, she responded, “We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.”
Katharine gave that answer in July of 2006, and it has been a favorite quote of the conservatives in our church who say that we cannot stay in a church where the chief pastor has such thoughts.
Personally, I would be astounded if the past several presiding bishops did not agree with her thinking. And let me go further, I believe that most priests and most lay people in the Episcopal Church would also agree with her. And, you would find a good number of Christian, orthodox theologians who would find her statement acceptable.
Of course, some of those anxious to leave the Episcopal Church would only say this is more proof that the church is filled with heresy and must be abandoned.
Still, God’s plan for non-Christians is a theological point that ought to be addressed, and not avoided. Does not our Lord say in John 14 that “no one comes to the father, but by me”? How then can our presiding bishop talk about “other ways”? Or how can Pope
Benedict XVI say, “Since Christ embraces all humanity, he cannot be foreign to anyone’s spiritual experience”?
“No one comes to the Father, but by me.” But who is “ME”? Is “ME” simply Jesus of Nazareth?
Then it is logical to assume that all persons who do not believe in Jesus of Nazareth as the Savior do not have a passage to the Kingdom of Heaven.
But wait. Jesus says this in only one gospel—John. And in John (Chapter 1) we have the concept of the Logos … the light of God … the WORD becomes flesh. The very essence of the Trinity is based on the Jesus that we find in John’s gospel. The WORD is pre-existent with the Father from the beginning of time. The WORD creates all things. Revelation about God comes from his WORD. The WORD is God’s LIGHT bringing knowledge of God. In Jesus the WORD becomes flesh, but the WORD has been before, and will be after the fleshly Jesus. When Moses went into the tabernacle to “talk with the Lord,” we believe it was the WORD he talked with.
When the prophets heard the WORD of God, it was that same WORD (that would become flesh).
So, when Jesus says “no one comes to the Father, but by me,” it is not a saying of narrowness, but of astounding inclusiveness. Any person who comes to know God and comes to the Kingdom, comes via the WORD. There is no other way. As Christians we know the WORD in a perfect way because we have the WORD in flesh—Jesus. Others who know of God have the WORD in a less perfect way, but the WORD has confronted them.
And it is of great interest that Jesus says “no one comes to the Father, but by me” not after he is glorified by the cross, but before. Significantly, when Jesus speaks these verses in John’s gospel, the salvation event of the cross has not happened. But the WORD has already saved the faithful men and women of the Old Testament.
Everyone who is saved is saved by the WORD … the LIGHT of God …the LOGOS. As Christians, we affirm and believe that that light is shown most perfectly in the WORD made flesh—Jesus. But the WORD has shown itself in other times and places.
Paul affirms this in Romans 1:20. The whole Old Testament affirms this.
There is but one path to the Father, and that is through the SON … the LOGOS … the WORD of God. We have the most perfect revelation of that LOGOS, but we do not have the only witness.
My friend the Rabbi will be saved because he has been confronted by God’s WORD, and he has responded. There are doubtlessly other persons and other religions where God’s WORD has made itself known, and God is working with people.
If this is so, then why do we do evangelism? Why convert people to Christianity?
Because we have the WORD made flesh. We have the gold standard of God speaking to man. We have a better way.
There will always be Christians who want to present the Christian faith, or a certain verbal formula, or even a certain Church, as the ONLY way that God is working with man. There will be Christians who will make it a point of doctrine that when Jesus said “no one comes to the Father, but by me,” he left all non-Christians out of the Kingdom.
But there is another way. The way that I personally believe John the Evangelist expressed in his gospel. The way the Episcopal Church has followed. No one comes to the Father except through his WORD.
And so, before you start to write the Presiding Bishop off as someone who should have stayed an oceanographer, you ought to understand that (in my view) she has a pretty profound grasp of Christian theology.
You can read the entire Parish Paper here.