Traffic Cones on the Broad Way

One of the unique opportunities I had while I was a missionary in Australia was teaching the Bible in a local public school to fourth and fifth graders through a program called “Christian Religious Education” (CRE). Before I was allowed to volunteer for this program, I was interviewed. One of the questions I was asked was, “Do you believe in the Nicene Creed?” I had to admit at the time that I wasn’t sure if I’d read it and couldn’t remember what it said if I had. I added further that my religious convictions came from the Bible and not from any external document. This surprised my interviewer, who then stated her belief in the creed’s importance, adding that it was the standard for participation in the program. She then asked if I was a Catholic, Mormon, or Jehovah Witness. The fact that I wasn’t, perhaps coupled with the way I described my faith, was evidently enough for her to let me participate in the program.

From what I understand, CRE is no longer allowed in the public schools of the Australian state where I lived. As an American, I was surprised it even existed when I lived there; the Bible hasn’t been allowed in American public schools for decades. The entire western world, a world which at one time would have nominally identified as “Christian,” has now embraced a solidly post-Christian worldview. Christianity is tolerated to the extent it tolerates everything else; it is seen as one way among any number of equally valid religious or non-religious lifestyles. Religious pluralism, the drive to see religions coexist in harmony, and religious syncretism, the “pick and choose” combining of differing religious philosophies, are the norms of today.

As some people of faith survey the current religious landscape, they ask the question, “Why? How did we get here?” The blame is often placed upon prominent atheistic individuals and agencies wielding their influence over public policy. Doubtless this has something to do with it. However, I’d argue that the kind of mindset I encountered when I was interviewed for the CRE program does as well.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). This verse screams exclusivity: not one way, truth, and life among many, but a singular way, truth, and life granting unique and unshared access to God. Does this sound narrow or bigoted? While Jesus would deny the hateful connotations of that latter word, He wouldn’t shy away from reality of the former. In fact, He didn’t: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus’ exclusive way is outlined in an unchanging Gospel pattern that cannot be altered and remain true. Paul said once and again for emphasis, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9).

The mindset that I encountered in the CRE program was one that surrounded me during my upbringing in the heavily denominationalized Bible belt of the United States. While people in those days did believe that certain professing Christian faiths were cultish and/or Biblically inaccurate, the vast majority had adopted a “go along and get along” policy. For example, I remember as a child going to a denominational Vacation Bible School class where the teacher asked, “What does a person need to do to be saved?” I answered, and the teacher said, “That sounds really good except for the baptism part.” This confused me, and I remember putting a finger in Mark 16:16 and another in Acts 2:38 and preparing to talk to the teacher after class. When I finally got a chance to do so, he cut me off, saying, “This VBS will be a whole lot nicer if we don’t argue. After all, we’re all trying to get to Heaven, we’re just taking different roads to get there.” Since then, I’ve heard that statement more times than I can count.

Jesus didn’t speak about different roads leading to Heaven. In fact, He said that there were only two roads: a narrow, difficult road found by only a few and a wide, broad way traveled by everyone else.

One of Satan’s greatest works of deception has been to convince people that they can put up traffic cones while walking on the broad way. That is, he’s convinced them to accept that there’s more than one way to Heaven while believing that they’re still committed to the exclusivity that Jesus preached. Satan knows the cones won’t stop people from pursuing the sectioned off portions of the broad way; they’ll only succeed in convincing those who put them up that the way they are on is narrower than it really is.

Putting up cones on the broad way is always subjective work. Who gets to say that one way is forbidden while another way is allowed? Is it the majority? Moses said, “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil” (Exodus 23:2). Is it an authoritative individual or group, or some kind of manmade document? Paul desired that we would learn through his example as well as Apollos’ “not to think beyond what is written” in God’s word (1 Corinthians 4:6). Is it the heart or what seems right to each person? Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9), to which the Proverbs writer adds twice, “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:22; 16:25).

Once you accept that you can put up cones, there’s nothing to stop you from moving them. I think this is what has happened over the course of my lifetime. The children of people who said that there were many denominational roads leading to heaven now feel comfortable saying that there are many religious roads leading to heaven, even ones that don’t involve Jesus in any way. Religious pluralism and syncretism are the result of people thinking they have the right to define what is pleasing to God.

There is only one Person who has the right to judge what defines the narrow, difficult way: Jesus Christ. He is the judge that God appointed (Acts 17:31) and the one before whom we must all stand in judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10). Jesus has only one standard of judgment: not a democratic vote, not the findings of a council or synod, not a creed or statement of faith, not a prominent religious person or group, not the conscience, and not the heart. That one standard, as He put it, is, “the word that I have spoken” (John 12:48). Jesus’s New Testament, the Gospel, is the exclusive definition of the narrow, difficult way: nothing less, nothing more, and nothing else.

Some more advice from the Proverbs seems fitting in closing: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).                
-Patrick Swayne  
patrick@tftw.org

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