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Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 58 – John 14:6b

the Exclusion clause

No sooner has Jesus said the greatest of all his I AM statements than he adds to it the clause “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Which is enough to make anyone writing about what he said to say ‘Ouch’ and wish he hadn’t! That is particularly the case if one is trying to write for people all round the world from many different cultures and backgrounds. For some (i) these words are not surprising or difficult; for some (ii) they constitute a direct challenge to the main culture and religion of the country and therefore spark instant, direct and obvious antagonism; for yet others (iii) they are a source of derision and indirect antagonism. In many ways the first two of those are easier to cope with than the last or at least easier to know what one should do. For the first nothing much needs to be said.

If, as in (ii) the antagonism is open, direct and obvious one does at least know where one stands and has to learn how to cope with the situation. I have recently seen a PhD thesis coming from one country where this is the case. The worrying conclusion of much of the research was that the major part of the resistance to the spread of the Good News was to be found in the church rather than from the surrounding antagonistic culture. Many, or most, in the church had become so defensive and reluctant to stand out against the surrounding culture, often unnecessarily so, that they constituted the main obstacle to the spread of the Gospel. Which is very sad. If you are caught in that sort of situation you need to look very carefully and prayerfully at what you do and don’t do. There is little I can say to help you in your case.

The major part of this comment is reserved for the third category I listed: the derision and indirect opposition common in the Western world. It is very hard to fight a jelly, and much of what happens in our world seems very like a jelly. It also needs some explanation, which I will now attempt.

Nearly 400 years ago a movement started amongst the philosophers and thinkers of Europe. They began to look for other foundations for their thinking than the Biblical scriptures. They reckoned they had found them in reason and rationality. Mankind they reckoned was able to work everything out for itself. They did not need any idea of a direct revelation from God to help them. At first they did not completely exclude God from their reckoning but turned him into an absentee God who had set the world going and then withdrawn from any active immediate involvement in it. But slowly and steadily the need for God has been downgraded until now it has virtually disappeared. The name give to this movement of thought is the Enlightenment, thus perpetrating the idea that this is light coming into a hitherto dark world. This line of thinking has been developed in the intervening centuries and still directs much of the thinking of the Western world. This is in spite of the fact that if there is no God who will eventually sit in judgement over the actions of men and women it releases them to follow their own line of thinking unhampered by such ideas. Unfortunately this has led to the excesses of the last century, Nazism and Communism, which have led to the deaths of untold millions of people in pursuit of ideas which have eventually failed to work. At a more personal and immediate level it has been necessary to find an arbiter for one’s actions. This has been found in the individual. Provided the individual does not adversely affect anybody else (and that is a very fluid and indefinite concept) they are free to do as they like. One of the most obvious examples of how this works out in practice is the modern attitudes to sex and marriage. Individualism says I will have a partner or a spouse for just as long as it suits me, no longer. Not even if it hurts my children or anyone else. I need to be the complete master of my own destiny. Of course, from time immemorial people have indulged in sex with others, whether they were supposed to or not. The difference now is that this is considered everyone’s right and promoted as the correct way to live.

How do we possibly cope with this sort of culture? On the one hand we live in the culture in which we live and we cannot escape it. On the other we have a distinctly different set of values, which constitute a culture, which is radically different. Any attempt to completely reject the surrounding culture normally and usually ends in disaster. We have to find a way to live in our surrounding culture and find a way to accept as much of it as does not contradict the clear Biblically promoted culture, particularly that of the New Testament. This is not easy. But we need to recognize that that is what is necessary and to tackle the task with prayer and determination.

Different churches have developed different outlooks on this task. Those who have tried to accommodate to the culture of the world the most have lost faith, members and momentum. We call them ‘liberal’ churches. Those who have tried hardest to stay Biblical in their thinking have survived better. We call them ‘Evangelical’ (not the same thing as being evangelistic which refers to efforts to spread the Gospel to as many people as possible).

This is in many ways an unsatisfactory comment on this important statement. But it touches on an important matter that we all, each, individually, have to work out and endeavour to live with and through.

May the Lord be with you as you do so.

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