The other night, I read a critique of a ministry from the point of view of a Calvinist. He did not approve of this ministry, as the teacher held quite a different standpoint on many theological items from most mainstream Christian denominations. At one point, the author asked whether we could even consider this man a brother, because, after all, if his theology separated from orthodox views so significantly, then he may only worship Jesus in name, but not in truth. The author then pointed to other religions that Christians often consider heretical, even though they worship ‘God’ or ‘Jesus,’ such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or the Jehovah Witnesses. They agree that these faiths are false voices that lead sheep astray, rather than to a saving faith in Jesus Christ because their theology differs so greatly from orthodoxy, despite confession of Jesus name in their teachings.
I have had the same argument used against me. In speaking with a Presbyterian pastor some time ago, I mentioned that I did not attend a local church. I gave him a surface level overview of the many, deep reasons why I struggled to do so. From the point forward, he made a point to make it clear that he could not consider me a brother. His reasoning went that Jesus clearly said in the Bible that Christians must attend an institutional, traditional church. And, if a person said they followed Christ, yet did not follow this clear teaching, then they were not following the true Jesus. They are following a Jesus of their own imagination. Such a ‘faith’ as it were, is completely misplaced, and would not lead to salvation.
I have heard these arguments used numerous times, often by Reformationists when they talk about those people who do not believe in Calvanistic doctrine. It is also utilized by numerous pastors who want to ensure that you attend their denomination, and not others. Finally, I have heard it said by closer brothers when I ask them this simple question. “Can a person with faith in Jesus, yet does not believe in the idea of a Trinity, be saved?” (Spoiler: most say “no, they worship a different Jesus.”) I have heard this “different Jesus” argument used so many times to proclaim that people are not saved, and/or as a reason to divide us into tons of denominations. Not surprisingly, I have a problem with this view.
I have often shared my belief that Jesus does not give theology tests before allowing people into heaven. The Bible makes it clear that one must only be born again, and that comes from placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Salvation is not based on good works, perfect theology, or anything in between. The thief who died on the cross did not know the first thing about the holy trinity, Calvinistic theology, or even the Lord’s prayer in all likelihood. Yet, Jesus accepted him because he had faith in Christ. Paul talks about faith being the key metric in determining whether an action is even considered a sin, when he discusses how some brothers celebrate certain holy days, or claim some food as unclean.
As you may guess, I refute this line of argument. In my very humble opinion, the main challenge with some religions is not that they teach faith in a ‘different Jesus,’ but, that they teach faith in something other than Jesus despite using his name. Many, teach faith in their organization or leader over faith in Jesus. They may use Jesus or God’s name to draw people in. They may even preach about Jesus or God on occasion. However, if you study their theology closely, or attend their churches for a prolonged period, you will see a distinct focus on the leader, the organization, and/or the tradition over the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As somewhat of a test, I often ask such followers why they feel God would allow them into heaven. Their answers often focus on their good works, or accomplishments in their church organization. Unfortunately, the Bible clearly teaches that faith in self, one’s works, or one’s organization, does not lead to salvation.
And, ultimately, that’s what I care most about when I talk to someone about God. Have you been born again? Have you repented of your sins and put your faith in Jesus Christ, and His finished work on the cross? Often, denominations say that we only need to divide on the critical or core matters of theology. Clearly, this is the heart of the Christian faith. Outside of that, I do not know if other matters of theology really fall under that umbrella. I hope you follow this Jesus with me!