It’s a line I threw out in a sermon a few years ago — a sermon focused on the importance of what I call the “horizontal beam” of Christianity (i.e., our relationship with our “neighbor(s)”).
Here, many of you know how I’ve likened Christianity to its core symbol, the cross—in which there is 1) a [vertical] beam (which emphasizes our connection with God) and 2) another [horizontal] one (which emphasizes our connection to one another). Both “beams,” I have variously suggested, are necessary for a full understanding and experience of Jesus, the Gospel, and our Christian Faith.
So, here I was, arguing for the essential place of our relationship with others in our Faith and Living: “There’s no getting to God without our going through our neighbor.” I remember at least one raised brow at the time—whose owner came to me at the end of the Service: “I think I know what you were trying to say,” she said, “but the truth is that I do not need anyone other than Jesus to have access to God!”
Technically, that Soul was and is very right. The Scriptures are quite clear: “There is no salvation by anyone else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
Still, there are ways that Jesus and the Gospel defines our relationship with others — if not as a key to our relationship with God, then as a key barometer or indicator of that relationship with God:
- Truly I tell you, whatever you did [or did not do] for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did [or did not do] for me…. (Matthew 25:40, 45)
- Jesus said: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
- Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love… Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us… We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:7-12, 19-21)
- By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
More and more, then, do I find myself affirming the notion that “there is no salvation apart from the church (or immersion in loving community).” But, here, I want to be careful and make it clear: the church’s role and place (in salvation) is not a condition for that salvation as much as it is an expression of that salvation. Here, there’s an acknowledgment of the cornerstone of Protestantism: namely, that there is no salvation apart from faith in Grace revealed in Jesus Christ. However, I can not help but also affirm that that Christ seems to point me to community and a life of love in community (with God and neighbor). God in Christ establishes life and living in communities [of love and accountability] as an essential “means of Grace.” (Is this not the basis of James writing that “faith without works is dead” – and his going on to illustrate this with a communal example?)