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The Narrow Way


Jesus said that the road to (eternal) life is a narrow one, and that very few people will find it. (Matthew 7:14) This is not a popular message in today's world.

In fact, it is so unpopular that almost anyone who teaches it is likely to be branded a heretic, and any group that teaches it is likely to be labelled a cult. Never mind that Jesus taught it, or that he said some other very hard things, the spirit of the world (and, sadly, the spirit of the church as well) today is that no one has the right to say that anyone is going to be lost... well, with certain exceptions.

You see, the big groups don't mind passing judgment on the little groups, and saying that the little groups (especially the most zealous little groups) are all heretics. It's okay for the big groups to do this. Because they are considered to be "right" just because they are the big groups.

The big groups condemn the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians, Children of God, Jesus People Army, Churches of Christ, United Pentecostals, Seventh Day Adventists, and a long list of other smaller groups; and their reasons vary according to each group. If you are part of the big groups, you can practise homosexuality, worship idols, believe that God is dead, say you are the one true church, or believe just about anything else that you like, and it will be tolerated... as long as you stay with the big groups.

But if you find a different way to draw the line between the good people and the bad people (like the good people are the ones who try to obey Jesus and the bad people are the ones who argue against obeying Jesus for one reason or another), then you are going to upset a lot of people.

We teach that Jesus wants us to obey him (or at least try to obey him) as proof that we really believe in him. This is a "narrow way".

But we also discourage new members from trying to teach the "narrow way" to people who do not want to hear it. Young people immediately want to tell their parents and their youth leaders that we have to obey Jesus (or at least try to obey Jesus) to be Christians, and we know from experience that doing this is going to get people upset.

(We are not afraid to upset people. But we are in no rush to do it unnecessarily.)

People in the system don't want to measure how good a person is on the basis of whether or not they try to obey Jesus. They want to measure people on the basis of whether or not they are well-liked by their friends and neighbours, whether or not they have a good reputation in the community, and whether or not they are related to them.

"If I was to believe you," said one father, "I would have to believe that your grandfather went to hell. There is no way that I could accept that."

People are easily offended if they sense that you think you have found something that they have not found. So, at the same time that we want you to take the teachings of Jesus seriously yourself, we try very hard to keep you from "preaching" to people who are not going to listen to you, and who are going to fight very hard against such a teaching.

Jesus himself said, "A prophet is not without honour, except in his own house and with his own family." (Matthew 13:57) And he moved away from his home town after the people there tried to throw him over a cliff. (Luke 4:28-30) If he had trouble getting his family to accept what he was saying, who are we to think that we can do better?

With family members it pays to remember that they are going to continue to know you for many years after you start obeying Jesus. You do not need to preach at them like you might do with someone you meet only once on the street. Your life will tell them more about whether or not you have found something that is genuine and lasting.

Jesus also had a difficult time getting through to the religious leaders of his day. Most of us assume that our religious leaders are sincere. So, when we find something new that really works (like the teachings of Jesus), we just naturally assume they will be thrilled to hear about it too. Don't believe it. It is a rare religious leader who is really looking for the truth. Jesus referred to them as "hirelings" or employees. They are committed to a particular employer (their denomination) and they are paid to preach the line that their denomination preaches. If you try to introduce something that is radically different, you are going to face stiff opposition. That opposition will become even more fierce if what you are teaching is the truth. And what could be more true than the teachings of Jesus?

On a number of occasions Jesus said to his disciples that they should hush up the truth. He told them to keep his miracles secret, and not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. He knew that there are times when it is wise to keep your mouth shut. And we would say that it is wise not to talk about the narrow way with someone who has not already shown a deep interest in finding the truth.

Even when I witness on the streets and someone comes along who wants to argue with me about what I'm saying, or about what the literature that I am passing out is saying, I usually have a few lines that I use to just walk away from them without getting into an argument. My favourite is "Well... whatever works!" Sometimes I vary it to "Whatever makes you happy!" or "Whatever turns you on!" I'm not saying that whatever makes them happy is going to save them. What I'm really doing is saying that I accept that they are not interested in what I am offering, and I do not want to argue about it.

You can't argue a person into accepting truth. Take note of early warning signs that a person is not accepting what you are saying, and leave them for someone better. Just after Jesus said, "Judge not," he said, "Do not give your pearls to pigs, or they will turn on you and attack you." (Matthew 7:1, Matthew 7:6)

This suggests that we should avoid arguments where we will be seen as passing judgment on people. For example, Jesus once said, "I'm not judging you; but my words will judge you in the last days." (John 12:47-48) He was judging them and yet he was not judging them. He knew he was right; but he didn't need to argue about it.

If we are not to give pearls to "pigs", then we must learn to tell pigs from sheep. We have to learn to "judge" where other people are coming from... not to put them down, but more to know (for ourselves) that they are not interested in what we are saying, and to walk away from them before they turn on us and start attacking us.

You can walk in the narrow way yourself, and still be broad-minded if you get the full picture of Jesus' teachings. He was broad-minded enough to associate with prostitutes, political extremists, people considered to be unclean, foreigners, and religious heretics. But his narrow way led him to attack the religious establishment, with its smug, self-righteousness.

You'll find that the narrow way gets narrower and narrower for you with regard to your own self-discipline, at the same time that it becomes broader and broader with regard to your tolerance for other people. It doesn't mean that you have to say that what they are doing is right; but rather that you are able to love them in their ignorance, in their sin, even in their rebellion. Loving them may mean telling them something that they don't want to hear. But more often it will mean just patiently waiting for the right time to speak, and doing what you can to love them in other ways in the meantime.

To sum up, we need to learn to walk in the narrow way ourselves, and to teach other disciples to walk in the narrow way. We should also proclaim the principles of the narrow way to the general public. But we need to discern when certain individuals do not want to hear the truth, and to back off rather than get into an argument.

(See also Another Cornerstone.)

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