The Narrow Way Leads to Life
Beware of the dead-end streets!
SOME people think religion’s purpose is just to make good men. Their view is: “If one is sincere in his religion, that is all that is expected of him.” Others view religion as a drug for the mentally distressed or a help to those in trouble. They say: “All these religions fit some people’s needs; if they are doing good, that is fine!” Still others who think just having the name “Christian” is sufficient say: “They are just different roads, all going to the same place.” Hence, it is often proposed that these various roads be fused into a broad middle way, a uniting of all religions. The frame of mind behind such a view was shown by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale in the June, 1948, American magazine, where he said doctrinal differences “are of little real significance to the average man today”, and, “Not one modern Protestant out of 50 could tell you in what doctrinal respects Methodists differ from Baptists or Presbyterians from Congregationalists.”
This slurring over of doctrines is encouraged by such clergymen as Peter Ainslee, former president of the national conference of the Disciples of Christ, who once said: “Let those bodies that hold to baptism by immersion still practice what they believe. . . . Let the creedal bodies still hold to their creeds. . . . But let them abandon denominationalizing as one of the things for which they stand.” It would seem he was more concerned about having them stay in his organization than about their having true worship. However, true worship and right doctrine are of vital importance. The prophet warned: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee.”—Hos. 4:6.
That knowledge comes, not from the human ideas that have severed today’s religions, but from God’s Word. The psalmist said: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” All these religious roads are dead-end streets because they are not lit by that Word. Its light does not spread out to cover today’s many conflicting doctrines, for Christ said: “Go in through the narrow gate; because broad and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are the ones going in through it; whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are the ones finding it.”—Ps. 119:105; Matt. 7:13, 14, NW.
Sincerity alone is not sufficient for one to get life. “What man thinks a right course, may end upon the road to death.” “Man’s ways are always right in his own eyes, but the Eternal has the verdict on his life.” (Prov. 14:12; 21:2, Mo) Even being a “good man” is not sufficient. Jesus was asked: “Teacher, what good must I do in order to get everlasting life?” He replied: “Observe the commandments continually.” The questioner said he did that; he did not murder, steal, commit adultery, covet, bear false witness, and he honored his parents. He was a good man, but he asked: “What yet am I lacking?” The answer: Sell your belongings, give to the poor “and come be my follower”.—Matt. 19:16-22, NW.
No one is following Christ if he teaches a different doctrine; he is following himself or some other man. Today’s hundreds of brands of religion that are scattering with doctrines which differ drastically even among themselves should take Jesus’ warning: “He that is not on my side is against me, and he that does not gather with me scatters.” (Matt. 12:30, NW) They are following a broad and spacious road that will accommodate all these beliefs. Not all could be on his side.
If a traveler desiring to visit a neighboring country asked directions of 200 different persons and got 200 answers, all the way around the compass, north, south, east and west, what would he do? Take the advice of the person his grandparent took advice from, or from the one who wore the most peculiar garb, or had the most mellow voice, or to whom his sweetheart or marriage mate listened, or who had the most imposing or closest building in which to talk? Would he say that he does not talk about directions, as some people say they will not talk about religion? No. An intelligent traveler would get a roadmap to compare the different directions and see why they are so conflicting.
Where true worship is concerned, the roadmap or guidebook is the Bible. Yet today’s individual ignorance about that guidebook is astounding. Bishop Wells of the West Missouri diocese of the Episcopal church said: “The fact of the situation is that 90 per cent of our church members—not the leaders, but the average man and woman—do not really know what they believe and why. They might be called religious illiterates. Many persons do not know the Bible.” (Kansas City Star, January 31, 1951) But does this apply to just “the average man and woman”, as he implies? Not according to a survey made by Dr. George Herbert Betts of Northwestern University and published in a little book entitled “The Beliefs of 700 Ministers”. He wanted to determine: “All formal creeds aside, what do the ministers of our churches believe? Do they agree to a man on the beliefs within a single denomination? Do the denominations agree with each other on the great fundamental matters of Christian faith? Can we of the masses find in our spiritual leaders a certainty of belief on the crucial questions of religion such as warrants our trusting their insight?” To answer this he sent 56 basic doctrinal questions to 1,500 representative clergymen and theological students; 700 replied. Here are the percentages on certain representative questions:
Did they believe: Not
Old Testament Yes Sure No
prophets inspired? 67 5 28
The trinity doctrine? 80 7 13
Record of creation? 47 5 48
Biblical miracles? 68 8 24
In an actual devil? 60 7 33
Jesus’ virgin birth? 71 10 19
Heaven is a place? 57 15 28
Hell? 53 13 34
Christ said the way is narrow. They have certainly spread out. Some are bound to be teaching false doctrine, because Genesis is either true or false; the miracles either occurred or did not; either Jesus was born of a virgin or the Bible lies. There are not two answers to these questions, but only one. It is not that the Bible is impossible to understand, but that too many care too little about what it says, leaning to their own ideas, following men instead of God. By following their own theories they have turned from pure worship just as surely as did Adam and Eve, who were led by Satan into a simple matter of disobedience. Likening these false doctrines to yeast, the apostle warns that just a little ferments the whole lump.a—1 Cor. 5:6, NW.
The early church had no such confusion. Christ set the apostles on a cramped path, the narrow road leading to life. Could you imagine Peter going to Galatia and saying Jesus was not the Messiah, while Paul in Ephesus said he was; Paul going to Corinth and saying to be baptized and another apostle saying not to; Timothy in Thessalonica telling the Christians to study the prophets faithfully while someone else goes to the Bereans and says about these very prophets that Christ quoted freely: “Why, that is the Old Testament, just mythology, fakes and forgeries, good literature but that is all”? Of course not! They knew that Jesus was the Messiah, baptism was proper, the prophets were true.
How was it the apostles had such unity? It was not just because their group was small, but was because they had right doctrine, held rigidly to the truth, refused to be contaminated by false worship, refused to unite with those teaching falsehoods. Today’s religious leaders with their broad roads and plans for interfaith would have considered Jesus and the apostles narrow, for these early Christians would never have put up with such confusion as goes under the name “Christendom” today. Whether today’s clergymen know it or not, their lack of concern for true doctrine would have put them in the same class as the Jews who rejected truth, and to whom Jesus said: “You are from your father the Devil and you wish to do the desires of your father.”—John 8:44, NW.
The apostles got this true doctrine through obedience to God’s Word, through being disciplined by the truth; putting their own ideas aside and letting the truth rule them. Otherwise they would have claimed Jehovah as their father while doing the works of Satan, and would have fit right into the warning that “if you are without the discipline of which all have become partakers, you are really illegitimate children, and not sons”. (Heb. 12:8, NW) Legitimate sons of God have unity because they have the solid Christian faith that is built on the solid rock of God’s Word. It corrects former wrong ideas. “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16, NW) Discipline is not always pleasant, but it is necessary for proper training, and when the true Christian lets God’s Word correct him, teach him, reprove him and set him straight about the false doctrines of this old world’s religions, he is glad to change his ideas to conform to that Word. He then comes to unity on doctrine with all others who really do accept the narrow path of truth.
SOURCE OF UNITY
There is no need for the ignorance that has prompted today’s many religious divisions, save that the Scripture said that the wicked god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to the truth. (2 Cor. 4:4) In dividing they have lost their dynamic power, have changed, modified, corrupted and perverted the truth. They have divided over petty differences and national rivalries, have made new doctrines at will, and have gotten doctrines and tried to find a few Scripture texts to prove them, rather than putting their ideas aside to study the 1,000 pages of the Bible and find out what true worship really is. Such study would soon show the difference between what is taught in today’s religions and what the Bible actually says.
Take, for example, the doctrine of the trinity. It was taught by the pagan Plato, the pagan Egyptians, Babylonians, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Taoists and Buddhists, but was not taught by the apostles, as the January 1 issue of this magazine showed in detail. The doctrine of the immortal soul, according to the pagan Greek historian Herodotus, came from pagan Egypt. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the Jews got it from the pagans. On examining the Bible, however, you will find that it shows irrefutably that the soul can die, and therefore is not immortal. (Ezek. 18:4, 20; Acts 3:23) The related doctrine of hell-fire was also taught by the Buddhists, Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Phoenicians and Greeks, but not by the Bible, which says simply, “the dead know not any thing,” and shows that hope for future life is in the resurrection as a reward for right doing, not in everlasting torment.—Eccl. 9:5, 10; Job 14:13; John 5:28, 29.
For unity on spelling the dictionary is accepted as an authority. In religion the Bible is that authority. It shows what true worship was before it was perverted by all these pagan doctrines. Having taken three sample doctrines, the trinity, immortality and hell, on which Dr. Betts’ survey showed today’s clergy are at disagreement, we find that by accepting the Bible’s authority we can come to unity with all who likewise will accept God’s Word. But if such widely accepted doctrines are false, how did religion come to adopt them? Through the very practice of trying to make their interfaith projects a unity of organization instead of a unity of doctrine and broadening their organization to include all sorts of doctrines that were never a part of true Christianity. Frank S. Mead explains it simply in his book See These Banners Go: “What we call the Church is a snowball, rolling. It started on ‘the coasts of Caesarea Philippi,’ . . . it rolled westward gathering, absorbing, being colored by everything it touched, and coloring everything. It was Hellenized in Greece; Romanized in Rome; it gathered laws, philosophies, thinkers, tinkers, soldiers, saints and devils; it became in time a rolling leviathan of accumulated creeds and catechisms, convictions and conceptions, social custom and economic practice. In shape and size and structure it has changed mightily.” In getting off onto this broad road that could encompass all kinds of worship, it has rejected its core of true Christianity, for Christ warned that the broad road followed by the multitude leads to destruction.
JOIN THE FEW
It is for a very logical reason, however, that many people believe that all these conflicting doctrines and forms of worship are acceptable to God. They cannot see how God could possibly doom all these people to hell just because they are in the wrong religion, and so they think God does not mean what His Word says about the narrow way. By sheer force of numbers they think to high-pressure him into accepting almost all of them. The flaw in their argument is that the Bible does not say the wages sin pays is hell-fire, but that it is death, and that the gift God gives for righteousness is everlasting life. “For the wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23, NW) God does not bless with future life the indifferent, lethargic ones who think He owes them something, but rather those who thankfully put forth a real effort to find the narrow way he has set out, and follow it. The others have not proved worthy of life, so will not receive a resurrection, will remain in permanent death. Only eight persons were worthy of surviving the flood; not ten righteous men could be found in Sodom; only a few hundred accepted Jesus in his day; the vast number of today’s so-called Christians are that in name only. Christ was right when he said only a few would follow the narrow way that leads to the reward of life.—Gen. 6:1-7:7; 18:23-33; Matt. 23:37, 38; 1 Cor. 1:22, 23; Matt. 7:13, 14.
Study. Demand absolute proof for all doctrines—not just the “proof texts” all religions have, but the whole picture, all the Bible has to say on the subject. Prove what is right. Come out of this confused babble of doctrines on these broad streets ending in death. In harmony with God’s inspired Word, the One Book that is the sole basis for true united worship, follow closely the narrow way that really does lead to life.
My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and lay up my commandments with thee; yea, if thou cry after discernment, and lift up thy voice for understanding; if thou seek her as silver, and search for her as for hid treasures: then shalt thou understand the fear of Jehovah, and find the knowledge of God.—Prov. 2:1, 3-5, AS.
a The above reference to Dr. Betts’ survey considered all denominations together. The confused reply of clergymen within individual denominations on the sample questions on the Devil and the Genesis account of creation is here shown. The denomination is given, the number of clergymen that replied, and the percentage who believed, were unsure or disbelieved.
Denomination Believe in Devil? Creation Acc’t?
Replies Yes Sure No Yes Sure No
Baptist 50 68% 0 32 63% 7 30
Congregational 50 17 10 73 12 0 88
Episcopalian 30 46 21 33 11 4 85
Evangelical 49 71 10 19 53 2 45
Lutheran 104 97 2 1 89 4 7
Methodist 111 35 11 54 24 9 67
Presbyterian 63 55 11 34 35 7 58
13 others 43 77% 0 23 60% 8 32