Narrow is the way

There is a notion among believers that we must all walk arm-in-arm, agreeing on all things together, while making our way to the kingdom. Church sign boards and Sunday morning bulletins often boast slogans such as “come, let us grow together.” I’ve often heard proponents of line-dancing into the kingdom cite 2 scriptures in support of that notion:

Can two walk together unless they are agreed? (Amos 3:3 MKJV)

And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. (Acts 17:11 NLT)

narrowpathThe way I see it, two people walking together really only need to agree which path to take, how fast to walk, when and how long to stop and rest. There is no need to agree with everything another person believes in order to walk together for a time. There can be agreement in simply marveling at the beauty of God’s creation while walking together.

With regard to searching the scriptures together, during the time of Paul the only scriptures available were from the Old Testament. Bibles were not sold in book stores nor were printed scriptures commonly available. The village rabbi would have possessed a set of handwritten scrolls that were shared in the synagogue. It is likely that the Berean believers shared the scriptures by word of mouth from memory. “Searching the scriptures day after day” was more likely a function of discussing scripture from memory, than reading scripture from a book. From an honest cultural and historical perspective, our modern book-based Bible studies are a relatively new practice in Christian history; a practice that dates back no farther than the invention of the printing press and the commercial sale of mass-produced printed Bibles.

Within context of Acts 17:11, Paul was most likely walking the Berean Jews through OT prophecy concerning the Jewish Messiah, together with Paul’s own testimony concerning Jesus fulfillment of all Messianic prophecy. Searching the scriptures together had more to do with affirming Jesus as Messiah than deriving, proving and enforcing doctrine in the way Christians use the scriptures today.

Like the Bereans whose purpose in searching the scriptures was to discover Jesus through them, our walking together has everything to do with keeping our eyes fixed upon Jesus, the ultimate destination of our faith walk. I do not agree with the assertion that we are made to walk together in complete agreement in all things. In my experience, churches that maintain they are in unity through doctrine, are deceiving themselves. The unvarnished truth of the matter is, there is only the appearance of agreement through silence, because members have abdicated their beliefs to a human teacher who tells them what to believe. To voice an opposing viewpoint, is to be labeled rebellious and often results in expulsion from membership.

So what is the truth about walking together? Jesus says:

Go in through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there are who go in through it. Because narrow is the gate and constricted is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13-14 MKJV)

A narrow gate and the path that leads to it, is not traveled by large groups of people walking side-by-side. A narrow path and gate can only be walked single-file which means no two travelers ever have the same view. To illustrate the point, my wife and I spend mornings drinking coffee, reading and gazing out our picture window at the Strait of Juan de Fuca below. Many are the times one or the other of us spot a large ship entering or exiting Puget Sound. There are several pine trees between us and the strait, which means sometimes a ship clearly visible to Karen on one end of the sofa, is blocked from my view on the other end of the sofa, 4 feet away. The only way I can see what she sees, is to look from where she is looking.

In the same way that the narrow path prevents travelers from having identical views, the narrow gate forces us to cast off excess baggage and sometimes even relationships that hinder our forward progress.

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:29 ESV)

Concerning the “broad way (path) that leads to destruction”, might Jesus have been referring to the notion of group conformity as often practiced in man’s church whose siren song is “come, let us grow together”? Had I yoked my spiritual growth to someone else, because of the false notion that we need to “grow together”, I would still be stuck in man’s church, hounded for my tithe, under the thumb of a hireling, bound and gagged by the false doctrines and the traditions of men so common in denominational Christianity. Looking back, it’s clear that my real spiritual growth began only after the Lord plucked me up from the weed-bed of conformity and set me on the solitary journey of the narrow path.

Walking with the Lord alone these last 15 years, I am not as concerned about differences among believers as I once was; I’ve learned to trust the Lord to lead everyone to and along the narrow path and have come to see our differences as an indicator of how far we’ve progressed toward the Kingdom.

Note that I am still afflicted with an agreement mentality at times; it rears its head most often when people begin to compare specific beliefs or experiences. Agreement based fellowship can only ever fail because the exercise of comparing beliefs always exposes our differences which is dis-unity. No wonder man’s church silences the brethren to achieve the appearance of unity.

If however we fix our eyes not on the path, but on where the path leads, there is unity and fellowship. And really, isn’t having Jesus in common enough for fellowship? How has our criteria for unity become “Jesus and …”, as in “Jesus and the tithe” or “Jesus and the pre-trib rapture”, etc. Shouldn’t the criteria for unity be “only Jesus”? Perhaps that is what the narrow gate is intended to do: force us to cast off every “and”.

Our message is not about ourselves. It is about Jesus Christ as the Lord. We are your servants for his sake. (2 Corinthians 4:5 GW)