Have you ever wondered why Paul cast the demon out of the slave girl in Philippi? Doesn’t her message actually seem helpful? “These men are the slaves of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” Or so most English translations read. At first glance, the girl’s words appear to be a puzzling confirmation of the missionary team and their message. It almost sounds like she is assisting the missionary team by vouching for Paul and Silas to her own townspeople. A closer look, however, suggests otherwise.
Although Luke’s writings frequently describe God as “the Most High” (Acts 1:32,35,75; 6:35; 7:48), only twice do they refer to Him as the “Most High God.” Interestingly, both usages of this latter title appear on the lips of a demon-possessed person (Luke 8:28; Acts 16:17). The title may have been the demon’s clever attempt to deceive the Philippians with a half-truth. To call God the “most High” is to acknowledge His supremacy over all. However, to call God “the Most High God” in a polytheistic Gentile city like Philippi might imply that God is superior to all other gods while at the same time affirming the existence of these other gods. Ancient texts frequently refer to Zeus as “the most high god.” Thus the demon might have hoped that people would worship God among other deities as one like Zeus, the head of the Greek and Roman pantheon, rather than as the one true God.
The statement that the missionaries “are proclaiming to you the way of salvation” also seems positive. However, since the Greek text lacks the definite article before the word “way,” the implication of the demonic confession may be better translated “The men . . . are proclaiming to you a way of salvation.” The absence of the definite article in Acts is particularly significant. Eight times (Acts 9:2; 18:25,26; 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22) Acts refers to the Christian faith as “the Way,” always with the definite article. But in the words of the demon (and only here), “the Way” has become merely “a way.” The demon-possessed girl’s shout implied that Christianity was only one of many paths that lead to God, a lie which Satan has propagated with amazing effectiveness in the Twenty-first century.
Pluralism and inclusivism have permeated our culture and our churches at a shocking rate. My last four years serving as an administrator at a Baptist college, I administered a test to our incoming freshmen to see how well they understood the basic truths of the Christian faith. One of our most shocking discoveries was that although 90% of our students claimed to be Christians and 60% of them were raised in our own Louisiana Baptist Churches, 58% said that faith in Jesus was unnecessary for salvation. As long as someone believes in God and sincerely loves him, salvation is guaranteed. Sadly, the theological views of these students are more influenced by our culture than by Scripture. What they do not recognize is that behind the pluralistic and inclusivist shouts of our culture is the whisper of Satan himself.
Not surprisingly, the denial of the necessity of faith in Jesus for salvation extinguishes missionary passion and evangelistic fervor. The neglect of evangelism in the SBC has been blamed on several “isms” in recent years. But I suspect that two of the real culprits are pluralism and inclusivism that are quietly creeping into our churches. In my first year at the Baptist college one of our Religious Studies majors visited me to tell me that he had decided that rather than serving as an international missionary, he planned to pursue an assignment through the Peace Corp. What changed his mind? The Comparative Religions course. The primary textbook for the course was No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized, by John Sanders. The student claimed that the professor had taught that missions and evangelism did more harm than good. Those who never heard the gospel were promised salvation through God’s wide mercy. Those who heard the gospel were doomed if they did not believe. Thus exposing people to the gospel was, in a sense cruel, and was paramount to gambling with a person’s soul. He decided to offer a cup of cool water to the thirsty or care for the sick rather than expose sinners to the gospel.
Satan is a frighteningly clever theologian. He knows that when we lose our conviction that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the one and only hope for the sinner’s soul, our compulsion to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth, and yes even our commitment to carry the gospel across the street or next door is thwarted. We must recognize the claim that Jesus is “a way of salvation” rather than “the way of salvation” as a demonic strategy to kill the church’s witness. And we must fiercely oppose this diabolical lie.
One day in early August in 1908, Harold Braly and Lottie Davis set out from San Bernadino CA to the small mining camp in Skidoo where Braly was assistant superintendant of the mine and Davis was the postmaster. The trip across the desert normally lasted 5 hours by truck and so the two had packed only a light lunch and carried one bottle of water. Unfortunately the couple encountered one mechanical problem after another. Four days later they found themselves stranded in the middle of the desert under the scorching heat of the August sun. When Braly became delirious, Davis knew she had to go for help or he would die. She knew of a small town called Wild Rose located along a nearby railroad that she just might be able to reach on foot. She walked all day and all night. But the next day she was overcome by her hunger, thirst, heat, and exhaustion and collapsed in the sand. She forced herself up and began to crawl on her hands and knees across sharp rocks and burning sands for four miles until she reached the camp. Several times she collapsed into the sand and nearly lost consciousness. But each time she slowly lifted herself with trembling arms and resumed her arduous journey. As soon as she reached the town, barely alive, with a hoarse whisper she delivered her news which would ultimately save Braly’s life. No sooner than the words left her mouth, she lost consciousness and did not revive until the following day. If she had not seized that moment to expend her feeble breath and utter her message, Braly’s life would have been claimed by the desert. What drove this delicate woman to crawl across blazing sands, jagged rocks, and piercing cacti for four miles? It was the awareness that a life depended on her delivering her message. She was his one and only hope.
If a woman would crawl four miles across blazing sands and jagged rocks to deliver a message that would save a life, how much more should we answer the call to deliver the one and only message that can save a soul. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the one and only way of salvation. There is no hope for redemption apart from it. That conviction should drive us across the street, across the nation, and across the ocean, whether we run or swim or walk or crawl on bleeding hands and knees to deliver our message. Article IV of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 insists “There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.” I am glad that statement is in our confession. I am glad that each of us affirm it. But the truest measure of our orthodoxy on this point is not our mere signature on this confessional document, but the strength of our compulsion to carry the gospel to those who have not heard it. May God renew our conviction that the gospel is the only way and may we show it through faithful witness.
Charles L. Quarles is Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of several B&H volumes including The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (with Andreas Köstenberger and Scott Kellum); The Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church; The Lion and the Lamb: New Testament Essentials from the Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown; as well as The Illustrated Life of Paul.
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