Or why Christians spend more time arguing with each other than they spend talking to unbelievers.
If you examine the creed of a few Christian religions, you will find that from the largest denominations to the smallest, most are convinced that theirs is the One True Way. They know that all the others consider themselves to be the One True Way too, but that is because the others are deluded and evil.
Most of these denominations justify their claim with reference to the Bible. One or two justify it with reference to Something Else: Apostolic Succession among the Catholics; or their special books in the case of the Christian Scientists or Mormons. For the purpose of this discussion, let's have a look at the Biblical defensibility of this view, since this will get 90% of the culprits.
Churches that rely on Papal Infallability or angels with names like "Moroni" we leave as an exercise for the reader.
What Must we do to be Saved?
In the Gospels, there is only one sinner who is told he is saved. Others certainly were, but only one is this easy to point at. That man's salvation is described in Luke 23:39-41. It's worth checking it out:
39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!"
40 But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
41 And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong."
42 And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
43 And He said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
What is happening here? The conversation between the saved criminal and Jesus is very short: but Jesus promises him salvation. This is Christianity in three verses. The first two verses, (vv40-41) the man admits he is a sinner, deserving of death. Then (v42) he asks Jesus to save him anyway. These three verses contain the essentials, the absolute bare bones of what we need to be a Christian. This man's Christianity was good enough for Jesus.
How many modern denominations would consider it good enough for them?
Guidance for Getting Along with Other Christians
A One True Way Christian who is thinking may by now have spotted an issue here. So simply believeing is enough to start being a Christian - but what then? Surely there is baptism, surely there are duties to try to avoid sin in the future, surely there is a duty to learn more about God from scripture?
Yes, there are all these things.
"Aha", might say our One True Way Christian. It is not enough to call upon Jesus name - we must also try to live a good Christian life. The only way that God considers to be a good Christian life is our way. It says so right here in Scripture.
Not so fast. There are two objections to this view.
The first is that the way you are following is not a good Christian life. You, and I, and every Christian that has followed Jesus were and are all sinners. Every one of us.
The second objection is that the laws are not as important as faith in Christ. Let us turn to Paul's letter to the Galatians. Chapter 2 says:-
15We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners,
16 yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified.
17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we ourselves were found to be sinners, is Christ then an agent of sin? Certainly not!
18 But if I build up again those things which I tore down, then I prove myself a transgressor.
19 For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God.
20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.
As we can see, Paul has it that justification through the Law is impossible: if it were possible, "then Christ died to no purpose", and Christianity is a sham.
When these denominations start talking about theirs being "the one true way", they are replacing one Scriptural law with another. That is not Christianity. Christianity does not replace the old Scriptural law with another law. It replaces the old Scriptural law with Jesus.
Let's go back to Paul. In fact, since we already have the Bible open, let's go back to Galatians Chapter 2. Read back a bit, to see what got Paul on this subject before.
It's Peter - the guy the Catholics claim was the first Pope. (Some translations say "Cephas": "Cephas" and "Peter" both mean "Rock" - the title Jesus gave him.)
11 Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed;
12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision.
13 And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.
14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?
15 We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,
16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
Once again, Paul is reminding us that it is wrong to seperate ourselves from other Christians over Scriptural differences. We cannot play "holier than thou", because no-one can conform to a set of laws. We are saved through Jesus, and that alone.
Let's look at that point that Paul mentions about Cephas. (Cephas is Greek for "rock" - it is Peter we are talking about here). This debate rumbles right through Acts, but comes to a head in Acts 15:
22 Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren.
23 They wrote this, letter by them:
24Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, "You must be circumcised and keep the law" - to whom we gave no such commandment -
25it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth.
28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:
29that you abstain from things offered to idols, from
blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If
you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.
It's worth repeating that: some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, "You must ... keep the law" ... it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.
And that is all. So, do not let anyone trouble your soul with the any other commandments.