We Believe God Does Not Have Many Names
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd." So says Juliet when she is trying to persuade her lover to give up his father's name as the price of claiming her. Romeo would still be Romeo without his name.
Juliet's logic is compelling. So what if the Christian prays to A Higher Power as long as he knows it's Jesus? So what if a church member worships The Great Architect of the universe with his Lodge brothers? He knows there's no God apart from Jesus. Why can't Lutherans get together as Americans with Muslims, Sikhs, Mormons, and Buddhists under the confession "In God we Trust," and "One Nation under God"? Doesn't God have many names?
Sure He does. You say so over Sunday, don't you? You confess the Creed where you say, "I believe in God the Father Almightyand in Jesus Christ; I believe in the Holy Ghost." You believe that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. You pray to the Father, to the Son, and even sometimes to the Holy Spirit; yet you don't believe in three gods. So God does have at least three names. Actually He has more than 3. He's called the Vine, Door, The Good Shepherd, Friend, Savior, Lord, and the Bread of Life. In the OT He's called Zion's Helper, the Angel of the Lord, and Abraham's Shield and Friend. Don't tell me God doesn't have many names; Scripture is full of them.
You heard the reading for tonight. You hear it every year. Let's count the names: "For to us a Child (1) is born, to us a Son (2) is given; and the government will be on His shoulders. (Now we get real specific.) And He will be called Wonderful Counselor (3), Mighty God (4), Everlasting Father (5), Prince of Peace (6). If you punctuate this the way the King James does. Wonderful and Counselor are two separate names, so you have 7 names.
Call on Father, Son, or Holy Ghost and you're calling on the same God. Refer to the Vine, the Door, the Water of Life and you're referring to the same God. Name Him Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, or Prince of Peace and you've named the same God. So why not say when Jews utter in prayer, "Here O Israel the Lord your God is One," they're praying to the same God we are? Why not agree that when the Muslim calls on Allah he's calling on the same God as you just using a different name? Why not agree that your God does have many names from the Hindu Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva; to the American Indian's Great Spirit in the Sky; to the Mormon's, Jehovah Witnesses', and Unitarians "God"?
Because while the Bible does have many names for the true God, not one of them is apart from God the Son. The true God can't be named, worshiped, prayed, or even rightly known apart from Jesus. And herein lies the problem, you mistake the broadmindedness of those willing to embrace Jesus as true faith, real trust, faithful worship of God. And I don't blame you.
Most Jews aren't openly hostile to Jesus. He is a great man, a wise rabbi, etc. The Muslim recognizes Jesus as a great prophet; they even believe He was sinless. The Mormons call their church: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They believe His atoning work ransomed mankind from the effects of temporal death, and makes it possible for one to obey God's laws and to reach celestial heaven. Jehovah Witnesses believe in the Virgin Birth that Jesus died as a ransom for original sin. Unitarians believe Jesus is an extraordinary human being and has the same divine spark that all people do. The Hindus even go so far as to say Jesus is a god.
I don't blame you for being confused. What we see in reality is what Revelation shows by a picture. The bottomless pit is opened "and smoke went up...like the smoke of a great furnace and the sun and the air were darkened." Clear God-given light is obscured by the smoke billowing from hell itself, and it's called religion, spirituality, "truth." What makes it even harder to see is their high, nice, broadminded view of Jesus and my narrow-minded, not so nice, low view of their faiths. What can pierce the darkness? What but the Light of God's Word? Peter says that we have the Word as a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns.
While non-Christian faiths accept Jesus in some sense, none confess what the light of Scripture shows: the exclusivity of Jesus. And if you're not a confessional Lutheran you'll be hard pressed to do it even though you may still be a Christian. That's because none of the usual ways of confessing the faith are too big for non-Christians to disagree with. This is postmodernism up close and personnel. Not only is it like the modern 60's where everyone had a right to do their own thing. Now everyone must recognize everyone else's thing as true and valid as their thing. And the broadminded on the broad path to destruction have no problem with this. You say, "I believe in God;" they say, "I believe in God too." You say, "I believe in Jesus," and they say, "I do too." Postmodernism has taught them there is wisdom in uncertainty, intelligence in doubt, and spirituality in broadmindedness.
So it's time to call out the big guns. Time to show while a rose may smell as sweet no matter what you call it; the true God will not be called by many names. The only name He answers to is Jesus; in His name we pray; with His name we are baptized, under His name we are absolved, and in, with, and under His name are we bodied and blooded to the true God.
If you say, "There is no God apart from Jesus Christ"; "I know no God except for Jesus;" "Wherever you can find God apart from Jesus, there God is not on my side," you will put before postmodern religious people the Stone they will stumble over. But that's not nice; that's not broadminded; that's not the high road. But that's what Jesus did. He knew He was a stone of stumbling to the leaders of the Church, and He did absolutely nothing to change that. He let them stumble and fall, so that others might be saved by the Rock of Salvation.
It can't be about being friendly when you're talking truth. The things of this life are about being friendly. Christian love tolerates the neighbor who blocks your driveway. Christian love agrees to disagree about political issues. Christians yield on matters of love, but we cannot yield, give, bend, in matters of doctrine because doctrine belongs to God not us.
The Scriptural truth is that no one comes to the Father but by Jesus. You don't get to the true God by sincerity, by enthusiasm, by dedication, by a devout life, by being broadminded. Apart from the path God has given: the Virgin's womb; the perfect life of Jesus; His bloody death on a cruel cross; the water from His wounded side in the font; His forgiving Words from the mouth of a man to your ears; or His Body as Bread and His Blood as Wine no one gets to the true God.
You can't read world religions, philosophy, or psychology for that matter without running across some profound things. This being said in knowing those things you are no closer to God. Jesus says in Luke 10, "No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son reveals Him." Know Jesus as He reveals Himself in Scripture and you know the true God. Know Jesus; know God. Don't know Jesus, and no, as in "n" "o" God.
This is very offensive to world religions, spiritual people, and postmodern people in general. Any sort of assertions, any claim to truth especially over against other claims is anathema to them, but it's essential to the Christian faith. Luther said, "Take away assertions and you take away Christianity." Christianity asserts that no one can worship the Father, the true God, who doesn't worship the Son. We assert this truth in the First Article when we say, "All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy." We don't just say God does this out of divine goodness and mercy, something that many religions could say, but out of fatherly goodness and mercy.
Now it's true; God is the Father of all humanity by creation. So in creation the all powerful, all present, all knowing God can be known. Romans 1 says that in creation two things can be known about the true God: His eternal power and His divine nature. Therefore, men apart from Jesus can know and say awesome things about His eternal power and His divine nature, but you know what that will get them on the Last Day? Wrath, judgment, hell. Lofty thoughts of God's eternal power, poetic arias about His divine nature don't get you one wit closer to Him. He is can only be approached, safely, by the One who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead, and buried.
To approach the true God safely one needs to trust His fatherly goodness and mercy. Fatherly goodness and mercy only comes to children, but what child of God has ever deserved anything but badness and judgment from the God he or she so richly and daily sins against? Only one, the one born of Mary. He deserved goodness because He was perfectly good, but He got badness. The badness you and I deserve. You just think everything goes wrong in your life sometimes. In His it really did. On Him God poured out His wrath stored up for millennia, and even when Jesus cried for fatherly mercy He got none. Jesus received no mercy at anytime, so God's fatherly mercy might endure forever in your case.
The only way to know that fatherly goodness and mercy is Jesus. When you look around you and see no good, your not looking at your life in Jesus. When you look around you and see no mercy, you're not looking at Jesus but God apart from Jesus. Postmodernism's beguiling, broadminded invitation to look anywhere using any names for God invites you to lose Jesus among the false gods of this world. Unlike Romeo, in losing the name Jesus you lose much more than a name. You loose the Door, the access point to the true God.
Therefore, Charlton Heston-like, we'll cling to that name into which we were baptized, are absolved, and do commune until it's the last name our cold, dead lips utter in this life and the first they speak in the next. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Midweek Advent III (20081217) First Article