Neil Remington Abramson commented as follows:
1. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.
2. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
3. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
4. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
5. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.
John 10: 1-5
In the Left Behind series about the times of Tribulation before Jesus’ second coming, there is little mention of people from any religion other than Christianity. What happened to all the Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians, etc? It is an Evangelical Christian series and the implication is that no one who is not a sincere Christian can hope to be saved through God’s grace. You may be a faithful person whose faith manifests, as Luther said, in good works, but your faith is misplaced, presumably because you believe in the wrong God – so you are doomed.
It’s hard for me personally to accept that. There’s only the one God. By definition, you can’t have the wrong one, if there is only the one to choose from. Besides, if it were otherwise, then faith in God would be a crapshoot – a game of chance – because so many religions all believe that if you are of the wrong faith, you are doomed. Which is the “correct” faith? How could you ever know for sure? I don’t believe the loving God would leave us in such a tricky quandary, with such uncertainty. I don’t!
Oddly, I place my faith in the answer provided in this quote, John 10: 1-5. It turned out that I knew Jesus’ voice. My parents were atheists and had they had their way, so would I have been. Looking back on my life, I can see God spent a lot of time knocking on my door (“knock and the door shall be opened” – Matthew 7:7) and calling my name. He chased me down from atheism through agnosticism, Unitarianism, Unitarian-Universalism, Anglicanism and, finally, Presbyterianism. After I became a Presbyterian, I discovered my ancestors had always been Presbyterian, going back hundreds of years. I thought I was a Johnny-come-lately Presbyterian, but He had just brought me back to my ancestral home.
John doesn’t say there is only one sheepfold. He says the one who comes in the door is the shepherd, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow strangers, but flee, because they do not know a stranger’s voice.
Imagine the ancient world. It was nothing like today with our internet and other international communications infrastructure. There were centers of civilization in Egypt, the Indus Valley and China. They were separated by thousands of miles of wilderness, with barbarian savages and wild animals in between. Ancient Greece, the Jews and Japan came later. Rome came a thousand years after Greece. My Western and Northern European ancestors were just starting up maybe a thousand years after Rome.
How does the one God make Himself known in all these isolated centers? Sending one true prophet to one centre is fine for the people in that one place but what happens to all the generations of people in all the other centers over the millennia it takes the “true” religion to arrive. Are they all “damned” because the All Powerful God selected such an inefficient distribution system? What does “All Powerful” mean anyway?
The answer that comes to my mind is that he franchises. There are multiple sheepfolds, all relatively inaccessible to each other. God sends Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus, the guys who wrote the Upanishads, Lao Tzu, Confucius, and maybe Homer, and Socrates. Later he sends Mohammed and others I don’t even know. They all enter their sheepfolds by their doors and the sheep know their voices and follow them. And even today, the Muslims follow Mohammed, and the Christians Jesus, and not vice versa, because we know the voices of our shepherds and the other shepherds are strangers to us.
We Christians don’t need to try to convert sincerely faithful followers of the other shepherds. They are already presumably as saved as are we. The people who need saving are the people like me – “I once was lost but now am found; was blind but now I see” – those who have no faith. Unfortunately there are many in every religion, and of no religion, who might be happier if they could hear their shepherd calling and could find their way home, with God’s help.