What does it mean that Christ is the only way to be saved? Does it mean that we can use him to be saved like a man uses a hammer to build a house? Is he our tool? The scriptures suggest quite the opposite.
But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. (Isaiah 64:8)
A potter does not merely create but also finishes his works. If salvation comes through Christ, it comes through yielding our hearts to him--completely and fully. That is how he can finish us without violating our free will. Believing in him is not a practice of mere confession with the lips, but of yielding our hearts. And it isn't a vacuous, passive position.
You can't yield your hearts to someone you don't know. Knowing Jesus requires seeking him, and that requires exercising every mechanism available to learn more about him.
Salvation is an awfully individual affair. No one can seek Jesus for you, and no one can know him for you. Nevertheless, the Christian world spends all or nearly all of their religious effort trying to get to know Jesus through someone else. For most Christians, the time they spend in the audience of a pastor, priest, pope, elder, friend, or anyone else far exceeds the time they spend in the audience of God himself, in prayer or in solitary scripture study.
This presents a dilemma. On one end of the continuum, we have the option of locking ourselves in a room with the Bible until we meet God. On the other, we have the option of locking ourselves in a church pew until we meet God. It turns out that either option will result in the same fruitless experience (though I would prefer the former rather than the latter). Why? Because of how ministration works.
God lives in a glory defined by the laws he lives. Truth produces glory in and around those who accept and live it. The higher the truth, the more the glory. Normal people cannot go to where God is. As Jesus told the Pharisees:
Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come. (John 8:21)In order to ascend to where God is, you have to live the law the God lives. This is true of any being: in order to ascend to the level of glory they enjoy, you have to live the law they live.
So how do you learn what those laws are? If it were as simple as reading the Bible, or finding a minister, we would have millions and millions of people ascending to where God is. How many people have you met who have been in God's presence in heaven? Where, then, is the disconnect? Clearly, only a very small minority of people have God's law. Or, as Jesus said,
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:14)So where is it to be found? Paul gives us a clue:
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17)How can you know a law unless you hear it? "...how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?" (Romans 10:14-15)
Scripture gives us example after example of how God dispenses truth. Every man comes into this world possessing a certain state of glory. God reveals truths to these people of the level that they already possess. In order to ascend in truth, we must encounter higher truth than we possess. This elevated truth very rarely comes from God himself, except in the form of the Holy Ghost confirming truth to us. Instead, we must a) seek out and b) accept the teachings of people who possess higher truth than we do.
Obtaining truth from God happens by degrees. Jethro provided Moses with instructions that helped Moses advance from where he was before he met him to where he was after he met him. Moses did not stop there. Moses continued to obtain more truths that Jethro himself did not know, and thus was able to obtain more glory than Jethro possessed. We are surrounded by Jethros in our life. If we recognize and sort through what they say that is true and what they say that is error, we can catapault ourselves closer to God in a much faster manner than if we were left to our own devices, much like a spaceship can use the gravity of a planet to slingshot to its target much faster than it could with its own engines. But making the error of making the true messenger our target will end in the same catastrophe of making the planet the target: crash and burn instead of upward progression.
Teachings can be true or false. Teachers are neither.There are several ways we can misunderstand the way this works. God makes use of vessels to do his work. Sometimes these are righteous vessels (like Isaiah), and sometimes these are wicked vessels (like Nebuchadnezzar). Most times, however, they are a little righteous and a little wicked (like Gideon, who did some things right and some things wrong). The righteousness of a man does not indicate that anything he says is true. The Bible is full of examples of true messages from God being delivered by men who were not worthy of emulation. On the other hand, the wickedness of a man does not indicate that a particular belief he has is not from God. The high priest who killed Jesus delivered a true prophecy (see John 11:49-51)!
We ought to assume that God will use anyone and anything around us to teach us all the truth we are willing to receive. We ought to prove all things, instead of just assuming something is false because it doesn't agree with what we currently understand. In fact, if we expect that there are things we do not yet know, and glory to which we have not yet attained, we ought to assume that the space between where we are and where we want to be will be spanned by new truth that will necessarily clash with what we currently understand, for if it did not, would we not already embrace it? We ought to avoid dismissing people out of hand because they believe differently than we do. Did Moses dismiss Jethro out of hand when he possessed truth that Moses had not yet heard? No. Rather, he proved all things, and found that much of what Jethro taught was useful to advance his own understanding.
Jesus himself was dismissed as wicked by the majority of people that witnessed his mortal ministry. Isaiah said that Jesus "hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him." (Isaiah 53:2) There was nothing overtly obvious about Jesus' true role that would have caused people to listen to what he said. Instead, those who followed him did so on the merit of his message.
When we dismiss truth presented to us by our fellows, we are cutting ourselves off from the blessings God intends to give us. I have personally witnessed many occasions where someone I know has prayed for certain blessings or deliverance from God only to reject the person he sent to provide the requested blessings.
We should not look for true messengers, or disqualify messengers as false. We should not listen more to people (ministers, spiritual giants, popes, priests) we assume are righteous. We should not listen less to people we assume are wicked. Instead, we ought to try all things and hold fast to what is true.
By testing all things, you are relying on the Holy Ghost for truth, and not man, despite recognizing that God might be sending you new truth via association with other individuals who know something that you don't.