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Salvation in Christianity:

Part 1 of three parts:
According to the ancient creeds
& specific passages in the Bible:

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What Do the Ancient Creeds Say?

bullet The Apostles' Creed states that Christ will return to earth "to judge the living and the dead.". When one recites the creed they agree that they believe in "...the forgiveness of sins...". But it gives no guidance on the mechanism by which one's sins are forgiven - whether it is based on faith or good works, or something else, or some combination.

bullet The Nicene Creed states that Christ "for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven...". It also says "he will come again to judge both the living and the dead..." And when a person recites the creed they "acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins..." It implies that an individual's original sin, plus any sins committed from birth until the time of baptism, are all erased by the church ritual of baptism. It mentions nothing about the effects of good or wicked deeds that a person might commit after baptism.

bullet The Athanasian Creed is also ambiguous about salvation:
bullet

On one hand, it states that faith is a necessary precondition to salvation:

"Whosoever will be saved shall, above all else, hold the catholic faith. Which faith, except everyone keeps whole and undefiled, without doubt he will perish eternally."

After describing the nature of the Trinity, the creed states:

"He, therefore, that will be saved is compelled thus to think of the Trinity."

Presumably, this means that anyone who otherwise qualifies to spend eternity in Heaven would be rejected if they did not believe in the Trinity. The creed concludes with:

"This is the catholic faith, which, except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved."

The creed does not state specifically that faith in the Church is sufficient for salvation; only that it is a necessary precondition.


bullet

But the creed also plainly states that good works alone are sufficient: When Christ returns, all men will:

"give an account of their own works. And they that have done good will go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire."

Presumably the phrase "all men" means everyone: males and females, Christian and non-Christian alike. The sorting of all humans into their final destination -- Heaven or Hell -- is determined according to their good and bad works on Earth.

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Taking all three ancient creeds together, it would appear that in order to be saved, one must satisfy one or more of the following three criteria:

bullet do good deeds,

bullet be baptized, and

bullet "hold the Catholic faith." The last criteria raises the question: which faith group or groups of the thousands of Christian denominations in North America represent the "Catholic faith" today?

However, it is not clear which of the three criteria -- or which combinations of criteria -- is required to attain Heaven.

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How well do the creeds match what the Bible says?

Many faith groups teach that the unsaved will spend eternity being punished in hell. This makes salvation a matter of unprecedented importance in some Christians' lives. Because of the critical nature of salvation, one would expect that the Bible would define precisely and clearly what one must do to be saved. Unfortunately, Bible passages seem to speak with multiple voices over this matter:

bullet "Salvation Requires Good Deeds": Some passages in the Bible imply that one is saved through works. That is, God weighs the good and bad deeds that each person commits during their lifetime. If the balance is reasonably positive, the individual goes to heaven. This is the most popular belief among American adults. However, it is opposed by all conservative denominations.

Verses supporting this belief are seen mostly in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and in the gospels when they discuss the religion of Jesus:

bullet

Micah 6:8:

"...and what doth Jehovah require of thee, but to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (ASV)

This implies that God wants everyone to act in a kind manner and justly to others while walking humbly with God. If the concept of Heaven and Hell and been thought of at the time that the book of Micah was written, this verse probably would have contained some reference to both destinations after death, and the criteria used to determine where one spent eternity.


bullet

Matthew 25:31-46: These verses explain the Last Judgment in precise detail. The verses describe how Christ:

"... will sit on his glorious throne. Before him are gathered all the nations and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats..." (KJV) Addressing those on his right, he says that they will "inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." He orders those on his left hand to "depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." where they will go away into eternal punishment."

The sole criteria for routing individuals either to heaven or hell is whether the person gave food, drink or clothing to the destitute, and welcomed strangers and visited the sick or persons in prison. That is, salvation is totally dependent upon one's treatment of other people -- one's good works. Trust in God or Christ, or repentance, or baptism is not even mentioned.


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bullet "Salvation Requires Good Deeds" (Continued):
bullet

Matthew 19:16-22:

"And behold, one came to him and said, Teacher, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" (17) "And he said unto him, Why askest thou me concerning that which is good? One there is who is good: but if thou wouldest enter into life, keep the commandments." (18) "He saith unto him, Which? And Jesus said, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness," (19) "Honor thy father and mother; and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." (20) "The young man saith unto him, All these things have I observed: what lack I yet?" (21) "Jesus said unto him, If thou wouldest be perfect, go, sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me." (ASV)

A man asks how he can attain eternal life. Jesus answered that one must keep at least 6 of the commandments, give their possessions to the poor, and join his group. Repentance, baptism and faith are not mentioned. Good works, alone, in the form of generosity to the needy and keeping most of the commandments will assure salvation.


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This topic continues on the next essay

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Copyright © 1996 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2016-FEB-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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