According to the ancient creeds & the Bible
What Do the Ancient Creeds Say?
||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.
||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.
||The Athanasian Creed is also ambiguous about salvation:
||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 belive 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.
||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: 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.
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:
||do good deeds,
||be baptized, and
||"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 to be met to attain Heaven.
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:
||"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
||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.
||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. Trust in God or Christ, or
repentance, or baptism is not even mentioned.
||Matt 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
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 in the form of
generosity to the needy and keeping most of the commandments will assure salvation.
||Matt 24:45-51: "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord
hath set over his household, to give them their food in due season?" (46) "Blessed
is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing." (47) "Verily
I say unto you, that he will set him over all that he hath." (48) "But if
that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord tarrieth;" (49) "and
shall begin to beat his fellow-servants, and shall eat and drink with the drunken;" (50) "the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he expecteth not, and in
an hour when he knoweth not," (51) "and shall cut him asunder, and
appoint his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of
This implies that the head of a household who treats his slaves
well will be rewarded when Christ returns; an evil person who beats his slaves and is a
drunk will be punished. Their results of their judgment will be based on works, not
baptism, faith or repentance.
Luke 19:8-9: "And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord,
the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have wrongfully exacted aught of any
man, I restore fourfold." (9) "And Jesus said unto him, To-day is
salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham." (ASV)
Zacchaeus cared about others, giving half of his possession to the poor. And he is honest:
if he shortchanges anyone, he returns the shortage four times over. Jesus indicates that
because of his kindness and generosity, he has been saved. Repentance, baptism and faith
are not mentioned. This is the only location in the synoptic gospels where
Jesus is said to have used the word
||"Salvation Requires Only Faith": Other passages in the Bible imply that
one is saved solely on the basis of one's faith. A person's behavior does not determine
whether they will eventually go to heaven or hell; only their beliefs. If they confess
their sins, are genuinely repentant, and trust Jesus, then they will automatically be
saved. Good works and deeds can be expected as a logical consequence of having first been
saved. And they may increase a person's rewards once they get to heaven. But evil deeds
(genocide, murder, rape, etc.) will not prevent a believer from going to heaven, once they
have been saved.
Verses supporting this belief are seen in the Christian Scriptures (New
Testament), particularly those authored by St. Paul and the apostles when they discuss the religion about Jesus. All imply that only faith is needed for salvation; not
baptism, good works or repentance of sins:
||John 3:14-15: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even
so must the Son of man be lifted up;" (15) "that whosoever believeth may
in him have eternal life."
||John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten
Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life."
||Romans 3:28 "We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart
from the works of the law."
||Ephesians 2:8-9 "for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that
not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God;" (9) "not of works, that no
man should glory." (ASV)
||"Salvation Requires Both Faith and Baptism": Other passages in the
Bible imply that both belief in Christ and the act of baptism is needed. In the early
church, baptism was restricted to adults, and followed a long period of instruction.
||Mark 16:15-16: "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and
preach the gospel to the whole creation." (16) "He that believeth and is
baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned." (ASV)
These verses state that there are two criteria that must be met for salvation: to be
baptized and to believe the gospel. Repentance of sins and good works are not needed.
||"Salvation Requires Repentance": Other passages in the Bible imply that
genuine repentance is the key criteria:
||Luke 13:3 "I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all in like
manner perish." (ASV) Verse 5 repeats the message in almost the same words.
Unless one repents, by recognizing one's sins, being sorry, and realigning one's future
life, one will perish.
||"Salvation Requires Both Faith and Good Deeds": And one verse appears
to imply that both works and faith are needed:
||Luke 7:44-49 "And turning to the woman, he said unto Simon, Seest thou
this woman? I entered into thy house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath
wetted my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair." (45) "Thou
gavest me no kiss: but she, since the time I came in, hast not ceased to kiss my
feet." (46) "My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but she hath
anointed my feet with ointment." (47) "Wherefore I say unto thee, her
sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven,
(the same) loveth little." (48) "And he said unto her, Thy sins are
forgiven." (49) "And they that sat at meat with him began to say within
themselves, Who is this that even forgiveth sins? (ASV)
These verses tell of a visit
by Jesus to the house of Simon. He is rude to Jesus, not giving him the traditional
courtesies. But the woman attended to Jesus with great love and had her sins forgiven
because of her love and caring.
But then Luke 7:50 was appended to the story: "And
he said unto the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace." Many liberal
theologians suspect that this verse is an afterthought, added at a later date after the
original gospel had been written. The anonymous author's motivation would have been to bring the story
into line with the developing Christian theology which emphasized faith over works.
||2 Thess. 1:8-9 "He will punish those who do not know God and
do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting
destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power."
(NIV) Conservatives generally believe that St. Paul wrote this book. Many religious
liberals attribute the book to an unknown author, who wrote it many decades after Paul's
||"You are saved if your husband or father is saved": A passage
in Acts describes how a jailer asks Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved. They
replied that if the jailer has faith in Jesus, then both he and the rest of his family
will be saved:
||Acts 16:30 "...Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou
shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all
that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their
stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into
his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house."
Copyright © 1996 to 2012 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-DEC-10
Author: B.A. Robinson