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According to the ancient creeds & 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.

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 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.

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: 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:

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 to be met 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. Trust in God or Christ, or repentance, or baptism is not even mentioned.

bullet 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 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 in the form of generosity to the needy and keeping most of the commandments will assure salvation.

bullet 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 teeth." (ASV)

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."

bullet "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:

bullet 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."

bullet 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."

bullet Romans 3:28 "We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law."

bullet 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)

bullet "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.

bullet 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.

bullet "Salvation Requires Repentance": Other passages in the Bible imply that genuine repentance is the key criteria:
bullet 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.

bullet "Salvation Requires Both Faith and Good Deeds": And one verse appears to imply that both works and faith are needed:
bullet 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. (ASV)

bullet 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 death.

bullet "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:

bullet 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." (KJV)

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Copyright © 1996 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-DEC-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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