TEACHINGS ON SALVATION
BY VARIOUS RELIGIOUS GROUPS
||"The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for
salvation...God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism..."
( New Catholic Catechism, #1257)
||"If you are a [born-again] Christian, you will go to heaven; If
you're following another religion, then by default you will go to Hell."
Susie Shellenberger, Life on the Edge radio program,
sponsored by Focus on the Family, 2001-MAY-5.
Religious groups have a wide range of beliefs concerning salvation:
Within Orthodox and Conservative Judaism,
salvation is attained through close adherence to the Law as delivered by
God to Moses. Although Judaism is based on the
same Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) as Christianity, they have no
concept of original sin or of general condemnation of the human race to
eternal torture in Hell. They interpret the Hebrew Scriptures
differently and of course do not recognize the Christian Scriptures (New
Testament) as inspired by God.
In early Jewish writing, Sheol
(translated as "Hell" in English versions of the Bible) was believed to
be the Underworld to which all people went after death, and led a
shadowy existence. Later Jewish writers made references to Gehenna
(also translated as "Hell") which is a place of fire where evil, wicked
people are cast for punishment when they die. Literally, Gehenna was a
valley located south and west of Jerusalem; a garbage pit where fires
||Fundamentalist and Evangelical Protestant
Beliefs: See a related essay.
Gnoscism started as an an unorthodox movement within
early Christianity. Their beliefs deviated from the teachings of Paul; they were
considered heretical by the rest of the church.
2 John 7, and other
Biblical passages which warn of deceivers and the antichrist, probably refer to Gnostics.
Although they were persecuted, and exterminated by the mainline church by the 6th
century, some of their writings survived. Gnosticism is now a rapidly growing new faith
movement within Christianity. One reason why they were condemned by the early Church as
heretics was their belief in salvation. They believed that humans are profoundly flawed
and could not be saved through any action of their own. Our So God sent Jesus to impart
knowledge to individuals so that they may be saved. Those who learn of the gospel are
saved, "purely by the grace of the Father." Early
Christians believed that salvation was both dependent upon a person's deeds and
beliefs. Gnostic beliefs are very close to those of modern-day conservative Christians.
Pentecostal denominations form one branch of conservative
Christianity. They believe that salvation involves the "baptism of the Holy
Spirit". One sign of this is the ability to speak in
tongues: speaking in a language that is unknown to them. There are recorded instances
of persons speaking foreign tongues that they have never learned or heard. At other times,
they speak in what is believed to be an angelic language. Those who have been saved are
expected to display additional gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the ability to heal
others, to prophecy the future, to display wisdom that is not attainable by ordinary
means, and to discern spirits - to see angels and demons.
||Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church Beliefs:
The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches teach the concept of original sin; i.e. that an
infant inherits a sinful nature because of the transgression of Adam and Eve some 6,000 or
more years ago in the Garden of Eden. The Church teaches that an individual, usually as an
infant, is saved and thus will attain heaven at death through the sacrament of baptism. The New [Roman]
Catholic Catechism states:
"The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for
salvation... The Church
does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal
beatitude... God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism..." (1257)
Entries 1258 thru 1261 indicates that persons who are not baptized as
Catholics can also attain salvation by various methods of which the Church
is not fully knowledgeable.
The status of a newborn who dies before being baptized is less clear.
Many Roman Catholics believe that they stay in a special place called "Limbo."
This is not an official teaching of the Church.
At death, unsaved persons who have reached the age of accountability, go to Hell. Most saved persons
enter Purgatory. Current church teaching is that
Purgatory is both a place and a condition. However, many Roman Catholics
believe that it is a specific location where people are punished. Those in
Purgatory undergo a painful process
of purification, until they become acceptable for transfer to heaven.
Although there is no absolutely clear reference to Purgatory in the Bible, Catholic
theologians have determined its existence through logic. Popular belief is
that one's stay in Purgatory may be lengthy, perhaps measured in centuries or
millennia. However, there is no official teaching on this point.
One can, in effect, lose their salvation whenever they commit a mortal (serious) sin:
"...To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's
merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own
free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with
God and the blessed is called 'hell'." (1033)
"The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its
eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state
of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of
hell, 'eternal fire.' The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation
from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which
he was created and for which he longs." (1035)
However, by confessing their sin to a priest in a ritual called the Sacrament of
Penance, if one is genuinely committed to never repeat the sin, one's salvation is
restored. The New Catholic Catechism states:
"The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are
necessary for salvation. . . . The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of
adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature by uniting them in a living
union with the only Son, the Saviour." (1129)
Although these are the long-standing teachings of the church, many members have stopped
attending confession regularly in recent years.
||Liberal Christian beliefs:
The most liberal Christian faith groups reject the both the necessity of salvation and the
concept of eternal punishment in Hell for a number of reasons. Many would argue that:
||Whatever Hell exists is a state of mind
in our present life on earth, rather than a destination of eternal
torment after death.
||Adam and Eve could hardly be held responsible for eating the fruit because they were
originally created with no knowledge of good and evil. They were a type of proto-human;
they had no ethical sense. Genesis implies this because they only
developed a moral sense after they ate the fruit of the tree of
knowledge of good and evil.
||Even if Adam and Eve were guilty of a sin, they could hardly pass their sin onto their
children, their children's children, and down to the present generation. It is a
fundamental belief in essentially all of the world's systems of morality (other than
conservative Christianity) that an individual cannot be held responsible for activities of their
parents, or other ancestors, particularly if the acts happend before their birth.
We do not place an individual on trial because their parent robbed a bank. And we
certainly should not hold a person responsible today for some act performed 6000 years previous
to their birth, done by an ancestor 240 generations back.
||St. Augustine's 5th century CE concept of substitutionary
(and subsequent theories) are invalid. This is the belief that God the Father
intentionally sent his Son to die on the cross as the only means by which he could forgive
sin, and overcome the gulf between God and Man. They view this as an ultimate form of
father/son abuse. A God who planned the ritual murder of his innocent son in order to
attain a beneficial result has allowed ends to justify the means. A God who must resort to
having an innocent person tortured to death is a God who is lacking in compassion,
flexibility, and the ability to forgive. It offends their moral
sense that God would require a person, innocent of any crime or sin, to
be tortured and killed in order to obtain salvation for others. Human
sacrifice of an innocent person cannot be justified for any reason.
||Theologians traditionally believed that, at his death, Jesus took upon himself all of
the responsibility of all of the sins of believers, past present and future. But again,
moral systems worldwide and throughout time hold people responsible for their individual
crimes and sins. If a person murders someone in the year 1997, the fact that some Roman
soldiers tortured an innocent person to death two millennia ago will not cancel out the
first person's crime.
||It is irrational to believe that an all-loving God would create a
Hell for the eternal
torture of essentially every human being who ever lived without any chance of parole.
If Hell exists, then it would mean that its inhabitants are punished
for all eternity for as few as one minor transgression. The
punishment is totally out of balance with the "crime." Even
human societies in their imperfection have sufficient forgiveness and compassion to allow
most prisoners to leave jail eventually. Most societies have banned human torture. Most
countries do not jail or punish people because of thought crimes. Liberals would argue
that God is more sympathetic, loving, and empathic than are humans, and so he could never create a
||Observe that overwhelming religious conversions and changes in personality and behavior
is not unique to conservative Christians. It is seen throughout all of Christendom and is
common in other religions as well.
As a result of these beliefs, the concept of personal salvation is not a prominent
belief among most liberal Christians.
||Mainline Protestant beliefs:
These range from beliefs similar to Evangelical Christians, to those
of very liberal Christians. Often, there is a wide range of beliefs in a
given denomination, with the headquarters staff being very liberal, the
clergy being moderately liberal, and the individual members being
||Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists
They typically reject the concepts of salvation, heaven and hell as ridiculous. What makes
an individual a unique person is their personality, memories, creativity and other
functions of the mind. When the human body dies, the electrical and chemical functions of
the brain cease to function and the entire body rots. Most see no possibility for a soul,
or spirit or for an afterlife in any form. Thus, there is no need for salvation.
Popular Beliefs about Salvation
American adults have the following beliefs, according to surveys conducted by the Barna
||57% believe that a person who does good can earn a place in heaven.
||39% believe that all who do not accept Christ as savior will go to
||45% believe that a person's religious belief will not matter 1
The Bible does not give a clear message about the criteria needed for salvation. Jesus'
teachings about salvation, as expressed in the synoptic gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke,
seem to form a reasonably consistent pattern. The Gospel of
John and the writings of the Apostles differ markedly from each other and from the
Taking the New Testament as a whole, various passages require various combinations of
belief and action, including:
- believing and trusting in Jesus,
- receiving a baptism,
- being repentant of past sins, and/or
- doing good works.
Many denominations handle this ambiguity by emphasizing their favorite Biblical verses
and ignoring other passages.
For a conservative Christian to be absolutely certain of salvation, they would have to
meet all four criteria, and then avoid committing the unpardonable sin, whatever that
might be. And they must avoid a whole shopping list of forbidden behaviors throughout
their life. This is impossible for all but a very small minority of humans.
Liberal Christians have no problems in this area; they tend to trust in the kindness,
love, understanding, tolerance and compassion of God. Most would reject the idea of
eternal punishment in Hell or of permanent separation from God. No human, with the
exception of psychotic individuals or a profoundly evil person like Adolf Hitler, would
assign a person to be tortured forever in Hell. Liberals would think it most unlikely that
God could be that vicious and cruel.
Copyright © 1997 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2005-MAR-18
Author: B.A. Robinson