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Emails we have received about salvation

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Our menu and associated essays on salvation describe passages in Christian Scriptures (New Testament) which deal with salvation. Various verses imply that a person will be saved, and eventually go to Heaven if they:

bullet are baptized, 
bullet repent of their sins,
bullet believe in Jesus as the Son of God,
bullet believe in Jesus' resurrection,
bullet do good works, and/or
bullet follow church rituals.

Unfortunately, the Bible does not describe the precise combination(s) of these six factors which are required for salvation.

There are also passages which state that a person can lose their salvation:

bullet By committing the one unforgivable sin. Unfortunately, this sin is not clearly defined.
bullet By engaging in certain forbidden behaviors, such as murder, gossiping, fornication, idolatry, and two ambiguously described activities which have been variously interpreted as: being effeminate, committing sexual abuse, and being a sexually-active homosexual.

The Bible's ambiguity is regrettable. If one interprets the Christian Scriptures literally, it is obvious that there are only two possible final destinations for persons after death: heaven or hell. It is thus of paramount importance, to those who interpret the Scriptures literally, to determine precisely what is required of them to be saved. All other matters pale in comparison.

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What different faith groups say about salvation:

Different Christian denominations have reached conflicting conclusions about salvation. Various faith groups teach that, for salvation:

bullet Faith in Jesus is the sole requirement.
bullet Repentance followed by trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior are the only needed criteria.
bullet Church sacraments, sincerely entered into, determine one's status.
bullet Both faith and good works are required.
bullet Nothing is required, because all are saved and will eventually attain Heaven.

In addition, there are continuing debates about:

bullet The after-death destination of those who have never had a chance to hear the Gospel. 
bullet Whether salvation is permanent ("Once saved, always saved") or whether it can be lost through unacceptable behavior.
Within any given denomination, beliefs concerning salvation are clear and unambiguous. It is only when one compares the teachings of different faith groups that the full range of conflicting understandings about salvation become apparent.

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Emails that we have received on the topic of salvation:

bullet Email received: "The Bible is clear, if taken in context. Mormon beliefs are in complete agreement with the Bible: salvation comes through belief and works.  We do not pick and choose certain Biblical  passages while ignoring others."

Our response: The Mormon point of view is well represented in James 2:24: "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." However, almost all other conservative Christian denominations prefer to dwell on conflicting passages like Romans 3:28: "... man is justified by faith without the [necessity of] deeds of the law." Various faith groups have reached different conclusions:
bullet Mormons have concluded that salvation requires both faith and good works.
bullet Evangelicals generally conclude that salvation requires faith only, or repentance plus faith. 
bullet Roman Catholicism interprets the Bible as saying that salvation requires church sacraments, sincerely entered into. 

Sincere, devout, intelligent Christians of various denominations have interpreted the Bible in very different ways. Their method is to stress certain passages while largely discounting others. Each of these three faith groups, and others, can support their belief systems by quoting biblical passages.

bullet Email received: "The Bible cannot be understood by the natural man. A person must first be born again in order to have the Holy Spirit dwell within them before they can attain spiritual discernment. Once they have spiritual discernment then the clear, unambiguous message of the Gospel becomes obvious."

Our response: That is a common belief system among conservative Christians. It can not be disproved since there is no universally accepted definition of being "born-again". Some believe that one is "born again" if they merely trust Jesus as Lord and Savior. Others say that those that have been truly "born again" exhibit gifts from God, like speaking in tongues. Consider defining as "born-again" everyone who sincerely believes themselves to be so. Then the Emailer's belief about spiritual discernment can be demonstrated to be invalid. Consider The Counterpoints series of books by Zondervan. Each book in the series is written by three to five Evangelical Christian leaders, all of whom believe that they have been born again. Yet they reach mutually exclusive points of view on such topics as divorce, evolution, hell, the millennium, rapture, salvation, sanctification, etc. 
bullet Email received: "Those who do not trust Jesus as Lord and Savior will go to Hell, irregardless [sic] of any good, positive works they perform. The only way into the Kingdom of God is through the blood of Christ, shed on the cross for our sins, that we may be saved."
Our response: This is a common conservative Christian position on salvation, heaven and hell. However, it does imply that the vast majority of human beings (including many who have never heard of the gospel, Christ or Christianity) will go to Hell, solely because they had never had the opportunity to trust Jesus. Many Christians find this belief incompatible with a loving, just God. It is also in conflict with many passages in the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) which indicate that salvation is attained through good deeds, and/or by a major lifestyle change. Matthew 25:31-46 is a particularly clear indication that salvation is by works.
bullet Email received: "What is the truth about salvation?"

Our response: We have lots of material on this topic. Our overview essay on salvation describes:
bullet The truths of salvation as believed by conservative, mainline and liberal Christians. They do not agree.
bullet The truths of salvation according to various Christian creeds. Unfortunately, they do not agree either. 
bullet What various Bible passages say about salvation. Again, they are conflicting.

Our essay "Comparing various beliefs in salvation" describes some of the truths that Christian individuals and groups have taught. All of these groups are composed of thoughtful, intelligent, dedicated, devout individuals, trying to understand the Bible. But they reach totally different conclusions about what "truth" is on the topic of salvation. What our web site doesn't offer is absolute truth, because absolute truth on salvation apparently does not exist. As described in our essay, absolute truth does not exist for many other religious topics as well. 

bullet Email received: "I hope you go bankrupt. You are damning your so called two-thirds of the population to hell. Christ was, is, and always will The Way. Stop trying to rewrite the truth and history. Noboby [sic] needs you."

Our response: The two thirds of the population that this visitor refers to are probably the non-Christians of the world, many of whom have never heard of Jesus, the Gospel or Christianity. Some of them have heard a distorted view of Christianity -- sufficient disinformation to be repelled by it. Many conservative Christians do believe that anyone who does not trust Jesus as Lord and savior during their life on earth will end up in Hell -- even if they had never heard of Jesus. However, there seems to be a movement within the Evangelical Christian community towards a belief that these people will be given some form of second chance for salvation. As far as the desire that we go bankrupt, we are aware that hundreds of devout conservative Christians are praying daily that this will happen. We are indeed in financial difficulty. However it is because our web site has so many visitors that we cannot afford the excess-throughput charges of our Internet Service Provider. It appears that lots of people want to visit our web site; some must need us.

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Copyright 2001 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-FEB-1
Latest update: 2001-OCT-7
Author: B.A. Robinson

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