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Salvation

Teachings by Southern Baptists and other
conservative Protestant denominations

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Quotations:

bullet"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.

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About the Southern Baptists and other Conservative faith groups:

Fundamentalist Christians occupy the most conservative wing of Protestantism. With a membership of about 16 million, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the largest Fundamentalist denomination in the U.S.  Among all the Christian denominations in the U.S., it is second in size only to the Roman Catholic church. Starting in the 1970's, the SBC went through internal turmoil due to an internal conflict between moderates and fundamentalists. The more liberal wing lost the battle. One result has been the publication of a series of documents that have been criticized by some more liberal Christians, feminist organizations, theologians, and Jewish, Hindu & Muslim groups. For example, they have required their employees to sign a loyalty oath, they have issued a statement on the submissive role of women in the family, and have published a series of prayer guides to help their membership pray for and evangelize non-Christians, in order to lead them to salvation, and they have forbidden the future ordination of any woman.

This essay will deal with the salvation beliefs of Southern Baptists. However, they reflect the beliefs of most other conservative Protestants/evangelical denominations as well.

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How the SBC interprets the Bible:

Fundamentalists generally believe that the authors of the Bible were inspired by God, and thus that the Bible is inerrant ("without any mixture of error"). Its text is normally interpreted literally, except where a symbolic interpretation is obviously needed. "The Scriptures" section of the Baptist Faith and Message statement confirms these beliefs:

"The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy.

bulletThe Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament): Southern Baptists regard the first few chapters of Genesis to be the among most important passages of the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament). This contains stories of creation, the Garden of Eden, Adam, Eve, the serpent, etc. The SBC interprets Genesis 2:15 as describing how:
bulletHumanity's original parents, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God's prime directive that they were not to eat "the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." (NIV).
bulletWhen they disobeyed, they committed a major transgression against God and were immediately punished.
bulletThis is generally referred to as "the fall" of humanity.
bulletSin and death entered the universe for the first time
bulletAdam and Eve were ejected from the Garden of Eden, never to return.

Many liberal Christians believe that these passages are religious myth, copied from nearby Pagan cultures: of immense spiritual significance, but descriptions of events that never happened. Other liberals interpret these passages as describing the rise of proto-humans to full humanity.

bulletThe Christian Scriptures (New Testament): Many verses in the book of Romans are frequently quoted in support of Fundamentalist beliefs on salvation:
bulletRomans 1:16: For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth..."
bulletRomans 3:10-12: "...There is none righteous, no, not one.... there is none that doeth good, no, not one."
bulletRomans 3:22-26: "Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
bulletRomans 5:8-9: "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
bulletRomans 10:9-10: "...if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Other frequently quoted passages are:

bulletEphesians 2:8-9: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast."
bullet1 Corinthians 15:1-5: "...I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved....For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures."

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The need for salvation, and how to attain it:

One long-term result of "the fall" was that all of their descendants were born in a state of "original sin". One consequence of original sin is that every person's normal destination at death is Hell, where they will be eternally tortured without any hope of mercy or relief. Another result had been an unbridgeable chasm between God and humanity; reconciliation and avoidance of Hell can only be achieved through the individual becoming "saved."

Salvation is based on the concept of substitutionary atonement, first developed by St. Augustine early in the 5th century CE. Augustine believed that God the Father required Jesus to die on the cross in order to pay for the past and future sins of humanity. Apparently, the perfect justice of God prevented him from forgiving humans directly. He required the torture death of his only begotten son, who the Bible describes as sinless. The death of a totally innocent god-man was the only method by which the present gulf between God and man, created in Eden, could be bridged. A major tenet of Protestant Fundamentalist belief is that if a person hears the Gospel, acknowledges their sinful nature, is genuinely repentant, believes in the divinity of Christ, and trusts him as Lord and Savior, then they will be "saved". Two items  -- belief in Christ's divinity and personal repentance -- are controversial; some conservative Christians hold that they are not necessary for salvation, because they represent human works.

Once saved, God will forgive -- and actually forget -- an individual's past sins. In a process called sanctification, the Holy Spirit will continually improve their behavior and spirituality while they remain alive on earth.

They believe that many life changes result from being "saved":

bulletA person experiences an overpowering religious conversion.
bulletHe/she develops an intimate, trusting relationship with God, which is sometimes described as "walking with the Lord," "inviting the Holy Spirit into your heart," "being a new creation in Christ," "being a baby in Christ," etc.
bulletTheir personality and behavior change to be closer to that of Christ.
bulletAt death, they avoid Hell, and are taken up into heaven.
bulletPentecostal Christians additionally believe when a person is truly saved, God gives them gifts, one of which is often the ability to speak in tongues. Some Pentecostals believe that if a person does not speak in tongues that she or he has not been saved.

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Is salvation possible only through trust in Jesus?

During the 20th century, North America transitioned from being an almost exclusively Judeo-Christian region, into the world's most religiously diverse area. During the same century, the West became much less isolated from the rest of the world. These two factors, religious diversity and global integration, have forced American Christians to become aware of the beliefs and practices of other religions. They note that other religions teach various forms of salvation which can be achieved in different ways. For example:

bulletIslam teaches submission to the will of Allah
bulletJudaism teaches the importance of following the Mosaic code and religious rituals
bullet Buddhism urges its followers to achieve Nirvana and thus terminate the painful repetition of continuing lifetimes.

Generally speaking, Christians have adopted one of three beliefs about other religions: Pluralism, Inclusivism or Exclusivism:

bulletPluralism: Most liberal Christians regard all religions as legitimate, valid, and true -- when viewed from within their particular culture. Thus, all faith traditions are deserving of respect. Many liberals believe that there are many paths to salvation; trust in Jesus is only one such path.

bulletInclusivism: Many Roman Catholics and a wide range of Protestants regard their own faith tradition as the only completely true religion. They view other religions as perhaps reflecting "aspects of, or to constitute approaches to, that final truth." 2 The Roman Catholic Church considers that members of other religions are "gravely deficient" relative to members of the Church of Christ who already have "the fullness of the means of salvation." 3 Salvation is thus possible to others, but is difficult for them to achieve. Their religion may well be a hindrance to salvation.

bulletExclusivism: Many conservative Christians regard their own faith tradition as the only completely true religion. Other religions might have elements of truth in them -- beliefs arrived at either by accident, or by observing nature, or by following their conscience. But their beliefs are largely false. They are often viewed as rivals to the one true religion. Salvation within other religions is at best very improbable -- perhaps impossible.

Exclusivism appears to be the most common belief among devout Christians in the U.S. One indication of this comes from a 1995 poll showed that only 21% of churchgoers regarded Islam as having a positive impact on society. Only 21% felt that Buddhism had a positive effect.

Most Southern Baptists and many other evangelical/conservative Protestants follow the exclusivism belief system. Some consider other religions as forms of Satanism, led by demonic forces. The latter are often vigorously opposed because they are viewed as drawing their followers away from salvation towards an eternity of punishment in Hell

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Exclusivism within the Southern Baptist Convention:

The official web site of the Southern Baptist Convention links extensively to contents of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT). It is a publication of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. 4 In a 1998 issue, they published a SBJT Forum which dealt with questions of religious inclusivity. 5 In it, four leading Southern Baptist theologians gave answers to questions submitted by the magazine's readers.

Timothy George, founding Dean of Beeson Divinity School and senior advisor for Christianity Today, wrote part of the Forum, referring to:

bulletA Christian missionary, William Carey, and generations of missionaries who followed in his wake...who "believed...that...Personal faith in Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation for all peoples everywhere, and those who die without this saving knowledge face eternal separation from God."
bulletChristian inclusivists are in error because they trivialize "the tragic consequences of the Fall."
bullet"...Non-Christian religions...are unable to lead anyone to salvation -- because of their own falsity as well as human fallenness."
bulletGeorge does suggest that God can achieve salvation outside of a trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior. For example, infants or mentally challenged individuals who cannot comprehend the Gospel may be saved. Others may theoretically be saved by the direct action of angels.

Carl F.H. Henry, founding editor of Christianity Today and Senior Research Professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote:

bulletActs 4:12 implies that "...Christ is the truth, not simply one among many. Precluded is the notion that God reveals himself in all religions..."

D.A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School wrote:

bulletThe question of whether the Gospel of John and John's epistles allow for salvation outside of faith in Christ is "in some ways...perverse" and "at best... are remarkably immature."
bulletCarson quotes 1 John 4:23 which says "...every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God." He wrote: "Formally, this excludes those who do not acknowledge who Jesus is."
bulletHe discusses Revelation 13 & 14, concluding that "Either one bears the mark of the beast and is thereby spared the beast's wrath, but faces the wrath of the Lamb [i.e. Jesus] or one bears the mark of the Lamb and is thereby spared the Lamb's wrath, but faces the wrath of the beast.
bulletHe concludes: "So does the Johannine corpus 'leave room for salvation through means other than specific faith in Christ?' Certainly not in its most obvious reading."

Scott Hafemann is Hawthorn Professor of Greek at Wheaton College, and is the author of many conservative Christian books and articles. He states that:

bullet"...Paul plainly teaches the reality of eternal judgment for those who do not embrace Christ....He holds no hope for those who remain in idolatry and its lifestyles for he attributes the practice to demons."
bulletHe quotes Douglas Moo who wrote: "...righteousness and life are for those who respond to God's grace in Christ and that they are only for those who respond." 6

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Bible passages supporting exclusivism:

The authors of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) were often strongly exclusivist. Some of the most frequently quoted passages reinforce this belief. For example:

  • According to Christian Scriptures, salvation and the avoidance of an eternal punishment in Hell is available only to Christians:
    • John 14:6: "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." (all KJV)
    • Matt 7:13: "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat."
    • Acts 4:12: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."

  • Jesus considered a follower of at least one other religion to be sub-human. According to Matthew 15:22-28, Jesus was approached by a non-Jewish woman seeking healing for her daughter. Matthew calls her a Canaanite; Mark 7:25-30 calls her a Greek / Syrophenician. Being non-Jewish, Jesus initially considered her to be beneath him, and not worthy of his attention. He referred to her as a dog, and implied that to help her would be a waste of his effort:
    • Matthew 15:26 quotes Jesus as saying: "...It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs."
    • Mark 7:27 repeats this as: "...it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs."
    However, the woman joked with Jesus and won him over to a more tolerant position. He cured her child. Some commentators suggest that this encounter had a profound effect on Jesus' life. It changed his opinion towards non-Jews. After meeting her, he began to treat people of all religions without prejudice. He began to consider his message as universal, and not limited to Jews only.

  • According to Paul, the Gods of other religions are actually demons. One should not even befriend non-Christians:
    • 1 Corinthians 10:20: "But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils."

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At what age are Christians "saved"?

A study by Barna Research, announced on 1999-NOV-12, shows that most conservative Christians are "saved" while they are children. A person who is unsaved at the age of 14 only has a 10% chance of being "saved" at any time later in their life. The survey also showed that about 40% of all Americans consider themselves as having been saved during their lifetime. This number agrees with previous surveys. 

Age range % of the U.S. population who are saved within that age range
5 to 13 years 32%
14 to 18 years 4%
over 19 years 6%

There are at least two conflicting interpretations of these data:

bulletOnce a person has reached adulthood, they are unlikely to undergo a salvation experience. Thus, children must be brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus long before they reach adulthood. Otherwise, they will probably never achieve salvation. Thus, churches should concentrate their emphasis on salvation among their own youth.
bulletEssentially all Fundamentalists and other Evangelicals are already saved by the time that they reach adulthood. It is unlikely that they will be able to increase the number of saved members within their own denominations. Thus, churches should redouble their emphasis on salvation among the followers of other Christian denominations and of other religions.

More details.

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "The Baptist Faith and Message," Year 2000 revision, at: http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp
  2. Seena Fazel, "Religious Pluralism," at: http://bahai-library.org/encyclopedia/ 
  3. Joseph Cardinal Retzinger, "Dominus Iesus on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the church," Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. See: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/ 
  4. The home page of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology is at: http://www.sbts.edu/resources/sbjt.php
  5. Timothy George, "The SBJT Forum: Responses to Inclusivism," http://www.sbts.edu/resources/sbjt/1998/ You need software to read these PDFfiles. It can be obtained free from:
  6. Douglas Moo, "The Epistle to the Romans," Eerdmans, (1996), Page 336-337.

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Copyright © 1997 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-JUN-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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