During our recent winter sojourn in Kerala, my sister and brother-in-law who live in Australia visited with us for a couple of days. We had an interesting discussion whether salvation is possible for non-Christians ………. and, in fact, whether any one who is not “born again” can achieve salvation.

I told them – much to their shock – that even Pope Benedict had issued a proclamation in 2005 specifically stating that biblical belief was not necessary to attain salvation. This was quite a revelation to them since it went against conventional Christian doctrine. Upon reflection, it is remarkable that Benedict – a conservative Pope – would have publicly adopted such a position. The following is essentially what Benedict said in November, 2005 while addressing 23,000 people gathered in St Peter’s square:

“Whoever seeks peace and the good of the community with a pure conscience, and keeps alive the desire for the transcendent, will be saved even if he lacks biblical faith.”

He went on to elaborate as to the rationale for the above declaration as outlined on the link.

Benedict’s position is not widely known even among Roman Catholics and, as one of my cousins who is Roman Catholic said, the church does not publicize it! However, Benedict’s declaration is a significant change from the common belief as to what the Catholic church taught in years gone by. I recall when growing up in Kenya and went to elementary school that was run by Roman Catholic nuns, we were taught that only Roman Catholics could attain salvation …… not even other Christians could do so …… a position that is rather similar to that of “born again” Christians today in their belief that only they are “saved”. Incidentally, the school I attended was called the “White Sisters’ Convent School” – this was in the early fifties and the name denoted the fact that it was run by white nuns, though many of the teachers were Indians. In my final year at the school, the name was changed to the “Star of the Sea School” – perhaps, in an attempt to be politically correct in the parlance of today’s terminology!

Many of the divisions within Christianity as well as other faiths and the resultant tensions. animosity and injustices perpetrated over the centuries often rest on interpretations of the scriptures of a religion.

Benedict’s broader view regarding salvation – which would be viewed as anathema among evangelicals and most conservative denominations, including some Roman Catholics, was well articulated by a poster (Trishie) on a Catholic forum who wrote:

“Who can be saved? Jesus says it’s about actively loving others or not which determines our eternal destiny. This therefore is the bottom line.

I am sometimes sad that there is sometimes less emphasis placed on Jesus’ words than should be placed on the words of the saviour of the human race who is God’s Son, who is God as well as human. Jesus is the source of salvation and the foundation of the Church. Can we call ourself Christians if we don’t accept the words of Jesus the Christ?”

She then cites biblical support for the point of view that she outlines above:

“When the Son of Man comes in all His glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory. All the nations will be assembled before him and he will separate men from one another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left.

Then the King shall say to those on his right hand: ‘Come you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was a stranger and you made me welcome. I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me; sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.’

Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?’

And the King will answer, ‘I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.’

Next he will say to those on his left: ‘Go away from me with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for when I was hungry you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, naked and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me.’

Then it will be their turn to ask, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty; a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and not come to your help?’

Then he will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.” And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the virtuous to eternal life.” Matthew 25 (verses 31-46)

She concludes her posting with these comments:

“And since Jesus is the very Person who will judge all of us, I think we have to accept HIS criteria for who may be saved! His criteria is salvation depends upon our charity towards other people, which He regards as charity directly given to Him.”

I wholeheartedly agree ……. and could not have said it better myself! In fact, Trishie’s posting offers biblical reference to my own view that I would enunciate to those who held rigid views on this issue: my view was essentially that we should leave it to God as to who will attain salvation. I have always felt that perhaps the greatest of Christ’s teachings is that of forgiveness – it is a message that is conveyed repeatedly in his teachings and even when he was dying on the cross.

Many fundamentalists Christians rely on Christ’s statement: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” to exclude non-believers. I feel that the passage from Matthew cited above is a more compassionate view of Christ’s criteria for salvation …… and said in his own words!

I don’t pretend to be a biblical scholar but I do take a broad view of Christ’s teachings. It is one of the reasons I attend St Annes Episcopal Church in Reston, Virginia – a wonderful church that espouses a policy of welcoming a diverse group of people including gays. St Annes pastor, Rev Jim Papille, offers an intellectually challenging approach in his sermons and occasionally challenges accepted dogma.

Over the years the Bible has been cited as the authority for many of the more outrageous actions around the world. It was not so long ago that apartheid was justified by the Dutch Reformed Church on the basis of biblical teachings as was segregation in the Deep South. The same holds true for some of the atrocities that have occurred in the name of other religions.At a time when religious fundamentalism is on the rise in various religions, it is encouraging to see that one of the Christian denominations that used to take a very narrow view of who might attain salvation, today take a broader and more tolerant view.

Fundamentalist Christians believe the Bible is inerrant ……… but when one has two different teachings which seem in apparent conflict, the dilemma is which one should be given precedence.

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2 Responses to “Can non-Christians attain salvation?”

  1. Mark G says:

    John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh to the Father but by me” is contradicted by verses John 6:44 and John 6:45 where the pre-condition for coming to Jesus is to first come to the Father.

    It is a matter of interpretation. Can you imagine a just God condemning the entire world other than the few who accept the narrow interpretation of John 14:6?

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