Posted by: Mike
Answering the ring at the door, I was confronted with a young girl. She looked about 12. It was on a Saturday morning. The first thing she said to me was, “Are you saved?” I likely hesitated before responding, and as I recall, I had trouble answering, but didn’t directly respond to her question. Glancing over her shoulder, I could see her chaperoning parents in the background, no doubt offering her support and encouragement for this, one of her first “cold calls.” I was taken aback and honestly don’t recall what I said to the girl, but I do remember becoming angry, not so much at her but at the effrontery and ignorance of parents who would subject their child to such disciplined carrying out of their, not her, religious convictions. I discovered later that the family was from the local Bethel Baptist Church and they were obviously doing their Saturday proselytizing as part of their religious obligation.
The issue of salvation is not really in the vocabulary of my life’s frame of reference, so I thought that just in case my afterlife’s future was at stake, I’d better do some research and get a clear fix on just what it is likely to mean for believers. My most handy reference aside from the Internet was the Book of Discipline of one of the mainstream moderate Protestant denominations, which I just happened to find lying around the house. This is what I found: “The created order is designed for the well-being of all creatures…in covenant with God. As sinful creatures, however, we have broken that covenant, become estranged from God…. We stand in need of redemption. We hold in common with all Christians a faith in the mystery of salvation in and through Jesus Christ.” The need for salvation was further clarified, by the following: “Original sin…is the corruption of the nature of every man…whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.” I had a lot of trouble with the “broken that covenant” and the statement that everyone (I assume that women were included!) is “of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.” I for one am not aware of having broken any covenant (yes, I know about Adam and Eve), nor have I seen all persons continually inclined to evil. It is a rather bleak and depressing view of humans and of the human spirit. I thought I’d better seek further for information about salvation.
Wikipedia defines salvation as “Three related things: being saved from, or liberated from, something; being saved for something, such as an afterlife or participating in the Reign of God; or social liberation and healing, as in liberation theology.” The article goes on to review the various conceptions of salvation found in Catholicism and in distinctive Protestant denominations: “In the Calvinist system, all people are born sinful and thus are in need of God to save them. God’s plan of salvation included the appointing of the elect before the foundation of the world…. The entire process of being born again is performed solely by the Holy Spirit prior to the person exercising faith, and, indeed, the doctrine of total inability says that faith is impossible apart from such divine intervention. All the elect necessarily persevere in faith because God keeps them from falling away….
“Churches of Christ believe that humans are lost in sin but can be redeemed because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, offered himself as the atoning sacrifice. The means of salvation that the members of Christ’s church experience relies heavily on obedience to the gospel, especially distinctive in today’s world, and the understanding that baptism saves. Churches of Christ reject original sin and salvation by faith alone. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection offer the only hope for mankind.
“Roman Catholics believe that man stands in need of salvation from God; and that divine help comes to him in Christ through the law that guides him and the grace that sustains him; that it was for our salvation that God …sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. By his death Jesus, the Son of God, has conquered death, and so opened the possibility of salvation to all men…. Jesus has provided the Church with the fullness of the means of salvation which [the Father] has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession. Baptism is necessary for salvation, and is sufficient for those who die as children and those permanently deprived of their use of reason. The sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation for those who have fallen after Baptism…that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation…the Eucharist: Every time this mystery is celebrated, the work of our redemption is carried on and we break the one bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live for ever in Jesus Christ.
“At the same time, however, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that through the graces Jesus won for humanity by sacrificing himself on the cross, salvation is possible even for those outside the visible boundaries of the Church. Christians and even non-Christians, if in life they respond positively to the grace and truth that God reveals to them through the mercy of Christ, may be saved. This may include awareness of an obligation to become part of the Catholic Church. In such cases, they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it.”
Finally, [again from Wikipedia], “Within the emerging church and various branches of liberal or progressive Christianity, there are a number of different views on the meaning of salvation…largely related to post-modern views on Christianity as a dialogue rather than a set of doctrines. Salvation can mean a saving personal and/or social deliverance from the effects of structural (social) or personal sins. In this context, salvation could mean anything from participation in a glorious afterlife to a kind of liberation similar to that in Hinduism or Buddhism, to the repair of interpersonal relationships, to societal deliverance into a future perfect world, or even to such concepts as gay liberation, women’s liberation, the raising up of the oppressed and marginalized, or the equal distribution of goods. Any or all of these views are likely to be held and debated within the emerging church.”
I have quoted extensively from Wikipedia to show the variation and range of Christian perspectives on this concept of salvation. And contained in the readings are key insights into various denominations’ perspectives on the degree of charity they allow those who are not of their convictions. We also are presented with other articles of faith, like original sin and the need for other sacraments that require careful consideration and reevaluation as to their function, utility, and validity. What strikes me is the range and variation of the various perspectives, the apparent absoluteness with which most of the convictions are held, and the complexity of the formulations. For me, the final paragraph quoted above is a breath of fresh air, allowing some freedom of individual thought. If one chooses Christianity, the post-modern church may not as rigorously prescribe the requirements for salvation, and given such a perspective, the positive aspects of the notion of salvation may far outweigh the negative.
The concept of salvation is primarily Christian, and has a scriptural basis. Individual denominations have elaborated upon it, based upon their interpretations and the particular focus of their generally charismatic founders. Salvation is not based upon objective reality, but upon the belief that the statements attributed to Jesus and the predilections of those who influenced Christian theology are true, a reflection of reality. The concept may also have been strongly influenced by the need of leaders to control their followers, and supported by the need of people for strong leaders they can trust and rely upon, and upon hope and fear, and upon the natural human need for a sense of security within the context of tribal mores and values.
It seems to me that the notion of salvation motivates people through either fear or their hopes for a better life in the afterlife. There are, however, much more natural and reality-based motivational stimuli (than the fear/threat/hope of salvation) that serve more effectively to reinforce reasonable and appropriate moral, ethical, and compassionate behavior, that not only maintain but strengthen the social fabric of families, groups, tribes, societies. The notion of salvation is an artificial construct based upon mythological assumptions that, unless it is used metaphorically and compassionately, has no place in a modern society which must be committed to reality as opposed to outdated myth and heroic narratives. Replacing the notion of salvation with a more inclusive, compassionate, and reality-based philosophic and religious perspective would allow room for more humane and natural commitment to more appropriate social mores and values, to behavioral standards based upon what is rational, logical, and intuitively makes sense and which does not proliferate pathology – to a universal welcoming of “the Golden Rule,” and to an inclusive, compassionate and caring, life-affirming orientation to existence.