Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Inclusive salvation ...

Recently Pope Francis made a statement on 'salvation' which included the idea that even an atheist is 'saved' by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Probably predictably, this made headlines in a lot of newspapers, though some managed to do it in a rather sneering fashion. Equally predicatbly, the Vatican was quick to "qualify" the Pontiff's remark, part of a midweek Mass Homily.

The fact is that this concept of the sacrifice Christ made on the Cross is not something stunningly new. It is stated in the Gospels themselves, and repeated in the "Letters" in various forms. It even forms a part of the Creeds we recite from time to time. The idea that 'salvation' is restricted only to those who attend church, adhere to a particular set of theological doctrines or dogmas or to a particular 'Brand' of Christianity is false. It stems from the statement that we must 'accept' Christ's gift of the hope of eternal life in order to be saved. Many interpret that as meaning the 'acceptance' means belonging to this or that church, and adhering to its teachings. I suspect this is why the Vatican was so quick to issue its 'qualification'.

Reading the Gospels and the other scriptures carefully and in context with their time, the culture and the understanding that many things the writers considered the reader "would know" and were not therefore necessary to spell out (papyrus was expnsive so you didn't waste it on unnecessary details) you quickly discover that the message is very "inclusive" - at times the disciples found that hard to accept. The clearest message of that 'inclusion' is in the fact that Jesus often went out of his way to find and associate with people shunned by the religious and very self-righteous members of the communities He worked in. Hence his sitting down to eat with tax gatherers, prostitutes, Samaritans and other 'unclean' members of society. Even with Gentiles - at that time pagan, and definitely not welcome in most Jewish homes.

We do not know who God includes or who He excludes. We cannot know this, nor should we attempt to make that call. To do so puts us in the same league as the Pharisees who thought they could earn God's approval by their strict adherence to the "Law of Moses" - in fact a massively complex set of "laws" evolved over several centuries from the Ten Commandments. Under their idea of faith and salvation, very few would make it to heaven. The key words on "salvation" come from Christ Himself at the Last Supper -

"... take and eat; for this is my body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me." Followed by "... He gave it (the cup) to them saying: drink this all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many (some translations make that the more accurate "everyone") for the forgiveness of sins."

None of the gospels add a qualification of exclusion of anyone not a follower of the disciples or not present at this meal. In fact there is a very strong theme of inclusion in the Gospels which suggests that even those guilty of the most heinous crimes against their fellows could be 'included' in salvation if - and here there is a 'qualifier' - they 'turn to Christ' and 'repent' of their crimes. In most cases only God the Father, Christ and the Holy Spirit can know who has and has not 'repented'. It simply is not for us to know.

So Pope Francis I is stating nothing radical in saying that Christ included even those who do not 'believe' in God in salvation. Only He can know what passes between Him and the person in those final hours of this life, and it is for us to accept - whether we like it or not. As Jonah discovered when having his monumental sulk because God chose not to destroy Nineveh when the people repented. It is not for us to question our Creator and Saviour - He is who He is, what He is, and where He is and we are His creation ...


  1. Slim Jim says:
    A very interesting post, Monk. As you say, who can know exactly who is saved? I know a retired clergyman who confided in me that he believes everyone goes to heaven! I don't know what creed he followed, but I do find it suspicious that other beliefs, like Jehovah's Witnesses believe that only they will be saved. At the very least, we can try to obey His commands (particularly the 'love your neighbour' one) and we can only hope and have faith in what happens when we die. I am aware of 1 Thessalonians 4:13 - 18, but I'm not certain that is what will happen. You say it is up to us to accept it, but a dose of healthy questioning should do no harm.

    1. God works in mysterious ways, Slim Jim, He might well have a plan for "everyone", we can't know, and as you say, we do need to engage in questioning and in spiritual growth. As with life, we can't remain children in Kindergarten forever.

      There is a lovely story where a man is standing in the queue at the door to Heaven. As each person gets to St Peter, he checks his book and directs the person to a room number in the long corridor. To each he gives the same injunction, "Please be very quiet as you pass Door Number 2."

      Eventiually it's the man's turn and he, a good Christian of the Roman persuasion, is directed to door number 4. Like the others he's told to be quiet passing door 2. He can't resist, so he asks, "Why? Is that where Jesus is?"

      "No," says St Peter, "that's where all the fundamentalists are - and they think they're the only one's here. We don't like to disillusion them."