Eph 2.8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
I received the following email from a friend… Phil, I wanted to talk you about some Christian thoughts. It’s about salvation. I’ve always been raised and taught through sermons and text to know salvation through faith and belief in Jesus as our messiah. That this is the one and only true source of our salvation. Jesus has taken our punishment, and by accepting it, our sins can be forgiven because he paid for them instead of us. Now, I have catholic people in my life, but they bring verses that talk about the church being given to man. Also, how it has an authority through St. Peter. I’ve never felt that a church authority could stand as a medium between man and God, but it seems they do. They go so far as to say that man needs to go through it for salvation from sin. I don’t understand the biblical basis on this. And I’ll admit my idea of salvation is from what I know. Does the Catholic Church and mass and baptism really hold sway as far as biblical text is concerned? I’ve always held there is something beautiful about Jesus and pure faith in him as a Christians salvation. I know walking a (good) path which we won’t live up to, but should try, is important. But won’t we all fail? Isn’t that the point that Jesus died for us, and not that any salvation can come through the Catholic Church? They have so much theology and use verses, but it doesn’t seem Christian to me. If there is evidence of this, can you tell me?
I responded… “Hiya!! Yeah…this is a great, deep question. And, hey, if you ever want to talk, or text, in real time, feel free to add me as a friend on Skype (JCServant7 there).
We have a number of large organizations (the Latter Day Saints, Catholics, several dozen major evangelical denominations, etc), who each feel that they have the corner on truth. Each of them also uses the Bible (and a ton of verses), as well as history, to back their truth-claims. How does one sort through this mess?
Everyone probably has a different answer. For me, I studied them side by side…going so far as to spend some time with each of their holy books (LDS have the book of Mormon, Catholics have the Apocrypha as well as writings of the popes, etc). I ended up with a similar conclusions to yours. The Bible, in and of itself, stands by itself, and clearly sets itself apart from the rest. Whereas many of the other books and writings eventually put their focus on man, the Bible makes it very clear that life is about worshipping and glorifying God. Other books teach organizations and hierarchy. The Bible teaches that we are all sons and daughters of God, the priesthood of all the saints, and that Jesus is the ‘head’ of the body. Others teach that salvation goes through man made organizations and actions (such as baptisms in their church), where the Bible teaches that the key is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of sins.
In short, again, I agree with what you have here. Anything else is in addition to it. As far as proof goes, well, the teachings of Jesus and the Bible make it darn clear. And I could give you another dozen reasons on top of that. But, honestly, you’re right in that others will gives you passage after passage defending their position. And this is where we run into a problem.
One thing many people do not know is that the Bible did not originally come to us divided into chapter and verse. This happened sometime in the mid 15th-16th centuries. For the most part, these divisions make it REAL handy for us to look things up quickly. However, it also comes with a major drawback…the tendency to pull out verses and try to build entire theologies around them. People have done this for centuries, now, even going so far as using Bible verses, pulled out of context, to defend slavery.
So, I learned to take the books of the Bible…and even the Bible itself, as a whole. When read with that approach, some of the answers to tough questions become a lot more apparent. I’m also less apt to fall for every doctrine that someone comes up with using a few passages here and there. Take Baptism, for example. When I first read the Bible, I got the distinct impression that baptism was like the wedding ring. It was a good/righteous thing to do once one received Christ, but in and of itself, was not an absolute requirement for salvation. The Bible makes it clear, when read as a whole, that our salvation is never by any works (which would include baptism), lest any man should boast. Now, one who has been saved really should get baptized… If they do not, it’s important to find out why, to insure that the reason doesn’t involve a lack of faith. However, it isn’t required for salvation. After all, Jesus told the thief next to him on the cross that he would be in Heaven with Jesus, though clearly, the thief would not be baptized.
Later, in talking with some Mormon/LDS friends, this subject came up. The bishop used a number of verses to explain that baptism, through their church, was required. I admitted that the verses, when pulled out and read a certain way, seemed to paint the picture he presented. However, when understood in the light of the rest of scripture, it seems clear to me that faith alone is counted to us as rightousness. Ironically enough, he was not just saying that baptism was required for salvation, but baptism by their priests, who held the ‘keys to the kingdom.’ Wow, that’s pretty deep stuff. Yet, as I had read the Bible numerous times at that point, I knew that it did not present the overall message that an institution, with a priest/hierarchy system was required to properly baptize people into God’s graces and salvation. Even if they knew more verses off the top of their head then I did, I knew that the New Testament clearly teaches that it is through faith in Jesus alone that we become born again. This 2nd birth is what is required for salvation, not admission to a particular denomination.
I also did a video series you might be interested in, where I addressed some of this head on. I felt motivated to do it after a Presbyterian pastor said that he could not call me a brother since I did not currently attend what he considered to be a traditional church at the time. It stunned me and broke my heart. I weathered that storm because I know who I am through Christ and my study of scripture…. but I wanted to reach out to others who might feel the same, yet lacked my experience and study. The 2nd show, I believe, discusses the Gospel message and what we must we do to be saved from the penalty of our sins.
Let me know if this is helpful, bro. I’ll be praying for you!!