Letter from a Baptist Minister
Dear Mr. Gonzales:
I have been reading your publication, The Hammer, for quite a while and would like to present for your consideration an issue with which I, myself, have been wrestling. You have a reputation for coming right to the point and for not pulling punches. I am, therefore, curious about how you would, from your strictly Roman Catholic perspective, resolve the following issue.
I believe you will agree that all theology is an attempt by man to rationalize his faith and to make sense out of his experiences. He interprets life in light of what he perceives to be God's "revelation" and then codifies all of this to better understand God's will and purpose for his creatures. Underlying this cerebral activity is the principal concern of Everyman best expressed by the Philippians jailer "what must I do to be saved." (Acts 16:30) Unless and until this question is resolved the rest of our theology is of little or no consequence.
Every religion believes in some form of salvation, i.e., some form of life after death which is a reward for experiences/conduct in this life. Without such a belief life becomes hopeless and without meaning. It is the ultimate possibility of such a future that gives form and function to life; at least for believers.
The unremarkable and quite understandable fact is that all religions with a soteriology (the study of how man is saved) including and in particular Christianity are quite parochial in their outlook and, of course, have various levels of exclusivity. To be saved one must meet the perceived requirements of the particular brand of religion he or she espouses. Furthermore, without exception each of these religions believes adamantly that their's is the "Only True Faith"; i.e. not only is it necessary to believe and practice a particular code of conduct and religious exercises but all other religions , whatever their belief requirements for salvation may be, are lost because they are outside of the "One True Faith." They are without hope of ever having future blessings, eternal life or whatever may be the reward of the "true believer".
When one is operating within the framework of any one of the religions of mankind it can be very comforting: Here are the rules and regulations; I've met the minimum requirements; hence, I get the brass ring, the ticket to the Great Super Bowl in the sky.
But what about all of those outside? From the standpoint of Christianity that means about 80.6% of humanity has no chance for heaven- the beatific vision- or what have you. That's it.
Now it appears to me from reading The Hammer, that you are quite content with the above scenario. God has spoken. He has given His clear word on the subject. Believe and act or - if you will pardon the expression- go to hell. Being a believer myself, an ordained Baptist Minister, I understand "where you are coming from" but it is a hard thing to digest.
If Yahweh is a God of Love and Justice can we easily accept a theology which consigns to hell (or at best limbo) the majority of people on the planet? How can one believe in Someone in whom they have never heard? Should not all people who ever lived have an equal chance at the best God has to offer?
I believe a biblically based theology should be able to be developed that avoids universalism (everyone is saved no matter what) and yet retains a genuine spiritual commitment and which includes the possibility of salvation for everyone-beatific vision and all.
I will be interested in your response.
R. G. Taylor
A Response By
Dear Rev. Taylor,
Thank you for your well thought out letter. I can see by what you have expressed that you have been wrestling with this question for a while. I hope that I can shed light upon what the Roman Catholic Church teaches regarding this question. I will also make available to you an article I wrote on this very subject specifically addressed to Roman Catholics that have been confused by the Modernists regarding salvation.
In order to answer your question properly it is necessary to explore certain necessary principles and essential dogmas upon which we must agree as Christians. Since you are a member of a Christian denomination and that denomination adheres to certain fundamental truths revealed by Jesus Christ I will assume that you also agree with them. It is upon those truths that I will build my argument. As I am sure you are aware if I was debating with an atheist, agnostic, Modernist, Jehovah's Witness, Unitarian, Hindu, Buddhist or Mormon I would have to build upon a different foundation.
The Blessed Trinity
First we must agree upon the fact that Jesus Christ was the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity that took upon Himself a complete human nature. In other words, Jesus is both God and man united in one Divine Person. Consequent to this fact is that as God he came to reveal to us the fullness of truth necessary to love God as He deserves to be loved by His creatures. In other words, Jesus came to give us the truth that through our subjective response to that truth we might have faith in Him and His revelation. Now for Roman Catholics faith is not an end in itself but rather a means to an end. The purpose that Jesus revealed the truth was to give us the ability to love because you cannot love what you do not know and you will only love what you know to the degree that you know it. Therefore, love is the purpose and end of faith and in the final analysis it is upon the principle of love that we will ultimately be judged.
The point is simply this; God did not leave us to try to figure everything out on our own. He became a man like us in order that as a man He could reveal to us Who He Is and who we are in light of Who He Is. He revealed his plan of salvation for us and for the entire human race.
Now, as Christians we not only believe in what Jesus revealed as the fullness of truth but we also believe that He became human in order to take upon Himself the punishment which we deserve by our sins. The Gates of Paradise had been shut by the sin of Adam and Eve and no one could enter into heaven. It was by His death upon the gibbet of the Cross that Jesus opened the gates of heaven making it possible for men to actually come into the presence of God. Therefore, if you are Christian you must believe, by virtue of being Christian, that Jesus' redemption was absolutely necessary for the salvation of individual men and women and that without his redemption no one could ever be saved.
The Application of Merit
If we agree thus far then the one question that must be answered is how the merits of the redemption Jesus won for humanity on the cross are applied to individual souls in time and space. It is traditional Roman Catholic teaching that the merits of the Redemption are applied to each individual soul through the reception of the 7 sacraments which Jesus established for that purpose. Without these sacraments one's soul remains "lifeless" that is, God's sanctifying grace does not give life to the souls of those who have not received the merits of Christ's redemption through the application of the Sacraments. This means of applying grace is consistent with the same method God used in the Old Covenant.
Now as a Protestant, to be consistent with your religious foundations, you must accept the premise that the merits of the redemption are applied to the individual soul through an act of faith. The Protestant principle "We are saved by faith alone!" Is the first foundational principle of classical Protestantism. The point being that even within your own tradition salvation comes through the blood of the cross and through faith in Jesus Christ. If, therefore, you have maintained integrity with your own religious tradition you will surely agree that even your tradition claims that no one is saved except by the merits of Christ's redemption being applied to the individual soul in time and space. The one difference between Roman Catholic and Protestant soteriology is the way in which those merits are applied. "Through no other can man be saved."
The Inerrancy of the
Now the Roman Catholic Church has always taught that the Sacred Scriptures are inerrant, i.e., without error or falsehood. Classical Protestantism claims the same belief. The one difference between RC and Protestant theology concerning the Scriptures is that Protestantism believes that the Sacred Scriptures alone are to be the sole rule of faith. This belief is the second foundational principle of Protestantism. But the Scriptures say that salvation comes through Jesus Christ and that without faith in Him no one will be saved. Therefore, if you are to remain a Baptist it is incumbent upon you to accept and to believe the Word of God that your denomination prides itself in taking so literally.
In other words, Reverend Taylor, if you are to remain a Protestant or a Christian of any kind you are forced to accept that God has revealed His word in the Sacred Scriptures and that word is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. (Is. 43:11; John 10:9, 14:6, 17:1-2, Eph. 2:8-9, Luke 20:35-36, Apoc. 21:27, Matt. 7:14, 20:16, Luke 13:24) With the testimony of the Word of God are we not compelled to believe that the number of the saved will be few?
A Protestant Loophole?
Now according to the 3rd and final foundational principle of Protestantism you are free to interpret the Scriptures according to you own private judgment. For is it not written by the leader of the Protestant revolt, Martin Luther, that "anyone can interpret the Sacred Scriptures with the guidance of the Holy Ghost, yes even a child of nine." Therefore, you could say that in your reading of the Scriptures God seems to indicate that there are those who will be saved outside the ordinary means of salvation. You may even quote to me the three Scriptures that seem to support your position:
Matt 19:16-22 "What good work must I do to have eternal life?" "...But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments."...
Or; Acts 10:34 "...Now I really understand that God is not a respecter of persons, but rather in every nation he who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to him..."
Or; Romans 2:14-16 "When the Gentiles who have no law do by nature what the Law prescribes, these having no law are a law unto themselves. They show the work of the Law written in their hearts. Their conscience bears witness to them, even when conflicting thoughts accuse or defend them. This will take place on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the hidden secrets of men through Jesus Christ."
Now it seems that, according to these three passages, God will save the righteous man of "any nation". However, a brief exegesis of these passages will show that this is not as simple as that. First of all Scripture cannot contradict itself. It can only demonstrate paradoxically the same truth seen from a different point of view. The fact is that in each of these passages there are conditions that one must fulfill in order to be judged righteous in the eyes of God. In Matthew the Israelite to whom the Law has been given must obey that Law. In Acts and Romans the Gentiles must obey the same Law which is ultimately written within the heart of every human being. We call this the Natural Law. In other words those principles of action and behavior which God has woven into the very nature of man. Because he is capable of free choice and can go against his nature God has made it necessary that all men acknowledge and conduct themselves according to the principles of the natural law in order to be " acceptable to Him".
It must also be
taken into consideration that for the Israelites all those who were outside of
the religion of Israel could not be found righteous because they had not been chosen by God and had not
been given the Law obedience to which made one righteous. The three passages above do not negate this truth but only show to the Israelites
that those who are not Israelites can also be given salvation through the
Revelation and Merits of Jesus Christ. In other words, the Gentiles can also be saved. This was a great revelation to the Israelites and is emphasized over
and over again in the New Testament as being the
"Good News of Salvation". But notice according to Romans even those who have no faith will be judged not on their lack of faith but upon their works. "...treasure up to thyself wrath upon the day of wrath and of the revelation of the just judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his works. Life eternal indeed he will give to those who by patience in good works seek glory and honor and immorality; but wrath and indignation to those who are contentious, and who do not submit to the truth but assent to iniquity. Tribulation and anguish shall be visited upon the soul of EVERY MAN WHO WORKS EVIL; of Jew first and then of Greek. But glory and honor and peace shall be awarded to everyone who does good, to Jew first and then to Greek. Because with God there is not respect of persons." (Romans 2:5-11)
The most important element to remember is that St. Paul is writing to Roman Catholics and not to pagans. He wishes to express to them that even though they were not born of the race of Abraham they are still the spiritual children of Abraham because they have been REDEEMED through Christ Jesus, Our Lord. The second important element in this particular passage is that "conduct" that is, doing the will of God, at least through the Natural Law is absolutely necessary for Eternal Life. Everyone will be judged according to how they have responded to the truth and the knowledge of God and of right and wrong.
Without the Grace of Christ
Now you asked about the justice of God and the fairness of "equal opportunity" (sounds liberal to me). Your statement is as follows: "Should not all people who ever lived have an equal chance at the best God has to offer?" The traditional answer of the Roman Catholic Church is simple. NO! Eternal Salvation meaning the Beatific Vision is purely and solely a gift from God. It cannot be earned nor can it be demanded. And even if the "virtuous pagan" lives out the natural law to the best of his ability it is also written "... without faith it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God." (Hebrews 11:6)
You know that obedience to the will of God is necessary for salvation. It is repeated continuously throughout the Sacred Scriptures. It is also stated that those who do obey the Law of God will be rewarded for our God is infinitely Just and will not condemn those who have made the most of what they have been given. (Matt. 25:15-) But how difficult it is to obey the will of God without the grace of Christ. I myself must struggle every day to avoid sinning and I have been immersed deeply into the grace of Christ. And so it is for all those who received the grace of Christ. Therefore, if we who have been made children of God through grace have a difficult time renouncing sin and obeying the Father's will how much more difficult is it for those who have never been given the grace of Christ to do what God commands all men to do through their very nature?
"...without me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5)
It is not unfair nor unjust for God not to give everyone the same opportunity for the beatific vision. It is not our right to possess and, in fact, it is a totally supernatural gift which man is incapable of possessing. For a human being to "see God in the face" God must add to his nature something that will make that nature capable of seeing God. All men are born without the capacity to see God face to face and God could have left us in that state even without the consequences of original sin. Nevertheless, in His infinite love for man He Himself became a man in order to give us the gift of sanctifying grace. This grace gives the soul the capacity to have the beatific vision. Now we know that it is the general will of God "... that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of truth." (1 Tim2:4) We call this His general will and as Roman Catholics we believe that God has given all men "sufficient grace" to come to know Him and to respond to His call of salvation. Therefore, I believe that if there are actually human beings out there who, even though they do not know Christ, live out the Law of God written within their hearts, then Christ will send them someone to teach them about Himself and give them the grace of the sacraments that they may come to the beatific vision when they die. In other words, Reverend Taylor, if a man does the will of God without knowing Christ then even if a miracle must be performed Christ will provide him with the graces necessary for salvation. In this way God provides an equal opportunity for eternal life. Yet how few there are who find it.