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An Evangelical Reader Puzzles About the Reach of God's Saving Power

Monday, May 14, 2012 12:59 AM Comments (113)

She writes:

I listened to your dvd, about the catholic traditions being a sole part of a persons divine revelation and not scripture alone. I found this fascinating but also really sad, it made me wonder about many people or tribes located in far off places who do not have access to different churches. Im just going to throw down a far-off scenario that is very unlikely but will get my point across. Lets say theres a small tribe of people living in Africa, the only source of God's existence they have is nature around them and a small bible, let's say that because of the bible that is located within their tribe many of them have come to know Jesus's forgiveness and saving power. This in itself is a wonderful story and I pray God does allow this to happen in different parts of the world. I couldnt help but ask myself this question when watching your video, Catholic churches are present in every town and city I have ever been to in my life, but what about those places or tribes that there is no catholic churches to take part in their sacred traditions? Does this mean that from your point of view that scripture alone is not enough for these people and that God will not recognize them as his saved children because they are not practicing in those sacred traditions? I would enjoy to hear more on this subject and what really led you to believe that God cannot reveal himself alone in scripture.

God judges justly, which means, among other things, that he judges us by the light we have received.  The Church teaches that it is possible for non-Catholics, and indeed, non-Christians to be saved.  That is why St. Paul writes:

When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16)

The rule of thumb here is that we are bound by the sacraments and what God has revealed to us. So when we really learn, for instance, that Jesus has given us the Catholic Church as the sacrament of salvation, we are bound to be faithful to that knowledge.  But God is not bound by the sacraments.  He can do whatever he feels like to save us and reveal himself to us if, through no fault of our own, we are ignorant.  So the Good Thief was saved without either sacramental baptism or the Eucharist.  But it does not follow that, knowing the necessity of these things, we can't therefore blow them off.  We are bound by the sacraments, but God is not bound by them.

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About Mark Shea

Mark Shea
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Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.