Saved By Christ Only
“Most American religious believers, including most Christians, say eternal life is not exclusively for those who accept Christ as their savior, a new survey finds,” USA Today reports on a new Pew Forum poll. “This means 52% of Christians do not agree with the doctrines many religions teach, particularly conservative denominations.”
But there’s a problem: While there’s surely an interesting poll question to ask about the changing beliefs about salvation, this is a very, very easy to get wrong. It’s not clear, for instance, how a Dominus-Iesus believing Catholic would answer the Pew question.
The story says the poll reported on “the number of people saying theirs is the only faith that can lead to eternal life.”
The way that’s worded makes one think that Pew presented a truncated, purely legalistic view of salvation: “What membership roll on earth do you have to be on to get into heaven.” In fact, a true believer in Catholicism, for instance, would be devoted to an entirely different proposition.
It’s not “what club gets in and which get excluded?” but “through whom do people get in?”
The answer to that: We get into heaven through Christ, who established a Church to provide access.
The Time magazine version of the story pits the Pew Forum’s statement “Many religions can lead to eternal life” against the words of Jesus, in the Gospel of John, that “no one comes to the Father except through me.”
They should have read Pope John Paul II, who said: “This confession does not deny salvation to non-Christians, but points to its ultimate source in Christ, in whom man and God are united.”
He was commenting on Dominus Iesus, which adds that those outside of sacramental Christianity (Eastern or Western) are “in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation.”
If it helps, think of it this way, though the analogy goes only so far: Home remedies, novel medical innovations, and even voodoo-wellness-bleeding-rituals may save patients every now and then. But when they do, the cure is likely traceable to principles best expressed in the latest 21st century medical practices.
Likewise, plenty of religious paths lead to God. But if souls travel them to eternal salvation, it’s because those paths created a longing for Christ such that they ran to him, Church and all, when they met him, instead of fleeing.
The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church asks (No. 171): “What is the meaning of the affirmation ‘Outside the Church there is no salvation’?”
It answers: “This means that all salvation comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church which is his body. Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her. At the same time, thanks to Christ and to his Church, those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.”
So, if Pew had asked me if many religions can lead to eternal life, I would have said, “Sure. And many roads can lead from New Orleans to Tucson. But you’re eventually going to have to get on I-10, and the sooner you do, the better.”
— Tom Hoopes