Article XVIII: Of obtaining eternal salvation only by the name of Christ

This post is part of a Lenten series on the 39 Articles.

Article XVIII: Of obtaining eternal salvation only by the name of Christ
They also are to be had accursed that presume to say that every man shall be saved by the law or sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that law and the light of nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out to us only the name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.

“He is a good person, but he just practices his own spirituality.” I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that one. Of course, the person in question may well be a good person. This Article says nothing about one’s goodness apart from faith in Christ. But it does say that the selfward spiritual person is not going to be saved.

Plenty of ink has been spilled on the topic of whether non-Christians can be saved. I won’t carry on that particular conversation here, other than to note a couple of things. First, perhaps Rahner is right, and there are “anonymous Christians.” Perhaps he’s wrong, and John 3 and John 14 are to be taken at face value: failure to believe in Christ means a quick one-way ticket to hell.

Frankly, this debate isn’t very interesting to me. I will claim without apology or reservation that Jesus Christ offers salvation to the whole world. And I’ll invite others into that glorious, everlasting life. That’s enough for me to worry about. I can keep busy, as St. Paul put it, “working out my own salvation.” As I wrote yesterday, my experience is that people who announce they’ve figured out the mechanism of salvation are usually (conveniently enough) on the heaven side of the line in their scheme. (That seems like a theological conflict of interest.)

I’m not suggesting that pluralism is an acceptable approach to understanding Jesus Christ and his saving work, especially if we follow the increasingly common practice of using a lowest-common-denominator bland approach to interfaith or cross-cultural conversation. I think it’s much better and more honest to be who we are and to meet others as they are. So when I meet Muslims, I might say that I believe Jesus Christ saves them. And a Muslim might tell me that I’m not getting into paradise because I profess faith in a triune God. Then we can have a real conversation.

There is no doubt the New Testament says that Jesus Christ is the only path to salvation. But there is also biblical warrant for suggesting that things are a bit more complicated than that. As I’ve written with some of the other Articles, my point here is not to rewrite doctrine or traditional teachings. Rather, I think we should insist on what is essential and no more. It is essential for a Christian to say that God desires to save people through Jesus Christ. It is essential for us to say that Jesus Christ died and was raised again to save the world. It seems to me that it is not essential for us to condemn others. Let us, instead, invite people into the joy of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Here are some questions for pondering or meditation:

  • Must others be condemned for Christians to be saved?
  • If others are to be condemned, should we believe that all those who are not Christians cannot be saved?
  • If some others could be saved, does this undercut our own salvation?
  • Is our salvation effected by Christ’s death, by the font, or by an adult profession?
  • Does the salvation of others — or lack thereof — change the way we should follow Jesus?

Almighty god, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Previous: Article XVII: Of predestination and election
Next: Article XIX: Of the Church