belief and salvation
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Mat 7:13,14).
According to the Master Jesus Christ, there are two ways, which are accessed by two gates. One way is a broad way which is traversed by many who enter in at a wide gate. This way has enough space to accommodate the multitudes who find it – yet it is a way that leads to destruction. The “many” who walk along it, doubtless do not know where it leads, for if they did, they would turn aside out of it. They go forward blindly, not knowing any other way, for the alternative route is found only by a few. The alternative is a narrow way – and being narrow by design, it will accommodate only a “few”. The entrance to this way has to be sought for, and the way is traversed by a minority who have forsaken the broad streets of iniquity to walk along the paths of wisdom. This way, though narrow, is the only way that leads to everlasting life. The travellers know exactly where it leads, and it is the knowledge of this that gives them encouragement and comfort when the going gets tough, and obstacles present themselves. In such circumstances, the faithful few exhort and help one another, lifting up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees (Heb 12:12), that they be not turned aside out of that way. Together they walk, to reach their final destination which they so earnestly long for.
According to these principles, the majority are not walking along the path of life. They wander along the broad way that leads to destruction – only a minority can say in truth, that they are walking towards life everlasting. In other words, the majority live in their sins and their iniquities, given over to fulfilling the lusts of the flesh which will only lead them to the grave – whereas the few live within the parameters of the Truth, in hope of greater glory to come. It has always been so; the way of Truth has only ever been discovered by the few souls who search it out, and who eschew every evil work. For most of mankind, the way of Truth is too restrictive, for it does not allow for the unfettered satisfaction of the fleshly instincts that govern their walk in life. They are excluded from it both by it’s nature, and theirs, the two being mutually incompatible to the extent that most men never even find the entrance to the narrow way.
However, there are those who profess to be walking along the way of life, who seek to make that way wider, that it might accommodate more men and women. Who push against the parameters of the Truth, seeking to broaden it’s constraints in order that those who are not devoted to living in humble obedience to Christ, might nominally enter in. The pushing takes various forms, from seeking to accommodate inappropriate behaviours, to embracing others of other religions to that enunciated by the Most High in the Bible. Most commonly, it is the latter; there is an embracing of the Ecumenical policy of humanism, an attempted widening of the entrance that others of other persuasions may enter in, who do not know the Truth as it is in Christ Jesus.
In this spirit, the June 2003 Endeavour magazine carries an article by Peter Wright (An earlier edition of Endeavour criticised the present writer for not referring to it’s writers as brethren. However it should be noted that the writer of the article we refer to is not baptised and has not therefore obeyed the Gospel, although Endeavour continues to publish his articles without making this known) headed: “Ecumenism in the Good Samaritan Parable”, beginning: “There are in the Good Samaritan story (Lu 10:25-37) profound ecumenical factors which clearly demonstrate that personal or denominational possession of every correct doctrine is not essential for salvation or unity” (emphasis as per original).
The parable was given by Messiah in answer to the question put by a lawyer, “and who is my neighbour?” According to Mr Wright:
“One of the most notable features in the answer to the lawyer’s question is that the promise of salvation goes not to the doctrinally accurate priest or Levite, but to the doctrinally inaccurate Samaritan … Consequently the prospect of eternal life for this doctrinally imperfect Samaritan was obtained through nothing other than love and works, whilst somewhat shaky beliefs appear to be entirely omitted from the judgement”.
It is true that the Samaritans generally knew not the Truth, in fact the Master declared to a woman of Samaria, “ye worship ye know not what” (Jno 4:22), such was the mixture of their beliefs. Mr Wright refers to this, and concludes that the “doctrinally imperfect Samaritan” was given the prospect of eternal life through “nothing other” than his love and works for the man who falls victim to thieves.
The article continues under the heading, “Implications in Modernity”:
“The overall tenor of this parable also raises the question whether, if Jesus had been preaching today, this parable could have been about the Good Palestinian and if so, by inference, the Good Muslim? Also, could the net be cast even wider to encompass the Good Jew, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, or even the Good Christian? For all religions have in their ranks those capable of the Samaritan’s compassion. Regarding the relative importance between doctrine and love, Rom 13:8-10 says, ‘… he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled this law. The commandments, “do not commit adultery”, “do not murder”, “do not steal”, “do not covet” and whatever other commandments there may be, are summed up in this one rule: love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no harm to its neighbour, therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.’ In other words doctrinal perfection without love is empty and, as perhaps with the priest and the Levite, may prove to be an obstacle to eternal life (1 Cor 13:2). On the other hand blank spaces in doctrinal perfection, as in the Samaritan, appear to be filled by love, therefore the short cut to doctrinal perfection is love that does good and no harm and thus all law/doctrine is fulfilled by love. (see also Mk 12:28-33). If this is why the Samaritan epitomised entry into eternal life, because his unintended doctrinal blanks or inaccuracies were filled by love, then surely the same destination is arrived at by all who tread the path of love, regardless of their denomination or, like the Samaritan, even religious misconceptions. Consequently those in modernity whose doctrines are inadvertently inaccurate (and that to some degree is, in all probability, the vast majority of us) may, like the Samaritan, enter God’s Kingdom via demonstrated love”.
According to Peter Wright then, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Christians all may enter into the kingdom of God upon the same basis as a doctrinally errant Samaritan – through the exercise of love, “regardless of their denomination.” Their doctrinal “blank spaces” are “filled by love”; all, through love, have the prospect of eternal life. Erroneous doctrines, providing they are “inadvertently inaccurate” or “unintended blanks” form no barrier to their entry to the Kingdom of God. And by contrast, doctrinal accuracy itself, “may prove to be an obstacle to eternal life.” (Although, in fairness to Peter Wright, he also states later in the article “of course we should strive for doctrinal accuracy, but also recognise that no judgement based on it exists in the biblical text. Therefore inadvertently spurious doctrines cannot be the basis of judgement and so doctrinal diversity should not divide” . But what saith the Word?
THE TESTIMONY OF THE WORD
Firstly, we should note what the Word doesn’t say. The parable mentions nothing whatsoever about the beliefs of the Samaritan, the priest, or the Levite. It is true that the Samaritans generally held erroneous beliefs – but belief is not the point of the parable, else it would be mentioned. The parable is in answer to a different question, “and who is my neighbour”. The Samaritan, as depicted by Messiah was different to normal Samaritans, who ordinarily had nothing to do with Jews. This Samaritan showed compassion and gave all the aid he could to the man who had fallen victim to thieves—he was no ordinary Samaritan. Who is to say that another difference was that he had correct doctrines, and recognised that “salvation is of the Jews” (Jno 4:22)? The parable itself is silent on the matter.
Secondly, it should also be pointed out that the parable does not present either the priest or the Levite as having doctrinal correctness, as Mr Wright claims they did. Ordinarily, priests and Levites at the time of Messiah did not have doctrinal correctness, for they, with the Pharisees, had corrupted the Law of Moses by the traditions of men. Indeed, the chief priests were among those who sought to destroy the Prophet like unto Moses (Mat 20:18), actions which demonstrated not doctrinal accuracy, but blindness to law in its relationship to Christ. There is no place in the New Testament where it is even so much as implied that the priests or Levites were generally sound in the doctrine. Of course, in the parable, these characters might have been exceptions, like the Samaritan – they may well have been sound in the faith. But Messiah is silent on that matter also.
The parable itself therefore, does not make the points which Mr Wright asserts, regarding belief and salvation. They are deduced from inferences, and suppositions, the validity of which must be tested against other passages of Scripture, where the matter in question is taught plainly. To base a teaching upon inferred and supposed points from a parable which is contradictory to the main thrust of plain Scripture teaching would clearly not be good exposition. Let us therefore go on to see what the Bible states, in great plainness of speech, concerning belief and salvation:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jno 3:14-16).
“and they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31)
“for after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor 1:21).
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved …” (Mark 16:16).
“Verily, verily I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life” (Jno 6:27).
“Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (Jno 11:25).
“But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (Jno 20:31).
These passages clearly show that so far as the Bible is concerned, salvation is inextricably linked with belief. Christ was lifted up so that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” – on this the Scriptures are plain. Those who are to have everlasting life are those who believe in the Messiah. But by contrast, there are no passages which state that love for fellow man alone is sufficient qualification for life eternal. And there are no passages which state that men who do not believe – even if their unbelief is “unintended” – will have life through the name of Christ. The testimony of Scripture is plain: belief is an essential prerequisite to salvation.
IMPLIED SALVATION FOR THE HEATHEN
What then, of Mr Wright’s implied salvation for those who do not believe in Christ Jesus, such as Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists? The Scriptures declare concerning the Christ that, “neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). There is then, no salvation in any system of worship devised by man, however loving it may be. Christ alone can save; in his name alone is the power of everlasting life. All the wisdom of Sikhism, Buddhism, or Hinduism is vanity, so far as it’s efficacy for salvation goes. Only though belief in the name of the Master Jesus Christ, will salvation be granted for in no other name is there power to save.
Mr Wright recognises the difficulty this passage poses to his implied salvation of those who follow heathen religions, and attempts to address it as follows:
“One final point concerning the implied salvation of non-Christians. Have I forgotten Acts 4:12, ‘… there is no other name under Heaven given among mortals by which we may be saved.’ NRSV. Does this mean that non-Christians cannot qualify for salvation? My answer is that the Samaritan epitomised qualification for life regardless of his lack of accurate knowledge. The shegagah law of Nu 15:22-29, (see my item in Endeavour no. 104) verifies forgiveness for unintended errors. Love originated with God, 1 Jo 4:19, and is the zenith of Jesus’ teaching, Mk 12:28-32. Now link Nu 15, 1Jo 4:19 and Mk 12 with Rom 2:14 & 15, ‘When Gentiles who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, those, though not having the law, are a law unto themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts.’ (NRSV) In like manner, love was undeniably written on the Samaritan’s heart and in turn on all like him, regardless of their unintended ignorance. Where loves law is practiced among non-Christians, they demonstrate the spirit of Christ in themselves. On what pretext then could they be adversely judged? Absence of accurate knowledge perhaps? But what about presence of accurate spirit? The condition of Acts 4, ‘no other name’, is met by the spirituality of Rom 2, ‘written on their hearts’ and the mercy and forgiveness of shegagah law in Nu 15. Inadvertent omission of Christian knowledge is therefore an excuse especially when the highest principle of Christianity—love—is practised.”
According to Mr Wright then (also in the article he refers us to), the Law of Numbers 15:22-29 which provided for sins of ignorance also covered unintended errors of belief. He then cites Romans 2:14,15 to show that “where loves’ law is practiced among “non-Christians”, they demonstrate the spirit of Christ in themselves”, and it is upon this basis that, their lack of belief is overlooked, and they are given salvation. Unbelieving non-Christians possessing the Spirit of Christ is certainly a new doctrine indeed; certainly there is no passage of Scripture that states this. But what do the passages in question actually state?
Numbers 15:22-29, to which we commend the reader, deals with sins of ignorance, and makes provision for the forgiveness of those sins, once a sacrifice had been offered. According to this law, the sinner would bring a goat (v 27), or in the case of the whole congregation being guilty, a bullock and a goat (v 24) as a sacrifice, following which their sin would be forgiven (v 25, 28).
However, it is testified in Hebrews 10:4: “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” Upon what basis then, were the offerers of bulls and goats forgiven their sins of ignorance? Upon the same basis upon which all sin is forgiven, namely confession (1 Jno 1:9), and faith (Rom 4:1-8). By offering the sacrifice, the Israelite was confessing that they had indeed sinned ignorantly, and that they desired forgiveness. And they had faith in what the law pointed forward to, being a perfect schoolmaster teaching about the Master, Jesus Christ (Gal 3:24). Though doubtless, they would not perceive the details, being taught of the Abrahamic covenant, they would look in faith to the promised seed, through whom forgiveness would come.
All this is very different to the case in point. Here, the sin of ignorance is recognised, and then a sacrifice is offered to obtain forgiveness. But for those who do not recognise Christ, there is no recognition on their part of any sin in not believing in him, or any need for forgiveness through his sacrifice. Having been blinded by Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism, or any other ‘ism, they do not confess their sin, and seek the Father in faith. They may show love to fellow men, and they may perform great works of compassion – but so far as seeking forgiveness for their sin of ignorance, (or their “unintended” doctrinal ignorance) is concerned, they do not recognise their sin, or trust in the sacrifice of Yahweh’s providing.
What then of Romans 2:14,15? Is this passage speaking of “non-Christians” demonstrating the spirit of Christ, whilst being unintentionally unbelieving of him, as Mr Wright suggests? Plainly it is not, as can be seen even from the translation he cites; it is speaking about those Gentiles who were not under the law of Moses, yet who nevertheless have the spirit of that law in their hearts: “the Gentiles who do not possess the law … they show that what the law requires is written on their hearts”. The principles of the Word (the Law) is written on their hearts. These are not the doctrinally ignorant therefore, but those who know the law, who have attended to it, and who have that law dwelling within them (there is an allusion here the Uriah the Hittite, but that we leave for a later article). Consider how the Spirit uses this language elsewhere – Israel in the future are to have the law written into their hearts, as prophesied by Jeremiah:
“this will be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith Yahweh, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their Elohim, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:33).
To have the law written in the heart then, is to be in a covenant relationship with the Father, with the principles of His Righteousness dwelling in the heart. Israel, shall attain this when they turn to the Master and enter into a new covenant with their Maker. But for now, Gentiles who are not under the Law of Moses nevertheless show the righteousness of that Law, in having the spirit of it’s principles, dwelling in their hearts. The Apostle is plainly speaking of enlightened Gentile believers, not charitable pagans in this place, who have the Word dwelling richly within them.
In addition to the above remarks, there are various other points which we ought to notice, but briefly due to lack of space.
Firstly, Messiah testified concerning himself:
“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jno 6:44).
Those who Christ will raise up, are those who the Father has drawn to him. There is no question therefore, of there being any who the Father purposes to be raised, who are not drawn to Christ. The concept of a Muslim (to take one of Mr Wright’s examples) having an “unintentional blank space” in his not recognising Christ denies the point that the who the Father wishes to be saved are drawn to Christ. The simple fact of the matter is that those who are not drawn by the Father to Christ, are not those whom he purposes to ransom by his shed blood. The purpose of God is according to election (cf Rom 9; 8:29,30), not the charitable deeds of man to fellow man.
Secondly, Mr Wright’s emphasis on love towards men overlooks the greatest commandment, which is the love of God:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all they soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Mat 22:37-39).
Muslims, Sheikhs, Buddhists, and the like do not believe in, let alone love the God of Israel. To suggest that they might be saved through their love for man alone (as Mr Wright puts it, “love of neighbour equals eternal life”), whilst remaining in ignorance of Yahweh is to elevate the love of man above the love of God.
Finally, it is the testimony of Messiah that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” and again, “Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jno 3:3,5). According to the Master, a person requires to be born again, to gain entry into the kingdom of God. Mr Wright, being unbaptised, has not himself been born of water, and he seeks to persuade us that members of heathen denominations can gain entry to the Kingdom of God, also without being born again. All they need do is show love and good works to their neighbours – irrespective of what god they believe in – according to the doctrine he teaches. But according to Messiah, a man “cannot” enter into the kingdom of God, unless he be born again. And that rebirth involves hearing and responding to the word preached, for this rebirth, according to the Master’s apostle Peter, is “being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Pet 1:23). The Gospel believed and obeyed, is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom 1:16), but the Scriptures are clear, that without belief, and without being born again by the word, men remain “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). No matter how charitable a man may be, this position is a desolate one indeed.