Presiding Archbishop, The Catholic Church in America
What do you believe regarding salvation? Is Jesus the one and only way to eternal life with the Father? Or is Jesus, just a "privileged way," one path among multitudes of others, as Bishop Robert Barron intones?
There is much controversy in the Church and even the world at large regarding the so-called exclusiveness of Christianity. People outside of the Christian faith are quite often concerned that we, Christians believe that those who are outside of the Church (not saved) will “go to hell.” In our politically correct society, this particular Christian doctrine generates a great amount of consternation.
There also seems to be a growing sense of discomfort between both Christian and Catholic jurisdictions over this doctrinal exclusivity. No matter how you view the semantics between faith, grace, and works, our stance is that salvation is via Christ alone; eternity may not be attained via Ala, Buddha, tribal deity, or any other name. This is not something we created out of whole cloth. In 1 John 5, we read, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” So, no, we did not manufacture this doctrine out of hate of others outside of our faith paradigm.
Despite the abundant scriptural evidence that can be presented supporting the orthodoxy of salvation in Christ alone, there is a growing resurgence of an old heresy known as Universalism, which asserts that faith in Christ is really not that essential and that everyone will eventually end up in heaven, no matter your religion, with or without living a moral life. I’ve recently written an article specifically debunking the error of Universalism.
Many simply think they are advocating for a kinder and gentler approach to evangelism. Others truly have a hard time believing that a “good god” would send anyone to hell, especially their loved ones. The writer of John’s Gospel answered that emotional question by saying “whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:18) Because of this, Jesus says in Mark 16:16 — “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” — because of their unbelief.
Below is a series of scripture verses and passages that point to faith in Jesus as being essential teachings of the Church. But what do the Church Fathers and those earliest to the time that Jesus walked among his Apostles and Disciples? How about the early Church councils? Strangely to most, the early church seems to be silent on the necessity of salvation being only offered through Jesus. However, in my understanding, it is not really all that strange. You see, the Fathers, apologists, and early councils wrote primarily to defend the faith against controversy. It wasn’t until the 6th Century that the idea of universal salvation became an issue and was condemned at the 5th Ecumenical Council.
The ideas of greatest concern were the nature of God, especially who Jesus is/was, and the importance of faith, grace, and repentance. Focus on individual words and concepts, however, were always discussed with an inference towards Christ as the subject. This is one reason that Catholics reject much of the protestant theology of sola this or sola that. In Catholic theology, Faith, Grace, and Scripture are not items of individual importance but are intrinsically linked to the person of Jesus Christ, his mission to redeem the world, and reconcile those who are “already condemned.”
So, in this understanding, Jesus becomes the “Sola Sola” — the single focus of the Church. In this understanding, we cannot have faith in Christ, without first experiencing His Grace. Without the clear and consistent teachings of the scripture (as filtered through Church teachings) the world would be following a false Gospel and pass along erroneous understandings of who Jesus is, and how we relate to his salvific mission.
Those who ignore the historic teachings of the Church end up falling into error, which is heterodoxy. Make no mistake about it, claiming that there is somehow salvation apart from faith in Jesus is as far from orthodoxy as North is from South — polar opposites.
Popes, bishops, and priests who may tell you that we're being "too rigid" in our teachings, or that we "have a reasonable hope that hell will be empty are preaching a false gospel. The scripture listed below plainly show that Jesus is the only “way,” that “salvation is in no one else,” and that belief in and faith in Christ is essential for the salvation of our souls:
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
And without faith, it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,
Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
Who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!
After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
1 John 5:11-13
And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
1 Peter 1:18-19
Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
2 Timothy 1:9
Who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,
1 Timothy 2:5
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace, you have been saved
2 Corinthians 7:10
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,
And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.
I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
Psalm 95:1 — Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
To the choirmaster: according to Jeduthun. A Psalm of David. For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
1 Peter 3:21
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
2 Thessalonians 1:8
In flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
Even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace, you have been saved
Envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21
For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.
Romans 10:13 — For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
Through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,
And by him, everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.
Repent, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out,
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’