Virtual Voices

Salvation speculation

Religion

I have friends who ask and answer versions of the question: "Is so-and-so saved?" It's a very popular question when someone has died. "Was he saved?" "Did he know the Lord?"

I usually suggest that the questioner will have to see for himself.

I have other friends who not only eschew such speculation, they also refuse to countenance the possibility that some people (and churches) have wrong practices and beliefs. So long as folks espouse a love for Jesus, these friends consider them Christians.

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It's all parlor talk until someone of Franklin Graham's stature fails to take at face value President Obama's espoused Christianity. Then it becomes a media fiasco, and once again familiar voices can be heard denouncing the notion that any judgments can be made about anyone when it comes to faith. Except, of course, those people who offer judgments. They're very, very bad, you see.

I think it's essential when these conversations arise that we distinguish between faith and belief. The first is the purview of salvation; the latter concerns itself with the dogma of the Church. Graham and his critics have unfortunately conflated the two. Graham is absolutely right that it is God who knows the heart. This indicates that none of us ought to opine about the salvation of another; our energy is best consumed working out our own.

But then there is the content of Christianity, and the question of who is or is not a Christian, and I don't think we ought to surrender a half-inch of ground to anyone who wants to suggest that so long as someone claims to love Jesus that the matter is therefore closed.

To be a Christian is to follow Christ and to embrace the dogma of the Christian Church. Now if we truly believe that salvation lies with the Lord, and that He decides who will enter His heavenly kingdom and who will not, and further that some who have called on His name will be cast into perdition, it stands to reason that none of us has any business speculating on the first point.

But the second point? Well, there we have a great deal of clarity indeed. Though rent by schisms in its second millenium, the Church gave us in its first 400 years a core dogma that all Christians are still asked to affirm, namely the creed as worked out in the great ecumenical councils of Nicea and Constantinople, that which most of us call the Nicene Creed.

In other words, when asked if someone is a Christian, it seems prudent to refer to the Nicene Creed. Does he embrace this dogma?

Now, that doesn't make matters simple, because there are some people who can recite the creed who deep down do not fully believe it, and there are some who would affirm every letter of it, had only their churches and pastors and parents taught it to them.

Ultimately I suppose this means we have to refer the question to the object of interest. So if an ABC reporter should ask you, or me, whether our town dogcatcher is a Christian, we ought to refer her to the person himself, with the simple guidance that she read him the creed and ask if he embraces it unequivocally.

If so, then let's count him a Christian and pray for his salvation as well as our own. If not, no matter how much he may love Jesus, he does not believe what Jesus taught and is therefore not a Christian. As for what that means for his salvation, well, that's neither your business nor mine, is it? Thankfully.

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