All the documentary evidence from the entire history of Christianity—from its earliest writings in the 50s of the first century until today—shows us a religion in a state of argument.
Church councils beginning in the fourth century sought to end argument by authoritatively standardizing scripture, worship, and belief.
Twenty-seven Christian writings were chosen as sacred scripture, and several times that were rejected. A choreographed liturgy was proffered as proper worship. Beliefs about the Trinity and doctrines concerning the divinity of Jesus and his role as savior were defined and resolved into creeds.
Church councils of the early centuries sought to ‘settle’ these matters for all time, but the issues were never really settled, and dissent persisted, and persists, on these very issues.
Consider soteriology, the theory of salvation.
There was a debate in early Christianity about who all Jesus saves from an eternity in hell.
One opinion said only those who believe in Jesus will be saved and go to an eternal heaven and all the rest will go to an eternal hell. This opinion won out as the correct doctrine. Jesus saves only those who believe in him. In other words, only the few, not everyone, will be saved. ‘Few’ because Christians have always been a minority in world population.
(Note: If any religion says salvation or entry into heaven is based on a criterion of belief—of the need to assent to a requisite belief—then that religion will always be a minority religion and salvation will only be for the few because most people live unexposed, or under-exposed, to the requisite belief. Suppose we say Americans’ salvation depends on knowing all about the Hindu God Ganesh: not many Americans would be going to heaven.)
Ancient Latin phrases massa damnata (the masses will be damned) and extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation) were composed to express the orthodox position that only the few will be saved.
But another ancient opinion, the opinion that lost the day and was branded heretical, said Jesus saves everyone, even those unexposed to his story, which is most of humanity.
Though this soteriological argument between the ‘few are saved’ camp and the ‘all are saved’ camp was ‘settled’ by the orthodox in antiquity, the argument actually persisted intermittently through 2000 years of Christianity, even to the point of creating a separate denomination of Christians called ‘Universalists,’ meaning salvation extends to all people, universally.
Let’s see if any of the ‘all are saved’ arguments are persuasive.
The ‘all are saved’ camp says that, if salvation extends only to the relatively few who know about Jesus and believe in Jesus then …
- the divine plan of salvation will have only snagged a fraction of the human race, barely a squad, which would hardly be a ‘successful’ scheme of salvation. Would we deem a rescue mission ‘successful’ that saved one person out of a quarter million?
- the devil wins in the end if the majority of humans are damned to hell.
- it would be inaccurate to say Jesus died for the sins of the world. It would be more accurate to say Jesus died for the sins of those lucky enough to have gotten exposed to Christianity and believed it.
- there are many moral and highly decent people in all other world religions and in no religion, and many of these are as/more moral than Christian believers in Jesus. Are Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, and Gandhi really in hell? And what of the good Cro-Magnon men and women whose lives were already nasty, brutish and short? Did they awake post-mortem to discover an infinitely worse future?
- there have been numerous mentally ill people, and small children who died young, who could not possibly have understood what was at stake in the story of Jesus.
- there are people who have been exposed to Jesus’ story, but the tellers of the story so mangled the story and behaved so badly that the hearers rejected the message along with the messengers.
- being un-exposed or under-exposed to requisite information should excuse from guilt. Most people never heard of Jesus, or if they did they had only the murkiest understanding of him. This it true of the present moment too. Even with our vast instruments of communication, most people on the planet know nothing or very little of Jesus. (Again: What if Americans’ salvation depended upon knowing all about the Hindu God Ganesh?)
- it’s inhumane and unjust to damn all people for the crimes of Adam and Eve. Our human systems of jurisprudence don’t believe in inherited guilt, and therefore we don’t punish or execute children for the offenses of parents—or great great grand parents.
- since God has been called ‘all merciful’ it would be consistent with God’s mercy to forgive and save everyone.
- since Jesus told his students to forgive the same offender 490 times (70 x 7, he said), it would be consistent with this rule for God to forgive all of humanity.
- it would be contrary to scripture that plainly says Jesus saves all people: ‘Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men, especially believers’ (1 Timothy 4:10). ‘As in Adam all men die, so in Christ all men shall be made alive’ (1 Corinthians 15:22). ‘As Adam’s sin led to the condemnation of all men, so the righteousness of Jesus leads to acquittal and life for all men’ (Romans 5:18)
How many of these, irreverent, desecrative, heretical, insolent, infidelic, insane arguments are persuasive to you?
If you are Christian and say ‘All of them seem persuasive,’ first, you are not an orthodox Christian anymore, and second, you will some day enter your Christian heaven to find that it is peopled mostly by non-Christians who never went into a church, never received a sacrament, and perhaps never even uttered the name ‘Jesus’ or knew of his ministrations.
Most of the saved heavenly hosts will have first heard of Jesus shortly after their deaths, led by cherubic choirs singing massa salvus! and winging up through a dark and tubular portal of death to the giddy and radiant white light at the borderline of paradise.
Featured image by MyFuture.com via Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0