Rev. VanBaren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.

Different Paths to Salvation??

We have heard the cry for unity—first it was a “unity” of all “Christian” churches, but increasingly it is a cry for a certain “unity” of all world religions. With that, there is the expressed thought that those of other than Christian religions can be saved—and that, apart from the cross of Christ. It was the Rev. Richard Rhem of the Christ Community Church in Muskegon, MI who was condemned by Classis Muskegon of the Reformed Church for his teachings concerning this.

But the idea of salvation through other religions, and apart from Christ, is becoming a dominant cry heard in many churches and from many of the clergy of many denominations.

I was given two articles which appeared in the Religion section of the Edmonton Journal. The first is dated October 11, 1997. In its headline it reports: “Anglican bishop condemns some Christians’ narrow view of the divine plan.” The article states in part:

It’s time for Christians to drop the idea that Christ is the one sure way to salvation, says Vancouver Anglican Bishop Michael Ingham.

In a controversial new book, Mansions of the Spirit, (Anglican Book Centre, $18.95) Ingham says he doubts what has been a central tenet of the Christian faith for most of the last 2,000 years: that God can be known only through Christ.

That conviction is increasingly untenable in a world where we now regularly encounter members of other faiths “whose depth of intimacy with God is evident and radiant,” he says.

The fundamentalist belief that billions of non-Christians will be consigned to an “eternity of everlasting fire defies all moral sense and contradicts everything we know about God,” he writes.

…Fundamentalism is on the rise around the world, he said, not only among Christians, but also among other faiths. 

“It’s a great threat to peace and security, and is based on a misreading of Scripture.” 

This Christian exclusivism has also turned many people off religion, because they see religion as creating violence instead of peace, he said.

“What I’m advocating is a pluralist theology that accepts God’s grace in the great religions of the world, and calls us to see people of other faiths and traditions as brothers and sisters….”

In the November 1, 1997 issue of the same paper, there is a report on the moderator of the United Church of Canada. It states, “Rev. Bill Phipps wants to ‘mend a broken world’ by exhorting his flock to focus on social issues, not religious doctrine.” The article continues:

…During a recent interview with the editorial board of the Ottawa Citizen, Phipps challenged some long-held Christian beliefs.

“Is heaven a place? I have no idea. I believe that there is a continuity of the spirit in some way, but I would be a fool to say what that is.”

…Phipps, 55, told the Citizen that he doesn’t accept the Bible as a valid historical record and questioned the idea of Jesus as the son of God.

“I don’t believe Jesus is the only way to God,” he said. “I don’t believe he rose from the dead as a scientific fact. I don’t know whether those things happened. It’s an irrelevant question.”

Statements like that have set the Christian world on its ear, and prompted a mini-revolt inside his own church. Last Sunday, Rev. Allen Churchill told his Ottawa congregation that Phipps’ views were a “serious embarrassment” to the church.

Then there is the transcript of an interview by Dr. Robert Schuller (of the Crystal Cathedral and minister in the Reformed Church in America) of Dr. Billy Graham on the Hour of Power television broadcast of May 31, 1997. I quote from the Christian News of October 20, 1997:

SCHULLER: Tell me, what do you think is the future of Christianity?

GRAHAM: Well, Christianity and being a true believer—you know, I think there’s the Body of Christ. This comes from all the Christian groups around the world, outside the Christian groups. I think everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the Body of Christ. And I don’t think that we’re going to see a great sweeping revival, that will turn the whole world to Christ at anytime. I think James answered that, the Apostle James in the first council in Jerusalem, when he said that God’s purpose for this age is to call out a people for His name. And that’s what God is doing today, He’s calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in heaven.

SCHULLER: What, what I hear you saying is that it’s possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they’ve been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you’re saying?

GRAHAM: Yes, it is, because I believe that. I’ve met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations, that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, and never heard of Jesus, but they’ve believed in their hearts that there was a God, and they’ve tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived.

SCHULLER: …I’m so thrilled to hear you say this. There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.

GRAHAM: There is. There definitely is.

According to the report in the Christian News, “Billy Graham’s first great city-wide evangelistic campaign was held in Los Angeles in 1949. At that time he made a public promise that he would never have any theological modernists (theological liberals) on his platform.” But now he declares that he will be in heaven with those of many other religions who attain salvation apart from faith in Christ. Schuller, minister in good standing in the Reformed Church in America, agrees. Scripture states, “How is their gold become dim!” (Lam. 4:1).

Leaders in the church world openly deny what Christ Himself taught, “This is life eternal that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). And: “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).

How openly and rapidly the churches and their leaders are changing! Surely the time of Christ’s return must be at hand when the prophecy that he “who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (II Thess. 2:4) is being fulfilled.

Promise Keepers (Again)

We continue to read of the “Promise Keepers.” Now that several years have passed since their inception, it becomes ever clearer what these really are.

World Magazine, October 18, 1997, has a feature article about Promise Keepers and their huge rally in Washington, D.C. The article points out the widespread approval given this group. But it also points out growing opposition to the Promise Keepers and their program.

Other pastors are leery about elements of Promise Keepers—a parachurch usurping of church authority, the charismatic orientation of some leaders, and the putting aside of doctrinal distinctions….

The opposition also comes from some strange sources:

Elizabeth Toledo of the National Organization for Women (NOW) was starkly honest in explaining to ABC’s This Week audience the opposition of NOW to Promise Keepers. She decried the emphasis on male headship within the family (Scripture “is no excuse for putting men in charge”), attacked an “agenda that is not tolerant to lesbians and gays,” and complained that the large PK crowds “could affect our efforts to achieve equality for women.”

Wow!! NOW is against Promise Keepers! One would almost be inclined to say, “If they are against it, then I am for it!” Sadly, the elements which they oppose are exactly those which would appeal to the godly man and woman. Those things which ought to be emphasized and taught in the church itself, this para-church organization has taken over. These are the very truths which we would also teach.

But there is the “dark” side of Promise Keepers. They have widely proclaimed, “Break Down the Walls!” It was their rallying cry a few summers ago. Those “walls” which must be broken down, are walls which divide race, but also denominations. Doctrinal distinctives are not important. The story is told that at one of the rallies (perhaps, then, at all of them!) the large audience was asked to shout loudly the name of the church or denomination to which they belonged. Of course, there was cacophony! Then the audience was to shout the name “Jesus.” Now the single word stood out clearly and could be distinguished by all! The lesson was clear. Differing denominations only create confusion. We must all be united on the main thing: Jesus.

World Magazine points out further attempts to “break down the walls.” It reports:

Last October, article 5 of PK’s statement of faith read, in part, “man…because of sin, was alienated from God. That alienation can be removed only by accepting through faith alone God’s gift of salvation which was made possible by Christ’s death” (emphasis added).

Today, the statement reads, “Only through faith, trusting in Christ alone for salvation which was made possible by his death and resurrection, can that alienation be removed.”

What’s missing? Faith alone, sola fide, the core doctrine of the gospel. As of at least last October, PK stood with the Reformation, itself a movement that reclaimed, among other truths, the clear Bible teaching that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. Only through trusting in God’s mercy in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf can man be saved.

Now, according to PK, it is not faith alone in Christ that saves; it is faith in Christ alone that saves. The latter is the classic teaching of the Roman Catholic church, that faith is a necessary but insufficient condition of salvation; trust in Christ’s death merely begins the process of salvation, which is “completed” as Christ enables us by grace to participate in works of righteousness.

…Even if the distinction is no big deal to evangelicals—though it should be—it is a big deal to Catholics, according to the Catholic weekly Our Sunday Visitor. Its July 20 edition reported that PK changed its statement of faith to accommodate Catholics who wanted to join but couldn’t, because to embrace “faith alone” would “force them to reject their Catholic faith.” 

World reporters sought out PK’s side of the story. Staffers in the public-relations office issued a statement that claims the change “has not altered the meaning of this key principle in any way. Our objective was only to bring more clarity to this important fundamental truth of Christianity.” Moreover, PK maintains, the revised statement of faith “expresses Ephesians 2:8-9 more accurately than the old statement, thus we felt we were being truer to Scripture. Promise Keepers believes that salvation is a free gift from God and cannot be earned by any human effort.”

So the walls are being further “broken down.” The article quoted above concludes correctly, “Fundamentally, there is only one (question): Is sola fide the official theological position of Promise Keepers, or is it not?”