Berean Fundamentals
1/18/16 at 06:10 PM 2 Comments

By What Name is Salvation Given?

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The Roman Catholic Church recently stated that people can come to faith without Christ, which seems to mean that they think accepting Christ as Lord and Savior is not necessary for salvation. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, puts it this way: “…Vatican II the Roman Catholic Church has become ever more explicit in its teaching that salvation can come without a conscious and explicit faith in Christ.” He added, “This is simply not an option for Evangelical Christians committed to the authority of Scripture alone and to the Gospel as defined in the New Testament.” See article by Leonardo Blair, December 23, 2015, "Albert Mohler Says Christians, Muslims and Some Jews Don't Worship Same God"

The important phrase in his critique is “a conscious and explicit faith in Christ.”

The New Testament clearly teaches in Acts 4:12, that there is no other name by which a person can be saved. In fact, the verse is unequivocal that Christ is the only path to salvation. Add Romans 10:9-10 which requires one to “confess with your mouth” after believing with the heart, and it is easy to see that Mohler is on target in implying that salvation is not passively bestowed upon a person. John wrote in his Gospel, John 1:12, that it is when a person “receives” (active voice) Christ that the right to be called children of God is given to those who believe in His name.

Is the Roman Catholic Church definitely completely wrong in its assertion? At first blush their position seems blatantly unscriptural, but there may be more going on. Let us take the phrase “a conscious and explicit faith in Christ” and ask what exactly that means.

Only a specific Name?
In Acts 4:12, notice that it is the name by which salvation is granted. In the Annunciation, Matthew 1:18-25, Mary was told to call his name Jesus “for he will save his people from their sins” (21). A couple verses later Isaiah’s prophesy was quoted calling him Immanuel, which means God with us (23). Let us not forget the other names of Christ enumerated by Isaiah, such as Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, etc.

Jesus is called by many names throughout the scriptures, and all those names are associated with salvation, or at the least, they represent the One in whom salvation is found.

Hebrews 1:8 tells us: “But about the Son: Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever, and the scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.” In Exodus 3:2-6 we recognize Jesus as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob appearing to Moses in the burning bush. Isaiah 40:3, 10 regard Him as Jehovah; as does Zechariah 14:5. The Old Testament saints regarded God as their salvation and the Psalms often articulate the concept (Psalm 3:8; 27:1). The same idea is accepted in the New Testament and confirmed by Christ himself: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40).

Or no name at all?
Acts 17:22-34 tells of an interesting encounter Paul had with the people in Athens. At the Aeropagus[1] at Mars Hill He saw an altar with an inscription that caught his attention.

“Men of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.
Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it — He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands” (22-24; HCSB[2]).

Notice that among the variety of religions practiced in Athens, there was an altar to one God that was not named and, interestingly, Paul declared that this unknown God was indeed the true God. It seems plausible that at least some were worshipping God without actually knowing his name. Paul appealed to natural revelation as God’s way of revealing himself to all mankind and said, “He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (27). Paul believed that God has revealed himself to everyone throughout all of history, leaving people everywhere without an excuse (Romans 1:18-20).

Consciousness of the word or the Person represented? Let us consider a word in the phrase: conscious. Is it necessary for salvation that a person consciously acknowledges the name “Jesus” or “Christ” as the Savior is commonly known to us?

One of the objections critics usually levy against Christianity is that if salvation cannot be gained through any other name, then those who have never heard of Jesus or Christ, meaning the exact words, must be lost. Is it imperative to know the name of the Savior as the words “Jesus” or “Christ?” This kind of exceptionalism is offensive to many cultures that do not share or understand the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. But the concern is not just an outside the family debate.

The Church has sought to address this concern by teaching that in the salvation history schema, before the incarnation, the Old Testament looked forward to Christ, and after the incarnation, the New Testament looks back to Christ. So we have this neat paradigm where salvation is found in only one name. However, that does not address the current question of the salvation of a person who never read the bible or heard a Gospel message; or of the person in the past who never heard of the God of Israel - let alone the names Jesus or Christ. For example, even accepting pre-incarnation salvation through Christ, there needs to be an explanation of how it is possible if the saints then did not know this “name” we speak of.

The answer seems obvious. It is not the specific names “Jesus” or “Christ” but the authority of the Person the names represent that brings salvation. That is how a person who has never heard of Jesus Christ becomes conscious of, and can show explicit faith in him. The saints of old were not saved apart from Christ, but they knew him by other names. It comes down to faith in the person represented by the name.

Paul’s theology affirms that people can come to know God in a salvific relationship through God’s self-revelation without appealing to the specific names we associate with salvation. However, his theology strongly affirms the need for a conscious and explicit faith in the Person of the revealed God.

So, is the Roman Catholic Church wrong? Paul will help us here with part of his speech at Mars Hill: “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has set a day when He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead” (30-31).

Paul teaches that the people who worshipped the unknown God may have been ignorant of who that Savior was, but he was nevertheless Christ. If the Roman Catholic Church means by their statement that people can become Christians and deny that Christ is the means of their salvation once they are shown that He is God’s appointed Savior, that is completely wrong! If those people have true Christian faith, then they will be indwelt by the Spirit of Truth, and never deny the Author of their salvation.

[1] The Aeropagus is an ancient court setting where criminal and other cases were heard
[2] Scripture quotes in italics are from the HCSB (Holman Christian Study Bible)

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