Salvation of non-Christians

Here's an email I received after appearing on the Larry King Live program. My response follows.

Hi Fr.Mike, I was with a group of people in a bible study last night when the Larry King Show was aired. Our bible study group was talking, so I could not devote my full attention to what was being said, but I did notice that you were seated next to John Macarthur in the studio. Here are my observations and questions. John was very outspoken in his position that a person can attain eternal life only by believing in Jesus as his lord and savior. "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through the Son." That is paraphrasing the Gospel of John. You seemed to equivocate and did not agree with John Macarthur's position on that passage of Scripture. I heard you and the Methodist bishop to be saying that God loves all people (no argument with that) and that it was not necessary for a person to believe that Jesus is the only Son of God and acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior in order to attain eternal salvation. (1) Is my observation a correct understanding of your position? (2) If you believe that Moslems, Jews, and others who deny that Jesus is the only Son of God whom the Father sent to redeem us can be saved and attain eternal life even though they openly reject Jesus' position and sovereign authority, what is your basis in Catholic theology for that belief? I am not talking about a situation where someone has not had the opportunity to learn about Jesus; I am referring to a situation where individuals knowingly reject Jesus and deny that he is the Son of God. To me, it sounded as though John Macarthur was stating correct mainline Catholic theology on that point. You and the Methodist bishop were equivocating and giving mushy answers when Larry was pressing the point as to whether a person can be saved (i.e., attain eternal life) if he or she denies that Jesus is the only means of salvation. If Jesus is not the only means of salvation, why would the Father have sent him to die such a horrible death for us sinners? I mean no disrespect to you as a priest, but I must be honest with you; I believe what John Macarthur stated so clearly and eloquently about Jesus. He is the only Son of God and, as Peter says, the only name by which men can be saved. I was longing for you to say that you agreed with that position, but you didn't. Instead, you agreed with the Methodist bishop and articulated some watered-down politically correct "anyone can be saved no matter if they reject Jesus" version of the truth. Personal opinion (tell me where I'm wrong) - Even though God loves all of us, not all people are destined to be saved. Those who knowingly and openly reject Jesus cannot be saved. I don't care how devout and sincere a person is in his or her Moslem or Jewish tradition; if that person knowingly rejects Jesus as the Son of God and the sole means of salvation, he or she is doomed to an eternal existence away from God. Another personal opinion - I want to see Catholic spokespersons speak strongly and boldly as the apostle Paul would speak if he were here today and as Bishop Fulton J. Sheen spoke on his television program. Don't be ashamed of the Gospel; don't be ashamed of saying Jesus is the only name under the heavens by which men can be saved. Instead, proclaim it as John Macarthur did last night. I would appreciate hearing from you so that I may I have a correct understanding of the Catholic faith on this point. If you could point out some passages from the new Catechism that address this issue, it would be most helpful. Thank you for letting me express my opinions. Let me reiterate - I am not trying to disrespect you by my comments. My comments are being made after having attended Mass today and after having prayed about sending this e-mail. Hopefully, they may help you see how like-minded Catholics react to what is being said on television. Sincerely, Chuck

Dear Chuck,

Thank you so much for your email. I appreciate your sharing. let me state my belief. I do believe at Jesus is God and is the source of salvation for all people. You made the distinction in your comments between the salvation of those who reject Jesus and those who will never even hear his name mentioned in their lives. I believe that the latter group are loved by God and will be given a chance to encounter Christ and make a choice for or against Him. I see Jesus reflection on this in Matthew 25... I feel confident that God loves these people and will reveal himself to them in powerful ways beyond my understanding. He wants to spend all eternity with them.
As for those who don't choose Jesus, like the Jews and the Moslems, I have a hard time easily sending them all to hell. In the first place, who is the Jesus that they are rejecting, not choosing? For most Jews and Moslems, the Jesus they reject is the Jesus they experience in us Christians. They are not examining the Bible but us. Why would they be attracted to Christ if all they know of him is anti-Semitism and persecution of Moslems? Most of them don't reject the real Christ but rather the Christ they see in the Crusades, the Inquisition, strong Catholic belittling of Jews and now a Christian nation wanting to drop bombs on their people.

If we are responsible for giving them this distorted image of Jesus, perhaps when they come to the time of judgment, the one's to be condemned will not be those who were given a false image of Jesus but those who presented the false image.

As I also mentioned on the program, when I study the gospels, especially Mark, I find that Jesus is calling people to love His Father. When we pray we are called to pray to Our Father. His goal in life is to get people to love and give their lives to the Father. We see this also in John 11.
If this passionate love of Christ for his Father is real, I have a difficult time finding Jesus becoming indignant when devout Jews and Moslems praise the Father. I think that God the Son rejoices when His Father is praised. I have a difficult time believing Jesus would want to condemn people who praise His Father.

Thanks for listening to me, Chuck. Blessings on your walk with the Lord.

In Him,

Father Michael Manning, SVD


Jenn from FL said...

I agree with Father Mike's response and would like like to add just one more thing. As Christians we believe in the Trinity. If that is our true belief, then isn't the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit one and the same? If one believes in the Father, then he believes in the Son, perhaps unknowingly.

David said...

So...when Christ said in John 14:6 "...I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me" he didn't mean it?

Here's a thought: If there was a way other than Christ being our sacrifice on the cross, don't you think he would have done that other thing instead? Why should he have suffered and died if we could believe in any other "god" of our choosing and still go to heaven? Shouldn't the Lamb recieve the full reward of his suffering? Why would he want to share his glory with anyone or anything else? (including us, in the case of our own good works playing a role in our salvation)Again, if he could let other gods or even humans get the credit, why bother even leaving his home in heaven to be sacrificed on our behalf for the glory of his Father? It would have been a lot easier.

I respectfully urge you to read plainly the Gospel of John to learn more about this, rather than relying on your own philosophy or my interpretation. Thank you for reading this.

Anonymous said...

Father Mike,
Would you be willing to comment on your views of the salvation of those whose religions have gods other than the Father (such as Hindu)?

Fr. Mike Manning said...

The Second Vatican Council speaks of salvation being possible for all people who follow their conscience to the best of their ability. This speaks of God's love for his creation. The outreach of Jesus' love is strong. His salvific death and resurrection touches the people in our world who may never even hear the name of Jesus during their entire life time. I rest in the security of the power of Jesus' love for all people.

fr. mike