Many Christians go to church and believe deeply in God. As we are imperfect, all these people will sin at some time or other, even if it’s just something like getting drunk. What if a lifelong believer and churchgoer commits one of these misdemeanours and doesn’t have chance to ask for forgiveness before he or she dies? Does this mean that his or her God-fearing ways would have been for nothing, and that he or she would end up in the same boat as the most evil? Also, what happens to the millions who practise other religions, ones not dealing with the Bible? Does God send them to hell for not following him? Is it possible they have their own God, heaven, and possibly hell?
The question “What do you seek?” is at the core of my response to the first group of quesitons here. Questions of this kind are almost always emotionally charged, and often have strong personal involvement and convictions behind them, particularly when sin and salvation are involved. The best advice I can give is that the questioner should engage with a priest, who would be more than happy to explore and discuss these questions.
I would say, however, that many encounters with people of different religions are marked by a sense of incompetence, ignorance, and fear (of getting it wrong, causing offence, ulterior motives, and so on). It is, therefore, important to proceed with caution here. We have witnessed in recent years the flowering of pluralistic theologies, which suggest that Christianity and other traditions, to an extent, have been infected with an exclusivist mentality, and that the various traditions must all be equally true and saving. No precedence attaches to Christianity; no normative value should be accorded to its particular beliefs or those of any particular tradition.
It is in singular terms of salvation that the Christian gospel is communicated by the New Testament writers, however: salvation through Christ alone is the only valid option for these writers. It is only in Christ and his Church that the fullness of truth resides. Solus Christus — the teaching that Christ is the only mediator between God and humankind, and that there is salvation through no other (hence, the phrase is sometimes rendered in the ablative case, solo Christo, meaning that salvation is “by Christ alone”) — is vital to the Christian faith. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6).
Nevertheless, we would do well to approach other faiths with humility, and from a similar perspective to these words from the Second Vatican Council’s statement in Nostra Aetate: “the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in [other] religions.” By discovering something of our own in what is alien, I believe that we can better understand ourselves in light of what we have received. We must not gloss over what is false or unholy in other faiths; we must look for signs that point to Christ, as well as the inherent roadblocks to truth. After all, the fullness of truth is in Christ, and all truth is God’s truth.
There exists a kind of defensive faith which supposes that no risks must be taken in the exploration of truth, as if truth needed to be protected or defended. Michael Ramsey once said: “The truth of God is greater than our efforts to conserve it.” We depend on God’s mercy for salvation, and the truths entrusted to the Church are not the exclusive property of anyone, but the gifts of God, which lead us into his fold. One thing remains certain: the greatest argument for Christianity is Christ himself.
C. N. W.
(Name and address supplied)
People tend not to accept the situation that we would be in had Christ not come to earn our salvation through his perfect life and sacrificial death. Because we all fall short of God’s high standard, we cannot earn salvation by our imperfect obedience to natural morality and by worshipping God according to our own devising. As Leszek Kolakowski points out in his book of this name, “God owes us nothing.”
God has provided a way of salvation which we do not deserve, but this is counter-intuitive and can be known only through revelation. Central to this way of salvation is that we are united to Christ by a living faith, and united to him we partake of his righteousness.
This living faith is the source of obedience, godliness, acts of charity, and our disposition of repentance. Thus, it is not whether godly believers have repented of every peccadillo, but whether they have this living faith; no doubt, had time allowed, having this faith, they would have repented.
This way of salvation requires people to be called to this living faith in Christ. We know that God saves the infants of believers dying in infancy, and he may, through the secret work of the Spirit, save others also incapable of being outwardly called. While none should presume, we should be confident that the Judge of all the earth will do right (cf. Genesis 18.25).
Is St Mary’s, Newton-by-the-Sea, in Northumberland, the only corrugated-steel church with a stained-glass window in the UK? How many Anglican “tin tabernacles” of this kind survive? [Answers, 13 October]
I’m sorry to say I missed the original question on tin tabernacles, but my favourite is the Barony Church, Dalswinton, Dumfries & Galloway, with its splendid window by the Glaswegian stained-glass artist, Douglas Hamilton (1895-1959), which is in memory of Sqdn Ldr Peter Landale, who died in the Second World War. I can also thoroughly recommend the book Tin Tabernacles by Ian Smith (Camrose Organisation, 2004).
(Canon) Jeff Hopewell
When I was Rural Dean of Saffron Walden, in Essex, I discovered a fine example of a so-called “tin tabernacle” in the deanery, at Littlebury Green. The present Rural Dean, Canon David Tomlinson, who is the Team Rector in the Saffron Walden Team Ministry, confirms that it does, indeed, have a stained-glass east window.
(Canon) Brian Macdonald-Milne
The Bribery Act 2010 provides for up to ten years’ imprisonment for the charging of facilitation fees, unlawful additional fees demanded to perform a statutory task. Yet thousands of Church of England parishes continue routinely to demand additional, non-optional payments in addition to the statutory fees, for “use of the church”, etc., from those seeking a marriage service. How do we persuade these clergy and PCCs, who believe that such charges are perfectly reasonable and reflect the real cost of hosting weddings, that they are forbidden and criminal?
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