Is there salvation outside the Church?
I was just reading two excellent articles (linked below) from Larry Chapp about the question: is there’s salvation outside of the Church? I thoroughly enjoyed his explanation of how the Church answers that question now and how that answer has developed through the centuries. They are very much worth reading.
I don’t wish to respond to anything Chapp said, but as I was going though his article I thought about how I respond to this question in my RCIA meetings and figured I would share a version of that here.
The Church makes the very provocative claim that outside the Church there is no salvation. So can non-Catholics, let alone non-Christians, go to Heaven?
To answer it, we need to start with what we mean by "salvation" and "heaven" and then work back from there.
The claim of Christianity isn’t that heaven is simply a perfect state of bliss or freedom from suffering. Rather, heaven is union with the Blessed Trinity. Heaven is participating in God’s own divine life.
If that’s the case, then the next question is how can we sinful mortals possibly access, let alone share in, the inner life of the Trinity?
Again, Christianity claims that the second person of the Trinity became human, bridged the gap between mortal and divine, and reconciled God and humanity. In doing all this, God didn’t diminish divinity, no, God elevated humanity. This is what we mean when we say that Christ is the Way. He is the Way to our union with God.
Then the question is, how do we participate in this action of Christ? How are we reconciled with God and elevated into the Blessed Trinity?
The second person of the Trinity has a Body. And it is by being grafted into that Body that someone has access to the inner life of God.
That Body is the Church. And that grafting is baptism. “ Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ” and “incorporates us into the Church” (CCC 1267).
That is why the Church teaches that baptism is necessary for salvation and that outside the Church there is no salvation. How else do we access the inner life of the Blessed Trinity except through the Way that God paved for us?
Now, behind all this are two fundamental things we must take note of. First of all, and this is absolutely important, God is the one chasing each one of us. God draws near to us. God desires relationship, union, with every single person. God is not a gatekeeper to paradise. God is running through the streets inviting everyone in. “God thirsts that we may thirst for him” (CCC 2560). Second, we are fundamentally oriented towards God. We were created for this divine union, it is our destiny.
With all that in mind, two common answers to this question about salvation are found insufficient.
The first is the proposal of religious indifferentism. That is the idea that all paths lead to the same heaven.
However, even though God desires salvation for everyone, that does not make all religions equal. By becoming human, by fully embracing vulnerable humanity, by suffering, by dying on a cross, by ascending into Heaven, and by sending the Holy Spirit to form the Church—God privileged one Way. Christ is not just the privileged Way, but he is the only Way that God has revealed to us.
“The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are ‘reborn of water and the Spirit’” (CCC 1257).
The second insufficient answer is the proposal that anyone who isn’t baptized is, more than likely, not saved. That vast suffering masses of people are doomed to eternal separation from God.
This proposal forgets that God’s desire, God’s thirst, is for us. The Catechism says, “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments” (CCC 1257).
Yes, baptism is the normative and privileged Way to union with God, but God can act however he wants to chase down his children.
Anyone who seeks what’s good and true, anyone who loves others, is responding to, and participating in, God’s life. For God is Truth. God is Goodness. God is Love.
As our Mother Mary asked the children at Fatima to pray, “may all souls go to heaven.”
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