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Salvation is for most modern Christians the idea that people deemed worthy by God will experience a post-mortem life in which all suffering and unhappiness are swept away. What believers are being saved from is the inherently flawed and wicked nature of man and the one-way trip to damnation that comes without salvation. As is often the case, Christians have for thousands of years been unable to agree consistently on how salvation is to be achieved, and in some cases, whether it is even possible to "achieve" salvation as a conscious act.
Create a problem, provide a "solution"
People considering themselves to be living pretty decent lives may not see a good reason to beg for forgiveness or jump through sacramental hoops to secure a happy afterlife. Along came the Doctrine of Original Sin, accepted by the vast majority of Christians, which teaches that humans are inherently flawed. The extent of this sin varies between denominations, with more liberal Christians taking a softer line than Calvinism's rather depressing take on Augustine's characteristically grim notion of original sin, with Calvinists viewing of the world as a cesspool of degeneration and vileness in which we have no ability to effect change. Where Christians do mostly agree is in the belief that there is no happy afterlife without the Christian God.
The term "personal savior" is not found anywhere in the Bible; however, the concept that a messiah is a savior for each individual person is a common understanding, even throughout the Jewish scripture and commentary. Many evangelical Christian denominations have found that the term resonates with new believers, in the idea that God and his Sacrificial Lamb died just for you. It's personal salvation, giving a note of importance to you, individually, that is not found in Catholicism — and for those who may be emotionally insecure or vulnerable, it can be a powerful argument for becoming a Christian. Accepting Jesus "as your personal savior" is part of the Born again process.
Interestingly, theological discussion of Christ as "personal" traditionally focused very much on the Person of Christ and had little to do with the 20th-century popularization of the idea of an individual up for salvation.
Things to do before you die
As of 2009, there are over two billion Christians in the world, giving us over two billion variations on Christianity being practised. With that caveat in mind, what follows is a rough guide to salvation among the more mainline Christian denominations... and Jack Chick.
Anglicanism, as practiced by the Church of England and the Episcopal Church, is largely comparable to Catholicism in terms of entry requirements for Heaven, but with far less emphasis on mystical rituals. Baptism for Anglicans is considered to be the beginning of membership of the Holy Catholic Church, and generally accepted by the Catholic Church as being valid, due to the Anglican churches holding to a trinitarian view. The Anglican church does not see confession in the same sense as the Catholic Church would, chiefly because it does not offer absolution from sins. Sacraments in themselves are not a route to Heaven. In some branches of Anglicanism, even practicing gays get to marry, and can go to Heaven. In general, Anglicanism is far less rigid than Catholicism, so it's pretty much about believing in Jesus, having a connection with him, being a good person, and drinking lots of tea. Seventeenth-century Anglican priest George Herbert described this set of behaviors (indicating this phenomenon has existed for quite some time, as opposed to simply being a fruit of modern secularization) as "the sweet mediocrity of our native church."
John Calvin, in common with Augustine, taught that man was inherently depraved, with salvation entirely at God's whim. Further to this, a key tenet of Calvinism is that humans are created either saved (the elect) or damned, and that God himself has willed this choice (unconditional election). If of the elect, you'll not be able to reject God's grace any more than you could hold your breath until you die. Subscribers to any notions of free will need not apply. Acts themselves are unimportant in the sense that they are not conscious attempts to curry favour with God; rather, True Christians will do good acts because they are the elect.[note 1]
The Westboro Baptist Church, of God Hates Fags fame, holds to the five points of Calvinism. Not knowing this is perhaps why some people wonder what Phelps and family hope to achieve through their rabid protests. The Phelps clan is not trying to win converts — they see no point in this. God has already marked the elect from the damned, so all that's left is to cheer as people follow the path to damnation that God has laid out before them — which could even include the Phelps family being sent to the fiery pit.
Catholics have a series of magical ritual ceremonies (known as the sacraments) given to man so that we may enjoy God's grace and spend a lot of time doing really strange things. Adherence to the sacraments is key to enjoying salvation. Like a real-life World of Warcraft game, players must routinely perform certain sacraments in order to build (or "grind") reputation with the Church. These sacraments are as follows:
- Baptism: Complete with removal of original sin and induction into the Church. According to John 3:1-21, baptism is a requirement for entry into Heaven. With the high rates of child mortality experienced in the past (and still today in parts of Africa), Hell must have a significantly large population of infants and even partially developed foetuses that were never dunked in magical water by a guy armed with magical words, and ideally lots of candles and statues (not idols). The Catholic line on baptism is that it can happen once, so converts from other forms of Christianity will generally not be re-baptised unless there are serious doubts as to the validity of their previous baptism.
- Confirmation: Confirmation is normally performed during childhood, and is seen as the completion of baptism. Whereas baptism is something forced upon a baby by its parents, confirmation is
pressured upon a child by its parentsa conscious and solemn acceptance of the tenets of Catholicism. This also marks the completion of the baptism quest chain.
- Holy Communion: Holy communion, through the magic of transubstantiation, is the consumption of God in magical cracker form. God grants grace to diners who eat him.[note 2] The eucharist should only be accepted by those free of grave and/or mortal sins. The Church insists that the wafer becomes the physical body of Christ, which the faithful eat — yet it shrieks to the sky when someone points out that that would be cannibalism.
- Penance: More commonly known as confession, penance is technically only required for the forgiveness of sins. From a practical perspective, everyone sins in some shape or form, so failure to seek regular confession will jeopardise salvation. During confession, Catholics must be contrite, must freely confess all sins, and will be directed to perform penance for their sins. Penance typically takes the form of reflection and repetition of a prayer.
- Marriage: Not required for salvation per se, but certainly unavoidable if you want to have any kind of sex life. Of course, this is Real Marriage, not phoney baloney fag weddings or unions conducted by the state, by non-Catholic Christian sects, or by other Hell-bound heathens. Don't get divorced!
- Holy Orders: Although not required, ordination will not hurt your chances of hitching a postmortem ride to bliss. Ordination bestows magical powers upon priests and bishops (such as the authority to grant the other sacraments). Deaconship is an option for people wanting a role in the church that won't prohibit their having a sex life. As is to be expected, deacons enjoy fewer magical powers than their priestly colleagues. Specifically, Catholicism allows deacons to preach the gospel during mass.
- Anointing of the sick: More colloquially termed "last rites". This is the final cram before the exam, so it's a good idea to ensure to keep a priest close at hand when the end seems near. The priest will anoint the body while mumbling magical words to top-up the grace of the afflicted, in the hopes of St. Peter's grace-o-meter showing a favorable reading.
Methodists, like most Christians, believe salvation to be contingent upon God's grace. The theology of prevenient grace teaches that God has already decided to save each and every one of us, but unlike Calvinism, humans can choose to accept or refuse God's grace. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, interpreted baptism as a symbolic gesture — not an act that in any way diminishes original sin, therefore not making it a requirement of salvation.
Universalists believe that everyone is saved or will be saved eventually because of Christ's sacrifice, and that rather than a Hell, there is (at worst) a sort of "Purgatory" where souls are made right again. This variant of Christianity began in the late 1700s as an answer and reaction to the ever annoying problem of evil. Like with Calvinism, this does, however, make "saving" people somewhat pointless, but for the exact opposite reason. After all, if everyone is saved already, what is the point of conversion (except maybe reduced
jail Hell Purgatory temporary torture or boredom time)?
Unfortunately, this is a minority viewpoint in Christianity, and is often shunned by other denominations (especially those who do not like to lose one of their most useful tools for keeping their subjects in line: the fear of eternal torture).
One group of Universalists are found among Baptists, and are popularly known as "No-Hellers". The No-Hellers don't believe there's such a thing as hell at all, as British historian, Simon Schama, described in his experience of an Appalachian No-Heller service in The American Future: A History.
Like Universalists, they do not believe in a hell. Unlike Universalists, however, they simply replace an eternal hell with… well, Annihilation or non-existence, which is still far more merciful than an eternal hell. It is kinda like the life-after-death beliefs of atheists… just not as universally applied.
While it does not suffer Universalism's flaw of pointlessness of conversion, it is still a minority viewpoint, though not as much so, as Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses both subscribe to this particular version.
This is not a recognised Christian denomination, but for its adherents, it is the one true interpretation of Christianity. It arises as a response when dogma, doctrine, and scripture collide with compassion and reality. How does one rationalise the problem of an ostensibly kind and loving person being bussed to Hell, when a far less pleasant person gets a club class seat to Heaven just because they said the correct magical words or had some water splashed on them? Apply liberal doses of self projection as God. For a practical example of this, survey Catholics to see how many believe that anyone is going to Hell for the following?
- Use of contraception (officially a grave sin)
- Divorce and remarrying (not a sin, but certainly adultery if a person should remarry or have sex outside of the marital relationship)
- Dying before baptism (see our article concerning Limbo)
- Participating in an abortion in order to save a mother's life
- Marrying a Protestant (strictly speaking, this concerns excommunication that followed, and excommunication does not automatically mean a one-way trip to Hell)[note 3]
Jack Chick was an Independent Baptist, known for his comics in which he espoused his fundamentalist Christian views. Chick was of the belief that the King James Version is the only reliable or genuine rendition of the Bible, and that the only path to salvation is through flinging yourself to the ground and accepting Jesus as your personal saviour. The bus load of orphans you dismembered last week is of little import. Ye shall be saved, just as soon as those magical words are spoken.
- In practice, not fearing damnation as a punishment for antisocial behavior, combined with the inherent putting-oneself-on-a-pedestal that comes with believing oneself to be "elect" (read: an unearned sense of superiority) and a lack of respect for humanity that would be associated with other philosophies (such as secular humanism), makes Calvinists far more likely to be unapologetic assholes.
- Vegetarian alternatives served in Hell.
- Then again, anyone wishing to not be a monster should steer clear of Calvinism.
- See the Wikipedia article on Person of Christ.
- Compare: McDowell, Bill (22 October 2014). "What Does Having A 'Personal Savior' Mean?". Norway Avenue Church of Christ. "The phrase “personal Savior” is an innovation which has permeated western Christian culture. [...] Of course “accepting Jesus as your personal Savior” is not found in Scripture. [...] The Bible describes Jesus as dying not in hypothetical speculation for a single individual, but on a real cross in a real world for the corporate body of believers. [...] This relationship is corporate just as much as it is individual."
- Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Christian Population
- A Beginner's Guide to the Anglican Church
- Westboro Baptist Church FAQ (Not safe for work)
- Code of Canon Law
- Pope Francis Says Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed, Not Just Catholics
- Assessing John Wesley’s View of Baptism with reference to The Quadrilateral
- See the Wikipedia article on Christian Universalism.
- Simon Schama, The American Future: A History (2009), pp. 149-152
- Encyclical Letter of Pope Pius XI on Christian Marriage
- The Teaching of the Catholic Church on Divorce
- Excommunicated doctor hailed for abortion on child rape victim
- http://atheism.about.com/b/2006/05/24/the-catholic-church-in-nazi-germany-book-notes-pope-benedict-xvi.htm The Catholic Church in Nazi Germany (Book Notes: Pope Benedict XVI)