Often after I say that I’m a member of a Reformed church, I get the question, “What do you mean by ‘Reformed’?” And my answer usually boils down to the five pillars of the 16th century Protestant Reformation: salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, all of these revealed in Scripture alone.
And among these five essentials, “Christ alone” is often attacked today, not only by non-Christians, but also by Christians of various colors in two ways: universalism and inclusivism. Universalism states that all humankind will ultimately be saved and that there is no such thing as a literal hell or eternal punishment, and all religions ultimately lead to heaven. Inclusivism, on the other hand, while acknowledging salvation by faith in Christ alone, also proposes that explicit knowledge of Christ is unnecessary for salvation. God can give salvation to a person who implicit responds in faith to His general revelation.
Throughout church history, but especially in our postmodern society, both universalism and inclusivism are affirmed by church leaders of various persuasions. True universalism, related to the New Age pluralism, is rare. Mother Theresa, for one, is a universalist when she says, â€“ “All is God â€“ Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, etc., â€“ all have access to the same God.” Inclusivism, on the other hand, has gained many adherents among well-known evangelical leaders:
- Billy Graham: “I used to think that pagans in far-off countries were lost â€“ were going to hell â€“ if they did not have the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached to them. I no longer believe that… I believe there are other ways of recognizing the existence of God through nature, for instance â€“ and plenty of other opportunities, therefore, of saying yes to God.”
- Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, megachurch pastors, speakers: Christians and Muslims should build relationships which “genuinely reflect our common love for God and for one another.”
- Tony Campolo, pastor, speaker: “The difference between a Christian and non-Christian is not that Jesus isn’t in the non-Christian â€“ the difference is that the Jesus who is within him is a Jesus to whom he will not surrender his life. You say, ‘Are you saying that Jesus is present in everybody?’ I am only telling you what it says in John 1:9. He is the light that lighteth every man, every woman that cometh into the world.” [Does he realize that “everyone” here means everyone who would believe in the Light, not every single man and woman in the world?]
- Brian McClaren, emergent church guru: “I am not embracing a traditional universalist position, but I am trying to raise the question, â€˜When God created the universe, did he have two purposes in mind â€“ one being to create some people who would forever enjoy blessing and mercy, and another to create a group who would forever suffer torment, torture, and punishment?’ What is our view of God? A God who plans torture? A God who has an essential, eternal quality of hatred? Is God love, or is God love and hate?” [Another evangelical Marcion.1]
- Tony Evans, pastor, speaker: When asked, “Youâ€™re saying, if a Hindu looks up and says, â€˜I know youâ€™re up there somewhere. I donâ€™t know who you are, but Iâ€™d really like to know you,â€™ God will count that as sufficient as salvation?â€ his straight answer was, “Yes.”
“By this I mean if a person is sincerely seeking God and desiring to know Him, and is responding to the truth he knows, if there is no missionary or direct manifestation of God, then God judges that person based on his faith in the light he has received. And as in the case of Abraham, God will retroactively count this person as righteous by applying the death of Christ from the dispensation of grace.” [Compare this false teaching with John 8:56; Heb 11:26, and the Westminster Confession of Faith VII:5, XI:6, and Second Helvetic Confession Article 11 below. Evans is mixing natural revelation with special revelation; in contrast to the Old Testament saints and prophets, the heathen do not have special revelation from God about a coming Messiah.]
- Joel Osteen, pastor, speaker: Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Larry King (note how many times he says, “I don’t know”): Asked if Christ is the only way to heaven and not works, he replied, “There’s probably a balance between. I believe you have to know Christ. But I think that if you know Christ, if you’re a believer in God, you’re going to have some good works. I think it’s a cop-out to say I’m a Christian but I don’t ever do anything.” [This is Romish salvation by faith and works.] Answering whether Jews or Muslims would go to heaven, he was noncommittal, “You know, I’m very careful about saying who would and wouldn’t go to heaven… I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don’t know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don’t know. I’ve seen their sincerity. So I don’t know.” [I wonder who is this “God” whom the Hindus “love.”]
- Presbyterian Church (USA), 2001 General Assembly: Affirmed the “unique authority of Jesus Christ as Lord,â€ but also declared, “Although we do not know the limits of Godâ€™s grace and pray for the salvation of those who may never come to know Christ, for us the assurance of salvation is found in confessing Christ and trusting him alone.”
- Reformed Church in America, Synod 1997: Rejected the statement that “divine redemption from sin is only by grace through faith in the perfect work of the Lord Jesus Christ alone, the only mediator between God and humankind.”
Compare all of these inclusivist teachings with what Scriptures say about salvation in Christ alone:
- Romans 1:18-20, 2:14-15: The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who are without excuse because of what God has revealed to them in creation and in their hearts.
- Acts 4:12: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
- Romans 5:17-19: Christ’s perfect obedience is the only ground of justification.
- 1 Timothy 2:5: Christ is the only mediator between God and man.
- Romans 3:23-24: All have sinned, but redemption is by Christ alone.
- 1 John 5:12: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
And the Bible has a caveat for all Christians: those who teach salvation in any other name and that all religions lead to heaven, are false teachers:
- Galatians 1:9: “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
- 1 John 4:1-3: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”
In addition, our historic creeds and confessions clearly declare solus Christus, as in the following examples:
1561 Belgic Confession of Faith Article 23: “We believe that our blessedness lies in the forgiveness of our sins because of Jesus Christ, and that in it our righteousness before God is contained… not claiming a thing for ourselves or our merits and leaning and resting on the sole obedience of Christ crucified, which is ours when we believe in him… In fact, if we had to appear before God relying â€“ no matter how little â€“ on ourselves or some other creature, then, alas, we would be swallowed up.
1563 Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 61: “Q. Why do you say that you are righteous only by faith? A. Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, for only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God. I can receive this righteousness and make it my own by faith only.”
1563 Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, Article 18: “They also are to be accursed that presume to say that every man shall be saved by the law or sect which he professes, so that he is diligent to frame his life according to that law and the light of nature. For Holy Scripture sets out to us only the name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.”
1566 Second Helvetic Confession Chapter 11: For we teach and believe that Jesus Christ our Lord is the unique and eternal Savior of the human race, and thus of the whole world, in whom by faith are saved all who before the law, under the law, and under the Gospel were saved, and however many will be saved at the end of the world… Wherefore, we quite openly profess and preach that Jesus Christ is the sole Redeemer and Savior of the world, the King and High Priest, the true and awaited Messiah, that holy and blessed one whom all the types of the law and predictions of the prophets prefigured and promised; and that God appointed him beforehand and sent him to us, so that we are not now to look for any other… For however many seek salvation in any other than in Christ alone, have fallen from the grace of God and have rendered Christ null and void for themselves (Gal 5:4).
1647 Westminster Confession of Faith: VII:5: “Under the law, [the covenant of grace] was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the passover lamb, and other types and ordinances given to the Jewish people, all of which foreshadowed Christ to come. These were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the work of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in their faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they received complete forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. This covenant administration is called the old testament.” XI:6: “The justification of believers under the old testament was, in all these respects, one and the same with the justification of believers under the new testament.”
With all of Scripture and historic Protestant confessions declaring the doctrine of solus Christus, one wonders how can all these popular evangelicals miss the point. This is because of the tremendous pressure coming from a pluralistic culture to soften and water down the gospel. If I were speaking in an evangelical meeting, and I say that the heathen are lost if they die without Christ, and that if God elected them to be saved, he will send someone to preach the gospel to them (Acts 18:10), I would probably be stoned to death. Having been taught all their lives that God loves everyone and that man only has to cooperate with this love by exercising his own free will to be saved, evangelicals eventually go into the abyss of universalism, sliding all the way down to its logical conclusion: the absence of eternal judgment:
Pelagian freewillism âž Universal atonement âž Inclusivism âž Univeralism âž No Hell
1Marcion of Sinope was a 2nd century heretic who taught that the cruel God of the Old Testament is different from the loving God of the New Testament, a teaching that later would be called Marcionism. He then rejected the whole canon of Scripture, except for ten of Paul’s epistles and a revised Gospel of Luke.