Yesterday’s post began a discussion of what it means to ‘be saved’ and ended touching on the thorny question of who will be saved; here I want to continue with that for a while.
Contrary to the impression given by some, we are not Christians by ourselves, we are Christians in the Church; if we are saved by coming to Christ, we live our life as a Christian in a community. To what extent does that impact on our spiritual lives?
In my time I have belonged to a number of churches, but with one possible exception, none of them have done very much for my spiritual life, which has been largely led elsewhere. That may well be my own fault, but it has left me pondering all the same.
As some of you know, my eldest son is a Baptist Pastor in the Potteries of England. His preaching is, to my own mind, impeccably orthodox, and yet he is not a Catholic, neither is there any chance of his becoming one. If, as seems to be the case, I am asked to conceive of a situation in which someone who has devoted his whole life to Christ is liable not to be saved because he cannot accept and believe all that the Catholic Church believes, then that makes me stop and think. It is hard enough to accept, as some would say I must, that my father, a man who had thrown at him just about every misfortune life can afford, and who as a result of the sort of experiences which would now lead to a court case, rejected priests, vicars and the whole of what they represented, might be barred from Heaven, but to accept that my son, and his twin brother, another God-fearing young man, are also subject to the same fate is one against which every decent instinct revolts. What does Jesus say?
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24
I well understand the struggle in the early church to preserve orthodoxy, and the fact that often, it was only in relation to unorthodoxy that orthodoxy needed to be defined. The Church has always been Trinitarian, but it did not always feel the need to define and defend that position; it was only when men came along and tried to say otherwise that a defence and explanation became necessary.
My own spiritual journey has led me across the Tiber. It would have been easier for me if that had taken place when the Ordinariate had existed, but it was not ease I sought, but the Truth in its fulness. But it took me very many years to get there, and if I look back, I see Grace in every step of the way, as well as my own blindness – which makes the Grace all the more amazing.
I hope that the ‘field hospital’ that is the Church is providing me with the spiritual medication of which I stand in need. But when I look at Anglican friends, or at my sons, I see people as devoted, if not more so, to God and to His Word, who, for whatever reasons, cannot get to the place I got to, I cannot, in my heart, believe that the Only Just Judge will condemn them for their choice. I know that I, not even fit to be the ‘chief of sinners’, would not behave so were it in my power, and I cannot believe that Almighty God would have in a manner worse than myself.
Yes, it is true that God’s ways are not our ways, but it is also true that we are made in God’s image, and I do not believe that our instinct of mercy is a perversion of the image of God; rather, it is reflection of a mercy and justice so vastly beyond our comprehension, that we may grasp it only in part when, as a parent, we look at our children.
So, as I am bound, I believe the Catholic Church is the best place for us to be as Christians, but the Church teaches neither that all Catholics are saved, nor that only members of the Catholic Church may be saved. Some may counter (but why?) with the ‘extra ecclesiam nulla salus’, to which I reply that it is God who defines who is and is not a member of His Church. If, as I hope and pray. I make it to Heaven, I suspect I shall be delighted by who I find there; some may have reached the stage where they can overcome the disappointment they might think they will currently feel. If not, then it will be, for me, a very odd Heaven, as I am the only member of my family to have been a Catholic for many, many generations.