Christian Church / Christianity / Ethics / Faith / Hypocrisy / Religion

The Gray Areas of Salvation: Accountability & Revelation

Most Christian traditions have some grey areas concerning salvation. There is an age of accountability, the wonders of general revelation when a person doesn’t have the gospel, and the difference between being saved OT or NT style. Some believe that purgatory still exists. Some believe once saved, always saved. Some believe salvation can be lost. Some think it can be worked for or at least that one must manifest fruits if they are ‘truly” saved. But let’s also add the complications from those looking from the outside in. What about conflicting ideas about what qualifies and disqualifies one from Heaven? I’ve asked this questions many times, but haven’t been thorough enough, I think. This time I’ll try to make the conversation deeper and more complex by diving into the greyer aspects of this faith tradition. Maybe then we can have a really in depth discussion about implications. What does the salvation we believe in say about our God? What does it say about free will? And what about personal responsibility?

Age of Accountability: Many Christian denominations have the idea that a child will go to Heaven if they die before they reach an age that is capable of understanding and actually comprehending how to accept Jesus. Even though the Christian tradition clearly teaches that not a single one of us is innocent and we are born sinners, it is still held. This age of accountability can also cover those who never reach the mental capacity to be able to understand the concept of salvation such as those with intellectual disabilities. I believe that we have made this exception because  the implications of God who rejects those incapable of comprehending are too ghastly to imagine. But is it right?baby

Are we really born sinners then or do we become sinners? What is the true nature of sin if we hold this belief to be true? I think that the implications are clear. Either we believe we are not born sinners, God doesn’t mind our sin before we reach an age of knowledge, or we don’t sin until we are capable of comprehending right from wrong. I personally, believe the last one. “To him who knows to do good and does it not, to him it is sin.” The reverse of which being: to him who doesn’t know that it’s wrong and does it, to him it’s not sin.

But is that the end of the age of accountability discussion? I don’t think so. What about the distant tribes or people raised with no knowledge of Jesus to accept or reject? Have they, in God’s eyes reached the age of accountability? Or is this where the scale of accountability based on revelation comes in? What kind of God are we implying by assuming that those who have not heard, but could mentally comprehend are or are not damned? Does God judge them differently?

Scale of Revelation for Accountability Sake: There are many different kinds of revelation. It is my belief that we must have experienced one or more of these revelations to reach a “saving knowledge of Jesus.” But it is also my belief that it is not necessary to know every detail as we parrot in most churches ie. Jesus died, was buried, and rose again the third day and He will return to rule the world. I think we are accountable for what we have been given or could have found out. But what do you think? Could general revelation (a man in a tribe who has never/will never heard the name of Jesus and knows nothing of the Bible looks around and knows that God is manifest all around him and believes on this God) be enough? Consider the implications if not? What kind of God are we left with?Is special revelation enough assuming the person has no other concept of God and the details? Special revelation is God visiting a person via dreams, visions, or other miraculous ways.

Revelations and accountability are the tip of the iceberg in the gray matter of salvation doctrine. In the next post, I’m going to discuss verses on alternate ways to achieve or forfeit salvation. Do we cherry pick what verses we feel actually deal with salvation and disregard others? Did Jesus preach that there are more ways than one to get saved? And what does it mean in our current American political climate for our doctrine of salvation, especially concerning many verses in Matthew?

Next post in the series.

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21 thoughts on “The Gray Areas of Salvation: Accountability & Revelation

  1. Pingback: What really saves us? | Sacred Struggler

  2. In my experience “sin” is whatever is destructive to you. Because of that I guess I am fimly in the “Age of Accountability” camp.

    • Destructive to you and assuredly others as well. It’s got a tree falling in the woods kind of implication with that. If it doesn’t hurt me (or you) is it sin? I fall into this camp as well. Though that would make overeating a sin, and drinking soda. Ah!

    • I don’t plan on answering them with anything definitive. I enjoy the discussion that comes from and besides that; I’m not God so I don’t really know. The only thing I can offer is opinions. 🙂

  3. I don’t see how we can possibly know the answers to these questions – anything we say will just be guesses.

    I think the New Testament gives us enough information for us to make an adequate response, but that response may be different for different people. (Just note how Jesus sought different response from each person he spoke to – compare Zaccheus to the rich young ruler to the Samaritan woman at the well to Nicodemus.)

    I don’t think there’s a set of rules, I think God knows our hearts and our intentions, and he is able to judge fairly. We just can’t tie his judgments down as much as we’d sometimes .like.

    I believe everyone will be treated fairly, I think those who never hear of Jesus can nevertheless be saved by him (as the Old Testament Jews could be), I don’t believe Jesus taught everlasting punishment, and I think God will show grace to anyone who wants to receive it. With that basis, the details of young children, exact requirements, etc that you raise are less important to me. I can trust God with these questions.

    • I don’t expect to have answers. For me the fun is in hearing all the ideas and differences. I, like you, can trust God to sort it out. However, I simply enjoy hearing everyone’s personal journeys and thoughts. I don’t like to build doctrine, just discussion and the idea that it is very possible to come to different conclusions and still know that God will meet you where you are.

  4. I agree with what you said on the age of accountability with that verse about “he who knows what is right and doesn’t do it is sin.” That goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. The forbidden fruit gave them not good and evil, but the knowledge of it. Before, they were innocent, but now they were fully accountable for their actions. I think the young are like that, innocent of sin because their little brains haven’t developed to the point of understanding sin/right and wrong/God. When does that age end? No clue. Only God knows the mind and heart.

  5. And why wouldn’t purgatory “still exist”? Did it disappear in a puff of smoke? I think you have your adverb in the wrong place. 😉 (“Some people still believe purgatory exists.”) </grammatical picking>

    One advantage of being Catholic is that folks have been thinking about these questions for a full 2,000 years, a good bit longer than anybody else. 😉 And we’ve come to an understanding about most of them.

    On nearly all of them, you are dead on in your thinking. “Are we really born sinners then or do we become sinners?” you say. The Catholic Church makes the distinction between original sin and actual sin. All humans, newborn babies included, inherit the stain of Adam and Eve’s original sin. Original sin is “a sin ‘contracted’ and not ‘committed’ — a state and not an act” (CCC 404). That’s different than the actual sin of having known and understood the difference between right and wrong, and chosen wrong, a decision that can only be made at the “age of accountability.” This is why we baptize infants — to free them from the stain of original sin, protecting them in the innocence of their infancy, fully understanding that they will reach an age of accountability. (Cf. CCC 397-404, 1250etc.)

    What about the distant tribes or people raised with no knowledge of Jesus to accept or reject? Have they, in God’s eyes reached the age of accountability?” We say, and it gets in the craw of evangelicals like nothing else, that no, they haven’t. “I think we are accountable for what we have been given or could have found out.” Again, you’re dead on. A people who has never heard the Gospel or has no knowledge of Christ won’t be damned for their ignorance. They will be judged according to their sins against the natural law, the sense of right and wrong that everybody has, the “requirements of the law written on their hearts” (Romans 2:15) — but not for what they don’t know or haven’t heard. (Cf. CCC 1260, 1701-1715)

    • Most Christians (Protestant) believe that purgatory no longer exists. They believe that Abraham’s bosom was simply a place where the saved went until Jesus resurrection. After that most commonly it is believed that you either ascend into the kingdom of Heaven or go to Hell, no collecting any prayers if you will.

      • I was just picking at you. I know what you meant. And “most Christians” (the majority in the world), you should be aware, are Catholic (and “still” believe in purgatory). 😉 Also, the concept of purgatory has little do with “Abraham’s bosom” (I’ve never heard the two related). And it has nothing to do with going someplace besides Heaven or Hell or “collecting prayers.” It’s more about the way you get to Heaven.

        • My understanding, which is quite limited, abraham’s bosom, intermediate state, limbo of the fathers all have the same kind of idea with a bit of difference in the way in which one gets out. I am woefully undereducated about it though.

          I absolutely agree with 90% of what you have laid out. “To him who knows what is good and does it not; to him it is sin.” I think that God most certainly meets each individual where they are at revelation wise.
          The only thing I don’t understand is the baptism of infants. I completely understand the concept, but not the implication. Does one who has not reached the age of accountability need to be baptized to be saved by God? Or is it then considered on the family’s responsibility of the child was not baptized and they knew better? Or would the child be punished for the neglect of the father should they not be baptized?

          • I do think all of those, thinking of purgatory, are similar, and some of the ideas about purgatory were influenced by thinking about those. But more than a place or a state, it’s understood as a process (no thanks to Dante, who cemented the idea of it as a place in everybody’s heads) — a final rinse cycle on the way to Heaven for those of us who have been forgiven by Christ, but who aren’t exactly saints. I’ve written a bit about it here and there on Facebook and in other people’s blog posts. I should collect it all together and make a post.

            In technical, theological terms, since the wages of sin is death, infants need to be baptized to be saved. But thankfully God is more about mercy than technicalities: rather than saying an unbaptized infant is going to hell, these days we say he or she falls upon the mercy of God. It was theologians of old who dwelt a lot on technical points — which did have its value, in fleshing out our understanding of doctrines. “Limbo” (different than the “limbo of the fathers”) was a concept that came from the musings of St. Augustine about what happened to unbaptized infants, whom God surely wouldn’t damn because they’d committed no sins, but who couldn’t be saved, because they hadn’t been baptized (hence, they were in limbo). It was never official Church teaching, and it was only in the past few years that the current pope, an eminent theologian for many years even before he became pope, stated that there was no such place.

            1261 in the Catechism deals expressly with this question:

            As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

            So no, it’s not the child’s fault he or she wasn’t baptized, the same as it’s not the fault of the isolated islander who hasn’t heard the Gospel (or of the Protestant whose church doesn’t teach that they need to baptized). (For more on infant baptism: CCC 1250-1255)

  6. Pingback: The Gray Areas of Salvation: Alternate Ways to Acheive or Forfeit Salvation | Sacred Struggler

  7. Pingback: What I’m for: Religiosity as experience, not an idol. | Sacred Struggler

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