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Christian Salvation?

Author’s notes:
1) This article was written over a period of months starting in 2001. During that time I was still wrestling with the ramifications of my nonbelief, thus the tone of this article may reflect some of my personal frustrations. Since writing this article I have become quite comfortable with my atheism. In addition, I would also like to thank the Secular Web for providing me with a virtual resource that helped me to resolve some of these issues.
2) Finally, it should be noted that my reasons for writing this article were as follows: 1) A response to well-meaning Christians who try to reconvert me, 2) a way to deal with my own church-indoctrinated fear of hell (and possibly help others deal with their own fear), and 3) to get both Christians and non-Christians to examine Christianity. The article also has the ancillary intent of casting doubt on the truth of Christianity as revealed by the Bible, but this was not my main intent. Nor should this article be seen as a formal proof or technical essay for the nonexistence of God.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in March, 2002 under the byline Thomas Doubting. It was updated by the author in August, 2002. The author now prefers to use his own name rather than a pen name.

During my discussions with most Christians regarding my lack of belief, sooner or later I am usually presented with the fact that I am not saved and risk an eternity of damnation. Indeed, when I was a Christian, eternal salvation was something I did not take lightly. After all, what sane person would risk an eternity of damnation by turning away from God or questioning His precepts? Regardless, many well-meaning Christians tell me that I need to turn to the Bible for my answers, that, somehow, via the rule of faith, God will once again “inspire” me to find the true meaning in those sacred words.

Ever the quick study, I decided to take those Christians up on their advice and once again found myself back in the Bible trying to figure out how one is “saved.” Logic would dictate that obtaining this salvation would be fairly straightforward and laid out in one easy-to-understand book–especially if said creator of this book wanted to make sure His followers were indeed “saved.” Of course, upon investigation I found that this is not the case. One Christian denomination tells us the “saved” were predestined. One tells us that baptism is required. Another says baptism is a ritual and that salvation comes through belief in Christ’s sacrifice. Others say Christ’s sacrifice alone is enough. Yet another stresses good works or the grace of God. In fact, depending on which denomination of Christianity one subscribes to, any combination of the following bible verses can be used to justify how one is saved:

By Hearing the Gospel & Belief in God: John 5:24: “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life.”

By Baptism: John 3:5: “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.'”

By Grace & Faith, not Works: Ephesians 2:8,9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith … not of works.”

By Faith & Works: James 2:17: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”

By Keeping the Law: Matthew 19:17: “… if thou wilt enter unto life, keep the commandments.”

By Belief in Christ: John 3:16: “… whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

By Belief and Baptism: Mark 16:16: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

By Words: Matthew 12:37: “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”

By Calling on the Lord: Acts 2:21: “whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Not Works but by Grace & Baptism: Titus 3:5: “Not by works … but according to his mercy … by the washing of regeneration.” (Note: some denominations will say the washing refers to Christ’s blood and sacrifice.)

According to Proverbs 16:4: God made the “wicked” for “the day of evil” (i.e. judgment & damnation). Of course, this makes no sense in light of passages that confirm or suggest that Jesus died for a small number of the elect; or that suggest all will be saved: John 1:29, 4:42, 1 Corinthians 15:29, Hebrews 2:9, 1 John 4:14.

Salvation Available to the Chosen Few:
Matthew 7:14, 22:14, Luke 12:32, 13:24, John 6:37,65,15:16,19, Romans 8:29, 9:11-23, Ephesians 1:4.

Salvation Available to Those Who Desire it: Matthew 7:7-8, 11:28, John 3:16, 5:40, 7:37, Acts 2:21, Revelation 3:20.

Now I’m sure some critics will say I’m taking those verses “out of context.” Well, to those critics I ask that a “context” be clearly defined and followed among Christians before you criticize my observations. If these rules were clearly defined among Christians, one would not see various Christian denominations debating the ritual of baptism, women as preachers, interpretation of scripture, and the Trinitarian concept. Putting those critics aside for the moment, this leads us to the present day state of affairs among the various denominations of Christianity. Granted, I’m no theologian, but one would think a perfect God who knows “everything” would have foreseen what these contradictions would do to his followers’ faith. One would think that a perfect God would have directed His followers to write one sacred book. One would think that this one book would detail just exactly how one is to be “saved” and that this plan would be uniformly followed–at least among Christians. More importantly, one would think that Christianity would agree on just exactly how one is “saved.” Of course, once again confusion reigns!


Christian Denomination




How one is “saved


Can Women Preach?


Number of Members


Southern Baptists


(Endnotes 1, 2 & 17)


Southern Baptists generally subscribe to a literal interpretation of the Protestant Bible; some liberal sects do not. Authority is left to each local church.


Baptism (by immersion) seen as a public testimony to the commitment to Christ (infant or preconversion baptisms not practiced); some require baptism, some do not. Belief in God, eternal covenant between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect, repentance of sin. Communion is seen as symbolic.


Conservatives say no, liberals say yes. Currently
subject to much controversy.





Christian Science



(Endnotes 3, 4, & 17)


Interpretation of Scripture and rules outlined by Mary Baker Eddy in the Manual of The Mother Church (1895) and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (1875).


Salvation is seen as rescue from materiality. They deny the existence of sin and think Jesus was a man. Communion is taken to be the union of God through prayer, and baptism the continual presence of regeneration.


Do not have ordained ministers. Women can help conduct services.
Exact numbers not available per founders’ instructions


Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
(Endnotes 18 & 19)



Literal interpretation of the Protestant Bible. Lutherans stress education through adherence to doctrine.


Grace alone through faith, belief in Christ’s sacrifice; baptism is “generally” required. Lutherans believe that Christ’s body and blood are present “during” communion (i.e., consubstantiation).


Missouri Synod, no. Some liberal sects, yes.


Missouri Synod: 2,582,440



Eastern Orthodox


(Endnotes 20 & 21)


Bible, tradition, and the first seven Church Councils up to Nicea II.


Christ’s resurrection and purity of faith, baptism, but not works. The Holy Eucharist and confession are seen as acts of worship and spiritual healing.







Oneness Pentecostal
(Endnotes 3, 6, 22 & 36)



Literal interpretation of the Bible with a focus on New Testament salvation.


Accepting Jesus; baptism in the name of Jesus; speaking in tongues, and adherence to the rules of the “community” essential. One must also be “born again.” Oneness Pentecostals do not affirm the traditional notion of the Triune God.


Some liberal sects yes, most no.


Conflicting data, over 1,000,000 estimated



Roman Catholic


(Endnotes 7, & 23)


Pope, church councils, and the Catholic Bible which contains seven additional books compared to the Protestant version. Truth is found in scripture, as interpreted by the church.


Merit gained through God’s grace, belief in Christ’s sacrifice, and baptism. Good works performed under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Believes the Eucharist becomes the body and blood of Christ and the change is permanent (i.e., transubstantiation).







Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
(Endnotes 3 & 8)



Literal interpretation of the The Book of Mormon which was written by Joseph Smith after receiving knowledge from an angel. Future revelations through modern day prophets.


Christ’s sacrifice saves all who obey the law. Baptism and obeying the law (10 Commandments). Baptism is considered essential for the dead and the living, even though the rites will not finally save them. Communion is symbolic and Mormons do not believe in the Triune God.







Jehovah’s Witnesses


(Endnotes 3, 9, & 25)


Literal interpretation of New World Translation of the Bible (their own translation).


Faith and works, 144,000 “elect” will be saved. Non-elect must earn salvation via works; baptism seen as symbolic. Only those who believe they are of the 144,000 “elect” may partake of communion; therefore, the instruments are just passed around but no one partakes because the elect are not known at this time.







(Endnotes 26 & 27)



The Holy Spirit inspired the writing of the Bible and the Holy Spirit will help you to understand it.


Some “Friends” believe Christ was divine; some do not. All emphasize Christ’s teachings. Friends do not believe in sacraments or baptism. Salvation is not through Christ’s sacrifice; rather, it’s through spiritual growth and the emulation of Christ.




Conflicting data, over 1,000,000 estimated



Church of Christ


(Endnotes 10 & 15)


Literal interpretation of New Testament Scripture only, Old Testament is used for historical reference.


To be saved one must hear the word, believe in Christ, repent, confess, & be baptized–God’s grace is also key. Baptism is practiced at adulthood and the Lord’s Supper is an act of thankful remembrance to be carried out weekly. Musical instruments are prohibited by scripture.







Disciples of Christ


(Endnotes 12 & 16)


Adherence to New Testament scripture only, Old Testament is used for historical reference. Some sects believe in literal interpretation, some do not.


Salvation is similar to the Church of Christ though the Disciples will accept transfer baptisms. The Lord’s Supper is an act of thankful remembrance to be carried out weekly. (Disciples of Christ broke with the Church of Christ and generally are more liberal. Neither sect affirms creeds or doctrine.)




Conflicting data, over 1,000,000 estimated



Episcopal Churches
(Anglican or Church of England)


(Endnotes 11, 28 & 29)


Catholic or Protestant Bible interpreted through church authority and the rule of faith.


Salvation through grace as well as personal responsibility; belief in Christ’s sacrifice and baptism. The Lord’s Supper is seen as symbolic.


Some yes, some no.








(Endnotes 30 & 31)


Founded by Reverend John Wesley; desire to follow the Protestant Bible interpreted by tradition and reason; worship varies by denomination.


Both faith and good works belong within an all-encompassing theology of grace; communion and the baptism of infants and adults are practiced though not necessarily essential to salvation.


Most allow women as pastors





Seventh-Day Adventist


(Endnotes 3, 13, & 32)


Literal interpretation of Scripture, prophecies and writings of founder Ellen White. Seventh-Day Adventists observe Saturday as the Sabbath.
Generally, baptism via immersion is essential; also works via “investigative judgment.” God reviews each persons’ works and each person is judged for faithfulness or unfaithfulness. Jesus does not forgive their sins, but shows their penitence and faith to God. The Lord’s Supper is a participation in the symbols of the body and blood of Jesus, though Christ is present.


Most no, some yes.





Presbyterian Church


(Endnotes 17 & 33)


The reformers based all of their claims on “sola scripture,” the scriptures alone; therefore, the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God and guides all.


Baptism seen as symbolic ritual; salvation through God’s Grace; belief in Christ’s sacrifice, emphasis on works and “The Great Commission.” Believe that The Lord’s Supper is seen as symbolic though Christ is present in spirit. “The doctrine of predestination frees us from speculating about who is saved and who is not. God has already taken care of these matters in the mystery of God’s own being.” (see note # 33)







United Church of Christ
(Endnotes 34 & 35)



Scripture is inspired in thought and word and is the supreme and final authority, though most do not subscribe to a literal interpretation.


Baptism seen as symbolic; faith in Christ’s sacrifice and God’s grace. The Lord’s Supper is also seen as symbolic.




Conflicting data, over 1 million estimated


According to the 2001 edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia, there are 33,800 Christian denominations around the world. Just trying to research 16 such denominations was extremely challenging. Not only did I find variation between denominations, but also many times I found conflicting information within the same denomination on how one is saved. If these various groups cannot even agree (and believe me, some argue among themselves!) on a few basic beliefs, how can they seriously expect any outsider to consider their claims as valid?

Naturally, as I was looking at “how one is saved” I started to wonder what they were being saved from and where they went when they were saved. I found that “most” were being saved from some sort of hell that the Christian God created to punish the sinners and non-believers. In addition, “most” believers seemed to be convinced they were going to be rewarded at death with an eternity in some type of heaven. Past that, the only consistency I found seemed to be more confusion:




Stance on Heaven


Stance on Hell


Southern Baptists


Viewed as a paradise with Christ and God for all eternity, often depicted as being filled with mansions and golden streets.


Dante’s Inferno type hell, suffering for eternity.


Christian Science


Basically a state of mind.


Basically a state of mind.




Unending joy of being with God in Heaven.


Dante’s Inferno type hell, suffering for Eternity. Some sects see hell as a separation from God.


Eastern Orthodox


Viewed as a paradise with Christ and God for all


Precise form of punishment not known.


Oneness Pentecostal


The imminent return of Christ, a pre-tribulation rapture, the millennial reign of Christ, the final judgment, and the new heaven and the new earth. In other words, heaven on earth after earth is cleansed.


Lake of fire, eternal fires, Dante’s Inferno, suffering for eternity, etc.


Roman Catholic


Viewed as a paradise with Christ and God for all eternity.


Used to believe the level of torture in hell will be dealt in accordance with the seriousness of the individual’s sin. Most individuals who are not destined to hell first suffer punishment in purgatory where they are “cleansed” and then admitted into heaven. On July 28th, 1999 the Pope decrees that hell is: “the pain, frustration and emptiness of life without God.” (i.e., separation)


Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


The highest levels of the Celestial Kingdom are reserved for Mormon couples that have been married in a Mormon temple. The couples can eventually become a God and Goddess; the husband will then be in control of an entire universe. Christians who are non-Mormons and have led exceptional lives will also spend eternity in the Celestial Kingdom.
Hell exists but very few people will stay there very long. If you have not heard Christ’s Gospel, you will exist in a spirit prison. This spirit prison is where you wait to hear the Gospel.


Jehovah’s Witness


Heaven on earth after earth is cleansed. Only 144,000 people will be admitted into heaven. The rest will remain on the new earth.


Hell is the grave where one waits with hope for resurrection. Hell will be destroyed after the 1,000-year reign of Christ. True sinners cease to exist.




Up to individual interpretation.


Up to individual interpretation.


Church of Christ


It is a realm of peace and love. Much of the Biblical description of heaven is metaphorical and humans do not now know its features.


Generally, a separation from God. (some sects vary)


Disciple’s of Christ


Viewed as a paradise with God for all eternity.


Separation from God.


Episcopal Churches


Viewed as a spiritual state of being in the presence of God.


Hell is not eternal torment; rather, it’s the final and irrevocable choice made by man that ends in total non-being.




Differing opinions, some interpret heaven as symbolic, others believe heaven will be in the presence of God.


Differing opinions, some interpret hell as symbolic, others believe hell will be a separation from God.




The most current statement I could find comes from a 1974 paper on universalism adopted by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. It mentions judgment and promises hope, acknowledging that the ideas of heaven & hell seem to be “in paradox.” This statement concedes how God works redemption and judgment still remains a “mystery” to man.


(See heaven)


Seventh-Day Adventist


Heaven will be on Earth with Jesus after the thousand-year reign. Seventh-Day Adventists believe Jesus is coming and coming soon! This is clearly predicted by the prophesied signs apparent in scripture.


There will be a thousand-year reign of Jesus with His saints in heaven between the first and second resurrections. During this time the wicked dead will be judged; the earth will be utterly desolate without living human inhabitants, but occupied by Satan and his angels. At earth’s close, Jesus with His saints and the Holy City will descend from heaven to earth. The unrighteous dead will then be resurrected and judged with Satan and his angels. Finally, fire from God will consume them all and cleanse the earth.


United Church of Christ


Does not teach that heaven and hell are actual places in the universe. Adherents make up their own minds about the nature of heaven and hell through scriptural precedent, though most believe that heaven and hell are states of mind.


(See heaven)

Quick recap: not only are Christians in disagreement regarding how one is saved, they can’t seem to reach agreement on what one is saved from or where the faithful go after they are saved. Moreover, every denomination I researched has millions of followers, so no matter how you cut it, many people who think they are Christians are going to a yet-undefined hell. That is, unless the Christian version of God can get His followers on the same sheet of music! Regardless of these contradictions, time and time again I have been told that “faith” via the Holy Spirit has guided–and continues to guide–Christians in interpreting their sacred scriptures correctly. Well, history will show you that this “rule of faith” leaves something to be desired. For example, take the concept of the Trinity:

  • 325 A.D.: Emperor Constantine calls to order the Council of Nice and decrees that Christ is “consubstantial” (of the same nature) with the Father.
  • 381 A.D.: Emperor Theodosius calls to order the First Council of Constantinople, there it is decided that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father.
  • 388 A.D.: Emperor Theodosius threatens punishment to all who refute the Trinity.
  • 451 A.D.: Emperor Marcian calls the Council of Chalcedon to order, there it is decided that Christ has both human and divine natures.
  • 680 A.D.: Emperor Constantine Pogonatus holds the Third Council of Constantinople, there it is decreed that Christ has two wills.
  • 1274 A.D.: At the Second Council of Lyons it is finally decided that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son.

    (Timeline verified in The Councils of the Church by Norman P. Tanner, 2001, and The Encyclop’dia Britannica Online. It should be noted that any of the historical facts or denominational beliefs that are presented in this essay can be verified in any book on Church history, or for that matter, in any reputable encyclopedia or reference book.)

So, after 1,274 years of church councils, the concept of the Trinity was finally defined. Considering that many denominations consider belief in the Trinity to be essential to salvation, one has to wonder what happened to those believers while the church figured all this out? Moreover, there were many cultures on earth before Christ, including the Egyptians (2925 B.C.) and the Sumerians (3100 B.C.). One has to wonder if the Christian God simply pitched all those people into hell because this Trinitarian notion was yet to be thought of?

Another interesting fact that I came across relates to the Christian ritual of baptism. Up until roughly 354 A.D., the Church did not place a great emphasis on infant baptisms. That is, not until St. Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430 A.D.) decided otherwise. In his 3 book series titled “On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants,” Augustine explains why he thinks unbaptized infants are bound for hell: “If you wish to be a Christian, do not believe, nor say, nor teach, that infants who die before baptism can obtain the remission of original sin.” Augustine believed (as do many denominations today) that children are sent straight to hell due to the notion of “Original Sin.” Well, that’s all good and fine, but it’s too bad no one explained this to all those infants who allegedly got sent to hell!

Regardless of these conundrums, one has to wonder why two of the keys to salvation were not clearly defined in the Bible in the first place? If the Trinitarian concept and the ritual of baptism were clearly defined in the Bible, there would not be denominations throughout history that keep disagreeing on them. Is it too much for a non-believer to ask why a God that could allegedly create “all this” could not inspire His prophets to write one book that is uniformly adhered to by His followers? In my opinion, suggesting anything less puts limits on a supposedly limitless God.

Regardless, this tradition of confusion continues today. Most Protestants and Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son equally. In contrast, most forms of Eastern Orthodoxy believe the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, through the Son. In addition, recently the Roman Catholic Church has ruled that it will not accept Mormon baptisms due to the Mormon’s concept of the Trinity. In the Mormon view, the Trinity is three separate entities, whereas, in the Catholic view, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all one and the same. Certainly both denominations can’t be right, yet, they both gather under the banner of Christianity.

Keeping with the theme of confusion, during my research I discovered that the Southern Baptists have recently reaffirmed that women will not be allowed to be pastors. Much like many other Christian denominations, the Baptists base this affirmation on the following Bible verses: 1 Corinthians 14:24, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law” and 1 Timothy 2:12, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” Flying in the face of this Baptist decree is the ministry of Anne Graham Lotz. On June 3rd, 2001, the television program 60 Minutes ran a segment titled, “The preacher’s daughter: from child to marriage to being a preacher, the life of Anne Graham Lotz as Billy Graham’s daughter.” In this segment Mrs. Lotz defends her ministry and bases it on the following Biblical passage: John 20:17-18, “But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples….”

It is Mrs. Lotz’ contention that since Christ instructed Mary Magdalene to spread the “Good News,” this gives women the divine authority to be ministers today. Now I’ll be the first to say I respect Mrs. Lotz for challenging the blatant sexism that still pervades much of Christianity. Still, I find this story amusing because what we have here is another case of dueling Bible verses where each passage is being used to justify the individual party’s respective stance. Not only that, but both verses come from the same “inspired” Bible and are being interpreted differently by members of the same denomination of Christianity!

So this brings us full circle back to the “rule of faith.” I don’t think it’s too unreasonable to doubt this so-called rule. Since its inception until present day, Christianity can’t seem to agree. I can understand following along blindly without knowing about these denominational differences. Still, after a thorough examination of the evidence, it is literally beyond me how anyone can keep their faith. Though I may disagree with Christianity in general, I still respect the Christian’s right to practice his or her religion. I only ask that Christians extend the same courtesy to me and realize I did not turn to atheism on a whim. In fact, I have spent a great deal of time researching my decision, and it is my hope that most Christians will not interpret my frustrations with Christianity’s hellish doctrine (or Christianity in general) as a personal attack. Regardless, my position can be best summed up by the words of Robert Green Ingersoll: “Every sect is a certificate that God has not plainly revealed his will to man. To each reader the Bible conveys a different meaning.”

Concluding Note:

I am anticipating critics who may say that “such-and-such denomination does not believe that.” To those critics I ask that you check other sects within your denomination before you accuse me of falsehoods. Generally, I tried to chart what the majority of sects within a denomination believe, so it’s quite possible your particular sect may have put their own spin on certain beliefs. For example, while researching the Baptists, I came across conflicting information regarding the definition of hell. Finally, I decided to call two Baptist Churches for verification. The first pastor I talked to affirmed that hell was indeed eternal torture and subsequently invited me to attend services; whereas, the second pastor cited the Reverend Billy Graham’s accounting of hell which is akin to a separation from God.

Also, I drew heavily on www.adherents.com regarding the number of members within a denomination. When that website failed to provide me clear information, I then consulted whatever reference book was handy at the time. It was not my intention to provide an accurate number regarding adherents. Rather, the numbers serve to illustrate the point that no matter which denomination one is discussing, membership is literally in the millions and is therefore what I would deem as “significant” regarding those who are saved and damned.

Finally, references to scripture were taken from the King James Version of the Holy Bible.


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