As most or all readers know the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses makes a long list of beliefs that are mandatory. They say that if someone rejects one or more of these so-called mandatory beliefs his or her eternal life is in jeopardy since they are all salvation issues. For instance, in the last meeting that I had with the local body of elders they told me they were worried about my eternal life since I had stated that I believed we were wrong by not partaking of the emblems at Memorial and that the organization was wrong by establishing so many rules that aren’t biblical. These were the only issues that I had brought up with the body of elders.
When I was an elder, our Circuit Overseer commenting on a brother that only attended Sunday meetings said “Well, I guess he won’t survive Armageddon”. Obviously his opinion was that attending all meetings was a salvation issue. From stage this same CO said that families that don’t have a family worship evening will not survive Armageddon. Again, he was making that newly established arrangement a salvation issue. Also many who have begun to see that the Watchtower Society has misled us also hold onto many so-called salvation issues. Some think if that if someone believes in the trinity they cannot have eternal life. Many in other christians denominations and some ex-Jws as well believe that JWs aren’t Christians and will be condemned as unworthy of God’s approval. I have read where one ex-JW now claims that if anyone doesn’t accept the trinity and the teaching that Jesus was resurrected in the flesh and not as a spirit creature they cannot gain eternal life.
Of course we need to realize that these are all man’s opinions. What is important is how God will judge each of us. What I am going to give is also just an imperfect human’s perspective on salvation issues, each of us will have to make up his own mind.
Many will point to John 4:24 – “God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.” Many will say “see it says with “truth” therefore any who believe in false doctrines cannot have God’s approval”. Or perhaps they will be lenient on some doubtful doctrines but insist that their favorite doctrines are essential. Jesus said in John 14:6 -“Jesus said to him: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Worshipping God in truth revolves around Jesus. In fact right after saying what he said in John 4:24, Jesus identifies himself as the Messiah, perhaps indicating that he is the principal way to worship God in truth.
Jesus, however, said in John 17:17 – “…your word is truth”. So my wish is not to minimize the importance of studying God’s word so as to find as much truth as is possible. But we must understand that being “in the truth” is not a doctrinal system. The center of Christianity is also not a doctrinal system, it is Christ. 1 Cor 3:11 – “For no man can lay any other foundation than what is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Acts 16:31 – “They said: “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will get saved, you and your household.”
1) So as Christians we can afford to be dogmatic and unyielding about the need to believe that Jesus is our Lord, Savior, and King. For salvation we must believe he died for our sins and was resurrected.
2) Belief in Jesus implies belief in his Father as well, who is our Creator. He is the “rewarder of those earnestly seeking him” (Heb. 11:6). We could also affirm this is a salvation issue.
3) I would think we must believe the bible is God’s word. The very first Christians of course did not have the Greek Scriptures, only the Hebrew Scriptures. But they also had eyewitnesses among them who actually had heard or seen Jesus and listened to his message. We need the bible to build our faith. There may be however various opinions on what exactly “inspired” means.
It could be that these are the only doctrinal beliefs that we could say for sure are required for salvation. This in no way means if someone believes these 3 things he will receive salvation. The bible makes it pretty clear that head knowledge will not get us God’s approval. It is heart condition, who we truly are as a person that God will take note of. It is unbiblical and foolish to ignore all the texts to the contrary and insist that all one needs to do is believe in Christ Jesus.
It is interesting that almost all christian groups that I am aware of believe in these 3 things. There are many other things that I think all christian groups would agree on. For example: Love should identify a Christian, God has promised a resurrection and eternal life to those who love Him, a Christian should lead a morally clean life etc.
What about the following doctrinal topics?:
- The exact nature of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in relation to the Father.
- What happens at death.
- Where the righteous will be rewarded.
- What happens to the earth.
- What happens to non-Christians.
- Interpretation of all prophecy.
- Does natural Israel have a place in God’s purpose?
- Who is Satan exactly?
- Was Jesus resurrected as a spirit or as a human?
These are all interesting topics and knowing the biblical truth on these matters can fortify our faith. However, are they salvation issues? For instance, if you were to change your belief on the teaching of the Trinity tomorrow, how would it change you? Would you love God less? Probably not. Would you be less loving to your fellowman? Probably not. Would you have less faith in Jesus and His sacrifice? Very doubtful. Would it change you in any meaningful way? Probably not. Is it then a likely salvation issue? Probably not.
Many JWs who have seen the problems of the organization may still insist that a person who believes in the Trinity cannot be a true Christian since they do not even know who they are worshipping. On the other side of the fence I have heard a famous preacher on Christian radio say that Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Unitarians are not Christians and cannot be saved since they only worship 1 of the 3 members of the Godhead. Who is right? It reminds me of 2 pre-schoolers fighting over the nuances of 19th century American politics. They have no idea what they are talking about! And neither do we. I can tell you I am not a trinitarian, but I also doubt certain aspects of the JW version of Jesus. I admit I really don’t know. We are talking about something that is way beyond our present comprehension. God and Jesus are beings that reside beyond our space-time continuum. Would God destroy someone simply because they don’t fully understand His full relationship with his Son? Something that the bible doesn’t fully reveal?
Notice what Paul said of those Christians in the first century who were insisting that circumcision was a salvation issue in Galatians 2:4,5 – “But because of the false brothers brought in quietly, who sneaked in to spy upon our freedom which we have in union with Christ Jesus, that they might completely enslave us— 5 to these we did not yield by way of submission, no, not for an hour, in order that the truth of the good news might continue with YOU.”
Paul deemed as false those brothers who insisted on secondary or tertiary issues as salvation issues. We certainly don’t want to try to enslave others to our doctrinal viewpoints insisting that they’re salvation issues if the bible isn’t clear that they are. Does this mean that it doesn’t matter what we teach as far as doctrine as long as Christ is the foundation? Let’s read 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 – “For no man can lay any other foundation than what is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood materials, hay, stubble, 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the day will show it up, because it will be revealed by means of fire; and the fire itself will prove what sort of work each one’s is. 14 If anyone’s work that he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward; 15 if anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved; yet, if so, [it will be] as through fire.”
Part of what a teacher would build on the foundation would be doctrine. If that doctrine is biblical and encourages love for God and neighbor, that would be building with gold, silver, and precious stones. Any other type of teaching would be wood, hay, and stubble which will be proven worthless. However even the person who teaches the best he can according to his knowledge and ability but builds others up using combustible materials, perhaps doctrines that are not correct, will appear to be saved but “through fire”.
However, error of belief can lead to error of behavior, which is sin. Take for example the JW mistaken belief that only Christians within the confines of the organization can receive God’s approval. This mistaken doctrine often leads to behavioral error, in that an attitude of self-righteousness can creep in.
As I have mentioned in other posts my imperfect, human opinion is that doctrinal beliefs will not be near as important in the judgement as many Christians think it will be. Most of us are teachers in one form or another, perhaps we contribute to a blog, help our neighbor or friend understand a bible passage or we instruct our children in God’s ways. God knows we can only do the best we can do. It would be unjust on God’s part to demand perfect doctrinal purity for salvation. The bible could have been written in such a way that all doctrinal matters would be crystal clear. For whatever reason it was not written that way. That should probably tell all of us to be tolerant to those who hold different doctrinal beliefs than we do. It should tell us not to make salvation issues out of most of what we believe. It would be unloving to refer to those who have different doctrinal beliefs than us as “poor misled fools” (Matt. 5:22). Let us trust our God, YHWH and our Savior, Jesus that they will do what is right, just, and loving. They will be the ones to decide what is a salvation issue, not us.