A recent news article highlighted an evangelical pastor and author who was surrounded by controversy because of his unorthodox view of heaven. His theology includes the belief that one does not necessarily have to "confess with your lips and believe with your heart that Jesus is Lord" in order to gain admittance to heaven.
He argues that it makes no sense that a loving God would deny salvation to someone just because the missionaries got a flat tire and didn't make it all the way to their village.
Why would God so completely give himself to us through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus only to be thwarted by the vagaries of human circumstance? Surely each individual is worth enough in the eyes of God that they are not so easily left out of the eternal wedding banquet.
I was a little amused to read the article, for while it appears he is creating significant scandal in some Christian circles, his understanding of redemption is remarkably similar to Catholic teaching.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved." Of course, that does not lessen the responsibility of the Church to evangelize, but it does acknowledge that God's plan of salvation is effective infinitely beyond the role we are given.
The Gospel this Sunday, from John, is the beautiful passage that begins with "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me." He also says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
The image of a bridge comes to mind. Jesus himself, in his complete self-gift - his sacrifice on the cross and resurrection - has reconciled us to God. In his person, he himself is that reconciliation.
We who were lost to sin, have been restored in him to relationship and unity with the Father. So he is like a bridge that spans a gap that could not otherwise be crossed. Like a bridge, one does not need to know who built it, how it came to be there, what it is called or who has crossed before in order to travel across safely to the other side.
Jesus is that bridge. In his very person he is the substance and the means by which we can reach and know the Father; he is the way by which we too can come to the place where he has gone, that eternal banquet of love.
That is why the Church can say that those who do not know Jesus can still be received into heaven. The paschal sacrifice is effective, it has accomplished the reconciliation of God to man.
(Kathleen Giffin firstname.lastname@example.org)