The New Testament and the Early Church Fathers vs. the Protestant Doctrine of Salvation:
Evidence of LDS Salvation Theology
Michael T. Griffith
@All Rights Reserved
I. The Protestant Doctrine of Salvation
A. How are we saved?
B. “Once saved, always saved”?
C. Selected Statements by Protestant Theologians.
D. Standard Protestant Proof-Texts
II. The New Testament and Salvation
A. What Jesus Said About Salvation.
B. What Peter Said About Salvation.
C. What Paul Said About Salvation.
D. What James Said About Salvation.
E. A Crucial Question: Is Baptism Necessary?
III. The Church Fathers and Salvation
B. Justin Martyr
E. Shepherd of Hermas
I. The Protestant Doctrine of Salvation
A. How Are We Saved?
According to traditional, mainline Protestant salvation theology, we are saved by grace alone. Good works play no role in our salvation because, according to Protestant theory, they are merely the result of being saved. In this theology, a saved person does good works because he is saved, not in order to make any contribution to his salvation.1 An analogy that some evangelicals have been heard to use goes as follows: “A dog barks because he is a dog, not in order to become a dog. Similarly, a saved person does good works because he is saved, not in order to be saved.”
Many Protestant writers emphasize that salvation is by “faith alone.” In so doing, they are referring to salvation by grace alone, as they themselves usually make clear. Their phraseology can vary. The key point is that there is no “work” that we must do to be saved. We must only accept Christ and publicly confess him as our Savior. (Of course, some would argue that publicly confessing Christ as Savior is a work.)
Protestants hold that man can do nothing to contribute to his own salvation, other than to accept and confess Jesus as Savior. This acceptance and confession is usually said to include repentance, which Protestants most often define as renouncing and abandoning one’s sinful ways. They teach that a person agrees to turn away from sin when he accepts and confesses Jesus. Once a person has sincerely done this, he is saved. He doesn’t even need to be baptized; baptism is merely an optional outward symbol that a person has been saved and is not necessary for salvation. Salvation is a one-time event, not a process, according to traditional Protestant theory.2 Whether a person must continue to accept and confess Jesus to remain saved is the central question in the debate over the doctrine of eternal security, i.e., “once saved, always saved,” which will be discussed in the next section.
Protestants disagree among themselves about the role that man’s free will plays in salvation. However, many Protestants have denied that man’s free agency, his free will, plays any role whatsoever in salvation. According to many Protestants, God either chooses a person to be saved or he does not—man’s free will has nothing to do with the process.3 This involves the issue of predestination. Protestants disagree among themselves about the extent and nature of predestination.4
In contrast, Latter-day Saints teach that faith alone is not enough, that we must also strive to keep the commandments to the best of our ability. We are in fact saved by grace, “after all we can do.” We understand that every person will come up short, that no one can live a sinless life. But we must at least strive to do the best we can do. If we make no effort to live good lives and merely assume that our faith alone is sufficient, we will not enter into the kingdom of heaven to live with God and Christ. Latter-day Saints also teach that we must “endure to the end,” i.e., that we must strive to keep the commandments until we pass from this life.
B. “Once Saved, Always Saved”?
A large number of Protestant theologians hold to the doctrine that once a person is saved, he is saved forever, that he has “eternal security.” “Once saved, always saved” is a common phrase used to express this teaching.
What about saved Christians who fall away, a few of whom turn against Christianity and become critics of it? Eternal security theologians reply that such persons were not truly saved in the first place, that they had not exercised true faith or else they would not have fallen away.5
What about supposedly
saved Christians who habitually commit serious sins like fornication or
adultery, but who continue to attend church and just as habitually confess
their sins and ask for forgiveness—and who repeat this cycle until the day they
die? One leading eternal security
defender, Charles Stanley, opines that such Christians will not lose their salvation but will live
as second-class citizens in heaven and will forever regret their lack of
faithfulness. He says this is the
condition called “outer darkness” in the New Testament.6 To put it simply, according to
As some are celebrated for their faithfulness [in the hereafter], others will gnash their teeth in frustration over their shortsightedness and greed. . . .
It may seem strange in a book on eternal security that I would devote so much space to the judgment and rewards of believers. . . . Every sinful deed will be examined. On the other side of the coin, we can rest assured that none of our good deeds will go unnoticed, either.7
One thing that is so interesting about this argument, and so contradictory to the spirit of the Protestant position, is that it asserts that a Christian’s conduct on earth will affect his status in heaven.
C. Selected Statements by Protestant Theologians
Let’s look at statements from various leading Protestant theologians and scholars, beginning with Martin Luther.
Paul teaches that it comes about by no work of ours, but solely by the love and hate of God.8
What the scholastic theologians taught concerning this article (sin) is therefore nothing but error and stupidity, namely,
Again, that man has a free will, either to do good and refrain from evil or refrain from good and do evil.
Again, that man is able by his natural powers to observe and keep all the commandments of God.
Again, that man is able by his natural powers to love God above all things and his neighbor as himself.
Again, if man does what he can, God is certain to grant him his grace.9
expressed it improperly when I said that the will, before obtaining grace, is
only an empty name. I should rather have
said straightforwardly that free will is really a fiction . . . with no
reality, because it is in no man’s power to plan any evil or good. As the article of Wycliff,
However, with regard to God and in all things pertaining to salvation and damnation, man has no free will, but is a captive, servant, bondslave, either to the will of God or to the will of the devil.11
Predestination we call the eternal decree of God by which He has determined in Himself what He would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with a similar destiny, but eternal life is foreordained for some and eternal damnation for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say is predestined either to eternal life or to death.12
When we rule out reliance on works we mean only this: that the Christian mind may not be turned back to the merit or works as to a help toward salvation, but should rely wholly on the free promise of righteousness.13
As works do not make a man a believer, so also they do not make him righteous. But as faith makes a man a believer and righteous, so faith does good works.14
Faith totters if it pays attention to works, since no one . . . will find there anything on which to rely.15
The word grace means "undeserved favor." It means God is offering you something you could never provide for yourself: forgiveness of sins and eternal life, God's gift to you is free. You do not have to work for a gift. All you have to do is joyfully receive it, Believe with all your heart that Jesus Christ died for you!16
Make it happen now. “Now is the accepted time . . . now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2, KJV). If you are willing to repent of your sins and to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you can do it now. . . . [S]ay this little prayer which I have used with thousands of persons on every continent:
O God, I acknowledge that I have sinned against You. I am sorry for my sins. I am willing to turn from my sins. I openly receive and acknowledge Jesus Christ as my Savior. I confess Him as Lord. From this moment on I want to live for Him and serve Him. In Jesus’ name. Amen. . . .
If you are willing to make this decision and have received Jesus Christ as your own Lord and Savior, then you have become a child of God in whom Jesus Christ dwells.17
R. C. Sproul:
Following the ancient Aristotelian form-matter schema, historians have pinpointed the doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide) as the material cause of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. . . . Without sola fide one does not have the Gospel. . . .
Justification is by grace alone. Justification is on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone. There is no “mortal sin” for a person who is justified.18
Once good works are introduced into the salvation process, salvation is no longer by faith alone; it is by faith and works. . . . If salvation is not forever, salvation cannot be through faith alone.19
The salvation spoken of by Jesus and Paul takes place at one moment in time yet seals the believer for all time. This faith moves the Judge not only to forgive and pardon the sinner, but to adopt him into His own family as well.20
Various Protestant statements on faith echo these teachings and argue strongly for a type of predestination that is no way related to anything a person does or doesn’t do. For example, the 1559 French Confession of Faith reads as follows:
We believe that from this corruption and general condemnation in which all men are plunged, God, according to his eternal and immutable counsel, calleth those whom he hath chosen by his goodness and mercy alone in our Lord Jesus Christ, without consideration of their works, to display in them the riches of his mercy; leaving the rest in this same corruption and condemnation to show in them his justice. (Article XII)
The 1561 Belgic Confession of Faith:
We believe that all the posterity of Adam, being thus fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of our first parents, God then did manifest himself such as he is; that is to say, merciful and just: Merciful, since he delivers and preserves from this perdition all whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable council, of mere goodness hath elected in Christ Jesus our Lord, without respect to their works: Just, in leaving others in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves. (Article XVI)
Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace. (Chapter III, Article V)
D. Standard Protestant Proof-Texts
There aren’t very many verses in the New Testament that support Protestant salvation theology, especially when compared to the far more numerous verses that clearly suggest that our conduct and actions can affect our salvation. However, there are some verses that, upon first reading, do seem to support the Protestant view of salvation. The ones cited most often typically are quoted below. All passages are from the King James Bible, unless otherwise noted.
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. (New American Standard Bible)
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (New International Version)
1 Corinthians 15:10:
But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (New International Version)
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
II. The New Testament and Salvation
In contrast to Protestant salvation theology, the New Testament teaches that salvation is a product of faith coupled with good works, that our thoughts and actions count toward our salvation, that we will be judged according to our works, and that we can lose our salvation if we don’t endure to the end. The New Testament makes it clear that had it not been for Christ’s Atonement no one could be saved. So in a very real sense we are ultimately saved by grace, since no mortal can live a sinless life, and since our works would be pointless if there had been no Atonement. But the New Testament also makes it clear that salvation is more than just believing and making a public confession of Christ.
A note about translations: As in the previous section, quotations of scripture are from the King James Version of the Bible, unless otherwise noted. In many cases I will use the New Living Translation and the New International Version in this section. I will do so because these translations were done by conservative evangelical scholars and are very popular in evangelical circles.
A. What Jesus Said About Salvation
Let us now review some of the many New Testament statements that make it plain that our actions play an important role in our salvation and that we have the power to do or not to do good works:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock.
And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
"You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved." (New American Bible)
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (New Revised Standard Version)
These verses are important for two reasons: One, in them we see that Jesus told the apostles to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them. Two, Jesus also instructed the apostles to teach their converts “to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
And all who believe in God’s son have eternal life. Those who don’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life, but the wrath of God remains upon them. (New Living Translation)
This is an interesting verse because it clearly seems to equate believing with obeying the Son. One can credibly argue that when the New Testament says we have to “believe” to be saved, it’s using the word “believe” in much the same way a football coach might tell a player that he has to “want it” in order to succeed. Now, obviously, the coach isn’t literally saying all the player has to do is want to succeed in order to succeed, but rather he is telling him he must “want it” enough to put forth all his effort toward success. We will see later on that a revered ancient Christian document contains this same concept that “belief” for salvation means striving to keep the commandments and not merely a mental acceptance.
If ye love me, keep my commandments.
B. What Peter Said About Salvation
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (New International Version)
This exchange is important because Peter was responding to non-Christians who had just been moved by his preaching of the gospel and who wanted to know what they should do next. He didn’t say, “All you need to do is confess and you’ll be saved.” Instead, he told them to repent and be baptized, and that if they did this they would then receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
1 Peter 1:7:
So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (New Living Translation, emphasis added)
The logical conclusion from Peter’s statement is that if one’s faith does not remain strong after trials, it will not result in the conditionally promised blessings.
1 Peter 1:17:
And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time as “foreigners in the land.” (New Living Translation)
If salvation were merely a matter of having faith, one would think that we would be judged according to whether or not we had faith.
1 Peter 2:1:
So get rid of all malicious behavior and deceit. Don’t just pretend to be good. Be done with hypocrisy and jealousy and backstabbing. You must crave pure spiritual milk so that you can grow into the fullness of your salvation. (New Living Translation)
Note that there is no hint here of any doctrine that a believer will do good works because he is saved. Peter was talking to Christians. He admonished them to rid themselves of malicious behavior and deceit. Nor is there any hint of salvation being a one-time event. On the contrary, Peter told the saints they could “grow” into the “fullness” of their salvation.
1 Peter 2:8:
And the Scriptures also say, “He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they do not listen to God’s word or obey it, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them. (New Living Translation)
1 Peter 2:11:
You are foreigners and aliens here. So I warn you to keep away from evil desires because they fight against your very souls. (New Living Translation)
2 Peter 1:3-10:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature. For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall. (Revised Standard Version, emphasis added)
The last sentence is particularly noteworthy, for two reasons: One, it clearly assumes the possibility that a Christian can “fall.” Two, it states that to avoid falling the Christian must “be the more zealous.” And, of course, the preceding verses include the command to “make every effort” to supplement our faith with virtue.
C. What Paul Said About Salvation
He will give eternal life to those who persist in doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and practice evil deeds. There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on sinning—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. (New Living Translation, emphasis added)
Some might find it hard to believe that the same Paul who wrote Ephesians 2:8-9 and Titus 3:5-7 could also write that God will give eternal life “to those who persist in doing good,” and that he will pour down anger and wrath on those who disobey the truth and practice evil deeds. Yet, Paul did just that, which should tell Protestants that they are markedly misinterpreting Paul’s words in Ephesians 2 and in Titus 3.
For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. (Revised Standard Version)
For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (New International Version)
Don’t be misled. Remember that you can’t ignore God and get away with it. You will always reap what you sow. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful desires will harvest the consequences of decay and death. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So don’t get tired of doing what is good. Don’t get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time. (New Living Translation)
These warnings would be unnecessary and confusing if Protestant salvation theology were true. Clearly, Paul harbored no idea that believers would automatically do good works, much less that they couldn’t fall away.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. (Revised Standard Version)
Hebrews 5:8 9:
Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.
Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (New Revised Standard Version)
It should be pointed out that the few verses that seem to suggest salvation is solely by grace and/or merely a matter of belief or confession, such as Ephesians 2:8-9, were, with only one exception, addressed to persons who were already Christians. The people to whom these verses were written had already accepted Christ, repented of their sins, and had been baptized.
When Paul’s words to the Ephesians are analyzed in light of everything else he taught, and in light of the New Testament as a whole, it is apparent that Paul was merely emphasizing the role of grace in our salvation, and that he was speaking against the thought that a person could work his way to heaven, much less achieve salvation strictly on his own merits. The same Paul who wrote Ephesians 2:8-9 also wrote Philippians 2:12, wherein he said "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling" He also urged the Philippians to "put into practice" what he had taught them so that God would be with them:
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9, New International Version)
Isolating one verse here and another there and then insisting on a literal interpretation of these handful of passages invariably leads to a misreading and misunderstanding of the overall message of scripture on the subject. This is what evangelicals have done with the few grace-only and faith-alone verses. Such verses are far outnumbered by verses that clearly teach that our actions count toward salvation.
If we were to interpret Romans 8:23-24 in the same way evangelicals interpret Ephesians 2:8-9, we might very well conclude that one is saved merely by hoping for salvation:
. . . we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. (Romans 8:23-24, New International Version, emphasis added)
For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, who doth he yet hope for? (Romans 8:24)
Technically speaking, these verses teach that Christians were saved merely by hoping for their adoption as sons and for the redemption of their bodies. This shows us why it’s unsound to base a theology on a few verses while ignoring the far more numerous verses that contradict that theology.
Furthermore, it can’t be stressed enough that the "works" discussed in Ephesians 2:8-9 are not good Christian works. They are "works of law,” i.e., Jewish law, and Paul's opponents were "boasting” that those works alone would save them. Whenever the term “works of law” is used in the New Testament, and in every case where we find attacks on the idea of “righteousness by law,” the context is always one where the attempt by some to impose Jewish legal requirements on Gentiles is under discussion.21
The ancient rabbis distinguished between "works of law" and general commandments involving personal conduct and morality. The rabbis never labeled “works of law” such important works as helping the poor, repentance, studying the scriptures, tithing, circumcision, or keeping the Sabbath holy, and they knew that no good work in and of itself was of any value or merit unless it was graciously accepted as such by God.22
D. What James Said About Salvation
Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Notice that James didn’t say faith plays no role. He said justification doesn’t come by “faith only” but also by our works. Protestant commentators struggle to explain James’ words here. They argue that what James had in mind was their doctrine that saved people automatically do good works, and that the absence of such works means the person isn’t truly saved. But this argument, in addition to being unfaithful to a plain-sense reading of the text, is illogical. If good works automatically follow faith, then justification is merely a matter of having faith. If faith automatically produces good works, then works shouldn’t justify us since they’re merely the natural result of faith. It should be faith alone that justifies us, if Protestant salvation theology is to be consistent. But that teaching clearly doesn’t square with what James said about justification. Additionally, James himself made it clear that good works don’t just automatically follow faith:
Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
Again, it bears repeating that James was writing to Christians. He didn’t say they would do good works if they had faith. He said they would sin if they failed to do things that they knew were good. He would not have needed to issue such a warning if good works automatically followed faith.
E. A Crucial Question: Is Baptism Necessary?
On this question alone, the Protestant doctrine of salvation collapses utterly in the face of the early Christian witness. The New Testament leaves no room for doubt that baptism is absolutely essential for salvation. The necessity of baptism was one of the cardinal doctrines of ancient Christianity. Let’s first consider what the New Testament says about the necessity of this sacred rite:
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. (Revised Standard Version)
One would think that this verse alone would establish the necessity of baptism. But most Protestants deny that this verse proves the necessity of baptism, because a requirement of baptism for salvation would clearly impose a work as a condition for salvation. So, they assert that the second part of verse 16 shows that belief is the only absolute requirement for salvation. They note the Savior didn't say "but he that believeth not and is not baptized shall be damned." Rather, he simply listed the failure to believe as the cause of damnation. But this argument is illogical. If Jesus had meant to teach that belief alone was sufficient for salvation, he would not have added the condition "and is baptized" to the redemption formula in the first half of the verse. He simply would have said, “He who believes will be saved.” Moreover, the Savior had no need to mention the failure to be baptized as a cause of damnation in the second part of the verse, since someone who didn’t believe the gospel would have no desire to be baptized anyway.
Luke 7:29 30:
And all the people that heard him [Christ], and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.
answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of
the Spirit, he cannot enter into the
This is another verse
with which Protestant commentators have difficulty. Yet, the Savior's message is clear: We must be baptized ("born of
water") and then receive the Holy Ghost (born "of the Spirit")
in order to enter into the
Now when they heard this [Peter's preaching], they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
It’s worth repeating that here we see that when a group of non-Christians asked Peter what they needed to do after they were moved in their hearts by the gospel message, i.e., after they believed in the gospel, Peter told them to repent and be baptized and that they would then receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. As noted earlier, Peter didn’t say, “Since you’ve accepted my preaching about Christ and salvation, you’re saved—you don’t need to do anything else.” No, he told them to repent and be baptized.
Early Christian writers had a great deal to say about the necessity of baptism. It is no exaggeration to say that to a man the ancient Christian bishops and theologians believed baptism was essential for salvation. Some biographical information will be given about these writers, but more will be given in the section on the church fathers and good works. What follows is a small sampling of the church fathers’ statements on the importance of baptism:
Tertullian (A.D. 165-225), one of the greatest theologians of Latin Christianity:
. . . [W]ithout baptism, salvation is attainable by none. . . .24
Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life.25
Cyprian (A.D. 200-258),
the bishop of
. . . baptism [is] . . . the saving access to the hope of life eternal, and the divine condescension for purifying and quickening the servants of God.26
I used to regard it as a difficult matter . . . that a man should be capable of being born again--a truth which the divine mercy had announced for my salvation and that a man quickened to a new life in the laver [baptismal font] of saving water should be able to put off what he had previously been.27
Sedatus (A.D. 210-260), the bishop of Tuburbo:
Wherefore we must endeavor with all peaceful powers, that no one infected and stained with heretical error refuse to receive the single and true baptism of the Church, by which whosoever is not baptized, shall become an alien from the kingdom of heaven.28
The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, also called the Didache, is a second-century Christian text that was widely read and highly respected in the early church. Many scholars view the book as "the most important document of the subapostolic period.”29 The text was even recommended as a good book for new converts to read.30 The Didache, says historian and biblical authority Johannes Quasten, presents to us "a summary of directions which offer us an excellent picture of Christian life in the second century.”31 The document says that those who refuse to be baptized should be classed as “unbelievers,” and then it quotes John 3:5 as proof of the necessity of baptism:
Nay, he that, out of contempt, will not be baptized, shall be condemned as an unbeliever, and shall be reproached as ungrateful and foolish. For the Lord says: “Except a man be born of the water and of the Spirit, he shall by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”32
Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165), a revered theologian in ancient Christianity:
By reason, therefore, of this laver [baptismal font] of repentance and knowledge of God, which has been ordained on account of the transgression of God's people, as Isaiah cries, we have believed and testify that that very baptism which he announced is alone able to purify those who have repented; and this is the water of life.33
(A.D. 115-200), the bishop of
And again, giving to the disciples the power of regeneration into God, he [Christ] said to them, "Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" [Matthew 28:19].34
Hippolytus (A.D. 170-236), the bishop of Portus:
The Father of immortality sent the immortal Son and Word into the world, who came to man in order to wash him with water and the Spirit.35
If, therefore, man has become immortal, he will also be God. And if he [man] is made God by water and the Holy Spirit after the regeneration of the laver [baptismal font], he is found to be also a joint heir with Christ after the resurrection from the dead.36
Come into liberty from slavery, into a kingdom from tyranny, into incorruption from corruption. And how, saith one, shall we come? By water and the Holy Ghost.37
Didymus the Blind (A.D. 313-398). Quasten has said the following about Didymus the Blind:
Didymus, surnamed "the Blind," stands out among
the heads of the catechetical
Didymus taught that baptism was essential for salvation:
The Holy Spirit as God renovates us in baptism, and in union with the Father and the Son, brings us back from a state of deformity to our pristine beauty. . . . He . . . makes us spiritual men, sharers in the divine glory, sons and heirs of God and of the Father. He conforms us to the image of the Son of God, makes us co heirs and his brothers, we who are to be glorified and to reign with him.39
For when we are immersed in the baptismal pool, we are by the goodness of God the Father and through the grace of his Holy Spirit stripped of our sins as we lay aside the old man. . . .40
Quasten’s discussion of Didymus’s belief in the necessity of baptism for salvation is noteworthy. He points out that Didymus mentioned both the positive and the negative aspect of the ordinance. He concludes that for Didymus baptism was “absolutely essential for salvation.” Indeed, Quasten notes that according to Didymus, not even the perfection of a faultless life could make up for a failure to be baptized, and that no unbaptized person could attain “heavenly gifts.”41
All of this evidence
powerfully supports the
The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are "reborn of water and the Spirit."42
III. The Church Fathers and Salvation
A. Clement of
Some particularly noteworthy statements about works and salvation are found in the early Christian document known as the Second Letter of Clement, also called 2 Clement, which was written between A.D. 120 and 170. The statements are noteworthy because they equate confessing Christ with keeping the commandments. Before we consider the statements, perhaps we should take a moment to examine the character and history of the document.
this document is known as 2 Clement, scholars agree it was not written by
Clement of Rome. It may have been
written by a faithful Christian elder at
2 Clement is an ancient Christian homily. It’s the oldest existing Christian sermon.46 It quotes scripture extensively, including some scriptures that are not found in any modern version of the Bible. The fact that 2 Clement was included in two of the surviving New Testament manuscripts shows that in some areas of the Church the text was held in high regard. It was included in the fifth-century manuscript the Codex Alexandrinus and in a twelfth-century Syrian manuscript. Additionally, a fourth-century work known as the Apostolic Canons lists Clement’s two letters as being part of the New Testament.47
Now let’s examine the abovementioned statements from 2 Clement:
Those who are lost must be saved. It is a great and wonderful thing to support, not what is standing, but what is collapsing. Thus it was the Messiah's will to save what was lost, and he saved many when he came and called us who were already lost. What then can we offer him in return as our thanks and recompense? Only this, that we confess him through whom we were saved! But how do we confess him? By doing what he says and not ignoring his commandments so that we honor him not only with our lips but rather with all our heart and soul.
So then, brothers, let us confess him with our actions by loving one another, by not committing adultery, not speaking evil or each other, and not being envious, and by being self-controlled, compassionate, and kind! We ought to suffer together the things which are hard to bear. It is our obligation not to love money. We want to confess him with such actions and not do the opposite.
Be aware, brothers, that the stay of our fleshly nature in this world-age has little significance. It is of short duration. But Christ's promise is great and wonderful. It brings the peace of the future kingdom and of eternal life. What then should we do to gain these things? We must lead a holy and upright life, regarding things of the present age as alien.48
These statements are substantially echoed in a document that really was written by Clement of Rome, namely 1 Clement. Here is some of what Clement had to say about works and salvation:
Let him who in Christ has love fulfill the commandments of Christ.49
Blessed are we, beloved, if we keep God's commandments in the harmony of love, so that our sin is forgiven through love.50
Let us then obey his most holy and glorious Name and escape the threats against the disobedient uttered long ago by Wisdom, that we may dwell with confidence in his most holy and exalted Name.51
Follow our advice and you will not regret it. For as God lives, and the Lord Jesus Christ lives, and the Holy Spirit, the object of faith and hope for the elect, the man who with humility and eager gentleness obeys without regret the righteous commandments of God, this man will be listed and enrolled in the number of those who are saved through Jesus Christ, through whom be glory to God for ever and ever. Amen.52
B. Justin Martyr
As mentioned above, Justin Martyr was a revered theologian in the ancient church. Historian William P. Barker identifies Justin Martyr as one of the early church's "ablest defenders.”53 Justin came to be known as "Justin Martyr" because of his heroic witness for Christ when he was brought before the Roman Prefect Rusticus. Justin was put to death because he refused to renounce his faith in Christ. Here are some of things he taught about the importance of good works:
Anyone who is not found living in accordance with his [Christ's] teachings should not be regarded as a Christian even if he confesses to Christ's teachings with his lips. For he said that only those shall be saved who do not just talk, but who also do the corresponding works.54
We, on the other hand, have been taught--and we firmly believe--that God accepts in mercy only those who live in accordance with the good that dwells in God, namely, self-control, justice, love of our fellowmen, and whatever else is characteristic of God. . . .55
We pray that after we have recognized the truth we made be made worthy through our actions to prove ourselves good stewards and keepers of that which has been entrusted to us so that we may attain eternal salvation.56
Irenaeus was born in
Now that we have recognized the Messiah, we should take care not to do anything that does not please God. Otherwise we would have no forgiveness of sins anymore and would be excluded from his kingdom.58
Hippolytus was one of the great Latin theologians, in addition to being the bishop of Portus:
He [Christ], in administering the righteous judgment of the Father to all, assigns to each what is righteous according to his works. . . . to those who have done well shall be assigned righteously eternal bliss, and to the lovers of iniquity shall be given eternal punishment.59
. . . the righteous will remember only the righteous deeds by which they reached the heavenly kingdom.60
E. Shepherd of Hermas
The Shepherd of Hermas was written between A.D. 100 and 150. It was highly prized by the ancient Christians. The Shepherd was highly regarded in both western and eastern Christendom.61 None other than Irenaeus, an esteemed bishop and a fierce opponent of heresy, cited it with approval, while Clement of Alexandria even viewed it as having been divinely spoken, i.e., inspired.62 Even when some theologians began to question the Shepherd of Hermas in the fourth century, other theologians of the era opined that the text was "profitable.”63 It should also be pointed out that the Shepherd of Hermas was included in one of the oldest surviving manuscripts of the New Testament, the Codex Sinaiticus. Here is some of what the text says about the importance of good works:
So beware, you who serve the Lord and have him in your hearts. Do the deeds of God, remembering his commandments and the promises which he promised, and trust him, for he will do them [the promises] if his commandments are observed.64
Keep the commandments of the Lord and you will be pleasing to him and be enrolled in the number of those who keep his commandments.65
Not only was Cyprian the
The Father corrects and protects us, if we will stand fast in both afflictions and perplexities, that is to say, cling closely to his Christ.66
Now he repents, who, remembering the divine precept, with meekness and patience, and obeying the priests of God, deserves well of the Lord by his obedience and his righteous works.67
The remedies for propitiating God are given in the words of God himself; the divine instructions have taught what sinners ought to do, that by works of righteousness God is satisfied, that with the deserts of mercy sins are cleansed.68
Augustine (A.D. 354-430) was the bishop of Hippo. He was perhaps the greatest Christian theologian of his day. His writings have been translated into scores of languages and continue to be studied by scholars of all Christian denominations. Donald Wuerl notes that Augustine’s works on the trinity, grace, and creation were “for centuries normative.”69 Etienne Gibson opines that Augustine’s famous work The City of God ranks “among the classics of all literature.”70 It is therefore significant that Augustine warned against the teaching that salvation was by faith alone and taught that good works were necessary for salvation:
Let us now consider the question of faith. In the first place, we feel that we should advise the faithful that they would endanger the salvation of their souls if they acted on the false assurance that faith alone is sufficient for salvation or that they need not perform good works in order to be saved.71
Augustine went on to point out that the Apostle Paul taught the same thing about salvation that the other apostles taught, and that Peter had warned the ancient saints about those who were misinterpreting Paul’s words to mean they didn’t have to live a good life to be saved:
see, then, why St. Peter in his second epistle urges the faithful to live good
and holy lives. . . . He was aware of
the fact that certain unrighteous men had interpreted certain rather obscure
The idea of justification by grace alone was a fifth-century heresy that Augustine refuted. In the fifth century there were two major errors regarding justification. One view, held by the Pelagians, was that justification depended solely on man’s efforts. The other view was that justification was by faith alone. Augustine refuted both errors in his work De Fide Et Operibus.73
We have seen that the true New Testament doctrine of salvation is that salvation is made possible by grace and is achieved through a combination of faith and works. Ultimately, salvation is by grace, since no one could be saved if Christ had not paid the price for our sins. If there had been no Atonement, no human being could be saved, since all humans will fall short to varying degrees. Thus, we are saved by grace “after all we can do.” But we must “do” our part. Salvation is not merely a matter of a one-time profession of belief and acceptance of Christ as Savior. Nor is salvation merely a matter of continual belief in Christ as Savior. We must be “doers” of the word and not “hearers” only. We must “put into practice” that which we have learned. We must also be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
So Paul was absolutely correct: No one can “boast” that he has been or will be saved by his works. His works would be worthless had it not been for Christ’s saving Atonement. On the other hand, a believer can’t take advantage of the Atonement if he fails to do his part. This is why Paul could say salvation was by grace alone (“lest any man should boast”) and also urge his readers to keep the commandments and warn them repeatedly that those among them who failed to turn from evil and who committed serious sins would not enter the kingdom of God. In the ultimate sense, salvation is by grace, since our works wouldn’t matter if Christ hadn’t died for us. But that is not the same thing as saying all we have to do is have faith and confess to be saved.
This is the key point that Protestants can’t or won’t see. It’s not that Latter-day Saints in any way lessen the importance of grace in the salvation process. It’s that they correctly understand that we must do our part in order for the grace of the Atonement to be operative for our salvation.
Protestants misrepresent the truth and cause confusion when they speak of salvation by grace alone, as if anyone who disagrees with them is denying the all-important role of grace. All sides agree that ultimately we are saved by grace, since salvation would be impossible without the Atonement, and since no man except Christ ever has or ever will live a sinless life. The key issue is how a person avails himself of that grace. The biblical view is that we can’t make that grace operative in our lives for salvation merely by accepting and confessing Christ as Savior.
Latter-day Saints build their salvation theology on all of what the New Testament says about salvation, not just on a relative handful of verses. LDS salvation theology can logically and consistently explain everything that the New Testament says about salvation. Protestant salvation theology must resort to specious logic and special pleading to explain away the innumerable times in the New Testament when believers are warned to turn from sin, to do good deeds, to keep the commandments, to endure to the end, and that they will be judged by their works. And Protestants have no credible answer for the overwhelming evidence that the ancient Christian church taught that baptism was essential for salvation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael T.
Griffith holds a Master’s degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance
University, a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from
American Military University, a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts from
Excelsior College, and two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the
Community College of the Air Force. He
also holds an Advanced Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of
Civil War Studies from
1. See, for example, R. C. Sproul, Justified By Faith Alone (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1999), pp. 45-47; John R. W. Stott, Basic Christianity, Second Edition (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1971), pp. 124-133.
2. See, for example, Stott, pp. 126-128.
3. Steve Ozment, The Age of Reformation (New Haven and London: Yale University, 1980), p. 294; John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536), Book III, Chapter XXI, section 5.
4. See, for
example, Ozment, pp. 294-301. See also the
5. Sproul, p. 18; Charles Stanley, Eternal Security (Nashville, Tennessee: Oliver Nelson, 1990) p. 192.
8. In E. Gordon Rupp and Philip Watson, Luther And Erasmus: Free Will And Salvation (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1969), p. 254
9. In Timothy Lull, editor, Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989), pp. 516-517
10. In Ozment, p. 294.
11. In Ozment, pp. 300-301
12. Calvin, Book III, Chapter XXI, section 5.
13. In Ozment, p. 378.
14. In Ozment, p. 379 note 66.
15. In Ozment, p. 380.
16. Billy Graham, “Spiritual Help,” Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 2007, online reference, available at http://www.billygraham.org/SH_HowToBecomeAChristian.asp.
17. Billy Graham, How To Be Born Again (Nashville, Tennessee: W Publishing Group, 1989), pp. 168-169.
18. Sproul, pp. 46-47
20. Ibid., p. 192.
21. Markus Barth, Ephesians 1-3, The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1974), pp. 244-245.
22. Ibid., p. 245.
23. See, for example, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson,
editors and translators, The Ante-Nicene
24. Tertullian, “Baptism,” in ANF, 3:674.
25. Ibid., in ANF, 3:669.
26. Cyprian, “To Jubaianus, Concerning the Baptism of Heretics,” Epistle 72, in ANF, 5:382.
27. Cyprian, “To Donatus,” Epistle 1, in ANF, 5:275
28. Sedatus, in “The Seventh Council of
29. Johannes Quasten, Patrology (Westminster, Maryland: Christian Classics, Inc., 1980, reprint), volume 1, p. 30.
30. Jack N. Sparks, editor, The Apostolic Fathers (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1978), p. 305
31. Quasten, 1:30.
32. Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, chapter 15, in ANF, 7:457.
33. Justin Martyr, “Dialogue with Trypho,” in ANF, 1:201.
34. Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,” in ANF, 1:444.
35. Hippolytus, “The Discourse on the Holy Theophony,” in ANF, 5:237.
36. Ibid., in ANF, 5:237.
37. Ibid., in ANF, 5:237.
38. Quasten, 3:85-86.
39. Didymus the Blind, “On the Trinity,” in Quasten, 3:85-86.
40. Ibid., in Quasten, 3:98.
41. Quasten, 3:98.
42. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, English translation (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1997), paragraph 1257, p. 320.
43. Ibid., 1:42.
44. Ibid., 1:43.
45. Ibid., 1:53.
47. Cyril C. Richardson, editor, Early Christian Fathers (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1970), .p. 184.
48. Second Letter of Clement, in Eberhard Arnold, The Early Christians In Their Own Words, Fourth Edition (Farmington, Pennsylvania: The Plough Publishing Company, 1997), p. 306, emphasis added.
49. 1 Clement
50. 1 Clement
51. 1 Clement
52. 1 Clement
53. William P. Barker, Who's Who In Church History (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1977, reprint), p. 162.
Martyr, “First Apology” in
55. Ibid., in
56. Ibid., in
57. Barker, p. 151.
58. Irenaeus, “Against
59. Hippolytus, “Against Plato,” in ANF, 5:222.
60. Ibid., in ANF, 5:223.
61. Albert C. Sundberg, “The Making of the New Testament Canon," in Charles Laymon, editor, The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary On The Bible (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1971), p. 1221.
64. Shepherd of
Hermas 50:7, in
66. Cyprian, “To the Clergy, Concerning Prayer to God,” Epistle 7, in ANF, 5:287.
67. Cyprian, “To the Clergy, Concerning Those Who Are in Haste to Receive Peace,” Epistle 13, in ANF, 5:293
68. Cyprian, “On Works and Alms,” Treatise 8, in ANF, 5:477.
69. Donald Wuerl, Fathers of the Church (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1982), p. 122.
70. In Ibid.
71. Augustine, De Fide et Operibus, 14.21, in Gregory Lombardo, translator, St. Augustine on Faith and Works (Westminster: The Newman Press, 1988), p. 28.
72. Ibid., p. 29.
73. Ibid. p. 3.
editor. The Early Christians In Their Own Words. Fourth Edition.
Barker, William P.
Who's Who In Church History.
Barth, Markus. Ephesians 1-3. The Anchor Bible.
Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1536.
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iv.iii.xxii.html. The table of contents for the entire work is available at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.toc.html.
Catechism of the Catholic Church. Second
Edition. English translation.
Graham, Billy Graham. How To Be Born Again.
Alexander and James Donaldson, editors and translators. The
Sundberg, Albert C. Sundberg. “The Making of the New Testament
Canon." In Charles Laymon, editor, The
Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary On The Bible,