Prof. Igolima Amachree
My FAVORITE paper from my Dad
Shared by Opuene Amachree on 05/17/2017

IS BELIEF IN CHRIST THE ONLY WAY TO HEAVEN?

OR

CAN NON-BELIEVERS IN CHRIST ALSO GO TO HEAVEN?

By

Dr. Igolima Tubobelem Dagogo Amachree

Professor of Sociology & Anthropology, Emeritus

 

Fellow Sisters and Brothers in Christ, I greet you with love, humility and sincere affection.

Thank you for inviting me to make this presentation and to participate in this forum and discussion. I pray that the God or the Spirit in each of us will move us to be truly our sisters' and brothers' keepers and give us wisdom in the purest and unalloyed way to understand the source of our origin and the purpose, the divine purpose, of our being.

There were angry shouts of blasphemy and heresy when the Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, The Most Reverend Dr. Katherine Jefferts Schori, was alleged to have raised this very question: whether belief in Christ is the only way to salvation. She was accused of saying that, even though she believed in what is recorded in John 14:6, since she is not God nor can read His mind, she could not say categorically if God, in His inscrutable and eternal wisdom, will or will not save and admit into His kingdom those who did not come through or believe in Christ. She was not willing to arrogate to herself the absolute knowledge of God's holy, compassionate and eternal intentions. This is an issue many Christians think and say is at the very core of being a Christian. That, only Christians or those who believe in Christ are promised salvation and the Kingdom of God. This, to them, is the only meaning of the phrase except by me in John 14:6.

Let me begin by citing some significant statements from the Bible related to three different positions on this issue.

Before continuing, however, let me make this point [and I think it is a significant point to make]: The phrase belief in Christ or salvation only through Christ, which is central to this discussion, is not without ambiguity. Does it mean that Jesus is god; is God Incarnate; is the son of God; is both God and man; is an historical human who once lived; is a human who lived his life in total obedience to the principles of God; is the perfect role model for our lives; represents the only lifestyle that can bring peace and salvation to the world; is the Messiah in the sense of being an “anointed one” or favored one in the Old Testament sense; or is he God whose physical human body was a phantasm as the heretic docetist or the Koran in Sura 4:150-160 claim.????

These different interpretations and understandings of belief in Christ or salvation only through Christ or the phrase “except by me”, raise significant questions and only complicate our discussion and give additional reason for humility, understanding and tolerance.

Let me now come back to three different positions on this issue and the related biblical citations.

Let me also state that I will use only biblical, and not secular, citations and interpretations.

First, there are many who believe that only those who believe in Christ will be saved and go to heaven. That it is only through Christ that one can get salvation and passage to heaven.

Second, there are some who believe that some who do not believe in Christ will also be saved and go to heaven.

Finally, there are others who believe that some of those who believe in Christ will not be saved and will not go to heaven.

Those who hold the first view that only those who believe in Christ will be saved and go to heaven, ground their position in the words of Christ in John's gospel: "I am the way; I am the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me". (John 14:6)

This is a very precise and powerful statement. However, Christ did not stop there. In his expanded response to his disciple, Philip, he added: "Have I been all this time with you, Philip, and you still do not know me? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. Then how can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? I am not myself the source of the words I speak to you: it is the Father who dwells in me doing his own work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else accept the evidence of the deeds themselves." (John. 14:9-11)

This seems to be the prevailing view among most Christians. It is a firm belief that it is only through Christ that one can be saved. They argue that this is further repeated and stressed in John's gospel: "I am the door of the sheepfold". Thus implying that no one can come into the house except through the door. (John 10:8)

This is a very powerful position that excludes non-Christians or those who do not believe in Christ from the kingdom of God. It is a position and an argument that many have used to claim that only Christians will be saved and go to heaven. They further argue that if we take the word of Christ that he and the Father are the same, then God has been revealing Himself in human history and thus accepting Christ as the unveiling of God -- the true revelation of God in human history -- is accepting God. No one, therefore, can be saved except through Christ or without accepting Christ, the very incarnation of God.

Others have used this very statement or argument to question the fairness of a God who would create humanity with all its intelligence, questions, concerns and doubts; all the other wonderful things and the splendors of this endless and eternal universe, and send them all to hell or to utter destruction, because they did not, do not, know or believe in, Christ. This second group believes, therefore, that even those who do not believe in Christ will not be destroyed but can be saved and go to heaven.

The continuing argument of the second group -- those who believe that non-believers in Christ can also go to heaven -- is taken from the position of the first group -- those who believe that it is only through Christ that one will go to heaven. In John's gospel, Christ questions his disciples and informs them that he and the Father are one: "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? I am not myself the source of the words I speak to you: it is the Father who dwells in me doing his own work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father in me". (John 14:10-11) Thus, if God and Christ are the same, they argue, then anyone who accepts God according her/his understanding, also accepts Christ and therefore will be saved and go to heaven. This is a very subtle and nuanced argument. If God is manifested in Christ, then one could argue that Christ is paramount and that accepting him is paramount. If Christ is manifested in God, then the acceptance of a God includes the acceptance of Christ. Thus each of us can be manifested in the universal God and the universal God manifested in all. Indeed, one of the early Christian fathers, St. Ignatius of Antioch sees it this way. In his letter to the Magneseans 1:2 he writes: “Even more important is that union of Jesus and the Father”. And then he is more explicit in his letter to the Smyrneans 1:1 where he writes: “I glorify Jesus, the God who made you wise”. Again in his letter to the Ephesians he ends his salutation before Chap.1 “... a glory united and unchangeable and chosen in true suffering in the will of the Father and JesusChrist, our God. And finally, also in his letter to the Ephesians 18:2 he writes: “Our God, Jesus the Christ ...”. Thus, to St. Ignatius, and also to other early Church fathers, Jesus the Christ is manifested in God. It is very significant that, 1 John 4:12 says it very clearly: “Though God has never been seen by any man, God himself dwells in us if we love one another; his love is brought to perfection in us”.

A variation of this argument is that if God and Christ are one and the same, then our question can be rephrased to: “Is Belief in God the Only Way to Heaven?” An affirmative answer to this question would lead us to the conclusion that Muslims, Buddhists, Jews and others can and would be admitted to Heaven along with Christians.

Another variant of this argument is that of the Trinity. If God and Christ and the Holy Spirit are the same, then the me could refer to any of the Trinity or the collective Trinity. Viewed this way, one could see how the Father or especially, the Holy Spirit can be the except by me. Thus, God can manifest Himself in many ways through which we can come to Him. We can experience Him in many different ways and we can come to Him in many different ways. They argue that this is a holistic view of God.

But there is a broader argument of this second group. They accept the statement in John (14:6): "I am the way; I am the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except byme", but see a different interpretation for by me. They see it in a figurative sense as a metaphor for being like Christ, Christ-like, doing the things Christ would do, giving oneself genuinely and selflessly for the good and benefit of others, giving without knowing and without expecting rewards -- a synonym of the Good Samaritan that Christ used as the good neighbor. This, they argue, is the by me that Christ was referring to.

So, who are those that conform to the by me? We find them in Matthew's gospel (Matt. 25:31-46) in Christ's parable of the sheep and the goats. Let me cite the whole passage:

"When the son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will sit in state on his throne, with all the nations gathered before him. He will separate men into two groups, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. The king will say to those on his right hand, 'You have my Father's blessing; come, enter and possess the kingdom that has been ready for you since the world was made. For when I was hungry, you gave me food; when I was thirsty, you gave me drink; when I was a stranger you took me into your home, when naked you clothed me; when I was ill you came to my help, when in prison you visited me'. Then the righteous will reply, 'Lord when was it that we saw you hungry and fed you, or thirsty and gave you drink, a stranger and took you home, or naked and clothed you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and came to visit you?' And the king will answer, 'I will tell you this: anything you did for one of my brothers here, however humble, you did for me'. Then he will say to those on his left hand, 'the curse is upon you; go from my sight to the eternal fire that is ready for the devil and his angels. For when I was hungry you gave me nothing to eat, when thirsty nothing to drink; when I was a stranger you gave me no home, when naked you did not clothe me; when I was ill and in prison you did not come to my help'; And they too will reply, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison and did nothing for you?' And he will answer, 'I tell you this: anything you did not do for one of these, however humble, you did not do for me'. And they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous will enter eternal life'."

I have extensively cited this parable of the sheep and the goats to show that the by me in John 14:6 refers to, or can be construed to mean, the Christ-like nature.

In addition, this second group cites Christ's statement in John 10:14-16 to indicate that some who are not Christians or 'not belonging to this fold' will be brought in and saved: "I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep and my sheep know me -- as the Father knows me and I know the Father -- and I lay down my life for the sheep. But there are other sheep of mine, not belonging to this fold whom I MUST bring in; and they too will listen to my voice. There will then be one flock, one shepherd."

Thus, in the end, all those who are like Christ as described in Matthew (25:31-46) will belong to the fold and be saved. Who then are those who are like Christ and meet the by me standard?

Here I would like to cite three examples of Christ-like behavior -- two from contemporary sources and one from the Bible.

We are all familiar with Schindler of Schindler's List fame -- Oskar Schindler who owned a factory during the Nazi reign. He initially employed Jewish workers as cheap labor but later became their protector, benefactor and savior. Mr. Schindler was a vain and greedy man who was also an alcoholic and a womanizer. But he changed all this and became an unlikely humanitarian who saved over eleven hundred (1100), Polish Jews. Today we celebrate him because he did Christ-like deeds -- he fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, visited the strangers and invited them to his home, clothed the naked and did not allow them to be in prison and, above all, did not allow them to be gassed to death at the Auschwitz concentration camp. He died penniless but he was the quintessential Good Samaritan -- the good neighbor that Christ gave to us as an example of those who will be on his right hand in heaven.

Then there were the pogroms in Nigeria in 1990, 1992, 2005, 2007 and 2010, when southern Nigerian Christians were indiscriminately slaughtered by Muslims in northern Nigeria. There were many Muslims who, at the risk of being found out and killed by their fellow Muslims, hid, sheltered and saved many Christian friends, neighbors and co-workers. This was a very brave act like laying down your life for another person for they knew that if caught, they and their 'infidel' collaborators would certainly be killed.

What they did was Christ-like -- they fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, visited strangers and invited them to their homes at great risk to their own lives, clothed the naked and did not allow them to be in prison and, above all, did not allow them to be slaughtered by their own Muslim brothers. They were the quintessential Good Samaritans -- the good neighbors that Christ gave us as examples of those who will be on his right hand in heaven.

Finally we have the Biblical example of the great King Cyrus. After inheriting the Jewish slaves from Babylon resulting from his victory over King Nebuchadnezzar and his nation, he not only sent out an edict freeing them but also, as tradition has it, sent his engineers and architects to help rebuild the second temple. He was the King who introduced Aramaic as the lingua franca in his kingdomfor commerce and literature and it was the language Jesus spoke. Indeed both Ezra and Nehemiah pronounce him as their savior, defender and benefactor. In truth, if he and his successors, Artaxerxes 1 and 11 and Darius, had not protected the returning Jews militarily, the new freed nation would never have succeeded as men like Sanballat and Tobiah the Ammonite were determined to frustrate and destroy them. Hear Tobiah's warning: “Whatever it is they are building, if a fox climbs up their stone walls, it will break them down” (Nehemiah 4:3).

On the other hand, Ezra writes in chapter 9:9 regarding Cyrus' help:

"For slaves we were; nevertheless, our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has made the kings of Persia so well disposed towards us as to give us the means of renewal, so that we may repair the house of our God and rebuild its ruins, and to give us a wall of defense in Judah and Jerusalem".

The act of King Cyrus was so acceptable to God that He inspired, or said through, Isaiah to say that Cyrus is His messiah or His anointed. This is Isaiah 45:1 in three translations:

"Thus says the Lord to Cyrus his anointed, Cyrus whom he had taken by the hand".

(Oxford Study Edition);

"This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of". (The NIV Study Bible) and

"Thus says Yahweh to his anointed, to Cyrus, whom he has taken by his right hand". (The Jerusalem Bible)

Why would God call Cyrus His messiah or anointed if he would not save and accept him into His kingdom? It is difficult for me to believe that after bestowing such high praise and regard, God would condemn Cyrus to hell and eternal damnation. He may not fit the literal interpretation of by me in John 14:6. What strikes me as important is that Cyrus, Mr. Schindler and the Muslims in northern Nigeria fit the figurative and metaphorical by me of Christ-like behavior by showing genuine, total, courageous and selfless kindness as neighbors to their fellow human beings.

Finally, I would like to end by briefly citing the third position -- that some who accept Christ or are Christians will not go to heaven. It was, indeed, Christ who said in a chapter that begins by warning us about the evils of condemning others: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged....". (Matthew 7:1-2) In Matthew 7:21-23, in a manner very similar to Matthew 25:31-46, Christ says:

"Not everyone who calls me, 'Lord, Lord', will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my heavenly Father. When that day comes, many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out devils in your name, and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them to their face, 'I never knew you; out of my sight, you and your wicked ways’".

Everyone thinks that her/his own little prism of seeing and knowing God is the only way of seeing and knowing God; that they are the sole repositories of the gnosis and praxis of God. But worse than that they tend to use that little prism to judge and condemn others. Recently, The Very Rev. Dr. Gordon F. Weller of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Lansing, Michigan made a similar but more astute observation: "In our ignorance”, he wrote, “we often think that our way of understanding God and worshiping God's essence is the ONLY way; obviously a distorted truth....While it is important that Jesus was born, it is more important that God has chosen to reveal himself to us in the variety of ways that he has". (St. Paul's News, Vol. 35, Issue 1, January 2010).

Let me finally end by quoting Banquo's comment to the three witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth:

"If you can look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then to me..."

None of us can look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow and which will not. Let us stop judging others and condemning them. Let us believe in our God and allow our God's will to be done in our lives and in the world and leave the final judgment to Him and His infinite Wisdom, Redeeming Love and Righteousness.

Thank you so very much for inviting me to share these ideas with you.

Thank you.

I greet you again with love, humility and sincere affection

Be blessed all your days and in all you do.

 Thank you.

____________________________________________________

All citations, unless otherwise indicated, are from the Oxford study edition of

The New English Bible with Apocrypha.

Igolima Amachree is Emeritus Professor of Sociology & Anthropology and former senior warden of St. George's Episcopal Church in Macomb, Illinois, in the Quincy Diocese.

IGOLIMA AND MARA AMACHREE: 50TH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY
Shared by Opuene Amachree on 05/17/2017
CCI05162017_0009

Mara and Igolima Amachree on July 19, 1964.

They were married in Monrovia, Liberia at the Episcopal Cathedral with Father Robertson officiating.  Mara is from Liberia and Igolima is from Nigeria.

 They met at Michigan State University where Mara was completing her Masters degree in Anatomy and Physiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Igolima was completing his PhD degree in Sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The circumstances of their meeting were unusual...

Mara had a scholarship to study medicine in Lausanne, France but ended up in Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and eventually in graduate school at Michigan State University.

Igolima, on the other hand, after getting his bachelor's degree from Durham University in England, had a scholarship to study at Cambridge University in England or a German scholarship to study at the University of Cologne in Germany but ended up accepting the US State Department's fellowship to study at Michigan State University.

The two still would not have met if Igolima, a Victor Silverster(like Arthur Murray in the US) certified ballroom dance instructor was not trying to show-off his dancing skills in an American and African student party. He and his partner bumped into a table and spilled drinks on a young lady, who turned out to be Mara Henderson from Liberia. In trying to clean his mess and extend his apologies, the good Lord held their hands together. And, as they say, the rest is history.


Please remember and include them in your prayers.

Share a Story:
Story title (its optional):
Story text:
Illustrate your story with a picture, song or video:
Invite your family and friends
to visit this memorial:

Subscribe to receive e-mail notifications when others contribute to this memorial.

This memorial is administered by:

Opuene Amachree
Gogo Elliot

3276 views

Have a suggestion for us?

We are waiting for your feedback!