This seems like a key question for Christians - maybe The key question; and it lies behind discussions as to the nature of 'The Church' (in which 'The' has several incompatible, meanings).
My thought experiment is to imagine (a situation that must have been, and indeed still be, common) of someone who has never heard of Jesus, the Bible or any church...
Or someone in the spiritually-equivalent (and nowadays mainstream) situation where everything he has heard about Jesus/ the Bible or any particular church Is False - False and indeed deliberately distorted to the point of inversion.
I mean that as of 2022; the standard and most available 'knowledge' concerning God, Jesus and Christianity is designed to lead people Not to salvation - but instead to fear, resentment, nihilism, despair, affiliation with Satan's agenda - and Hell.
(This is very probably worse than the situation of ancient pagans before 30 AD; who had no explicit knowledge of Christ - but it is equivalent in the sense that true knowledge from external sources is all-but unavailable for most people in the world.).
In such circumstances - can a person achieve salvation?
My answer entails taking a step backwards to the nature of God. It would need to be possible for this imaginary Christianly-isolated person - who lives either without knowledge, or with false knowledge of God - to know and understand the nature of God without being told.
Starting from that which is natural and spontaneous and possible to anyone; a person that might become Christian would need to be able to know from his own experience that God was the creator and loved him - and all Men. Know that God was our divine parent/s - and had for His children dwelling in His creation - a perfected parental love.
That, therefore, this God could be trusted in the way a child trusts a loving Mother and/or Father who also makes the world he lives in.
I believe this is a sufficiently simple and natural belief that could be built-in to Men, and then occur to anyone, and be confirmed by direct knowledge.
From this, if Christianity were to be possible to the uninstructed; it would need to be possible for every person to know Jesus 'already' - so that Jesus could be recognized, loved and followed after biological death, when resurrection was offered.
We need already to be able to recognize Jesus... and I have already said we need built-in knowledge of other kinds - and this points at a pre-mortal existence, before we were incarnated into this mortal world.
If pre-mortal life is regarded as real, then there is in principle no difficulty in recognizing and knowing Jesus specifically and personally, when encountered (without being told about it) - because this knowledge could be carried over from pre-mortal life.
An analogy is the instincts found in animals - when the necessary attitudes, motivations, behaviours emerge spontaneously when a suitable situation happens. Men may also have an 'instinct' to recognize Jesus.
Another way of knowing about Jesus without being told is the guidance of the Holy Ghost. We might be 'told', at the right time, who Jesus was - and that this is Him.
Having recognized Jesus, we would then need to decide whether or not to follow him; and that decision would depend on whether we loved and trusted him, and whether we wanted to go where he wanted to lead us: Heaven.
The above sketch shows that I think it is both necessary and plausible that the kind of God Christians believe-in would and could provide what is required such that every individual Man would be able to follow Jesus to salvation.
And that this would not (in principle) depend on any external and valid source of information, or any particular lifestyle, or institution. It could be available to all.
And that Men could be Christian and follow Jesus in any kind of society - including the actually existing world in which nearly all Christian knowledge is deliberately distorted, falsified and indeed inverted.
The alternative would seem to be a God who did not care enough to provide what all His children needed, or who lacked the creative power to provide directly and individually what each of his children needed.
From this much follows; indeed - I would say that all necessary questions can satisfactorily be answered, and guidance derived - given a correct understanding of God's nature.
For me this is The Key - and the Basis for all that follows.
And it is a thing known personally, directly, individually.
(Metaphysical, abstract, theories serve to explain why this Key-Basic knowledge is indeed valid - and to enable the primary insight to be tested against experience and observations.)
I was just a few hours ago thinking about how my knowledge of Jesus as God was probably there all along just buried underneath Ahrimanic evil. Ideas I absorbed and assumptions I was trained into by my environment. Once that evil was dealt with, believing on God and Jesus as Him was automatic. It was the believing 'in' that was the problem. Which was really a process of removing an Ahrimanic layer to get to the treasure underneath.
Isn't this question solved by the research into the afterlife?
Research around the world shows no sign of Jesus Christ by cultures or peoples not exposed to those notions/beliefs/culture prior.
Parapsychologists around the world show that cultural beliefs about the afterlife direct where one goes (with Near Death Experience reports the main evidence).
In CUR DEUS HOMO, Anselm says, if not the same thing, very nearly the same thing as do you. Apologies for the long quotes.
"Anselm: In like manner, since all who are to be saved cannot be present at the sacrifice of Christ, yet such virtue is there in his death that its power is extended even to those far remote in place or time. But that it ought to benefit not merely those present is plainly evident, because there could not be so many living at the time of his death as are necessary to complete the heavenly state, even if all who were upon the earth at that time were admitted to the benefits of redemption. For the number of evil angels which must be made up from men is greater than the number of men at that time living. Nor may we believe that, since man was created, there was ever a time when the world, with the creatures made for the use of man, was so unprofitable as to contain no human being who had gained the object for which he was made. For it seems unfitting that God should even for a moment allow the human race, made to complete the heavenly state, and those creatures which he made for their use, to exist in vain." CUR DEUS HOMO Ch XVI
"Boso: Merely looking at your arguments, I see no way of escape. But, turning to my belief, I hope through Christian faith, “which works by love,” that I may be saved, and the more, since we read that if the sinner turns from his inquity and does what is right, all his transgressions shall be forgotten.
Anselm: This is only said of those who either looked for Christ before his coming, or who believe in him since he has appeared. But we set aside Christ and his religion as if they did not exist, when we proposed to inquire whether his coming were necessary to man's salvation." CUR DEUS HOMO Chap XX
Did Jesus found the church or Paul? There is not church mentioned in Mark, Luke, nor John. Matthew has two mentions, one seems like knly a disciplinary meeting, and the other contradicts Mark's version of the same story. Clearly Mark is right, and Jesus' response to Peter's confession was indeed "Don't tell anyone yet" and the version we have in Matthew about "You're the rock and on this rock I'll build my church" is an interpolation by the Catholics to create a fake authority to win arguments about being the one true "church" against other denominations!
This post implicitly raises another topic that Bruce has posted on before: Namely, that Christ's mission on Earth, and his death and resurrection, did not merely "provide information" that men could be taught and learn about; it actually changed the fabric of reality: It brought new possibilities into the world that had not previously existed.
Jesus' description of the coming of the Paraclete encapsulates this Cosmic change:
-- "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." John 14:16-18
-- "These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." John 14:25-26
-- "It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you." John 16:7
-- "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you." John 16:13-14
If one accepts that the Holy Spirit can come to whomsoever the Father chooses to send Him, then the revelation of Truth is potentially available to all.
Bruce may be going even further in the current post, with the implication that salvation has been available to all men at all times. Certainly there were Old Testament personages who received salvation prior to the Incarnation. And there are both Old and New Testament passages that support this. ("The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork." Psalm 19:1. "For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another." Romans 2:14-15)
@DF "Bruce may be going even further in the current post, with the implication that salvation has been available to all men at all times"
If salvation means *resurrection* into Heaven - I think this was only possible after Jesus Christ had 'done his work' - probably after his baptism. At least, that is what the Fourth Gospel is saying. It is clear that Jesus is bringing something new, and for the first time.
Until then, I presume that the souls of the dead who wanted resurrection would Not be able to be resurrected; and would either wait until the time of Jesus - and/or be reincarnated.
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