How to Answer Protestants Forum: Can people seek salvation outside the Church?

Can people seek salvation outside the Church? QUESTION from Aaron Lim October 16, 2001 A Protestant friend once told me that we christians are the ones that can only seek salvation and that other followers of religions (i.e: Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism) are doomed to die in the fires of Hell because of not knowing the Christian truth.
He also said that faith must be known and it is most important in order for salvation. Is this true? Can those followers of other religions just perish in the fires of Hell becuase they do not accept Jesus as saviour?
What about those that do lots of good deeds but have no faith in God? and to those who follow other religions who do good deeds but simply end up the same fate as well? Are their good works in vain?
I have an opinion that goes :
Every person has multitudes of choice of religions to follow. The important thing is that they should have a religion and choose to dedicate themselves to it; following every precept and their conscience of their faith. They could get the same salvation as we do. It is like every stream still leads to the same sea.
I am aware of the fact that there is perfect salvation and imperfect salvation of the Catholic teaching where faith MUST go hand in hand with good works.
But I am puzzled if a christian has already accepted the faith of the Lord, but sins or does not have good deeds. Will that Christian wil ever be saved. I feel distressed over this as it puts to question my principles and how can I answer my Protestant friend.
I hope this is not too much to ask and I would like to ask your personal consultation, and advice to clear out my opinion and standing. Could you also give me references to the cathecism and the bible? I do remember Our Holy Father, the Pope mentioning about this matter, saying about the Church's stand about its relationships with other great religions of the world. Is it in the Catechism too?
May God bless you for your good works and hopefully, with your advice, I can accept and be confident with my faith, my principles with your words of experience.
Thank you and God bless!

ANSWER by Mr. Troy Martz on October 23, 2001 Dear Mr. Lim:
Your protestant friend suffers from the problem that everyone who opposes the Catholic Church: he doesn't have an authoritative interpreter of Sacred Scripture. Whatever he believes Scripture means is based on human exegesis and scholarly arguments, not on infallable teaching. This leaves him (and the rest of our Separated Brethern) susceptible to changing opinions and quick arguments.
The Church's position is between the two extremes espoused by you and your friend -- salvation is ONLY by the Grace of God through Jesus Christ and ultimately, through His Body, the Church. Recently the reassertion of this position cause great public contraversy. However, the part that doesn't reach the press was the understanding that we cannot assume that anyone is outside God's mercy nor that God's mercy is limited to those who have the fullness of the Gospel. Those who have received the Revelation of Christ are responsible for their response, those who have not we leave to God's infinite mercy and justice. It is presumption to assume that anyone is included or excluded from God's mercy.
As to your questions about the possibility of works without faith -- without God's Grace our works are meaningless (trying to work our way into Heaven). If you read the Epistle of St. James, you will see that James leaves open the possibility of salvation without receiving the Gospel. He writes:

James 2:24-26 You must perceive that a person is justified by his works and not by faith alone. Rahab the harlot will illustrate the point. Was she not justified by her works when she harbored the messengers and sent them out by a different route? Be assured, then, that faith without works is as dead as a body without breath.
It is important to notice that Rahab had NOT been taught the truth of the God of Israel, yet the Holy Spirit inspired St. James to list her as justified. This is an illustration of the principle above of God's mercy being available outside of what we consider the normal channels.
Another Scripture reference to consider is Romans 2. Here St. Paul tells the Christians in Rome:

Romans 2:12-16 Sinners who do not have the law will perish without reference to it; sinners bound by the law will be judged in accordance with it. For it is not those who hear the law who are just in the sight of God; it is those who keep it who will be declared just. When Gentiles who do not have the law keep it as by instinct, these men although without the law serve as a law for themselves. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts. Their conscience bears witness together with that law, and their thoughts will accuse or defend them on the Day when, in accordance with the gospel I preach, God will pass judgement on the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.
Here your friend is clearly contradicted by Scripture. Challenge him to go back and reread both this section of Romans and the entire Epistle of St. James and conform his beliefs with Sacred Scripture.
Next comes the question of losing salvation. Many protestants have fallen for the once saved, always saved heresy. Again, this is clearly contradictory to Scripture -- here is what the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says:

Hebrews 2:1b-3 We must attend all the more to what we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels stood unchanged, and all transgression and disobedience received its due punishment, how shall we escape if we neglect a salvation as great as ours? Announced first by the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who had heard him. Note that we don't have to REJECT the salvation, we only have to NEGLECT our salvation. This is consistant with St. Paul's (the writer of Hebrews is well versed in the thoughts of St. Paul) teaching on the need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Also notice here that the writer is addressing CHRISTIANS who have already accepted the Gospel. You certainly can lose your salvation, just neglect it and it will drift away.
There are many references in the Catechism and in the writing of the Holy Father, but for your efforts I suggest limiting your references to Sacred Scripture. Here are some other citations you should investigate: Romans 10, Acts 4:11-12, Acts 15:11, Titus 2:11, Romans 3:24, Philipians 2:12. These show clear evidence that salvation is only from God's Grace.
By the way, for your friend's statement that the faith must be known -- how does his knowledge based faith apply to someone who is incapable of learning the faith (i.e. infants, those with mental deficiencies)? Does he really want to claim that God condemns these to the fires of Hell simply because they are not able to know the faith? This denies both the justice and mercy of God.
[Note to fledgeling apologists: Don't allow the other side to define the discussion. Be prepared with questions that show the deficiencies of the arguments of those who attack the Church.]
Pax Christi Troy Martz

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