Salvation just has a lot of problems, for one, no one seems to be able to agree on who's saved, or how you're saved, or why you have to be saved. If salvation was necessary, and it effects you throughout eternity, wouldn't a loving God be very clear on the rules? Wouldn't God make sure that everyone knew the rules, understood them, and had every chance to access that salvation? Otherwise, it seems a bit arbitrary, and maybe the deck is stacked, especially for a God that is "no respecter of persons."
Here's an example of how no one can agree on who's saved: Yesterday I watched Angelina Long on Ex-Mormon Files. She converted to Mormonism shortly after high school, and was a Mormon for three years. She was a very active member, and loved the church, she said it was her first "church family". One day at the temple, as she walked up a stairway, she felt completely disconnected from her experience there. She felt like a spectator walking through a beautiful building, she didn't feel at peace, but felt anxious. As she and her friend returned to the dressing rooms, a lady came in with a stack of family names with the last name of Long, just like her. As she listened to the conversation this lady is having with a temple worker, the lady mentions that she has all this ordinance work to do for her family members. Angelina said, God touched her heart and what went through her mind was: is this what it's going to be like for me for the rest of my life, taking hundreds of family names to the temple to assist in their salvation? Next a series of events happened... a week later teaching in Relief Society, a lesson called, Be spiritually prepared for anything that comes your way, she bore her testimony and said "I know that families can be together forever, through this church." As soon as she said that, she felt a pit in her stomach. Shortly after that she had two loved ones pass away. She began to have thoughts of confusion and anxiety, and she could not bear the thought that the only way that her family would be together for ever was through temple work. It didn't make sense to her. She drove around one night trying to clear her head, and began to weep saying to God, "God this doesn't make sense, if you are the same God, yesterday, today and forever, and you love all of your children the same. If Joseph Smith restored your church 200 years ago, why would you deny so many of your children, millions upon millions of souls, the blessings of being together forever with their family in heaven? And why would I be granted a better level of heaven simply because of the church that I belong to, I'm no better then anyone else." Then she heard God speak to her just as clear as day, saying, "the temple ceremonies came by revelation, which means they came from Joseph Smith, which means they came from men, and men can make mistakes, the only perfect man is Jesus Christ and he is the only way." Then she felt this overwhelming peace, this tingling through her entire body, something she had never felt before. She felt the Holy Spirit come and comfort her by wrapping his arms around her. At which time she said, "Thank you Jesus, I know you, I know you now, and its just you." She thought that makes sense, but why does my religion believe in a completely different form of salvation? She began to look into the LDS doctrine of eternal families and came across polygamy, which she began to study, and came across other distributing things such as polyandry. She began to attend other churches and learned that it is by Grace and Grace alone that she was saved.
This is a very touching story and frankly I believe her completely when she says that she had this experience. It's not easy to walk away from the Mormon faith, especially when you are a convert and have had praises heaped upon you and she was in a prominent calling, not easy at all! She had converted her friend who is now married to a Mormon, and she has to walk away from all of that. She has my full respect.
The same day that I watched Angelina's interview, I received a "Friend" request on Facebook, from Jean, a member of our current ward, where we stopped attending last year. I don't know Jean well, but I really like her. She's a great teacher, studies the scriptures a lot, loves God, and has a great testimony of Jesus Christ as her Savior. She loves Jesus, every bit as much as Angelina does. Jean sent a message to me along with the Friend request, in which she says, "I wish I had the words to help you understand that as wacky as some things are in the Church, because of human fallibility, it is the right vehicle to obtain the correct ordinances and the companionship of the Holy Ghost."
I found this striking, because they are both referring to the temple ordinances. One claiming that they are necessary, the other claiming that it is these exact ordinances that led her out of the Mormon Church, and into the arms of Jesus. Both of these ladies, love Jesus, believe that they know him, and both believe that they are saved, and that their way to salvation is the only way! They can't both be right, but they can both be wrong. I'm not saying they are, I'm just saying that this is the problem with salvation. There is no correct definition of it. The only "correct" definition you get is by someone who believes they are saved, but their story of salvation will not jive with someone of another faith.
Why the need for salvation, where do we get this notion, and what do different religions claim about it? This is obviously a huge subject, so I will keep it brief. Most Christians believe in the doctrine of, Original Sin. Mormons don't, or I should say they have a nuanced view of the Fall of Adam and Eve. They believe that man is in a fallen state, but they don't ascribe to the Original Sin doctrine of Christianity, which is HUGE. The way Adam and Eve are viewed by Mormons and Christians and their view of God, why we are here, and how we get back to God again, is so different. No matter how hard people try to reconcile these two religions, its just not possible (I don't know that anyone is trying that hard to reconcile them, probably only the Mormon PR machine tries to do this at times). The doctrine of Original Sin is based on some New Testament scriptures, but it certainly didn't come from Christ, and it wasn't formulated until the 2nd century, a time period which in Mormon theology Christ's church was already in a state of apostasy. Let's look at a couple non-Christian religions, and see how salvation works with them.
Jews don't believe in Original Sin, Judaism does not require personal salvation thru deity as Christianity does. They basically believe in the Golden Rule. God, the creator of the world provides salvation to those who honor his precepts. There is no vicarious salvation, your redemption depends on you and your behavior. "In Judaism, salvation is open to all people and not limited to those of the Jewish faith; the only important consideration being that the people must observe and practice the ethical pattern of behavior as summarized in the Ten Commandments." (Malekar, Ezekiel Isaac. "The Speaking Tree: Concept of Salvation I Judaism)
Islam's salvation is entrance into heaven. If you die disbelieving in God you will not be saved. If you are non-Muslim and you believe in God, it is God's will concerning you. If you are Muslim and believe in the One God and in the Islam message, you are saved into heaven.
What do Mormon's require for salvation? I'll go to their website (Mormon.org) and get it straight from the horse's mouth. "By humbling ourselves, repenting, and striving to keep His commandments, we can receive the blessings of the Savior's atoning sacrifice." Is that all? No, "He administered saving temporal ordinances, such as baptism, which He Himself submitted to though He had never sinned; the Savior did this because he asked us to follow Him in all things." Is that all? No, "to apply the saving grace of Jesus Christ"... requires, faith, repentance, baptism by immersion (by one having authority), and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Is that all? No, "The fundamental gospel elements are these: faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, and enduring to the end." Is that all? No, "In 1830 Jesus Christ restored His gospel through a prophet names Joseph Smith...The Savior also restored the keys of the priesthood and the saving ordinances at are required for His Church to accomplish His work again on earth." Is that all? No, apparently not, since they also say, "From each of them (referring to the latter day prophets) we learn what is required of us to become more like God and to prepare to live with Him again." Is that all? No, not really, not if you want to be saved in the Celestial Kingdom (super VIP heaven according to Brother Jake see here very humorous)! To be saved in the Celestial Kingdom, the only one that allows for your family to be together forever as a family and for you to become exalted or have eternal life, that requires temple ordinances. You will recall that above they said that Christ "administered saving temporal ordinances, plural, but then only gave one example, "such as baptism" well, some of these additional ordinances are temple ordinances, and if you want your family to be together forever, Mormonism's big trump card, you have to receive these temple ordinances. To be worthy to do that, you have to pay a full tithing, keep the word of wisdom, go to your meetings (yes that's right plural) on Sunday, sustain the prophet, wear temple garments, and a host of other smaller and bigger things. Wow, that's a lot, I got tired just typing that all out, image how tiring it is to live.
What do most Protestant Christians (not necessarily liberal Protestant Christians) believe is required for salvation? Well that's a big group with somewhat varying views, but I think I'm safe in saying that Jesus Christ is the only way. He paid the penalty for our sins on the cross and rose from the grave. One must have a faith and trust in Christ, admit you are a sinner and need forgiveness, and through prayer confess that Jesus Christ is the only way to God and commit to live for Him. Some groups would say that baptism is necessary, but confessing Christ, and for some being born again is the main requirements. Then of course after you have dedicated your life to Jesus, you will naturally try to live like him. (Wow, that's a lot easier than the Mormon plan, no wonder there are so many more Protestants then Mormon's!)
That is a brief summary of a very complex subject, but I think you get the idea. Nothing coordinates, each group thinks they have the truth, they own salvation, and they are saved. Salvation groups us into communities which is good and bad. It causes us to have peace and dread all at the same time. It can make a person prideful and judgmental, and it also has good effects. Basically it is what it is, and people get very emotional over their salvation, families are brought together by it and destroyed by it. And none of these salvations stand up under scrutiny, only to the true believers, who will not look at hard evidence to the contrary. Anyone trying to make an argument against anyone's salvation is usually seen as evil, and should be avoided or at least disregarded.
But here's some good news! A Pew survey shows that we are becoming more open minded in our salvation quest. In asking "Who can go to Heaven?" When asking White mainstream Protestants if Catholicism can lead to eternal life 77% said yes, and 83% of Catholics returned the favor to Protestants. What about Judaism, can Jews find their way to Heaven in the eyes of others? Catholics said yes 77%, White mainstream Protestants said yes, 73%, Evangelicals were a little less gracious at 64%. But hey, that's pretty good for a stubborn group of people, lol, I mean a strongly convinced group of people. What about those evil atheists, how's their chance in the after life? Not bad! Looks like only half of us are sending them to Hell, 50% think they will too reach heaven. They should all rest better tonight knowing that. :)