Different Roads to Heaven: Luther, Calvin and the Catholic Church on Salvation

         The internet is an amazing tool. ...
thus the mind of God. Europe stagnated for centuries. Heretics, those who dared to challenge the

Church’s teachings, were...
According to Church teaching by 1500, indulgences were a way for Christians to purchase

the merits of Christ and the sacr...
indulgences and the doctrine of works centered on his interpretation of St. Paul’s letter to the

Romans from the Bible, a...
on the list, as did everyone who followed his line of thinking. Calvinist ideas about predestination

spread across Europe...
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Different Roads To Heaven My Paper On Luther, Calvin And Catholic Ideas Behind Salvation

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  • Concerning Calvin's doctrine of salvation:
    http://www.lgmarshall.org/Calvin/calvin_varsermon21.html
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  • Do you have any sources to cite? I do not believe that Calvin interpreted Revelation as described in “Different Roads to Heaven.” Only 144,000 saved would contradict other passages of Scripture and promises of Yahweh. God told Abraham that through Him all nations would be blessed. He said that through the Seed of a woman, Jesus Christ would cause multitudes to be blessed. The LORD promised Abraham that his descendents would be innumerable, comparing the numbers of God’s adopted children to the quantity of stars and sand of the seashore.
    Furthermore, in the Book of Revelation we read, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
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Different Roads To Heaven My Paper On Luther, Calvin And Catholic Ideas Behind Salvation

  1. 1. Different Roads to Heaven: Luther, Calvin and the Catholic Church on Salvation The internet is an amazing tool. A quick search online for the number of different Christian denominations brings a list of literally thousands of websites. Around the world, the latest estimate puts the number at somewhere between fifty and sixty thousand different versions of the Christian religion. Yet, in essence, all Christians believe the same general principle: Jesus of Nazareth, a Roman Jew from the province of Palestine who lived approximately 2000 years ago, was the son of God made into living flesh. All Christians believe that the said Jesus was the long awaited and promised messiah or savior, and that he suffered and died so that men could achieve salvation. Amazingly enough, however, there are still thousands of separate denominations around the world, many here in the United States. The variations can largely be attributed to different interpretations of salvation, many of which come directly from the Bible, even if they are contradictory to each other. It all started in the sixteenth century during the Protestant Reformation when a number of reformers sought to revolutionize ideas behind salvation and the role the Church played in the deliverance of Christians. While the Catholic Church continued to rely on the doctrine of works and the idea of earning salvation, Martin Luther used an interpretation of Paul’s letter to the Romans to develop the notion of justification by faith and John Calvin came up with the idea of predestination based on his reading of the book of Revelation. For the first thousand years of Christianity, there was only one church, generally called the “Christian” church by historians. The pope, who lived in Rome, held immense power over the entire population in Europe. Over the centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire in 476, the church, called “Catholic” after the Great Schism with the Orthodox Church after 1054, flexed its control over monarchs and the nobility as well. As literacy and education waned during the medieval period, the Church seemed to be the only one who could understand the scriptures and
  2. 2. thus the mind of God. Europe stagnated for centuries. Heretics, those who dared to challenge the Church’s teachings, were put through the inquisition, a church show trial designed to prune the Church of its dead branches. Those convicted of heresy, many of whom had been tortured to extract confessions, often had their souls purified by burning at the stake. By the high middle ages, the Catholic Church had developed an idea behind salvation that Christians had to earn their way into heaven. The first and primary part of this notion had to do with membership in the Catholic Church itself. According to this line of thinking, God himself, though his son Jesus, had created the Church when he appointed Peter as the first pope. Thus the Church was apostolic and pure. Anyone who sought salvation outside the Church was consequently outside God, a line of thinking that held the Church together century after century. Heretics were also considered to be outside God, which of course led to the excesses of the inquisition. As the years went on, the papacy also developed a series of acts called sacraments designed as ways for Christians to show they had faith in Christ. These sacraments of course, had to be done inside the Church, which in turn led to even more reliance on the papacy for salvation. As literacy disappeared and the people of Europe became more and more ignorant, other steps on the road to salvation appeared as well, including the idea of purgatory, the sale of indulgences and the worship of relics. Purgatory was first mentioned in Church documents that date to the medieval period. Still part of church teaching in the modern age, it is supposed to be a place where departed souls await their place in heaven, a kind of waiting room to see the almighty. Souls in purgatory were to be cleansed of their sins through the prayers of the faithful still on Earth. They could also be ransomed from purgatory through indulgences and the worship of relics.
  3. 3. According to Church teaching by 1500, indulgences were a way for Christians to purchase the merits of Christ and the sacraments. In other words, the more money one had, the more sins would be forgiven. Indulgences could be purchased for loved ones that had passed on or for sins not yet committed. Thousands, perhaps millions of pounds of gold flowed into Rome and the Vatican’s imperial banks. Over the years, the pope even came up with special indulgences to help finance different building projects, the most famous of which was for the building of St. Peter’s Cathedral in 1517 that brought out the ire of Martin Luther. Also common at the time was payment by commoners for the opportunity to view relics, holy pieces of bone, wood and other items of religious significance, another practice which Luther railed against as well. Martin Luther was a monk from Saxony, a medieval state within the Holy Roman Empire in today’s modern Germany. Before he attended the seminary and learned the ways of the Church, Luther attended law school, during which time he learned how to use logical arguments to reason positions. According to tradition, Luther was caught out in a ferocious storm one night and had a religious experience when he was almost struck by lightning. He then dedicated his life to God, left law school and joined the Augustinian order. Luther progressed quickly through the ranks, and was soon recognized as a scholar, even among other members of the Church, although he himself often doubted his faith. Eventually, he was sent to Wittenberg and received a PhD in theology, after which he settled into a professorship in Wittenberg. When Johann Tetzel came through in 1517 selling papal indulgences for the building of St. Peter’s, Luther decided to speak out against them. On 31 October 1517, Luther wrote his now famous “95 Theses”, a series of arguments against indulgences and the excesses of the Catholic Church, and then (according to legend) nailed them to the Church door in the center of Wittenberg for all to see. Luther’s arguments against
  4. 4. indulgences and the doctrine of works centered on his interpretation of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans from the Bible, and in particular Romans 1:17, in which Paul stated that salvation was only possible though faith in God. Luther’s take on Paul’s words was that faith was the only means to salvation, an idea that came to be known as Justification by Faith. Thus indulgences, sacraments, relics and anything else, including membership in the Church, was unnecessary and might even impede Christians from acknowledging their faith. Luther accordingly used logical reasoning and the Bible itself, or at least his interpretation of it, against the Church. His works, published in German on the new printing presses for all to read, led to an explosion of other reformers, and set the stage for the Protestant Reformation. In essence, Luther had opened the door for others to question the Church through different interpretations of scripture. One such challenge came from John Calvin. John Calvin was a French lawyer living in Geneva, Switzerland. Calvin was no theologian, but like all educated Christians he read the Bible. As he struggled to understand the word of God, Calvin came across a passage in the book of Revelation, the last book of the Christian New Testament, considered by many then and now to be the final word of God. Revelation 14:1-3 speaks of the end of time, and of 144,000 people to be saved. Calvin interpreted this to be a literal number of souls that we be redeemed. His thoughts became known simply as predestination. Under Calvin’s ideas, since God is eternal and all-knowing, he alone knows, and has always known, who is going to heaven at the end of time. Such thinking relies on the idea that the Bible is the word of God and therefore must be true, a belief still held today by many denominations of Christians. If God knows everything, and if 144,000 are to be saved at the end, then Calvin believed it stood to reason that he knew who the 144,000 were, as though he had made a list in the beginning of time and the list itself was thus eternal. Calvin believed that his name, of course, was
  5. 5. on the list, as did everyone who followed his line of thinking. Calvinist ideas about predestination spread across Europe, to Scottish Presbyterians and even to the Puritans of colonial New England. Needless to say, the Catholic Church did not accept such beliefs. The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century forever shattered Christian unity in Europe. Luther’s ideas on faith and Calvin’s ideas on predestination spread quickly on the printing presses of the time and sparked not only a religious revival, but also a new impetus in literacy and learning. Others began to read the Bible, both in Latin and in the newly printed copies of the languages of Europe. As they did, different interpretations of God’s word began to emerge, a fact that continues to this day. Even the Catholic Church itself experienced a reform movement in response to Luther’s works, although the notions behind salvation remained unchanged. In today’s world, one can travel throughout the world and see different denominations of Christianity, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of which can be found all over America. When the nations of Europe conquered and colonized the globe in the centuries before 1900, Christianity went with them. Conversion rates were high, sometimes coming at the end of a sword. Yet, all Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth, a Roman Jew from Palestine, died 2000 years ago for their sins. Belief in that principle makes one a Christian. Not believing in Christ as the messiah excludes one from membership in a Christian Church. One wonders why there are so many versions. In the beginning there was only one, but arguments over the concept of salvation from Luther, Calvin and the Papacy fractured the Church in the sixteenth century and perhaps continues to do so today.

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