One Way

Question
Do people really have to believe in Jesus in order to be saved? Isn't God supreme to Christ? In other words: Can anyone believing in the same God be excluded from salvation, even if he or she doesn't recognize Christ as a Savior and takes God to be the only source of judgment?
What's the difference between the commandments observed by Jews or Christians? The Dordrecht Confession makes it quite clear that there is no path to salvation without the commandments. If that is so, how can there be Christian supremacy in salvation given the fact that the commandments have been Jewish property for a few thousand years?
Are there talks and contacts between the Reformed Church and representatives of the Jewish communities?
Answer
1. According to the Calvinistic understanding of the New Testament, only people who receive Jesus as the Christ are saved (John 14:6; Acts 4:10-12). The Jews who reject Jesus as the Christ have no hope of salvation (Gal. 2:11-21; 3:21-22). The reason for this is that believing that there is only one God and that he is the judge does not save people. Rather, people are saved because they are righteous. Since no one can keep the Law sufficiently to be called "righteous," the Law condemns us all, Jew and Gentile alike (Rom. 3:9-26; Gal. 3:21-22). Thus, we need a savior, someone who can cause us to be counted as righteous. Jesus Christ is the only one who can do that. All who have faith in him, and they only, are united to him and thereby receive his status as "righteous." Thus, even though the Jews claim to worship the same God, they are not saved.

This is really no different from the great masses of Jews that perished as unbelievers in the Old Testament. For their lack of faithfulness to God they deserved condemnation, and by their lack of faith in God they failed to gain salvation (e.g. the first generation that left Egypt and died in the wilderness). Those Jews who reject Jesus claim that they are faithful to God, but they have two problems. First, since no one can be good enough on his/her own for God to consider him righteous, all are condemned (see above). Second, refusing the Lord's Christ is a blatant act of rebellion and unbelief. No one who actually has faith in God will reject Jesus as the Christ. Thus, all who claim to believe God, but who simultaneously reject Christ, incorrectly assess their own faith. In truth, they are unbelievers. Although there are a number of reasons this is so, two are particularly worth mentioning: 1) Jesus is God incarnate, therefore if one rejects Jesus he rejects God himself; and 2) to reject Jesus is to reject the one who sent him (just as to reject God's Old Testament prophets and Word was to reject God himself).

2. The commandments observed by the Jews and Christians are indeed the same, though the way Jews and Christians observe the commandments is different. It is also important to note that Christians don't have an inferior claim to the "property" of the commandments simply because they don't bear the name "Jew." In fact, in God's eyes all Christian believers are Jews. This is because all Christian believers are united to Christ, who was Jewish. Just as Christians receive Christ's status as "righteous" via this union, they also receive his status as "Jew." Another reason Jews don't have a greater claim to the commandments than Christians have is that Christianity is a Jewish sect. More particularly, it is the only loyal Jewish sect. Thus, while the name "Jewish" was wrongly stripped from the Christian religion by the circumstances of history, the fact that Christians constitute the true people of God stands firm.

Also, while Calvinists affirm the goodness and truth of the Law, they deny its ability to save anyone. Thus, regardless of how well Jews observe the Law, they are doomed to fall short and to be condemned by it. This is largely Paul's argument throughout Romans 2 and 3. As it turns out, the fact that Jews observe the same commandments as Christians is one of the reasons that Jews cannot be saved without Christ.

3. The Reformed community is not ecclesiastically unified, but theologically unified. Thus, there is no one who can represent the entire community in any ecumenical talks. Each Reformed community must make its own decision in that regard. While I suspect that some Reformed communities have representatives engaged in ecumenical talks, it would be impossible for anyone to affirm the truth of historic Reformed theology while at the same time concluding that faith in Christ is not necessary to salvation.

I'm sure there are Reformed communities that engage in cooperative efforts with Jewish communities in matters of social importance (mercy ministries, politics such as pro-life activities, etc.). Certainly Jews and Christians can find common ground in this way when it comes to wars, social conflicts, etc. Since they both profess loyalty to the same commandments, they should be able to come to some agreements regarding the obligations those commandments lay on society. But finding such common ground with Jews so as to affirm the salvation of non-Christians would not be part of that agreement; of course, no conservative Jew would favor such ecumenism either. At any rate, I'm not aware of any large-scale ecumenical talks between Jews and Reformed Christians, even of any which are limited to doctrines other than salvation.


Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.