I recently read an article in which the author addressed the subject of salvation. He judged salvation to be the basic issue of all religions. In the author’s opinion salvation always implies moral betterment. Each age is inevitably drawn into its own evaluation of what salvation means, an evaluation based to some extent on the then current conditions, institutions, and cultural mores. Thus the meaning and view of salvation has not been static throughout history. Ecclesiastical history will bear this out.
As noted in the article, the issue of salvation involves both what salvation means (saved from or to what?) and how does one achieve that salvation. The first question is the fundamental one but interestingly many church sermons and general discussions deal more with the latter.
For those who embrace the fundamentalist view of eternal torment, salvation is the escape from divine wrath which otherwise will be result from being an inherently imperfect human being. Fundamentalists may disagree about how salvation is gained but they likely concur on what it means.
For the apparently sizeable group of those calling themselves Christians while not believing in a literal fire burning hell, the basic question often seems unanswered. If salvation is not escape from some divine punishment, what is it?
The unfortunate fact is that the general lack of clarity about how any church or denomination views the meaning of salvation leaves many potential believers with only the fundamentalist definition. They can accept that horrendous picture of God in Christ or struggle to define their own salvation. Now developing a personnel faith and with it your personnel meaning of salvation is not a bad idea. But with the vociferous fundamentalists raising a constant din about pending judgment and its horrible consequences and pundits and politicians using this fundamentalist theology as a wedge as a weapon, it would be very valuable for any who disavow hellfire to state their position openly and concisely.
The traditional understanding of salvation, i.e. escaping hell, is said to be ironclad from a Bible perspective. Many of us recognize that is not true. The article I reference indirectly points that out. In my extensive experience church lessons and messages infrequently deal with what salvation actually means. Again I think this observation extends to even the most conservative Christian groups. Additionally the main area of disagreement between many denominational groups is the very question of how to be saved. All this supports the author’s contention that current day Christianity is much more into how to be saved than what happens afterward and how one is made better by salvation. Sounds like the cart is before the horse.
Whatever the reality of church emphasis and focus, it remains a disservice to members and visitors alike to leave any unanswered questions about what we are rescuing ourselves from when we choose to adhere to church doctrine. Everyone needs to see and understand the product before they buy in.