According to US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, belief in personal salvation is a ‘heresy’. The grace of God, she is reported as saying, is given to the believing community, not to the individual Christian.
Of course, she may have been misreported. It wouldn’t be the first time that the religious press has made someone out to be less orthodox than they really are.
Or possibly she just expressed herself badly. Maybe she just meant to say that rampant individualism (a besetting problem in post-enlightenment liberalism as well as evangelicalism) is sub-biblical and sub-Christian. Maybe she just wanted to reminded her hearers that Christian belief and practice are deeply, intensely, fundamentally, relational. If so, her gripe should be with individual salvation, not personal salvation.
But it is as individuals that we are saved and brought into God’s community. As one of the few conservative bishops left in the House of Bishops mused, ‘the presiding bishop’s words were hard to reconcile with Paul’s statement that if one confesses with his lips and believes in his heart that Jesus is his Lord and Saviour; he will be saved, as found in Romans 10:8-10.’
Mark Thompson, Dean of Moore College, Sydney, commented that Augustine, Luther, the Protestant Reformers and the Anglican divines all taught that “God’s purposes are deeply relational and hence the very opposite of fragmented, isolationist individualism. Yet they also extend further than simply corporate identity to call on human persons as persons to repent and believe the gospel.”
As reported in Church of England Newspaper, 17th July 2009
In an interview with Time magazine, Katharine Jefferts Schori was asked, “Is belief in Jesus the only way to get to heaven?” Her answer: “We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.” Which is a not-very-coherent way of saying, “No.” Now that’s what I call heresy. Presumably, the Bishop thinks that our Lord wasn’t being serious when he said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).