We saw earlier that Roman Catholicism teaches that Muslims and Christians worship the same God and that the plan of salvation includes Muslims as well. Catholicism also teaches that Jews do not need to believe the gospel in order to be saved. This has led the Catholic Church to completely redefine what “No Salvation Outside the Church” means. I am going to explain in this article why this inclusivistic stance on salvation is actually a form of religious pluralism.
Theological inclusivism is inherently inconsistent because it does not take into account that every member of an unreached people group who has not heard the gospel is a member of a false religion. The unreached people groups of the world fall into one of five categories: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, atheism, or some form of animism that is almost always polytheistic. Therefore, to say that the unevangelized can be saved apart from believing the gospel is to say that members of false religions can be saved. That is, they are saved as practicing members of a false religion believing in things that are directly contrary to the gospel. Inclusivism, taken to its logical conclusion, demands that God has placed salvific elements in other religions besides Christianity that can lead its practitioners to salvation.
This is why the general revelation inclusivism of Protestantism is inconsistent in comparison to the world religions inclusivism of Roman Catholicism. “Holy pagans” never stop believing in pagan things until they are brought the gospel. Therefore, theological inclusivism undermines the gospel because it teaches that members of false religions do not need to believe in Jesus to be saved. A person can believe in the heresies of these religions and still be saved even though the unique beliefs of these religions are far worse than anything found in the heresies the early church fought against.
If people are saved in these false religions, then they die believing in false doctrine and worshiping a false god or gods. To worship any God besides the Lord is idolatry and no idolater has eternal life (1 Cor 6:9). Let’s take the example of a man who lived and died in Papua New Guinea before the gospel message was brought to his tribe. He believed in animism or the belief that physical objects are possessed by spiritual beings that need to be placated by us and polytheism or the belief in many different gods. Must he abandon his beliefs in polytheism and animism to be saved? Can a person worship God acceptably while believing in these things? Can a person be saved and not be a true worshiper of God? If the unevangelized are saved, then they must worship God through the religion they are a member of.
The Catholic theologian Hans Küng elaborates on his view of how God is active in other religions:
“Since God seriously and effectively wills that all men should be saved and that none should be lost unless by his own fault, every man is intended to find his salvation within his own historical condition . . . within the religion imposed on him by society. . . . A man is to be saved within the religion that is made available to him in his historical situation. Hence, it is his right and duty to seek God within that religion in which the hidden God has already found him” (Theological Investigations, trans. Karl and Boniface Kruger [Baltimore, MD: Helicon, 1969], 6:395).
Pope Francis, in a speech to a group of Lutherans, takes this logic a step further in response to a question asking whether Christians should try to convince others of our faith by saying, “It is not licit to convince them of your faith. Proselytism is the strongest venom against the ecumenical path.” In other words, it is wrong to try to convert members of other religions to Christianity. Now, why would anyone believe this? The only answer I can think of is that he believes other religions are acceptable paths to God because God works through them to bring people to salvation. This is why the pope can kiss the Quran, receive a bindi from a priestess of Shiva, or say that we are all children of God. These religions are viewed as different paths to God which is pluralism, not just inclusivism. In contrast to this false belief, the Bible teaches that we are not all children of God and that only those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God overcome the world (1 John 5:5).