Here's another entry from my work in progress, An Opinionated Dictionary of Religion.
Soteriology: noun. A theological doctrine of salvation.
All the documentary evidence from the entire history of Christianity shows us a religion in a state of Argument.
Church councils beginning in the 4th century sought to end argument by authoritatively standardizing scripture, worship, and belief.
Twenty-seven Christian writings were chosen as sacred scripture, and several times that many were rejected. A choreographed liturgy was proffered as proper worship. Beliefs about the Trinity and doctrines concerning the divinity of Jesus and his role as savior were defined and resolved into creeds.
These church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries sought to settle these matters for all time, but the issues were never really settled, and dissent persisted, and persists, on these very issues.
Consider soteriology, the doctrine of salvation.
There was a debate in early Christianity about who all Jesus saves from an eternity in hell. Who all goes to heaven?
One opinion said only those who believe in Jesus will be saved. This opinion won out as the correct doctrine. Only the few, not everyone, will be saved and go to heaven. Few because Christians have always been a minority in the world population.
Ancient Latin phrases Massa Damnata (the masses will be damned) and Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus (outside the church there is no salvation) were coined to express the orthodox position.
(By the way, if any religion says entry into heaven is based on a criterion of belief, on the need to assent to a requisite belief, then heaven will only be for the few in that religion because most people live unexposed, or under-exposed, to the requisite belief. Suppose we say an American carpenter's salvation depends on his knowing all about the Hindu God Ganesh?)
An opposing ancient opinion, an opinion that lost the day and was branded heretical, said Jesus saves everyone, even those unexposed to his story, which is most of humanity. Everyone goes to heaven.
Though this view was supposedly undone by the orthodox in antiquity, it actually persisted intermittently through 2000 years of Christianity, even to the point of creating a separate denomination of Christians called Universalists, meaning salvation extends to all people, universally.
Let's see if any Universalist arguments are persuasive.
Universalists would say, If salvation/heaven extends only to those who know about Jesus and believe in Jesus then ...
First, it would be contrary to scripture. Notice the word ALL in these passages:
Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men, especially believers (1 Timothy 4:10).
As in Adam all men die, so in Christ all men shall be made alive (1 Cor 15:22).
As Adam's sin led to the condemnation of all men, so the righteousness of Jesus leads to acquittal and life for all men' (Romans 5:18).
Second, God's plan of salvation will have only snagged a fraction of the human race, barely a squad, which would hardly be a successful scheme of salvation. Would we deem a rescue mission successful that saved one person out of a quarter million?
Third, the devil wins in the end if the majority of humans are damned to hell.
Fourth, it would be inaccurate to say Jesus died for the sins of the world. It would be more accurate to say Jesus died for the sins of those lucky enough to have gotten exposed to Christianity and believed it.
Fifth, there are many moral and highly decent people in all other world religions and in no religion, and many of these are more moral than Christian believers in Jesus. Are Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, and Gandhi really in hell? And what of the good Cro-Magnon men and women whose lives were already nasty, brutish and short? Did they awake post-mortem to discover an infinitely worse future?
Sixth, there have been numerous mentally ill people, and small children who died young, who could not possibly have understood what was at stake in the story of Jesus.
Seventh, there are people who have been exposed to Jesus' story, but the tellers of the story so mangled the story and behaved so badly that the hearers rejected the message along with the messengers.
Eighth, being un-exposed or under-exposed to requisite information should excuse from guilt. Most people never heard of Jesus, or if they did they had only the murkiest understanding of him. This it true of the present moment too. Even with our vast instruments of communication, most people on the planet know nothing or very little of Jesus. (Again: What if an American carpenter's salvation depended upon his knowing all about the Hindu God Ganesh?)
Ninth, it's inhumane and unjust to damn all people for the crimes of Adam and Eve. No systems of jurisprudence embrace inherited guilt, and therefore no one punishes or executes children for the offenses of parents, or great-great grand parents.
Tenth, since God has been called all merciful and since Jesus told his students to forgive the same offender 490 times (70 x 7 times), it would be consonant with these for God to forgive all of humanity.
And that's about all the Universalist position has on offer.
How many of these ten heretical, irreverent, desecrative, insolent, infidelic, insane Universalist points seem persuasive to you?
If you are Christian and say 'All of them seem persuasive,' first, you are not an orthodox Christian anymore, and second, you will some day enter your Christian heaven to find that it is peopled mostly by non-Christians who never went into a church, never received a sacrament, never read a Bible verse, and perhaps never even heard or uttered the name Jesus or knew of his ministrations. You will find that most of the saved heavenly hosts will first hear about Christianity shortly after being led by cherubic choirs through the dark and tubular portal of death upward to the radiant lights on the borderlines of paradise.
One can imagine a similar scenario for Muslims: You will some day enter your Islamic heaven to find that it is peopled mostly by non-Muslims who never went into a mosque, never made a pilgrimage, never read a Quranic verse, and perhaps never even heard or uttered the name Muhammad or knew of his ministrations. You will find that most of the saved heavenly hosts will first hear about Islam shortly after being led by cherubic choirs through the dark and tubular portal of death upward to the radiant lights on the borderlines of paradise.
One can imagine a similar scenario on the heavenly borders of ANY religion.
Massa Salus! chant cherubic choirs.