addendum: Go here and here for some basics about what started the conversation.
Faith, the Final Frontier
first, go read the above. then come back and read my reply. I emailed this to her - I know that she had a 100 word limit and if she decides to post this it will be edited. That isn't the issue. I just wanted to weigh in on this. Dawn had earlier talked about how uncomfortable she had been on a GK Chesterton trip where she was the only non-Catholic, and I wonder how much of that experience has contributed to her current post. Anyhow, Dawn is a good person, an excellent blogger, and if you haven't read her yet you are missing a great read.
Dawn, I can only share a bit about what caused me to become Roman Catholic. It had to do with the historicity of the church and my reading of the early church fathers. I have no doubt that you, or anyone who believes that Jesus is Lord and who is trying to live a Godly life, has the means of salvation. I think that your commenter David Walker has the clearest description of the conundrum. Outside the church there is no salvation, yet it is possible for one who does not see himself to be a member of that church to be saved. Is this a paradox?
I think that there are some terms in use here that have not been clearly defined. For one, what it the church? It is pretty clear to me from my studies that Jesus the Christ set up an organization to carry on His ministry of salvation. The church predates the New Testament. The church determined which of the various letters and gospels floating around where actually inspired by the Holy Spirit, and which were good reading but not inspired (The letters of Clement, the Didache) and which were outright heretical (The Gospel of Thomas).
1 Timothy 3:15 (NIV)
(if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.) is often quoted to assert that the pillar and foundation of faith is the church, not scripture.
2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)
(All Scripture is Godbreathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,)
shows that scripture is useful, but not complete.
So I think that we can assert that Scripture alone is not supported by Scripture - it isn't just "me and Jesus" (no matter how important that relationship is - and it is!) but Jesus wants us to be in a relationship with other believers, and that is the Church. Salvation begins with Baptism, but continues in relationship to other human beings.
Matthew 7:21 (NIV)
("Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.)See also Matt 25 31-46 about how 'works' enter into salvation.
So then one is left with the question - Is there a church (or churches) among the many contenders for the title, that is can show continuity from the days of the Apostles to the present time?
I spent the years between the ages of 13 and 16 studying this subject, because I did not particularly want to become Catholic. There were teachings of the Catholic church with which I had serious problems, and I recognized that if I 'swam the Tiber' it would mean that I could not pick and choose dogma and doctrine. But eventually I realized that for me, the only choices that made sense were either to be Orthodox Jewish or Catholic Christian - and since I had come to a profound belief that Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament scriptures, I had no choice. When I was reconciled with the Catholic church on my 18th birthday, my infant baptism (Anglican) was recognized as valid, but my Anglican Confirmation was not (no Apostolic succession).
Cardinal John Henry Newman said it more eloquently that I possibly could, about being deep in history is to cease to be Protestant. There is salvation outside the organized structure of the RCC - but once I recognized that this structure was truly the successor in an unbroken chain to what Christ intended for us, then I had to unite myself to her, or I put my personal salvation in danger. Once I learned and truly understood and believed that this was Christ's desire for me (indeed, for all) obedience delayed became obedience denied. Even at that, I was required to wait 2 full years after making the committment to be recieved into the fullness - another lesson in obedience.
I don't know if this even begins to answer your questions, but I felt compelled to give you the most honest answer and comments that I could.
Sincerely, in the love of Christ,