Monday, June 24, 2013

Would Catholics go to Heaven?


Some Protestant christians are quite vociferous about the Catholics heading to hell. Is this a legitimate thought? If so, why is it legitimate?

Before we venture into this examination, let us briefly remind ourselves of some pertinent theological terms and the church history.

“Salvation postulates the spiritual; the spiritual embodied in a soul; the soul sanctified through divine grace. Grace is the unmerited interior assistance which God confers upon man in order to render him capable of supernatural acts of the soul through which he may attain salvation. Salvation presupposes a condition of sin. As sin is the greatest evil, salvation is used mainly in the liberation of the human race or the individual from sin and its consequences.” 1

The reformers were a breakaway group from the Catholic church (Catholic = Universal). Martin LutherAA (1483-1546) was a leader of this religious reform. Luther never saw a Bible until he was 20 years old.2 He was an Augustinian friar, ordained in 1507, taught at the University of Wittenberg, and was a doctor of theology. His ‘The Ninety-Five Theses’ was a seminal academic rebellion against the authority and the religiosity of Catholicism. Luther believed in salvation by grace through faith, e Heso confronted the teaching of salvation by works (sale of indulgences, purgatory, pilgrimages, compulsory confessions et al.). He said that all good works of man aimed to attract God’s favor are sins.3 He was excommunicated in January 1521 by Pope Leo, was under an imperial ban, and deemed a heretic by Emperor Charles V.4

The Catholic church, from what I have read and heard (I have not had the opportunity to worship in one), clearly promotes salvation by works, which is in total contradiction to the Bible. Other contentious practices in the Catholic church are: worship of Mary & saints, transubstantiation, sacraments, distinction between priests and an ordinary worshiper etc.5 (Please read the references if you desire a better knowledge of these terms)

Under the umbrella of “works” are the contentious practices. These contentious practices are a result of their faulty interpretation of the Bible (e.g. purgatory & 1 Corinthians 3:15). Thus, the catholic interpretation of the Bible entails salvation by works, which in turn causes contentious practices.

To complicate matters, the Catholic Bible has extra books called the Deuterocanonicals or Apocryphals or the Intertestamentals. Some of their contentious practices are an outcome of these books (e.g. purgatory and 2 Maccabees 12:43–45). We should consider two aspects when we discuss Catholicism: Catholic interpretation of the Bible and the Catholic inclusion of the Apocryphal books in their canon. These are the root of the contentious Catholic practices.

Quite similar to any believer, a grass root Catholic cannot undo his canon, but he can learn how to interpret the Bible without errors (cf. the Bible cannot contradict itself). The grass root Catholic is also flooded with teaching from his priests, which he needs to cross verify with his Bible to determine the legitimacy of the teaching. One cannot blindly follow. The buck stops with the Catholic, as it does with any believer. We read and understand many things under the sun, but one needs to rely totally upon the Spirit of God to determine the right from wrong. The ‘right’ should be integrated and practiced, and the wrong discarded.

Every contentious practice of the Catholic Church moves the believer away from Christ. Any act that moves a person away from Christ is a sin.

The error of the Catholic Church isn’t unique to them, the Protestant churches also contend with the same problem. One should accept that many Protestant denominations have practices that are contentious as well. Salvation by works is preached and imposed by many Protestant denominations.  If Catholics are guilty of venerating their priests, the Protestants too are. If Catholics are guilty of worshiping idols, Protestants too are, it is just that the idols are different (church building, people, image of the cross etc.). When we point one finger at the Catholics, we should understand that three fingers are pointing at us.

Thus, Protestant churches, by virtue of their imperfections, cannot claim superiority over the Catholic church. So the dialogue with Catholics should be built on love and respect – as one imperfection ministering to another.

With regards to practices that are an outcome of “salvation by works,” it is one’s responsibility to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28: 19-20). We are to make disciples of the Lord Jesus and not any other. When we express our convictions, the person listening may or may not accept our convictions immediately. Patience ought to be practiced when we dialogue with our Catholic brothers and sisters. Our dialogues should be soaked in prayer, so to discern the Lord’s time and will.

Thomas Aquinas and Thomas à Kempis are some of my most favorite and respected authors. These are Catholic theologians and godly thinkers. God has spoken through them and continues to speak through their writings. I cannot surely imagine them being eternally separated from God (yes, this is not a sound logic!). But from their writings, I believe that their faith in Christ was intact. All that matters for eternal security with God is belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. I will only go as far as to say that those who believe in the Lord Jesus will be forgiven of all their sins, and will inherit heaven. This includes believers of Christ from Catholicism and Protestantism.

Sole faith in Christ is the only prerequisite to gain heaven. There is no other prerequisite. The final judgment is in the hands of the Lord Jesus, so if a Catholic believes in the Lord Jesus, he will indeed go to heaven.

But what about the Catholic who believes in Christ and consciously practices deeds contrary to the Bible? Will he go to heaven?

Let us be reminded of the inherent complexities in this question. First, the presence of extra books in the Catholic canon should be acknowledged. One should understand the veracity of the Protestant elimination or the Catholic inclusion of the Apocrypha from their respective canons. The knowledge of this research would empower the researcher to eliminate blindness from his thoughts and would equip him to treat the Apocryphal teaching accordingly.

Second, the understanding of the proper biblical interpretation is mandatory for both Protestants and Catholics, for even the Protestants are guilty of contentious practices contradictory to the Bible. One can always obtain information from knowledgeable people, but ultimately it is the responsibility of the reader / hearer to discern the right from the wrong. Discerning right from the wrong is a heavyweight endeavor, for one should spend hours wrestling with the biblical text, and praying and receiving the convictions from the Holy Spirit, to understand and assimilate the truth. A common shortcut practiced is to eliminate personal labor and depend on another, who is presumably more knowledgeable. If the presumably-knowledgeable is incorrect in his thoughts, then the reader / hearer would also be sucked into his error. One should be a Berean in his biblical learning (Acts 17: 11).

Now we need to contend if conscious practices contrary to Bible would eliminate one from heaven. We could define any practice contrary to the Bible that violates God and HIS commands as a sin. So would sin eliminate a believer of Christ from heaven? The answer to this, as far as my learning and understanding goes, is an emphatic NO. If we are saved by grace through faith, then we are only saved by grace through faith. We are not saved by positive or negative works of any form or sense.

It should always be our endeavor to move away from sin (contentious practices) that separates us from God. We can and will overcome sin (not to the extent of sinless perfection) by the grace and the power of our Lord.

It is always wiser to leave all judgments related to eternity to the Lord (cf. Matthew 7: 21-23). Explaining our position with careful research, prayer, love, grace and patience is well within our reach. Transformation of hearts is only in the Lord’s reach.

Let us continue to make disciples of all nations, but let us do so in love, gentleness and respect. The good Lord will continue to bless and keep us all. Amen.

References and Notes:

1 Joseph Javorski, A Catholic's Conception of Salvation, Journal of Bible and Religion, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Winter, 1938), pp. 35-38

2 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09438b.htm

3 Brecht, 2:7–9; Marius, 161–62; Marty, 77–79. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther#cite_note-68)

4 http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/luther_martin.shtml

5 http://www.gotquestions.org/Catholic-Biblical.html

AA For those unfamiliar with church history, Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr. are different people.

Useful reads:

1. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/luther

2. http://www.gotquestions.org/catholicism.html

7 comments:

Sam Carr said...

Good one Raja! We foolishly underestimate the power of God to draw 'all men' to Jesus.

Mideast said...

We sometimes forget that Abraham, the father of faith, was a pagan when he was called by God.
I am willing to bet that his theology was a bit screwed up for quite a while after he decided to follow God.
In Nigeria we now have Catholics that call themselves "born again Catholics". They are quite charismatic in outlook and in practice and are not that different from protestants in a lot of ways.
God seems to be breaking down preconceived concepts of what a true christian is, and for some of us, it is fast becoming a messy world. I say embrace the mess and let God be God.

Andrew Rodrigues said...

• Reference your blog, thanks, Pastor Raj for sharing this topic. However, I am not disappointed but perplexed because when I was first admonished by a close relative then (1992) about the “contentious practices” it was as if a nail had hit me hard on my head! I couldn’t believe myself because I was supposed to be hailing from a pious Catholic family (brother being a priest then!) If believers of Christ from Catholicism and Protestantism will be forgiven of all their sins, and will inherit heaven, now for me it looks as if my rebelling from the Catholic church was in vain!
“If the Catholic church clearly promotes salvation by works, which is in total contradiction to the Bible, and allows contentious practices of: worship of Mary & saints and faulty interpretation of the Bible which leads to transubstantiation, sacraments, distinction between priests and an ordinary worshiper etc.” then how come they will inherit heaven? Doesn’t God clearly say He is a jealous God in Exodus 20: 5 and 14? The Catholics are aware of this fact, but their church is not encouraging their ‘flock’ to read the Bible and most of them are ignorant!
And the very word “apocrypha” means “doubtful writings” or “untrue” and so how the Apocryphal teachings could be relied upon?
When you say that “…depend on another, who is presumably more knowledgeable” then how come anyone “…would also be sucked into his error”? Come on, Pastor; don’t discourage me with such things!
Regarding, “If we are saved by grace through faith, then we are only saved by grace through faith” …our works will only manifest good deeds, if we believe that we are saved by grace through faith! Our actions will not represent “works”!
Correct me if I am wrong. The same close relative of mine was instrumental in my transformation to the new-found belief (7 years now), but that relative and family are still deeply rooted in the Catholic church, as they are more of “men-pleasers” rather than God’s! This “pleasing” thing was openly shared with us and we have witnessed it too!

Raj Richard said...

Bro. Andrew, Thanks for asking honest questions.

Let me first assure you that you disassociated with the Catholic church because you disagreed with the contentious practices. I support you wholeheartedly.

You disagreed with the contentious practices, since you found the practices inconsistent with the Bible. I support you wholeheartedly.

Your ardent desire is to know the Bible, and you are doing very good in pursuing that desire. Praise God!

Let me now draw the distinction.

1. The Catholic church isnt another faith - a non Christ faith, such as Buddhism or Islam or Hinduism. We share the same Bible, but they have more books than ours. So Catholicism is another denomination within Christendom.

2. Some or many of their practices are wrong (sin) and I have stated that in the blog as well. So you moved out of the Catholic church to abandon those practices. I support you wholeheartedly. If a church does not edify you, then moving out is better than staying in and rotting, especially if the church is unwilling to change.

My point in this is, all churches contain errors in one form or another. So at best we are moving from one imperfection to another.

Another point I have made is about the presence of godly thinkers in Catholicism. Their wisdom was from God and HIS Word.

"...now for me it looks as if my rebelling from the Catholic church was in vain!" ALLOW ME TO USE CAPS FOR THE SAKE OF DISTINCTION. WE INHERIT HEAVEN BY FAITH IN CHRIST THRU GRACE. WE DO NOT INHERIT HEAVEN BY MOVING FROM ONE CHURCH TO ANOTHER OR BY DISCARDING SINS. THIS IS VITAL TO UNDERSTAND.

"...And the very word “apocrypha” means “doubtful writings” or “untrue” and so how the Apocryphal teachings could be relied upon?" I DO NOT WANT TO ENTER INTO THE SUBJECT OF THE APOCRYPHA SINCE ITS VAST. MY POINT IS THAT EVEN IF IT WERE TO BE PRESENT, A PROPER INTERPRETATION WOULD KEEP IT IN ITS RIGHTFUL PLACE.

"...When you say that “…depend on another, who is presumably more knowledgeable” then how come anyone “…would also be sucked into his error”? Come on, Pastor; don’t discourage me with such things!" WHEN THE BIBLE WAS GIVEN TO US, IT WAS GIVEN TO US TO DRAW US CLOSER TO GOD THRU A FIRST HAND ENGAGEMENT WITH GOD - JUST HIM & HIS WORD MINISTERING TO US DIRECTLY. THIS IS NOT A DISCOURAGEMENT, BUT AN ENCOURAGEMENT FOR YOU TO DIG DEEP INTO GOD'S WORD. KNOWLEDGE IS EITHER RIGHT OR WRONG, SO U NEED TO KNOW WHICH IS RIGHT OR NOT. THE REFERENCE IS THE BIBLE. SO YOU NEED TO KNOW THE BIBLE TO DISCERN RIGHT AND WRONG. EVALUATE MY WORDS AGAINST THE BIBLE AS WELL. LET ME KNOW IF MY WRITINGS ARE CONTRADICTING GOD'S WORD. U NEED TO EVALUATE ANY AND EVERY TEACHING LIKE THE BEREANS DID. WE ARE NOT CALLED TO BE BLIND SHEEP.

"...our works will only manifest good deeds," IF OUR WORKS ARE TO MANIFEST ONLY GOOD DEEDS, THEN YOU ARE POSITING SINLESSNESS. SINLESS EXISTENCE IS IMPOSSIBLE ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE. WE FAIL DIFFERENTLY AND CREATIVELY!

FINALLY, THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN CHRIST AS THEIR ONLY GOD AND SAVIOR WILL GO TO HEAVEN. NOTHING MORE IS NEEDED AND NO SIN IN THE BELIEVER'S LIFE WILL PREVENT HIM FROM INHERITING HEAVEN (SIN OF BLASPHEMY WILL NOT HAPPEN IN A BELIEVER, UNLESS HE HAS FALLEN AWAY FROM FAITH).

Thanks for sharing, please let me know your response.




Andrew Rodrigues said...

Thanks Pastor for the clarity...I am with you. God bless...Andrew

Raj Richard said...

Bro. Andrew, Both in my blog and my response to your comment, I rather primitively exited the thought on renowned Catholic thinkers, such as Aquinas (an Aristotelian).

One should read his Summa Theologica or Theologiae, and try to understand his conclusions on the Sacraments. What am trying to convey is this, these teachings of the Catholic church did not come about as a random occurrence, instead it came about as an entailment of such thoughts. So to dismantle them is to require similar thoughts, which abounds in plenty.

Therefore, the one who dialogues with Catholics would be better served if he/she is aware of these thoughts.

Raj Richard said...

@ Mideast: I personally feel that the "protestant reformation" was ordained by God, as an antidote to the Catholic church. THen "Pentecostalism" was also ordained by God as an antidote to the mainstream church, since the mainstream church lost much of its spiritual vigor.

God is indeed active. Praise HIM from whom all blessings flow!

Thanks for your valuable thoughts. God Bless :)