Catholics and Protestants agree about certain doctrines of the Christian faith, like the Trinity, and disagree about others, like the Eucharist. Some of what each tradition believes about Jesus Christ, sin, and salvation are the same, but they have differences, too. Given the lack of uniformity, many people wonder if Protestants believe that Catholics are going to heaven when they die.
Protestant theology teaches that a person’s entry to heaven isn’t determined by their attendance or membership in a Catholic church. Protestants believe people are saved by grace through faith and in Jesus Christ alone. If people who belong to a Catholic believe this, they will go to heaven when they die.
What do Protestants believe about going to heaven? Does church membership enable a person to go to heaven? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and more.
What do Protestants believe about going to heaven?
Protestants believe that people go to heaven when they die because they responded to the gospel.
The gospel, which means “good news,” is that God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to seek and save the lost because he loves them (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8).
- John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (ESV)
- Romans 5:8, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (ESV)
Through repentance of sin and placing trust in Christ alone, people can be saved and go to heaven when they die (Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38).
- Mark 1:15, “and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'” (ESV)
- Acts 2:38, “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (ESV)
Belief about going to heaven that Protestants reject
Protestant beliefs about salvation and heaven are based on the Bible’s teaching. Because of this, there are common beliefs about how a person can go to heaven that they reject. Here are three examples.
Protestants reject the idea that people go to heaven because they are members of the Catholic church. Protestants don’t believe membership in any church, Catholic or Protestant, saves a person. What separates people from God according to the Bible, and prevents their salvation and entry into heaven, is sin. People should live out their new life in Christ in a church, but church alone doesn’t save anyone.
Protestants reject the idea that people go to heaven because of religious works. Protestants reject the idea that people go to heaven because they were baptized or partake in the Lord’s Supper. Likewise, acts of service and giving to the poor don’t save a person or enable their entry into heaven. Protestants emphasize John, work is to believe.
Protestants reject the idea that people go to heaven because they keep the 10 Commandments. Protestants believe that a person can keep all the commandments and still go to he’ll when they die. Going to heaven isn’t about perfect obedience, but repenting of disobedience and putting one’s trust in the perfect obedience of Christ.
The fact is, no one has a perfect record before God. All have sinned (Rom. 3:23) but God’s free gift to sinners is salvation in Christ (Rom. 6:23).
- Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (ESV)
- Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (ESV)
Does church membership enable a person to go to heaven?
One of the biggest differences between Protestantism and Catholicism is the role of the Church in a person’s life, including their salvation. In general, the Catholic Church and Protestant theology disagree about the role of the Church in creating doctrine.
|Catholic Church||Protestant Theology|
|Is the Bible authoritative?||yes||yes|
|Is the Church authoritative?||yes||no|
Protestant theology teaches that the Bible is the sole authority for establishing doctrine and governing Christian living. The Catholic Church teaches this, too, but also asserts that the teaching of the Church is of equal importance.
In relation to going to heaven, Protestant theology argues that its teaching is based on the Bible alone, while the Catholic Church’s views are based on the Bible plus additional teaching from popes and councils. Verses from the Bible that Protestant builds its doctrine of Scripture upon include,
- 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (ESV)
- 2 Peter 1:20-21, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation. For no such prophecy was ever brought forth by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (ESV)
- 2 John 1:9, “Anyone who runs ahead without remaining in the teaching of Christ does not have God. Whoever remains in His teaching has both the Father and the Son.” (ESV)
- Isaiah 40:8, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (ESV)
Penal-Substitutionary atonement of Christ
The term “penal-substitution” is commonly used in Protestant theology to describe the death of Christ on the cross for sin. Christ earned salvation for sinners because he paid the penalty for their sin and took their place on the cross as a substitute.
The view of “penal-substitutionary” atonement argues that the Bible teaches that sin must be punished because God is holy. The penalty for sin is death (Rom. 6:23, see above), but only God can pay the price because he is the only one without sin. God became a man in the person of Christ (John 1:1, 14), lived a sinless life, and died for sinners (2 Cor. 5:21).
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)
Bible verses that teach penal-substitutionary atonement include:
- Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (ESV)
- Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.'” (ESV)
- 1 John 2:2, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (ESV)
- 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” (ESV)
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