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How to Answer Protestants Forum: Going to Heaven

by Catherine Frakas 26 Jul 2002

Going to Heaven QUESTION from Ron on October 27, 2002 I am currently a Candidate in the RCIA program. I am learning more and more about the Catholic faith every week but still have many questions.
One of my siblings belongs to a Bible Study church. Before marrying my Catholic wife my sibling let me know what they thought of Catholics (they aren't too fond of them to say the least).
One of the things they said to me was, Ask a Catholic what it takes to get to heaven... they will give you a list of things that must be done. He (OK, it is my brother) said that his church basically says that having faith (i.e being 'saved') alone is all you need.
I understand that Catholics believe you need faith and works, where Protestants believe faith alone is enough.
Can you please shed some more light on this?
Also, why does it seem so many people seem to have such a problem with Catholics?
I have your website bookmarked and will be back!
God Bless, Ron
Oh and do you know any good prayers to say before dinner? I have the Bless us O Lord prayer down, but was wondering if there are any other good Catholic prayers.
ANSWER by Mr. Troy Martz on November 20, 2002 Dear Ron:
Thank you for your question. The whole question on How do I get to Heaven? is one of the most common I receive. What astonishes me is the seeming lack of Scriptural knowledge by so-called Bible Churches (I actually hate that term -- it is meant to imply that any church that doesn't teach exactly what they teach isn't Biblical. It is was coined to be derogatory to Catholics specifically!)
If -- as you sibling (I won't say your brother) claims -- we are saved by faith alone, why didn't anyone tell St. James. Here he is, the Bishop of Jerusalem and probably a cousin of Jesus Himself, and no one bothered to tell him that faith alone can save you. He writes very clearly that:
But wilt though know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
Ye see then how that by works a man is justified [Note: Justification is what determines whether or not we get into heaven!], and not by faith only.
Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead. (James 2:20-26)

[Just in case anyone thinks I am trying to twist the Scriptures to make them seem Catholic, that is from the King James' Version I received when I was a child in a Pentecostal church.) Now some people will say that James was confused (of course such arguments bring into question the entire Inspiration of Scripture), surely this is not what Jesus taught. Check again! In Matthew 25, Jesus gives three strong examples of His consistant teaching that mere assent to the truth (faith) is not enough.
The first is the parable of the 10 virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). All ten had faith that the Bridegroom would return and waited for Him. The foolish ones thought that would be sufficient, while the wise ones were prepared to shine their light until He returned. The oil needed to light their lamps is more than a desire to please the Bridegroom, even the foolish ones had desire or faith, it signifies the value and effort the wise put into being prepared. {Note: I am not saying that faith is not essential, without faith none of the virgins would have been waiting at all. Faith is absolutely essential, but faith alone is not sufficient.)
The second is the tale of the Servants and the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Each is given a great gift (a talent was about a year's pay) by the Master to use until His return, signifying the grace God gives to us through faith. When the Master returns, the faithful servants have gained by their works and are rewarded by their Master. The unfaithfull servant has refused to use the gift to enrich his Master (not using the gifts and grace we have been given to further the Kingdom of God) and is sent to outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth -- Jesus' most common description of Hell!
Jesus is never content to mildly hint at His message on such an important issue as our Salvation. The third way of telling it is so clear that I can't believe some of the verbal somersaults that Protestants go through to explain it away. Jesus is describing the Final Judgement (Matthew 25:31-46). Without going into all of the details -- be sure to get out your Bible and read them -- it is important to point out a few key items:
1.) Both groups (the sheep and the goats) express faith by acknowledging the Son of Man as Lord. 2.) Neither group really expected that Judgement would be like this -- Lord, when did we see you ... 3.) Since #2 is true, the sheep were not performing these works hoping to earn salvation. (The Catholic Church has NEVER taught that salvation could be earned or bought -- those individuals who taught such things we reprimanded or condemned as heretics if they failed to change.) 4.) Though #3 is true, the works performed (or not performed) was the deciding point on Eternal Life -- see verse 46.
Ask your brother -- ah, I mean sibling -- to carefully consider these passages and consider whether or not he understands what Scripture says about getting to Heaven.
Remember, the most difficult part of defending our faith is to do it in gentleness and love (1 Peter 3:15).
Pax Christi, Troy
PS -- There are many books of prayers for any occasion. Just don't allow yourself to fall into the trap of denegrading common prayers, these allow groups (like a family at dinner) to pray together with one voice. These liturgies, whether in the in the Lord's House at Mass or our house at dinner, are what gives meaning to our unity. I am convinced that it is not the family dinner that truly brings a family together, it is the family joining together to thank God for His gifts in prayer that unites families.
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