Last year, Am I Going to Heaven? was published, a book that makes one weep. It was written by a Catholic nun, Sister Mary Rose McGeady, director of Covenant House, America's largest crisis shelter for children, with six locations in major cities across the country. One weeps not only for the 31,000 broken lives Covenant House seeks to mend each year, but for the greatest tragedy of all: that these youths, though many are rescued from the streets, are not rescued from hell with the gospel of Jesus Christ!
The book takes its title from the first story Sister McGeady tells, of a seventeen-year-old girl who is about to die: "She tried to lift her head up from the hospital bed pillow...but she couldn't....'Sister, I need to know something,' she whispered. 'Please, tell me something.' 'Anything, Michelle,' I said. 'What do you want to know?' 'Sister...am I going to heaven? Even a street kid like me?'...I bent down and hugged her, and told her I knew God had a special place for her. I told her how much I loved her, and how much I believed in her....She cried in my arms, and whispered a 'thank you.' The next day, Michelle died in her sleep."
Yes, God loved Michelle—so much that He "gave his only begotten Son" (Jn:3:16) to pay on the cross the full penalty for her sins. But, like the others who seek help at Covenant House, Michelle was not told that good news. In McGeady's entire book of heart-rending stories, there is no hint of the gospel of Jesus Christ! Hundreds of millions live and die in the Roman Catholic Church without ever hearing the gospel. Instead, they are taught that their Church, with its sacraments and indulgences and saints, will eventually get them from purgatory to heaven through countless Masses and rosaries recited for them after they die.
One must admire McGeady and other Catholic "sisters," such as Mother Teresa's Sisters of Charity, who sacrifice themselves to help the homeless and dying. How kind it is to pick derelicts from the gutters of Calcutta and give them tender care. But what a tragedy that these pitiful creatures are then launched from a clean bed into a Christless eternity without being told the gospel which alone can save them! It is a gospel which Mother Teresa, as a lifelong Catholic, doesn't know. She says she loves and respects all religions and wants to help those she comforts to "become a better Hindu, a better Muslim, a better Catholic, a better whatever [they] are....What God is in your mind you must accept."1 The Pope honors her as a great evangelist. And evangelicals are joining with Catholics like her to evangelize the world!
In many false religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, there is an outright rejection of Christ's sacrifice for our sins. The more subtle enemies of the gospel preach the Cross, but in a false way. Precisely as the Bible warns (Mat:7:21-23; 24:4,11,24; 2 Thes:2:3, etc.), today's most effective enemies of Christ are those who claim to be Christians and call mankind not just to any old false religion but to a counterfeit Christianity.
Eastern Orthodoxy (in spite of its separation from Rome in A.D.1054 re the authority of the pope) involves basically the same false gospel as Roman Catholicism: salvation through church membership, sacraments and works. In recent years, a surprising number of evangelicals have joined the Orthodox Church. Several former staff members of Campus Crusade for Christ (Pete Gillquist, John Braun, Dick Ballew, Jack Sparks, et al.) have even become Orthodox priests. And why not? Crusade has long accepted Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy as true Christianity. As another staffer who became an Orthodox priest testifies, "During my two-and-a-half years on staff [at Crusade headquarters]...I fully participated in the nearby Greek Orthodox parish, Saint Prophet Elias....Campus Crusade encouraged my active participation...." 2
One of the latest evangelical leaders converting to Orthodoxy is Frank Schaeffer. In his recent book, Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religions, he calls the Reformation a terrible mistake and the evangelical view of salvation a false religion. This is as shocking as if his father, Francis Schaeffer, before his death, had turned against the gospel he once proclaimed! Franky earnestly declares that the "Protestant concept of salvation is not the same as that taught by the Orthodox [and Catholic] Church[es]." The solemn consequences of that fact have been denied by Colson, Bright, Packer and the other signers of "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" (ECT).
Having embraced the false Orthodox/Catholic gospel of church membership, ritual and works, Franky derides being "born again" as the Protestant's "meaningless...magical instantaneous 'silver bullet' solution to sin." He says we are not saved by "believing that Christ died on the cross for us [but] by struggling to become like Christ" (his emphasis). And this long struggle toward salvation, which "can never be achieved fully in this life," begins "when we receive forgiveness for our sins in Holy Baptism" (pp 205-208). Likewise, the new Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude [heaven]...."3
The controversy over ECT is only beginning and goes to the heart of the gospel. That Bright, Colson and Packer signed a subsequent statement at the urging of Ankerberg, MacArthur, et al., reaffirming their belief in the "Protestant understanding of salvation by faith alone," contradicts their acceptance in ECT of all active Catholics as Christians. Clearly, a serious compromise is in process on the vital issue of salvation and what it means to be a Christian!
The question facing each person is, "What must I do to be saved?" The only answer is, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts:16:30-31). Paul referred to the "gospel of your salvation" (Eph:1:13) "wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved..." (1 Cor:15:1-4). In the evangelical view, one is either "saved" or "lost." When the unsaved repent of their sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the One who died for their sins, they are "saved" and have the assurance of heaven. It is a once-for-all finished transaction which millions have experienced, testifying that they have, in a moment, as the Bible assures them, "passed from death unto life" (Jn:5:24) and "from darkness to light" (Acts:26:18). As a result, they "know" that they "have eternal life" (1 Jn:5:13). That salvation and assurance is denounced in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
Frank Schaeffer makes it abundantly clear in his book that the evangelical faith in which his famous parents raised him had to be renounced in order for him to embrace the Catholic/Orthodox faith. That honest admission proves the lie of ECT and of the very phrase "evangelically committed Catholics" found in the post-ECT five-point statement. It proves, too, the lie of such books as Evangelical Catholics by Keith Fournier with foreword by Charles Colson, and exposes the fraud of evangelicals joining with Catholics in "The Christian Mission" of evangelization.
Let us honestly confront the challenge of this hour. If the former Campus Crusade staffers-turned-Orthodox-priests and Schaeffer and Fournier, et al. are correct, then we evangelicals are badly deceived by a false gospel and are on our way to hell. Our only hope is to join either the Catholic or Orthodox Churches "outside of which there is no salvation." On the other hand, if the gospel evangelicals preach is biblical, then 1.4 billion Catholics and Orthodox are on their way to hell. One side or the other must convert; but both sides cannot join together to evangelize the world with opposing gospels! Nevertheless, that delusion grows.
Pope John Paul II's book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, has been a bestseller not only among Catholics but among evangelicals as well. In a recent poll, 250 evangelical leaders rated this promotion of Catholicism's false gospel as the fifth most popular book out of a list of 25! To see how shocking that rating was, consider the following typical quotes from this book:
...the ultimate purpose of his [man's] life–his salvation and divinization–found expression in the...doctrine of synergism. With God, man "creates" the world; with God, man "creates" his personal salvation....
Baptism and the Eucharist [are] sacraments which create in man the seed of eternal life. (Emphasis added)4
According to the Bible, it is the gospel alone that saves those who believe it. Nothing else will save. Therefore, Paul said, "Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel" (1 Cor:9:16). Tragically, evangelicals themselves can pervert the truth. Today's preaching of the gospel is often characterized by emotional appeals to "make a decision for Christ," without clearly explaining the gospel! Multitudes, attracted to Christ because of His winsome personality and admirable character or because "He changes lives" or heals bodies and prospers businesses, have not believed the gospel and thus, sadly, are not saved at all.
Contributing to such deceitful sentimentality is the growing frenzy of preparation for the year A.D.2000. One example is Jay Gary's book, The Star of 2000: Our Journey Toward Hope. Gary networks with and commends New Agers and occultists (Robert Mueller, World Goodwill; John Naisbeth, etc.), yet he has been involved in leadership and planning with Billy Graham's Lausanne movement and Campus Crusade for Christ. Gary's book, in which the gospel does not appear, presents Jesus as "the Star of 2000...the greatest religious genius that ever lived...the outstanding personality of all time...one of the greatest teachers humanity has ever had...the Man of the Millennium...history's most intriguing figure," etc. Such humanistic praise fails to identify Jesus as God who came to earth as a man to pay the penalty to rescue lost sinners from eternal judgment. Gary issues no call to repentance, but invites the world to celebrate "the most meaningful Christmas in 2,000 years...the greatest [birthday] celebration in the history of civilization."
Gary hopes that the big A.D.2000 celebration will include "the portrait of Jesus Christ inscribed on a [commemorative] coin...a 'Journey of the Magi' visitor's center in Bethlehem, complete with a planetarium...a reenact[ment]...of the journey of the Magi...with horses and camels...[an ecumenical gathering] of Christianity's 160 major traditions...in celebration of the Eucharist...." In fact, Gary suggests that one need not "embrace the theological Jesus" to find Him "worthy of a momentous anniversary tribute."
Were the entire world to engage in such a celebration, it would not be a triumph for Christ and His cross, but a tragic cover-up of the world's rejection of the salvation He offers. Yet the book is endorsed and highly praised by such evangelical luminaries as Bill Bright, Paul Cedar (president, The Evangelical Free Church of America), Paul Eshleman (The JESUS Project), Joe Aldrich (president, Multnomah Bible College), E. Brandt Gustavson (president, National Religious Broadcasters)and, of course, Father Tom Forrest (head of the Vatican's Evangelization 2000). How incredible!
For many other evangelicals, Christianity has become "signs and wonders," or "falling under the power," or laughing uncontrollably. Still other evangelicals offer a "Christianity" designed to appeal to the worldly minded and to be inoffensive to sinners: church services and "Christian" TV that out-glitz Hollywood; or the excitement of 50,000 men cheering Jesus in a packed football stadium. For others it's the quest for self-esteem and a "positive self-image," probing the unconscious for past abuses suffered that excuse present unbelief and carnality; or quietly carrying on a conversation with an imaginary "visualized Jesus."
If we are to face the challenge of this hour, we must return in repentance to the awesome God of the Bible who doesn't exist to bless our plans but demands conformity to His will. We must declare in word and by example that preparation for heaven is not in the Pharisee's "positive affirmation" but in the publican's cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner" (Lk 18:9-14). It is not in the vaunted prophecies, miracles and exorcisms of those to whom Christ will say, "I never knew you: depart from me" (Mat:7:21-23), but in the grateful assurance that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save [even the chiefest of] sinners" (1 Tim:1:15).
Heaven's joy is tasted most accurately by repentant sinners at the feet of Jesus. In contrast to Simon the Pharisee who gave Jesus neither water nor towel, a sinful woman washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Jesus used her example to show Simon that the love which will eternally radiate in heaven comes from the recognition of our sinful unworthiness, a recognition which magnifies His love in saving us (Lk 7:36-50). The more we realize our guilt and wretchedness, the greater will be our gratitude and love to Him who stooped so low to rescue us. Such is the message which the church needs to embrace once again and to proclaim to the world. Nothing else will meet the challenge of this hour. TBC