QUESTION: Will people from other Christian denominations be in heaven and if so, does it really matter to which denomination we belong?
ANSWER: In the absolution pronounced following the confession of sins, pastors often quote Jesus’ last words before His ascension: “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).
The great truth of the Reformation is recorded by St. Paul in Ephesians 2:8: By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is a gift of God.
Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He earned heaven for all sinners. This happened when He was born and lived the perfect life on behalf of those who fail to live according to God’s commands. It happened on His cross when He paid the debt we all earned by our sin. It happened in the empty tomb by which He proclaimed that justification to the world. It will be counted to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Romans 4:24-25).
Our Lutheran Church teaches that all those who repent of their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus as Lord and Savior shall be in heaven. We confess to believe in the Holy Christian (or catholic) and Apostolic Church. We do not teach that only Lutherans will be saved. People from other Christian denominations who believe in the Savior will be in heaven.
Denominations are not all the same. It matters what denomination we join since they do not all teach the same things about Jesus and what He has done to save us. Some hardly teach Jesus at all.
Five hundred years ago, Dr. Luther battled his own beloved church. Indulgence salesmen hocked their goods in nearby parishes. The story is told how Luther confronted one of his own parishioners because of drunkenness. The bold fellow waved an indulgence as his claim to forgiveness. We don’t need to imagine the danger of attending a church that directs poor souls to something other than Jesus for forgiveness and grace.
Today, even denominations that claim to follow Dr. Luther allow false teaching to permeate their confession. False teachings and practices are allowed in addition to the Gospel of Jesus.
Jesus, in the Bible, warned His followers to beware of false prophets and false teaching. Jesus told us to continue in His truth. The Bible commands us to unite together in the truth as proclaimed in Holy Scripture only with those that properly confess and teach the Scriptures. It is God’s will that we avoid those who proclaim false doctrine. We are to oppose denominations that allow false teaching. This is God’s will. (See Matthew 7:15, John 8:31-32, Romans 16:17, II Timothy 1:13-14, I John 4: 1, I John 5: 10-12.)
When we unite with a church or denomination, we unite with its confession. We expect that those who belong to the Roman Catholic Church believe its teachings, even the false doctrines. Those who are Methodist, Baptist, etc., believe and confess the teaching of those denominations, including the false doctrines.
There are many reasons it is important to join only with those who teach the Bible in all its truth and purity, especially the good news that Jesus lived, died, and rose again for our justification. This is God’s will.
Reverend Charles Keeler
Resurrection Lutheran Church
Winter Haven, FL