Skip to content

Who controls the gates of heaven?

By James Coffin     (Originally published in the Orlando Sentinel.)
   I need a change of job title. That’s the pope’s idea, not mine. At least
that’s what I deduced from an article in last week’s Sentinel.
   You see, I call myself a church pastor. But according to Pope Benedict XVI,
I shouldn’t  because I’m not even a church member. Not a true church, anyway.
He says there’s only one of those  the Roman Catholic Church.

   Well, he might grant a little latitude. I mean, Orthodox communions are
kind of quasi-church knock-offs  church-lite, so to speak. But all those
Protestant groups? They’re just that: groups. And non-Christians? Let’s not
even go there.

   “It’s no big deal,” you say in a patronizing tone. “Let the pope make all
the pronouncements he wants. We’re still going to do as we please.” But it’s
not quite that simple.

   You see, Pope Benedict also maintains that the only door to salvation is
through the one true church. In short, if you’re not Catholic, you’re

   Needless to say, Protestants aren’t comfortable with such a viewpoint. And
quite a few Catholics also find it troublesome. It just doesn’t mesh with the
openness we’ve come to appreciate in our postmodern society. What arrogance,
we say, for any spiritual group to claim to have the management contract for
the gate to heaven.

   And, we wonder, just how do the Catholics think they’re going to retain
adherents  let alone gain new ones  with such archaic thinking.

   But not so fast.

   Suppose momentarily that the pope is right. Suppose the Roman Catholic
Church is indeed the only way to salvation. Shouldn’t we be grateful that he’s
so outspoken? Wouldn’t we want every Catholic to shout this fact from the
housetops? I mean, we’re talking eternity in paradise versus hellfire. Would
we really want someone to soft-pedal such crucial information just because it
wasn’t politically correct?

   As a Protestant, I find myself at odds with Catholics over quite a few
issues. But I have to admire any organization that isn’t always holding up a
finger to see which way the wind of political correctness happens to be
blowing. Catholic dogmatism isn’t all bad. But that doesn’t mean I buy into
their theology.

   Purporting to possess the only gate into heaven is no small claim. With the
human longing for eternal life and the fear of eternal punishment so intense,
such theology has immeasurable potential for abuse, whether the claim is made
by Catholics or any other faith system.

   A great principle of Protestantism is the priesthood of all believers.
Salvation doesn’t come through one’s church affiliation but through one’s
personal relationship with God. Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me I will never
drive away.”And lest his listeners assume a monopoly on that promise, he later
reminded them: “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.”

James N. Coffin is the senior pastor of the Markham Woods Church of
Seventh-day Adventists in Longwood.

Subscribe to our newsletter
Spectrum Newsletter: The latest Adventist news at your fingertips.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.