Ask a Franciscan

Only Christians in Heaven?

I was recently speaking with another Christian about whether non-Christians can go to heaven. She said that the only way someone can go to heaven is through Jesus Christ. I believe an all-loving God would not deny heaven to those who do not know Jesus Christ. Jews and Muslims love God the Father. Also, some people have never been exposed to Christianity. What can I say to her?

Whoever is in heaven is indeed there because of the saving passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That does not mean, however, that everyone in heaven had an explicit faith in Jesus before arriving there or was even baptized.

The saying “Outside the Church there is no salvation” is credited to St. Cyprian (third century). More than 150 years later, St. Augustine wrote that the Church has some people whom God does not have, and God has some people whom the Church does not have. Father Leonard Feeney, SJ, was excommunicated in 1953 for his overly strict interpretation of St. Cyprian’s saying. He was later reconciled with the Roman Catholic Church, which continues to reject his position on this issue.

At Vatican II, a document on Catholicism’s relation to Judaism eventually became the “Decree on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” (approved October 28, 1965). After addressing how Hinduism and Buddhism address deep human needs, the bishops wrote: “So, too, other religions which are found throughout the world, attempt in different ways to overcome the restlessness of people’s hearts by outlining a program of life covering doctrine, moral precepts, and sacred rites.

“The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. It has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from its own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women. Yet it proclaims and is duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 1:6). In him, in whom God reconciled all things to himself (2 Cor 5:18-19), people find the fullness of their religious life” (2).

After acknowledging Muslims who worship one God, venerate Jesus as a prophet, honor Mary, and are devoted to prayer, almsgiving, and fasting (3), the decree describes Catholicism’s debt to and unique relationship with Jewish people, specifically rejecting the claim that they are cursed for the part some Jews played with the Romans in Jesus’ death (4).

According to Vatican II’s “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” Christians have been configured to the death of Christ but go forward in hope to the resurrection. The text immediately adds: “All this holds true not only for Christians but also for all people of good will in whose hearts grace is active invisibly. For since Christ died for everyone, and since all are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery” (22).

God’s judgment must remain God’s judgment! No one can replace God’s judgment with human judgment.

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12 thoughts on “Only Christians in Heaven?”

    1. Heaven is for everyone.
      God only judges the intention of the human heart, not by denominations or religion. Jesus did not start a denomination, he came to tell us the truth about who we are and to repent of wrongdoing. “ for God so loved the WORLD,” not the Christian or the Jew.
      Everyone is included, no one is left out. Some Christians do not understand the meaning of “ I am the way the truth and the life” no man comes to the father but by me.
      Jesus IS the Love of the Father. “
      To follow Jesus is to live a life of love towards your neighbour, whether you know who Jesus is or not. (Most of the disciples did not know only Peter had the revelation) Jesus did not condemn the crowds for not knowing, neither did he condemn the rest of the disciples. “Beloved (check dictionary) let us love one another. Check what follows: For Love is of God and the person who loves IS BORN of God, and KNOWS God. But the person who has no love, knows not God, for God IS LOVE” 1John 4:7
      Nothing to do with religion.
      Following Jesus is to Love one another, which is also the new commandment. The Ten Commandments is fulfilled by the new commandment. And by the THIS the world will know you are my disciples. Not by your wealth nor by the miracles you perform. Nor by the long and many prayers you pray. Nor by the many times you go to church.
      BUT loving others for the sake of love itself, not to make a show of how good one is.

  1. Hi! I have a question Do only Christans go to heaven? can muslims go too? I have no idea i have been researching and they said: The belief that only some righteous people go to heaven is a christan belief. so i dont know who too listen too! Tell me the Anwer when you reply.

    1. Questions like these are almost always framed from the Christian perspective. I am a Buddhist. My concern is what Buddhism suggests to me about this life and the hereafter, i could care less about the Christian idea in that context. We non Christians need to question how such questions are framed and point out there are non Christian beliefs that are equally valid. You do you. I would also point out something i find interesting about Christian writings, including the sayings of Jesus: yes, there are the known quotes about acceptance of Jesus as being the only way to their heaven, but i would also point out that the parable of the Good Samaritan features a Samaritan who appears to have no connection to Jesus. Also much of the Sermon on the Mount does not suggest that Jesus is talking about Christians specifically: Blessed are the poor in spirit, Blessed are those who grieve, Blessed are the merciful, etc. Imho no. one faith can own goodness, morality, mercy and love. Be true to your beliefs.

  2. Pingback: Do all Christian denominations go to Heaven? - Christian Faith Guide

  3. If we read Romans chapters 1 & 2 and compare the Great White Throne Judgment described in Revelation, it appears there are those among “the dead” (those who are not born again) who have lived righteously based on the law of God written in their hearts. They respected their neighbors, had compassion on the less fortunate, gave to the poor, fed the hungry, sheltered the homeless, etc. These people never heard of Christ, or His redemption through the Cross and His Resurrection, and they appear to be judged on the basis of their works. Apparently, their names are written in the Book of Life and they are not cast into hell. But do they go to Heaven? I don’t think they do. Heaven is reserved for those who are born again by the Spirit of God and are adopted into the family of God. I believe these people inherit the Earth and are subject to the authorities in Heaven (or the New Jerusalem). Without being born again, no one can enter the presence of God. Those people who had heard of Christ and rejected Him and His salvation, but lived moral, ethical lives will suffer the punishment of hell, because they rejected God’s only begotten Son. You can’t reject God’s Son and the Father just give you a slap on the wrist. Jesus makes it plain in John 3: 16-18 that rejecting the Son results in condemnation. I believe God to be fair AND just (they are not the same thing), and I can’t see Him sending people to hell if they never heard of Christ. That’s why Romans teaches each person has God’s law written on their hearts (conscience). If they reject that law, it is like rejecting Christ who fulfilled the law. God is fair AND just.

    1. To be born of God is very clear in the Bible. Born again is not “ the sinner’s prayer”
      He who loves is born of God and knows God. Plain and simple.
      There is your Born-again experience 😊

      Salvation has nothing to do with mankind.
      Suppose somebody is drowning and one person dives in to save that person. The drowning person has nothing to do with the rescue except but to accept being rescued.
      It has everything to do with who God is.
      God did not become a saviour because of the fall of man, He is a saviour from eternity.
      God Is Love from Eternity, before he created anything.
      God did not become gracious because of man.

  4. I was raised Christian and I respect my parents for that, but only that. They never went to church and were not good people by any respect. After losing three children my life spiraled out of control. I blamed God and completely denied him for about half of my life. I have been blessed for the last twenty years and lived a decent life, but I fear not going to heaven. I feel doomed because of my denial of all things God and need to know if I can change that by believing again? So, what does God think I should do?

  5. Yesterday, I read another article about this subject. I’m trying to re-find it. Basically, when Jesus returns (I believe) with His angels then the “saved” in Christ will be resurrected to rule with Him for 1,000 years. After the 1,000 years, those who were “unsaved” will be resurrected and taught about the Christ and given an opportunity to accept or deny Him. I can accept such a thing because didn’t Jesus “descend into Hell” for three days to preach the Word after His death on the Cross? It makes sense to me that a God whose love is so much greater than anything we have would give his Children/Creation every opportunity to join Him for all eternity.

  6. I’m 15 and have been in the walk with Christ for a year now. When I think of god I think of a man who loves everyone and does not want them to perish. I know many kind loving caring people who don’t know Jesus, and I just can’t see my lord telling them to depart from them simply because they did not know him. I think if you are pure of heart he will have mercy on you in the end. He will say. Come see what you missed out on. And walk with them thru the gates of heaven

  7. My concern is my daughter was baptized, on Easter Sunday, and then converted to Judaism when she turned 23.

    She was raised in a catholic household, but when she converted I had so many bad feelings. Did I fail God our father?

    My daughter is very devoted to her faith and a very good person. Will I meet her in heaven?

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