How Can Protestants Be Saved?

When I, a “cradle Catholic,” am accosted by a “born again” Christian, and asked whether I am “saved,” my thoughts usually go to St. Paul’s frequent admonitions to work out your salvation in “fear and trembling.” Even St. Paul, after having been raised to the “seventh heaven,” felt it necessary to chastise his body, lest he become a castaway. (1Cor. 9:27)

The conviction that one is “saved” may be the result of a powerful religious experience. (Catholics have those too!) But people sometimes interpret it like Freud, as something psychological, or just some friendly divine encouragement to keep trying, or perhaps as a sign of God’s mercy in spite of one’s sins.

Personally, I am convinced that, if two-thirds of the angels, who never had to suffer, and had clear insight into what would happen if they rebelled, were saved (Rev. 12:4) – certainly at least that percentage or more of us humans, working our way with limited vision through suffering and often messy lives and bad choices, will be saved. Of course, I try to stand clear of the “universal salvation” heresy of Origen and others, condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 543.

That said, it seems to me that Protestants are really missing out on the multiform assistance that the Church could provide, if they were open to it.

First of all, Protestantism is essentially a religion based on a book – i.e., over 30,000 often-incompatible interpretations of the Bible – a Bible compiled by the councils of Rome, Hippo, and Carthage in the fourth century, and confirmed by Pope Siricius. Unfortunately, in many Protestant versions, parts of the Bible are missing – e.g. the epistle of James, who emphasized (to Luther’s dismay) that faith without works was empty, and the book of Maccabees, which supports the doctrine of Purgatory. (It would certainly be helpful to Protestants if, somewhere in the Bible, it were declared that the Christian religion should be based on sola scriptura.)

Protestant denominations that have ritual commemorations of the Lord’s Supper (not just coffee and doughnuts, or grape juice and wafers), but, following the path of the Protestant reformers, deny the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence, end up at most with what Catholics who do not receive communion at Mass sometimes call a “spiritual communion.” But they are missing what Catholics, if they are properly prepared, experience in receiving the substantial body and blood of the Redeemer and allowing him to operate as He wishes in the secret recesses of their souls.

        The Last Supper by Juan de Juanes, c. 1562

Regarding forgiveness of sins, it is strange, and a bit foolhardy, to forego the possibility of the power given by Christ to the Apostles to forgive sins (Jn. 20:23), and to merely trust in being personally forgiven by God. Of course, even Catholics believe that with an act of “perfect contrition” – i.e., repentance purely out of love for God – our sins will be forgiven, even in lieu of sacramental confession. But certainty about these pure intentions is hard to come by, especially if we are repeat sinners, and not too objective in judging ourselves.

Following Luther’s dismissal of Purgatory, most Protestants do not pray for the dead. Peter Hitchens, the brother of noted atheist Christopher Hitchens, recalls in The Rage against God, that after World War II and many thousand British casualties, most Protestant churches, because of doctrinal opposition to the existence of purgatory, were troubled because they couldn’t offer prayers for the dead for so many bereaved families. They sometimes resorted to spiritualism to experience some semblance of contact with the departed. (Possibly Protestants in good standing just go straight to heaven when they die, but guilt-ridden Catholics, thinking that nothing sullied can appear before the Almighty, find that hard to believe.)

The quotation, “it is easier to live as a Protestant but better to die as a Catholic,” is ascribed variously to Martin Luther or one of Luther’s wavering followers. One reason it is better to die as a Catholic, for someone not convinced about going straight to heaven, is the ability to take advantage of the special sacraments for the sick and dying, as recommended in the epistle of James (5:14-15), for healing and/or the forgiveness of sins.

It seems that most Protestants (and Protestantized Catholics) now see little problem with the “hot button” issue of gay marriage. This is completely consistent with Protestantism, which, since the time of Luther, has rejected marriage as one of the seven sacraments, and relegated it to a contract, performed by civil authorities and/or Protestant ministers. For Catholics, on the other hand, marriage is a sacrament reenacting the marriage of Christ with his Church (Eph. 5:32), and a constant source of actual grace, in all marital activities, for spouses who avoid serious sin. Contracts are not too difficult to reformulate; but gay couples will find it difficult and even sacrilegious to invoke this sacramental symbolism for their unions.

The great Lutheran philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel, criticizes Roman Catholics for their tendency to find holiness in concrete, sensuous, material things – holy water, blessed candles, relics, icons, statues and pictures of saints, sacred shrines, etc. – as contrasted with the Lutheran emphasis on pure spiritual emphasis on the Word.

One can only admire those who can maintain a spiritual/intellectual union with God, without the sort of sensuous helps that are traditional among Catholics – who are surprised on entering most Protestant churches to see crosses without Christ (ecclesiastical abstract art?). But if there are Protestants who are sensuous, and fall short of the purely spiritual, they might find access to graces from accouterments like crucifixes also.

And those who are not completely sure of being “saved” might avail themselves of some assistance from the Blessed Virgin, who promised to St. Dominic that those who say the rosary frequently, meditating on the life, passion, and resurrection of the Savior, will receive the graces necessary for salvation at the time of their death.

Howard Kainz

Howard Kainz

Howard Kainz, Emeritus Professor at Marquette University, is the author of twenty-five books on German philosophy, ethics, political philosophy, and religion, and over a hundred articles in scholarly journals, print magazines, online magazines, and op-eds. He was a recipient of an NEH fellowship for 1977-8, and Fulbright fellowships in Germany for 1980-1 and 1987-8. His website is at Marquette University.

  • Randall

    Actually, the Epistle of James is included in nearly all Protestant versions of the Bible. As I understand it, Luther denied its legitimacy for a time.

    Otherwise, as one born and raised Protestant (by the grace of God I entered into our blessed Catholic Church 8 years ago), I can concur with what Mr. Kainz writes.

    There’s a lot I could write on this matter, but I’ll limit myself to this. There is great wisdom in the Church’s liturgical cycle of scripture readings at mass. If a Catholic were to attend daily mass, or at least read the scripture passages for each day’s mass, in 3 years he would have heard or read practically the entire New Testament (some passages multiple times) and the essential parts of the Old Testament.

    Growing up in and attending various Protestant denominations, there were large portions of the Bible I never heard at church. Every minister had his favorite parts of the Bible and that’s typically what we’d hear. There was never a systematic program for covering the entire Bible. We were free to read the whole Bible at home, of course, but so much of it seemed irrelevant to me. I had no one to guide me into unlocking the full meaning of Scripture. No Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

    How my eyes were opened when I started to explore the Catholic Church and her many wonderful theologians, commentators and apologists through the ages! Eight years later and my mind and heart are still being thrilled and expanded as I learn to understand more of God’s Word.

  • the town rang its cobbles for luck

    Low pop childish apologetics. Half of Mass going Catholics erroneously support gay marriage according to a recent poll and the Pope seems to support some type of legal “union” but we keep saying we’re perfectly different….the pure ones.. Vatican II in a deliberate counter to wording by Pope Eugenius at Florence noted that some Protestants have shed their blood for Christ. Catholicism is the true Faith but often in documents only not in community. The Amish have community when their house burns down. We have State Farm. Can we stop childish bragging for one week? Won’t happen. The delusion of pure sells.

  • Manfred

    The reason I have been commenting on this site (and others) for the last five years is to ask: How can CATHOLICS be saved? The bishops admit they have not taught catechetics nor moral theology for the last fifty years. Two generations have been essentially “lost”.
    BTW, can Mormons be saved? They do not (until recently, at least) divorce, contracept, abort, smoke, consume alcohol or even caffeine. They appear healthy and happy. The evidence would appear show that few will be saved for the simple reason that most people from my empirical experience just assune, a. they will be saved or, b they don’t care as they do not believe that Heaven or Hell exist. The Blessed Mother to the three seers at Fatima, July 13, 1917:”You have seen Hell where poor souls go who have no one to pray for them.”

  • Carlos Caso-Rosendi

    @Randall: ” I had no one to guide me into unlocking the full meaning of Scripture. No Jesus on the road to Emmaus. ”

    Your observation is very important. The story of what happens on the Road to Emmaus is very important because it is the first Eucharist after the Crucifixion. Observe the story and notice that it is almost a model of the Holy Mass. When the disciples enter the inn and recognize Jesus “in the breaking of the bread” then Jesus disappears, all that is left to see if the bread He “gave thanks for.”

    The German Reformation begins at the dawn of the Modern Age and soon the Eucharist is denied and abandoned by many. To use the words of the prophet Daniel the “constant sacrifice” is removed and what follows is a crescendo of rebellion that will lead to the revelation of “the man of lawlessness.” The Reformation opens fire on paternity by rebelling against the Pope. Following that example others will later rebel against king, then nobility, then bourgeoisie, then in 1968 the youth against all authority. About that time “the smoke of Satan” enters the Church and begins the last assault. We are fighting with our backs to the altar now. Great confusion has taken over all the followers of Christ. The situation is so grave that God Himself will have to intervene somehow to save us from self destruction.

  • DS

    How can Protestants be saved? Through the grace of our shared Baptism and faith in Jesus. That’s how and that’s Catholic teaching.

  • schm0e

    Oy. As a Catholic > Atheist > Born Again > Catholic, I was thinking of really preparing a response to this… like how, whenever I meet a cradle Catholic, I’m grateful for twenty-odd years of I-Love-Jesus, foot-stomping, tongue-talking, bible-thumping, spiritual-warfare experience. Do we need to talk about the example of Catholics in the United States during my lifetime? I don’t think we do.

    I have wondered why I chose to be an atheist once I knew I had a choice (I think I was about 9 years old), and why our family fractured and my parents stopped taking us to Mass and sending us to CCD. But then I remember that I grew up in a Boston suburb, and many of my peers (and some of my older siblings, it turns out) had been exposed to the rampant epidemic of child-molestation by the “priests” of the Archidiocese of Boston.

    But because I was lucky enough to be a strong-willed atheist from a broken family, I was not. That’s a good thing — I daresay a grace from the Almighty — I’m sure, because I know myself, and if something like that ever did happen to me, I would probably have remained an atheist. I would probably sound just like so many of the people who seem to *hate* Catholicism. I might, absent God’s grace, think I was doing people a favor by proclaiming atheism. Many of them, I trust, have a good reason to.

    But, alas, I can’t even consider this an issue right now, because the media is again reporting that the Pope is a “redistributionist”, so I’ve got to prepare my mind to rationalize/unspin/resign myself to this new development.

  • grump

    Professor, were it that simple to break the choices down to two — Catholic and Protestant. Did Luther go off track or the “Church” 500 years ago? Those Renaissance Popes, steeped in corruption, greed and worldliness, were as much responsible for the Great Schism as the German monk who nailed those 95 theses to the wall.

    Now, five centuries later, the umbrella of “Christianity” is so huge that it would take more broadband than TCT allows to list the number of “Christian” denominations that claim to be the “one true faith.” Just a few: the Anglicans, Anabaptists, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Calvinists, Methodists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses (with an asterisk for a lower-case god in Christ), Eastern Orthodox, Adventists, etc, etc., ad infinitum.

    Fortunately, unlike only two major political parties in America, those who want to believe in a God or gods have countless choices. Competition in religion, as in the free market, usually brings out the best until something better comes along.

  • Tim

    Unless they renounce their errors and convert to the one, true Church, they can not be saved. Protestants do NOT have a “shared faith” in Jesus Christ. They reject many of his teachings, the honor due to His Mother, most of His sacraments and His Vicar on earth, just to name a few.

    Thrice defined Catholic DOGMA:
    Outside the Church there is NO salvation.
    Period, end of discussion.

  • thomas comprendre

    Many good points in this article. But Protestants are rather oversimplified and lumped together. Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and Anglo-Catholics, though they fall short of Catholic doctrine, are very close to the Roman Cathoic Church in lectionary, liturgy, and reverence for the Eucharist.

  • DS

    Tim, actually, you are wrong. Period. Read the document Unitatis Redintegratio from Vatican II that clearly and fully explains Church teaching on the matter. The document is not long, but it fully articulates a complex and nuanced teaching.

    I just reread it before writing this and one line stood out in the context of today’s column and comments: “We must get to know the outlook of our separated brethren.”

  • Thomas.C. Coleman, Jr.

    Does any of you have reaction to the proposition that all validly baptized person are in at least one sense Catholics no matter how odious they might find that notion? After all, there is only One True Church, One Mystical Body of Christ. Those who are baptized by members of schizmaatic sects cannot be said to have been baptized in boides that have no ecclesiastical substance. We do not re-baptize Protetants or Eastern Orthodox when they enter into full communion with the Church. And we do not so for those self-excommunicated Catholics who repent anc confess, preciesly because during their absecnes they were Cathoicc in mortal sin, not on-Catholics. We speak of Protestantized Catholics. We also have Unitarianized Catholics, While Satan himself might be the ultiamte source of this state of affairs, the proximate agency is certainly Catholic leadership that refuses to teach what Holy Mother Church requires them to teach, and many teach precielssy the opposite. Those of you have have been protected from this evil are fortuante, but we should all know that the sitaution is quite dire. It is no stretch to say that the most anti-Cacholic, pro-abortion Presdient ever is now in the White House largely because of the Catholic vote. Our Lady of Faitma, Pray for us !

  • Zuzana

    It is my humble assertion that through the sacrament of Baptism, Christians (Protestant or Catholic)are forgiven Original Sin and by the gift of the Holy Spirit, made children of God. However, it is by the proper reception of the Most Blessed Sacrament that Catholics are made part of the Body of Christ and have LIFE in us.

  • BWC

    I almost never comment on TCT (or other) articles, but this
    time I had to. I was raised Protestant (Free Methodist). I
    don’t ever worry whether my parents are “saved”. My father often quoted “work out your salvation”, and was a daily example of someone who believed with all his being that “whatsoever you do unto the least of these my brethren, you do to me.” Yes, my parents were baptized in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Equally important, they lived their faith every day. Now a convert to the Catholic Church, I do wish my family had known the fullness of the faith and sacraments. I also believe in God’s mercy.

  • Lionel Andrades

    According to Vatican Council II (Ad Gentes 7) Protestants need to convert into the Catholic Church for salvation ( to avoid Hell).

    Ad Gentes 7 says all need faith and baptism for salvation. The majority of people at the times of death do not have Catholic Faith and the baptism of water. They are oriented to Hell.
    In Heaven there are only Catholics, who are there, without mortal sin on their soul and who have ‘faith and baptism’.

    If the Bishop’s Conference did not use this irrationality the Catholic Church in England and Wales would have to affirm extra ecclesiam nulla salus in accord with the Catechism and Vatican Council II

    • CatsPaw55

      Sure we do.

  • Howard Kainz

    @Lionel Andrades: You are referring to Ad Gentes 7: “Those men cannot be saved, who though aware that God, through Jesus Christ founded the Church as something necessary, still do not wish to enter into it, or to persevere in it.” You are presuming that Protestants are aware that the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation, and are willingly remaining outside the Church. But this presumption is not warranted.

  • Paul

    “with God all things are possible”, God can even save Roman Catholics.

  • Tito of Tacloban

    Long before Vatican II, a wise Spanish Vincentian priest told us in class that Catholics will be saved because they are Catholics. Protestants will be saved in spite of being Protestants.

  • Jacob

    Just for the sake of Catholic clarity, I would like to quote the very brief statement the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes: “What is the meaning of the affirmation, ‘Outside the Church there is no salvation’? This means that all salvation comes from Christ, the head, through the Church which is his body. Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her. At the same time, thanks to Christ and to his Church, those who through no fault of the own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and moved by grace try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation” (No 171). This can be interpreted, as also in the case of Trent, by what Pope Benedict speaks of as the hermeneutic of continuity and reform as opposed to the hermeneutic of rupture: in other words, it is really a deeper understanding of classic Catholic doctrine. Thus, in the light of scripture, it is an integration of two teachings of St. Paul: 1 Cor 15:1-2 “Brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel… because the gospel will save you only if you keep believing exactly what I preached to you–believing anything else will not lead to anything.” On the other hand, he also says: “For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when according to my gospel, God will judge people’s hidden works through Christ Jesus.” (Rm 2:14-16). All of this leads of course to the famous statement of James: “I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works” (Jas 2:18) since Jesus himself had said, “without me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5). In short, it is possible for people to have a right relationship to Jesus, their Savior, even though they either quite totally or partially ignorant of his true teaching as found in the Catholic Church.

  • kelso

    A real Protesting Protestant cannot be saved unless he renounces his heresy and becomes a Catholic and goes to Confession if he is not on his deathbed. It is that simple. Otherwise the traditional Abjuration of heresy was erroneous in its most salient point pertaining to no salvation outside the Church. BTW, it was Luther’s “theologian” Melancthon who gave the quote you supplied about being better to die a Catholic. It was the advice he gave to his own dying mother. Minor point (I have made it myself in hasty writing) St. Paul actually said he was taken to “the third heaven.”

  • Winston Blake

    How can Protestants be saved?

    Stay away from Catholics and join the Orthodox Church.

    • ST PETER

      The so called “Orthodox” sect is a band of heretics and schismatics. If you want to find perdition then run along and join these bearded heretics.

      • CatsPaw55

        Let he who judges?

    • CatsPaw55

      Why can there not be religious tolerance? If one has faith do you think God cares what man made religion you practice. God is universal and loving. It is God’s job to judge not man or have you forgotten this teaching?

  • Elijah Josef

    Roman Catholicism is apostate, the Pope has denied Christ, in Evangelii Gaudium He says Jews are still in covenant with God, saying they do not need Christ for salvation. They have denied Jesus sacrifice on the Cross in Blood, and His Word. “I am the Way, The Truth, and the Life, no one can come to the Father but by Me” John 14;6

  • Elijah Josef

    Pope Francis is an apostate heretic. He believes Jews are still in covenant with God and do not need Christ for salvation, he has denounced trying to convert Jews. This is outright heresy, Christ died and shed his blood for all humankind. Read Evangelii Gaudium, Francis has denied the Lord, you Catholics are too theologically dumbed down to even realize it. Jesus said, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one can come to the Father but by Me

    • CatsPaw55

      He’s a good man practising his faith. As long as he tries it’s ok with me and I’m not Catholic. What the heck are you? Do you hear yourself?

  • Ben

    That men would cling to tradition–Protestant and Catholic alike riddled with all of the corruption of and worst sins of man–as a means of salvation, is directly contrary to the teachings of Christ. Jesus railed against man’s tendency toward religion. He taught relationship, not religion; faith and heart vs. ritual; grace and mercy versus man-made tradition and law. Men lustful for control and power added to his life and teachings. Those who disagree, Protestant & Catholic, should focus more on Christ’s life, promised salvation, Grace, and His teachings versus the corrupt opinions of sinful men, priests, pope, pastors, “saved”, or not. #royalpriesthood #priestlykingdom

  • Tara

    God has placed this discussion on my heart..He has brought beautifully faithful Catholics unto my path as well as convicted Protestants. My eyes see only Christians. My dismayed heart sees only man-imposed distinctions between the two. God put a sweet Irish man (Northern Ireland) next to me on a plane…I queried, “What were you taught as a child in your church?” He quickly replied, “Catholics are not saved, they worship Mary.” Then while trying to find a worship center in my community, I run into, “If Catholics truly believe all they are taught through the Church in Rome, then they are not saved.” Why not ask Jesus? Can He not use Protestants as well as Catholics to His will? Has he not done so for thousands of years? Gentiles/Jews/any who seek Him..I believe that it is through the Holy Spirit that our own sinful nature is transformed and made more to be like Him, how can Christian religions continue to make distinctions regarding ‘true’ salvation? Is that not for God? Is our arrogance or urge to be regarded as the ‘most’ Christian to trump the requirement to humble ourselves before OUR Father and let His will be done in us? One cries heresy, one cries deceiver…I cry, unite in the Body of Christ…focus on the common ground that without the life/death/resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ we are eternally separated from our creator. All the interpretations outside of that central belief should not separate us as believers. I judge by their fruits…I have been blessed to know Catholics/Protestants as all filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit…that I can not deny.

  • CatsPaw55

    Do you really think the Supreme being cares how we worship? Dogma is nothing more than interpretation by a flawed man. Is it not enough to live a good life. Why does there have to be a right side?

  • Kevin

    Hi all, Protestant here, I wanted to thank the author for these views on Protestantism and salvation, it was very interesting to read as well as the comments. I respect the Catholics, obviously I disagree in many points, but please don’t feel that anything I say is disrespectful, as it is not intended to be so.

  • Kevin

    Continuing my post….

    To respond to the point about the “power given by Christ to the Apostles” to forgive sins, please note that in John 20:23, Jesus is speaking to “disciples” not to all the Apostles. You see that Thomas wasn’t there and perhaps others, including Mary Magdalene, were there. It seems to me that this is a power given to all disciples of Christ rather than to a certain priesthood.

    I see the statement of “merely trust in being personally forgiven by God” as being rather extraordinary. God does forgive. But regardless, if a buffer is needed we always have Christ to intercede for us. 1st John 2:1-2 says that Christ will intercede, which to me poses the next question; Why ask any saint to intercede when Jesus will do it?

    As for it being easier to be a Protestant, I’m not so sure about that. I would agree that it is easier to be a “bad” Protestant rather than a “bad” Catholic, but to be an earnest Protestant requires a great deal of effort. We are on our own and no other human may come between us and the divine. This requires prayer and study, though many trust that their minister can guide them, ultimately it is each person’s own responsibility. No one can stand before God in your place.

    Thanks for letting me post, I hope this is taken as an honest attempt to exchange ideas and hopefully to clear up confusion about Protestant beliefs, even if you don’t share them.