Who May Enter the Kingdom of Heaven? The sin of Fundamentalist Exclusiveness

“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither enter in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in” (Matt 23:13 KJV).

Christians historically have a nasty tendency of restricting the Gospel and keeping other Christians with whom they disagree out of heaven.  They limit the terms and conditions of entry, and even condemn to hell many of those with whom they disagree.  Even the apostles were initially guilty of this sin.  For example, in response to Jesus correcting them about who would be the greatest among them, “And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him’” (Mk 9:38).  But Jesus graciously corrected John’s error: “Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me.  For he that is not against us is on our part.  For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name shall not lose his reward” (Mk 9:39-41; Lk 9:49-50). 

Through the early years of the Church there were differences and spats between the two great branches of the Church – the Catholics in the West, centred at Rome, and the Orthodox in the East, centred at Constantinople.  In 1054 CE the Pope sent emissaries to Constantinople to excommunicate the Patriarch; he, in response, excommunicated the Pope.  These two branches ever since have been separate and developed individually. 

And the way a large number of Protestant evangelical “bible-believing” fundamentalists behave is tragic.  With their doctrine of separation and their narrow list of doctrines, they exclude vast swathes of Christian believers not only from attending their churches but from heaven itself.  Although they might not admit it, they believe they’re the only ones who will be received into heaven by our Lord.  For many evangelicals, salvation is an exclusive club and they have front row seats. 

But this has always been the way with Protestantism.  The Reformers themselves, particularly Martin Luther, set the precedent and it has been the norm for Protestants, especially evangelicals (which includes Reformed and fundamentalists), ever since.  And how could it not be?  The catch-cry of the Reformation was sola scripture (scripture alone), which, although it is a true principle, carries the potential for seeds of pride and superiority, often expressed by abusing the principle of private interpretation of the bible (2 Pet 1:20-21); and the fruit is schism and revolution. 

A classic example is when the Anabaptists clashed with Luther and other reformers over the issue of infant baptism.  The Anabaptists declared them to be “against God, an insult to Christ, and a trampling underfoot of his own true, eternal word” (Johnson D. J. 2022).  Johnson continues: “If you know anything about Martin Luther, you know he wasn’t going to take that charge lightly.  Luther could hurl insults with the best of them, and he was clear that he considered those who disagreed with him on doctrine were stooges of the devil and bound for hell.  For example, although he agreed with Zwingli on almost every issue except the Eucharist, after the Marburg Colloquy, Luther considered Zwingli a non-Christian who would be damned.  He warned his readers to ‘beware of Zwingli and avoid his books as the hellish poison of Satan, for the man is completely perverted and has completely lost Christ’When Zwingli was killed in a battle, Luther believed that it was a punishment from God for being an infidel

Luther treated the Anabaptists Grebel and Manz the same way.  In his Letter to the Christians of Antwerp, he explains that Satan’s new strategy is to inhabit the ‘ungodly’ and get them to interpret Scripture falsely….Rather than admit that sola scriptura, by its nature, leads to disagreements in interpretation, they invoked the Holy Spirit as the one who would guide them in all truth and make sure their interpretations were correct. 

This did not help at all.  First, it did nothing to quell doctrinal relativism.  There were still just as many different interpretations of Scripture, but now each interpreter believed he had the Holy Spirit ensuring that his interpretation was correct….….most were like Zwingli, who wrote, ‘I know for certain that God teaches me, because I have experienced the Holy Spirit’” (Johnson D. J. 2022, Kindle edition, emphases mine).

But if salvation if so exclusive, why did the apostle John, in the revelation given him by Jesus, say: “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.  And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb” (Rev 7:9-10).

Where does this great multitude come from if only belief in the Rapture, the Great Tribulation, and the one thousand year reign of Christ on earth can save; or if Sabbath-only keepers can be saved; or King James-only believers; or those who have received the baptism of the Spirit and speak in tongues; or those who have been baptised by immersion; or, among women, only those who wear dresses; or only those who belong to a “separated” church; or any one of a host of single issue or narrow list-of-essential-beliefs which their adherents all but insist are necessary for salvation?  This verse describes people from every place on earth – which means not only Protestantism in its tens of thousands of forms, but some Catholics and Orthodox in all their forms; and they’ll all be praising Jesus.

Contrary to what these separatists and exclusivists declare, John tells us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16).  And, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to come unto the knowledge of the truth… (1 Tim 2:3-4).  As bible literalists they should accept the words of the bible as they are.  But, as with many bible literalists, they take literally only those passages which they can use to support and promote their cause, and spiritualise those which oppose their pet doctrines.  Insisting that “the world” and “all mankind” and other all-encompassing terms don’t mean what they so patently do mean, and trying to narrow the meaning of the passage to their relatively small group, is sin. 

Contradicting evangelicals and fundamentalists who would restrict the number of people who can enter into eternal life only to those who agree with their various pet doctrines, Isaiah prophesied the huge number of people for whom Jesus died.  He writes of the Father and the Son (Israel whom we know to be Jesus because of the terminology used in the passage) who virtually bargained to increase the number of people who would be redeemed.  “Then I said, I have laboured in vain: I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my work with my God….It is a light thing that shouldest set my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth (Isa 49:4-6).

But how many Premillennialists are there in the world that they could possibly be called “a great multitude”?  Even if we allow that many will be saved during the fictional seven year period known by them as the Great Tribulation, the number of saved could only ever be a tiny minority of the world’s population at that time; and the persecution period of the “Tribulation” is a set time of 3 ½ years, so how will the number of saved during that brief period be significant; especially since every Christian in the world will have already supposedly been “raptured” away? 

How many sabbath-keepers have there ever been in the history of the Church?  Even the Seventh Day Adventists acknowledge that there are few because they call themselves “The Remnant”.  And will every individual in heaven be carrying a King James Bible in their hands as they sing to the praise of Jesus?

No, this is all wrong.  Jesus never restricted the number of persons who can enter the kingdom of heaven, except to say that all must repent (Mk 1:15) and be born anew (Jn 3:3, 5).  He didn’t state a set of beliefs either.  He didn’t tell us that we must believe in the Five Points of Calvinism or in the Tribulation, Rapture, and earthly Millennium, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, or that we must use a particular version of the bible, or anything else that modern day Christians have imposed onto the Gospel.  When asked the important question by the crowds who were following him, “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent (Jn 6:28-29).  And John tells us why he wrote his Gospel: “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (Jn 20:30-31). 

The Universal Creed

The only creed with which most of today’s Christians could agree (although there will always be some extremists on the lunatic fringe who won’t even accept this) is the Apostles’ Creed.  It contains the essence of Christian belief and the gospel.  Every other creed, even the Nicene, has had various points disputed; but statements of faith the Apostles’ Creed have been universally accepted.  The earliest trace of it is found in the works of Ambrose (3rd century) but not inserted into the liturgy until the 11th century.  “In early ages it was not admitted with the Liturgy, though catechumens were required to subscribe it before they were admitted to baptism.  The repetition of it in public worship was first instituted in the Greek church at Antioch, and introduced into the Romish church in the eleventh century, whence it passed into the service of the Church of England at the Reformation” (Farrar, J, 1878, p. 51).

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Every one of the doctrines or principles used by fundamentalist extremists and legalists to exclude Christians from the Lord’s Supper, the church, and/or from heaven, are missing from this Creed.  So, with the early Church requiring candidates for baptism to memorise and recite statements of faith such as the Apostles’ Creed before they could be baptized, surely, churches today should stop restricting who can enter heaven by imposing strict limitations and narrow theology on them, and consequently the Gospel.  They are effectually calling God a liar who said he sent his Son into the world because he loves humanity (the world) and is not willing that any of them should perish.  The early Church and the Apostles’ Creed are testimony to the fact that the gates of heaven swing open much wider than these narrow-minded, bigoted, Evangelical/fundamentalist Christians will allow. 

Even Catholics, whom fundamentalists love to hate, believe in the Trinity, the deity of Christ, that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died to save sinners, and all the other cardinal doctrines of Christianity and the gospel as shown in the Apostles’ Creed; in fact, the Apostles’ Creed was formulated by the Catholic Church!  Admittedly, there are some things which Catholics and Orthodox believe that evangelicals and fundamentalists find difficult, even offensive, but that doesn’t justify or excuse abominable behaviour towards somebody who doesn’t view scripture in the same way that we do.  It is God who determines who determines who goes where after death, and who is safe until then: “For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.  So then, it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom 9:15-16).

But what we need to do is to obey God and trust that he has everything under control.  We can’t change other people, we can only change ourselves, and we are responsible only for ourselves. 

Jesus himself said to the apostles, “If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you” (Lk 17:6).  And when the apostles were arguing over who should be the greatest among them, Jesus, “…called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily, I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:2-3).  These verses show the smallness and simplicity of faith required to achieve such great things; so by what right or warrant do evangelicals and fundamentalists exclude from heaven or church, or prevent from taking the Lord’s Supper for sectarian reasons, any Christian who trusts in Jesus and believes he is the Son of God? 

 “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.  Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thess 3:14-15).


Farrar, John, 1878, “An Ecclesiastical Dictionary, Explanatory of the History, Antiquities, Heresies, “Sects, and Religious Denominations of the Christian Church”, entry “Calvinists” p. 50-51, pub. Culley, Wesleyan Conference Office, London.

Johnson D J, “Twisted unto Destruction”, 2022, Catholic Answers Press (Kindle edition).