trusting Christ and leaving the Catholic Church in our mid-twenties, the
Lord began preparing Jean and me to serve Him. During this time of
training, we often had the pleasure of accompanying Mr. O. Jean Gibson, a
gifted Bible teacher and evangelist, in visiting the homes of Catholics.
The most memorable occasion was the night we called on John and Jane
DeLisi. Disenchanted with the Roman Catholic Church, the DeLisis had begun
looking elsewhere for answers. One Sunday morning they visited the church
where Mr. Gibson was an elder and frequent preacher.
The DeLisis liked what they found. They noted that when
Mr. Gibson spoke that day, his teaching came directly out of the Bible.
They also liked the lack of ritual: the standing up, sitting down,
kneeling, and repetitive responses of which they had grown so tired during
their almost 30 years as Catholics. Wanting to learn more about this new
church, the DeLisiís accepted an offer of a visit.
When we arrived at the DeLisiís home one evening a few
days later, John and Jane introduced us to a second Catholic couple, Roger
and Beverly. They also were searching for answers. And so the seven of us
crowded into the DeLisiís apartment living room for what turned out to
be an evening that none of us will forget.
Sensing that the DeLisiís and their friends were
somewhat apprehensive, Mr. Gibson set about putting them at ease. Taking a
seat in an overstuffed chair, he slid off his loafers. Then in the
down-home drawl of his native Texas, he engaged in friendly conversation,
inquiring about the two couplesí backgrounds and spiritual interests.
Then it was time to get down to business. As casual as
someone asking for the time, Mr. Gibson posed one of lifeís most
important questions to the two Catholic couples. "If you were to die
tonight," he asked, "what do you think would happen to
The room went still. None of the four were prepared for
such a forthright and portentous question. As Catholics it wasnít the
sort of thing they talked about. Oneís final destiny was part of the
great unknown, best left alone.
Finally, Jane DeLisi broke the silence. "Nobody
knows. How could you know?"
"Well," Mr. Gibson replied, "would you
like to know if youíre going to heaven?"
Again it was Jane who answered. "You canít know.
Nobody knows, not even the pope."
"Let me show you something from the Bible,"
Mr. Gibson offered. "It says that you can know that you are
going to heaven." He turned to 1 John 5:13 in his Bible and asked
Jane, who by then had established herself as the groupís spokesperson,
to read it aloud.
Taking the Bible in her hands, Jane began, "These
things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in
order that you may have eternal life." When she finished, she looked
up as if to say, So what?
Mr. Gibson looked equally puzzled. Taking the Bible from
her, he took a quick glance at the verse, then returning it to Jane, said,
"Read it again."
"These things I have written to you," Jane
read, "who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you
may have eternal life." She continued staring at the verse, trying to
figure out what Mr. Gibson thought was so significant about it.
"Try it once more," Mr. Gibson asked.
Again Jane read 1 John 5:13, this time somewhat slower.
"These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the
Son of God"óshe paused long enough to see if Mr. Gibson had any
objections, and then continuedó"in order that you may have eternal
"Youíre leaving out part of the verse."
"I am?" Jane was baffled. An experienced
teacher with eight years experience in the Catholic parochial school
system, she taught reading! Now her visitor was telling her that, despite
three attempts, she couldnít get a simple sentence straight. Not easily
deterred, Jane gave it another try.
"These things I have written to you who believe in
the name of the Son of God, in order that you may have eternal life."
Jane, knowing that she had read the verse the same way once more, decided
not to wait to be corrected. "I donít see it," she complained.
"Whatís the problem? What am I doing wrong?"
"Youíre leaving out the word know. Isnít
the word know in the verse?"
Jane took another look, and with a smile confessed,
"Yes, it is. I canít see how I could have missed it, but there it
"O.K., well, read it; the whole verse."
"These things I have written to you who believe in
the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you
have eternal life. That is different. I see your point. I didnít think
that anyone could know that they were going to heaven."
"Who does the verse say may know?" Mr. Gibson
"You who believe in the name of the Son of
God," Jane read.
"Thatís right. And do you know what it means to
Ďbelieve in the name of the Son of God?í"
"Iím not sure."
"Well, let me show you."
For the next 90 minutes, Mr. Gibson explained the gospel
to the four Catholics. When he finished, John, Jane, Roger, and Beverly
were ready to trust the Savior. We all got down on our knees, and, one by
one, they each spoke to God, telling Him of their decision to repent and
trust Jesus to save them.
Why Jane Canít Read
Undoubtedly, Jane was nervous the evening she misread 1
John 5:13 four times. It is also true that the wording of the verse is
somewhat awkward. But I think the main reason that she had so much
difficulty reading it had to do with what the verse says. The idea
that anyone could know that he or she was going to heaven was so foreign
to her thinking that Jane simply skipped over that part of the verse. She
read it the way she expected it to read, making it say what she believed
to be true.
Like Jane, most Catholics are unsure about what will
happen to them in the next life. While filming Catholicism: Crisis of
Faith, a documentary examining the teachings of Roman Catholicism, we
set up our camera outside Saint Patrick Cathedral in New York City. There
we interviewed Catholics leaving Mass. We asked them how they hoped to get
to heaven and whether they thought that they were going to make it.
"I sure hope so," Jack, a Catholic from North
Catherine, Jackís wife, agreed, "I hope so too.
But there will be someone else judging that."
"Everybody hopes," a woman from France told
us. "Every Catholic hopes."
"You donít know whatís going to happen when you
get there," Norman, a resident of New York City, explained. "You
might find a surprise waiting for you."
Joe from Baltimore was also visiting the cathedral that
day. When we asked him if he expected to go to heaven, he answered,
"I hope to. Yes, I expect to. And I hope to. My wife is, I hope, up
there. She died about two years ago."
When we asked Joe whether he knew he was going to
heaven, he made an important distinction. "No," he answered.
"I donít know. But I hope to. I donít think you know what is
going on in the future. We only hope that we wind up in heaven. Thatís
what we strive for."
Hoping, but not knowing,
is the consensus among Catholics. The late Cardinal John OíConnor,
outside whose cathedral we conducted these interviews, said as much
Church teaching is that I donít know, at any given
moment, what my eternal future will be. I can hope, pray, do my very
bestóbut I still donít know. Pope John Paul II doesnít know
absolutely that he will go to heaven, nor does Mother Teresa of
Calcutta. . . .(New York Times, February 1, 1990, B4)
I once heard a Catholic woman compare salvation to a
bank account. You open the account when you are baptized. Receiving the
sacraments and performing good works is like adding money to your account.
Committing a venial sin takes money out. A mortal sin bankrupts your
account. In order to restore it to a positive balance, you must receive
the sacrament of confession. Whether you go to heaven or hell is
determined by the status of your account at the moment of death. If you
have money in the bank, you go to heaven. If not, you donít. And since
nobody knows what his final balance will be, no one can know where he is
going until he gets there.
Rash presumption is what Rome
calls believing with certainty that you are going to heaven. And right it
would be if salvation were dependent, even in part, upon our own righteous
deeds. Believing the promises of Scripture, however, is not presumption
but faith in God. It is doing what Jane DeLisi found so difficult the
night we visited her, now some twenty years ago. It is allowing the
Scriptures to speak for themselves, taking God at His word, and believing
what He says.
Recently, I spoke with Jane. I asked her if she still
has doubts about whether she will go to heaven or not.
"No," Jane answered without hesitation,
"not since that night. I know that I believe in Jesus. I know that He
died for me. I know that, if I died tonight, I would be in heaven. And
that gives me great peace."
Adapted from Conversations with Catholics by
James G. McCarthy (Harvest House Publishers: Eugene, 1997)
Mr. Mike Gendron
Mr. Greg Durel
Carlos Tomas Knott