Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Roman Catholicism's view of saving faith

Galatians 1:6-7 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
We have been studying marks of the true Gospel. In yesterday's blog we identified three doctrines that comprise the core of the Gospel: saving faith, Jesus Christ and the Bible. All religions, ideologies and philosophies must be judged in light of how they handle the issues of saving faith, Christ and the Bible.

Should Roman Catholics be evangelized?
As a Southern Baptist minister, my first response to this question would be with a follow-up: "are not all people proper subjects for evangelism"?  There are people in Baptist churches who don't believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ - thus anyone who fails to do so is a proper subject of evangelism.  Roman Catholics are to be told the Gospel of Jesus Christ, since they, like all other people, need to hear the Good news of Jesus Christ.  A historical and theological examination of Roman Catholic doctrine and practice will reveal where they stand on faith, Christ and the scriptures. If anyone of these areas are wrongly handled, then abandonment of the Gospel has occurred.

Why Roman Catholicism does not teach the true Gospel
The Roman Catholic Church uses similar words like other groups claiming fidelity to the True Gospel. However when discussing the three issues of faith, Christ and the Bible, you will quickly discover how different they really are.  Today we want to see what the Roman Catholic Church teaches about saving faith.

Where Roman Catholicism stands on the issue of faith in salvation
The Late Dr. D. James Kennedy classified all religions under three headings relative to the matter of faith: Those that are works alone, those that are faith plus works and thirdly, the Gospel, which teaches salvation received by faith alone.1  To be fair, I've often heard the Roman Catholic Church characterized as teaching a "works-only" salvation while groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention teaches salvation by grace through faith. The reason this is inaccurate is because Roman Catholic theology does teach the necessity of faith in salvation. In fact the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this statement: “Believing in Jesus Christ and in the Only One who sent Him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation.” However the issue with Roman Catholicism is that it denies that faith by itself is sufficient for receiving the gift of salvation, which is in direct conflict with the biblical teaching of salvation being received by grace alone through faith alone.  Roman Catholicism teaches salvation as being received in a "faith-plus-works" system, beginning with baptism and ongoing participation in the various church rituals (called sacraments). 

Roman Catholicism does not believe that faith alone is sufficient for receiving salvation
The big point of contention has to do with how the Roman Catholic Church views the sufficiency of faith by itself for receiving salvation. As we labored a couple of days ago, the true Gospel views faith alone as necessary and sufficient for receiving the gift of salvation. (Romans 10:8-10; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5) It is also the exclusive means ordained by God for receiving salvation in Jesus Christ.

According to Roman Catholic teaching, faith by itself is not enough, and rather must be accompanied by additional actions. Consider this quote: "Through baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God.” 3    Baptism then is required as additional to faith in order to receive salvation in the Roman Catholic system. Later on the Catholic Catechism states:
“The sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist– lay the foundations of every Christian life. The faithful are born anew by baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity."4

Thus we could summarize reception of salvation in Roman Catholic teaching as follows: by faith and baptism is one converted to faith.  By ongoing participation in the Roman Catholic system can one increasingly gain ground in continual understanding of what it means to be made right with God through Christ. 

What does the Bible teach about the necessity, sufficiency and exclusivity of faith in salvation?
John 1:12-13 states – “12But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”  Furthermore Ephesians 2:8-9 plainly notes: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

One of the reasons I am part of the Southern Baptist Convention is because of its biblical stance on the necessity, sufficiency and exclusivity of faith alone as the means of receiving salvation.  The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message notes –
“Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.5

Any group that advocates faith not being the necessary, sufficient nor the exclusive means ordained by God to receive salvation is not preaching the true Gospel.  All three of those traits (necessity, sufficiency and exclusivity) must be included when communicating the biblical understanding of saving faith.  Tomorrow we will explore what The Roman Catholic Church teaches about the Bible and spiritual authority.  
End Notes_________________________
1. From a preaching series that Dr. Kennedy preached entitled "Truths that Transform".  Dr. Kennedy developed an incredible evangelistic tool called "Evangelism Explosion" that was used widely in many churches, including Southern Baptist churches. 

2. Catechism of the Catholic Church.  page 44.
This is the official doctrinal statement of the Roman Catholic Church.  It was produced in 1992, with a revised edition in 2005. 

3. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Page  312

4. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Page 311

5. Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
This is the official doctrinal statement of the Southern Baptist Convention.  The document is found on the Southern Baptist Website at  A valuable feature on this website is being able to compare the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message to older statements, such as the 1963 and 1925 versions, which are available in a side by side comparison.