The Roman Catholic Gospel Of Grace Examined Biblically
If ministries of churches were to be evaluated on the basis of the worship ceremony and its pomp or ragalatry, then without a doubt, the ministry of the Romans Catholic church would stand atop of all religions. From the processions of the priests and altar boys, to the genuflecting of the worshippers, few services of worship compare to that of Catholicism. However, God does not evaluate the effectiveness of any church ministry on the basis of the ceremony of its worship services.
Likewise, should a church be evaluated as to the effectiveness of its ministry on the basis of its humanitarian service, once again, Roman Catholicism might lead the pack. Probably no other church operates as many orphanages, hospitals and shelters of various types as does Rome. However, the primary purpose of the church is not fit man to live on the earth, but to fit him to live in heaven. While it is important to equip man for time, it is far more important to prepare man for eternity. The real test, then, of the effectiveness of any church ministry is its ability to change people from sinners to saints, in order that they might one day enjoy heaven. The Bible is very clear that this can only happen as the gospel is proclaimed and believed. But what exactly, is the gospel that must be proclaimed in order to bring about this change?
A very conservative group of Roman Catholics have published the following statements taken from official Catholic documents, which states Rome's position on the doctrine of salvation. They write,
"5. We must believe that Jesus Christ, our Savior, Who had been long foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament, was, at God's appointed time, by the power of the Holy Ghost, without having any man for His father, conceived in the womb of the Ever-Virgin Mary; whom God had prepared for this wonderful maternity in a wonderful manner: in that by a singular grace and privilege, in view of the future merits of Jesus Christ , she was in the first instant of her conception preserved free from every taint of original sin. For it is unreasonable that the Divine Son of God should enter into the world through a defiled doorway. Of her, who is blessed among women for evermore, was born our Lord--she still remaining a pure virgin. During the time of His mortal life Jesus Christ founded a Church, the Catholic Church; and then offered Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, by dying upon a cross, to obtain mercy, grace, and salvation for those who would use and apply His merits to their souls through the means He instituted, i.e., the Sacraments and His Church; and that neither mercy, nor grace, nor salvation, ever could or ever would, since Adam's fall, be obtained except through the mediation of the Son of God.
8. We are bound to believe that no one is a member of this Church unless he accepts and submits to the authority of the legitimate successors of Peter, professes whole and entire the Catholic Faith, and partakes of the Sacraments of the Church, the most indispensable of which is the Sacrament of Baptism. Furthermore, we are bound to believe that outside the bosom and unity of the Roman Catholic Church there is no salvation for mortals; not to pagans or Jews who never received the Faith of the Church; not to heretics who, having received it, forsook or corrupted it; not to schismatics and apostates who left the peace and unity of the Church; finally neither to excommunicates who for any other serious cause deserved to be put away like pernicious members. We hold that those who die outside the Church are infallibly damned; and that if anyone dies outside the Church, he does so through his own fault by refusing to listen and heed the constant calling of God, Who desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the Truth.
9. We are bound to believe that with the Roman Catholic Church the Sacred Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testaments, were deposited by the Apostles. This same Catholic Church is the sole guardian and the sole interpreter of them, and the sole judge of all controversies relating to them. The Scriptures, thus interpreted, together with the Traditions of the Apostles passed down to us through the centuries by word of mouth, are to be received and admitted by all Christians for the rule of their faith and practice. We hold that those who dare to usurp these roles of guardian, interpreter, and judge of the Sacred Scriptures, are taking unto themselves a role they did not receive from God, and are therefore acting unlawfully. And that those who hold to private interpretation of Sacred Scripture, interpret them to their own damnation."1
Before noting how Rome betrays the Scriptures in soteriological areas, it is only fair to note those areas where Rome's declarations are in agreement with the teaching of the Bible concerning salvation. Rome agrees with the Bible in that it declares that all mankind is sinful and unable to do anything to provide a salvation for itself. Rome also states that apart from the meritorious works of Jesus Christ, there would be no salvation to be had by mankind. Rome also correctly states that salvation is acquired on the basis of God's grace. But it is at this point where Rome departs from Biblical truth.
Contrary to the Bible, which teaches that salvation is received on the basis of grace through personal faith in the finished work of Christ alone, Rome teaches that grace is received through the reception of the 7 sacraments of the church, namely, baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, holy orders, extreme unction (last rites) and marriage. At this point we must ask 2 question: could it be that Rome and Bible-believing evangelicals are actually in agreement but with Rome simply confusing salvation with sanctification, and does it really make any difference what Roman Catholics believe just as long as they believe that Jesus died for their sins. The answers to these two questions are no and yes respectively.
In order to defend my answer to the first of these questions, it would be helpful to look at a couple of Old Testament examples of the salvation of God provided for the people of Israel. The first is the account of the original passover. In Exodus 12:21-23, the Jews are given instruction by Moses on the application of the blood of the Passover Lamb to the doorposts and lintel of the house. Those that were "under the blood" were protected from the angel of death that would pass through. While the Jews were to eat a Passover meal and be ready to leave in a hurry, the only necessary thing for them to do was remain inside the house covered by the blood. Should they have eaten a Passover meal without applying the blood, death would have come to the firstborn. On the contrary, had they applied the blood and not eaten the meal, the firstborn still would have survived, although not experiencing all the blessing of obedience. The point is saving grace was distributed through one avenue, the faith that applied the blood.
A second example is found 2 chapters away in Exodus 14:13-18, where the children of Israel have come to the Red Sea. There they receive instruction simply to go through the Red Sea. They did not need to hold their breath, pray, sing, worship, sacrifice, or stick their tongues out at the Egyptians, but simply walk through the sea by faith that God would bring them to the other side. Verification that they were delivered simply by faith is found in Hebrews 11:28-29 where it says that by faith they kept the passover and by faith they passed through the Red Sea on dry land which the Egyptians attempting to do could not.
Leaving the Old Testament, we look to the New Testament for its declaration on the gift of salvation. In over 150 places, salvation is said to be received on the basis of faith apart from works of righteousness. Possibly one of the clearest declarations is found in Romans 3:20-28. Verse 28 could not be any clearer, a man is declared righteous (justified) through grace (v. 24) on the basis of faith, nothing else.
Not only does Rome's doctrine of salvation by grace through the sacraments fail biblically, it also fails theologically. If saving grace is offered through the sacraments, then how was it possible for any Old Testament saint to be justified? New Testament baptism was not practiced in the Old Testament, which sacrament Rome says is chief among them. There is no record of anyone receiving last rites. being confirmed, or doing penance. If grace is received through the sacraments, what is the disposition of all the Old Testament characters? They must all be lost!
Likewise, if grace is received through the sacraments, how did the thief on the cross (the first New Testament saint to die) get to paradise with Christ? There was no taking him off the cross until he had died so he was not baptized. He may have received gall but he certainly did not take communion. If he was unable to participate in the sacraments, what got him to heaven?
We must conclude from both Biblical and theological arguments that salvation is received by grace through faith alone, not through the sacraments. But the second question asks if it makes any difference as long as Catholics believe that Jesus died for their sins. The answer is Yes, it makes a great difference, an eternal difference. Galatians is a book written by the apostle Paul to combat the confusion of the doctrine of salvation. Judaizers had come to the churches of Galatia and preached that a man is saved by grace through faith, but also that it was necessary to keep the law of Moses, particularly the commandment of circumcision. In verse 8 and 9, Paul states that if any one would preach a gospel message other than what Paul had preached, or what they had believed, which was salvation is by grace through faith alone, then that person would be accursed. The word "accursed" comes from the Greek word "anathema" which means, "unredeemable, doomed to destruction". In other words, any one who would preach a "gospel" message other than salvation by grace through faith alone was in an unredeemable state, they are lost.
Does this mean that all Roman Catholics are unsaved? No, but every Roman Catholic who believes what the Roman Catholic Church teaches concerning salvation is unsaved for it is a false gospel. To demonstrate this consider Rome's doctrine of Purgatory. Purgatory is place where the dead go in order to be cleansed of some sins committed prior to death. In proclaiming the existence of purgatory, Rome must deny the sufficiency of the death of Christ to remove all sins. So salvation becomes not only faith in Christ, but personal works in purgatory, or by someone on your behalf while you're in purgatory in order to fit you for heaven. In reality that not grace at all regardless of the sacraments. Rome's gospel simply can not save!
Those who have truly been saved by trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ on Calvary's cross must not be deceived into thinking that just because Rome speaks of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, that Catholics are saved. They need to hear the true gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone. May we who know the truth be faithful to share it to them who do not.