What About the Catholics?
Topic: Based on the Biblical presentation of salvation, should we consider Roman Catholics to be Christian?
This was first intended to be the second half of the treatise, "Do You Know God Well Enough to be Saved?" It soon became evident that this is actually a second topic, although closely linked to and dependent on the first. Therefore I consider it necessary to advise the reader first to peruse "Do You Know God Well Enough to be Saved?" before engaging this topic.
Roman Catholism has long been known as the first Christian church, and it is still the first church or only church most people think of when they hear the term "Christian." Nevertheless, are Catholics Christian? Roman Catholics refer to themselves as Christian, but some people in the Christian tradition insist that Roman Catholics are not Christian. They base their belief on what the Bible says. The Roman Catholics base their belief on what they themselves say – considering themselves to be an authority above the Bible. There’s a controversy between two camps of "Christians" as to whether Catholics really are Christian at all.
Obviously, the first way to answer this is to define "What is a Christian?" Are Christians those people who believe Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world? The Bible says,
"You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder."
Acknowledging God and his authority is not the same as being saved, otherwise all the demons and Satan would be saved and in heaven. So, what does the Bible say about our salvation? Among other things, it says this:
9 That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame."
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
[i.e. we are prepared to do good works after we are saved, not that we are saved because we do good works.]
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
14 We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.
1 John 5:4-5
4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
We learn from the Bible that the most basic need of humanity, salvation, is the Gift from God that is obtained by faith and nothing else. Even if a person does try to couple faith with good works, those "good works" are viewed by God as "filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6).
Those who are familiar with the doctrine of the Roman church know that Roman Catholism teaches that in order to be saved (i.e. find peace with God and get to heaven) a person must both belong to the Roman Catholic Church and also do many good works as prescribed by the Roman church.
The two systems are contradictory, so which do we believe, the Bible or the Roman Catholic Church? So strong is this contradiction that the Roman church has pronounced a curse on Christians that is still in effect today. At the Council of Trent in AD 1545-1563 the Roman Catholics adopted statements cursing Christians and assigning them to hell if they do not submit to the Catholic Church and embrace the belief that salvation is obtained by faith and good works, but nobody really knows until the end if he is actually saved.
CANON IX.-If any one says, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.
CANON XII.-If any one says, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.
CANON XIII.-If any one says, that it is necessary for every one, for the obtaining the remission of sins, that he believe for certain, and without any wavering arising from his own infirmity and disposition, that his sins are forgiven him; let him be anathema.
CANON XIV.-If any one says, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.
CANON XV.-If any one says, that a man, who is born again and justified, is bound of faith to believe that he is assuredly in the number of the predestinate; let him be anathema.
CANON XVI.-If any one says, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end,-unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema.
CANON XXX.-If any one says, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.
CANON XXXII.-If any one says, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life,-if so be, however, that he depart in grace,-and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema.
Thus, one camp of Christians believes the Bible and that framework for salvation and another believes the Roman church and their framework for salvation. If the Bible is right, then the Roman Catholic Church is a pagan institution and not Christian (Pagan, because it prays to the saints and to Mary, which is strictly forbidden by the Bible. It also makes Mary to be the mother of God, which is a doctrine copied from pagan religions.). If the Roman Catholic Church is right, then the Bible is obscene, blasphemous and placed under Anathema by the Roman church.
But we are actually dealing with two entities: a pagan organization (the Roman Catholic Church) and the people in that organization. Let’s first discuss the Roman Catholic Church. What should Bible-believing Christians think about the Roman Catholic Church?
The Roman Catholic Church is an organization, just as the Lions Club and Boy Scouts are organizations. It is a system of behavior that some people follow. An organization is not a human. It does not have a soul. It cannot go to hell or be taken to heaven. It doesn’t matter that there is an organizational paper saying people who believe in Jesus are cursed; that paper cannot go to heaven or hell or do anything. It doesn’t matter if a man is dressed in fine garments; those fine garments cannot go to heaven. It doesn’t matter if a man is called "pope"; the title "pope" does not have a soul and cannot be saved or damned. It is not a church or organization that is heretical; it is people who are heretics. Therefore, the Roman Catholic Church itself is nothing and empty, just as any church organization is.
It is people who are saved or loss. It is people who worship God or follow empty traditions. Therefore, what should we say about the people in the Roman Catholic church?
We have already seen in the previous paper, "Do You Know God Well Enough to be Saved?" that a person does not have to have perfect knowledge of God in order to be saved. If that were true, then nobody could be saved, and besides, that would contradict the doctrine of salvation by faith. Besides, we’ve seen that some Baptists believe that to be saved a person must both believe in Jesus as his savior and also be immersed in water. Some Pentecostalists believe that to be saved a person must both believe in Jesus as his savior and also speak in tongues. So why is it so hard to believe a person may believe in Jesus as his savior and also pray to Mary? How is one deviance from the doctrine of the Bible any better or worse than another?
On the other hand, if a member of the Roman Catholic Church knowingly rejects the salvation laid out by the Bible but embraces the Roman Catholic doctrine instead, he is in the same situation as the Baptist who is immersed in water only but has no saving knowledge of Jesus. It doesn’t really matter if they parrot the words "Jesus," or "Father," or "Son of God." The devils also recognize the authority of the Godhead. The people who are saved are those who openly and in their hearts acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Savior, as stated in Romans 10:9-10. And they are saved regardless of the imperfection of their knowledge of God.
All scripture quotations by The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.