Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God," says Vatican II. When its tradition and the Bible conflict, Rome goes by tradition. Thereby is created the widest difference between Protestants and Catholics: the question of salvation. That vast chasm of division, recognized for 400 years by both Protestants and Catholics, neither of whom has changed basic beliefs, is now denied by leading evangelicals. Charles Colson, for example, in response to questions concerning his embracing Catholics as Christians, says:
We have differences, but on the ancient creeds and the core beliefs of Christianity we stand together.
Not so. Agreement on the creeds, yes, but the creeds say nothing about how one is saved. Salvation is the one most important core belief in Christianity.
And on that point the difference between evangelicals and Catholics is as great as the difference between eternal life and eternal judgment.
The "Saved" and the "Unsaved"
The Bible says there are two classes of people: those who are saved and those who are unsaved or lost. Christ Himself declared that His mission was to save a world of lost people: "The son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10); "I came ... to save the world" (John 12:47). God sent Him "that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17). Paul testifed, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15). Save them from what? From the judgment of God eternally separating them from God's presence because of sin:
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him (John 3:36).
In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel ... who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.... That they all might be damned who believed not the truth (2 Thessalonians 1:8,9; 2:12).
Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
The gospel declares "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day" (1 Corinthians 15:3,4). Evangelicals believe the gospel not merely as a fact of history but as offering them forgiveness for their sin and eternal life as a free gift of God's grace. Paul said this is the gospel "by which also ye are saved" (1 Corinthians 15:2). On that basis the evangelical knows he is saved.
One "gets saved" the moment one believes the gospel. To the earnest cry, "What must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30) Paul responded, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved" (verse 31). It's that simple. The moment faith is placed in Christ one is saved, never to be lost again. One has "passed from death unto life" and is no longer under God's judgment (John 5:24). Heaven is now one's home, and death means to be "absent from the body and ... present with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). The Bible says:
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(John 3:16); I am the door[said Jesus]; by me if any man enter in he shall be saved (John 10:9); My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish (John 10:27,28); Unto us which are saved (1 Corinthians 1:18); It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe (1 Corinthians 1:21); by which also ye are saved (1 Corinthians 15:2); By grace are ye saved (Ephesians 2:8); Who will have all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4); [God] who hath saved us (2 Timothy 1:9); According to his mercy he saved us (Titus 3:5); the nations of them which are saved (Revelation 21:24); etc.
The evangelical believes that, having accepted Christ's offer of pardon and eternal life, he is a Christian, born of the Holy Spirit into God's family. He is certain that as a child of God he will "never perish" (John 10:28) nor "come into condemnation" (John 5:24). His salvation is secure because, by God's wonderful grace, Christ's death paid the penalty for his sin. So says God's Word:
He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself [the assurance of the Holy Spirit in his heart]; he that believeth not God hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God (1 John 5:10-13).
The Evangelical Goal: Salvation of Sinners
While growing up in an evangelical home and church one may believe the gospel intellectually from childhood yet realize that he is not yet saved. Merely mentally assenting to all that the Bible says does not save; one must personally receive Christ as Savior. In that act of faith one is saved: "For by grace are ye saved, through faith" (Ephesians 2:8). Everything is now different. One has become a "new creature" in Christ; "old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The person is now "saved," a member of the universal church-not through joining a Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, or other church, but through the Spirit of God having placed him in the body of Christ: "The Lord added to the church daily such as should be [were being] saved" (Acts 2:47). "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or
Gentiles" (1 Corinthians 12:13) This is the "good news" of the gospel.
Christ told His disciples to "go into all the world and preach the gospel" (Mark 16:15) so that His mission of saving sinners would be accomplished. The primary goal of evangelicals is to preach the gospel to the lost so they might be saved. Peter said we "must be saved" (Acts 4:12) through Jesus, since there is no other way of salvation. Paul's passion for his fellow Jews was "that they might be saved" (Romans 10 1). Such is the desire of the evangelical for all mankind.
Catholics Aren't "Saved" But Are "Lost"
The Reformers were Catholic priests who realized that they were not saved but were lost because Catholicism was not the biblical gospel that saves, but a false one. People were not being brought into a personal relationship with Christ as Savior but into bondage to the Church, hoping it would eventually get them to heaven if they followed its rules. In Catholicism, salvation is not an accomplished fact resulting from faith in Christ but an ongoing process of works and ritual in obedience to the Church.
Having believed the biblical gospel, the Reformers knew they were saved, rejoiced in that fact, and preached the good news of "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24) to their fellow Catholics, hoping to reform the Church from within. For that they were excommunicated and persecuted, multitudes of them to the point of death.
The Council of Trent was convened to confront the issues raised by the Reformation. It rejected everything for which the Reformers stood, from the authority of the Word of God to salvation by grace through faith and the priesthood of all believers. And it cursed with more than 100 anathemas anyone who accepted the doctrines which evangelicals hold. Not one of these curses has been removed even to this day.
These are the simple facts of history. Nothing has changed in the beliefs of either evangelicals or Catholics. Oddly, evangelicals who try to point out the errors in Catholicism because they love Catholics and want them to be saved are accused of "Catholic bashing." What of the more than 100 anathemas damning Protestants? Is that not the real "bashing"?
It is popularly imagined that Vatican II changed a great deal. In fact, only a few cosmetic changes were made, such as allowing the Mass to be in the language of the people rather than in Latin. Nothing of the core doctrines of Rome has been changed at all. Vatican II continually quoted from the Council of Trent and other councils and simply reaffirmed the established Catholic dogmas of the past. To make that abundantly clear, Vatican II states:
This sacred council accepts loyally the venerable faith of our ancestors in the living communion which exists between us and our brothers who are in the glory of heaven or who are yet being purified [in purgatory] after their death; and it proposes again the decrees of the Second Council of Nicea , of the Council of Florence [ 1438-42], and of the Council of Trent [ 1545-63].
"Salvation" in Catholicism
Yes, the Catholic Church preaches salvation, but in direct opposition to Scripture and to what evangelicals believe. Salvation is through obeying the Church, not on the basis of the finished work of Christ upon the cross. No Catholic could say that he is saved and knows for certain that upon death he will go to heaven. To say that would bring automatic excommunication and the curse of Rome:
If anyone says that in order to obtain the remission of sins it is necessary ... to believe with certainty and without any hesitation ... that his sins are forgiven him, let him be anathema (Council of Trent, Six, XVI, 13).
If anyone says that he will for certain ... have that great gift of perseverance even to the end [i.e. knows he is saved as the Bible promises] ... let him be anathema (Council of Trent, Six, XVI, 16).
The Roman Catholic Church is adamant in insisting that the work necessary for our salvation was not all finished by Christ upon the cross and that the sinner cannot be saved by simple faith in Him. It insists that salvation is an ongoing process of works, ritual, and suffering decreed by the Church that continues throughout life and more than likely requires one to suffer in purgatory as well:
If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.
Trent thus affirms that a "repentant sinner" is justified by "grace." That sounds biblical and deceives many. Though the words may be the same as evangelicals use, the Catholic meaning is entirely different. Trent insists that a "repentant sinner" who has been justified by "grace" must still suffer to be "purged" of his sins, either here or in purgatory, and most likely in both. That dogma denies the sufficiency of Christ's suffering for sin upon the cross. It is a false gospel, which Paul cursed (Galatians 1:8).
The Bible declares repeatedly that salvation is not of works and not by the deeds of the law. Yet Rome insists that salvation is indeed through works in obedience to its "New Law." Vatican II declares that "preaching the gospel" (the task of the bishops) is to help all men "attain to salvation through faith, baptism and the observance of the commandments" (emphasis added). Instead of salvation by faith alone, as the Bible states, Vatican II declares "that God himself has made known to the human race how men by serving him can be saved ... (emphasis added).
Redemption: Continuing Process or Accomplished Fact
The most important part of "serving him" and "observance of the commandments" for salvation involves participation in the sacraments, principally baptism and the Mass. The long work of salvation is begun through baptism and continues for life through participation in other sacraments, good works, and suffering. The Catholic is never certain of the outcome or how long it will take. One hopes not to die in mortal sin, which sends the soul not to purgatory but to hell, from which there is no escape. Again Vatican II decrees:
For it is the liturgy through which, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, the work of our redemption is accomplished....
But He [God] also willed that the work of salvation which they [the apostles] preached should be set in train through the sacrifice and sacraments, around which the entire liturgical life revolves.... The liturgy is ... the fount from which all her [mother church's] power flows.
According to God's Word, redemption (or salvation) was accomplished by Christ in His
sacrifice upon the cross and is received by faith: "In whom we have redemption through his blood" (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14); "By his own blood he entered in once into the holy place [heaven], having obtained eternal redemption for us" (Hebrews 9:12). Rejecting God's Word, Rome insists that redemption remains yet to be accomplished by the Church's liturgy. Catholicism's contradiction of Scripture on this point is a blatant and fatal one.
In the gospel of God's grace preached by Christ's apostles for the salvation of souls there is nothing about liturgy, much less that it is the means of accomplishing redemption or the "fount" from which "all the Church's power flows." Those ideas were formulated later as part of Rome's "Apostolic Tradition," none of which can be traced back to the apostles. (See Appendix E)
Evangelical leaders who accept Catholics as Christians often say, "I found that I had more in common with Catholics than with liberal Protestants." True, and one could have more in common politically or ethically even with conservative atheists or Buddhists than with liberal Protestants. But salvation has nothing to do with politics, ethics, or social action. A Catholic may be very moral and/or politically conservative, but when it comes to salvation, his Church's dogmas are the very antithesis of what the Bible teaches.
An ex-Catholic, cut off by his family (who won't even discuss the issues), explains what Catholics trust in for salvation:
I am so grieved over what the Catholic Church is doing to members of my own family. It is sending my mother to hell. She sees no need to know Jesus or to read the Bible because of her belief that as long as she is in right standing with Jesus' Church that's all that is needed.
After all, she attends Mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation. She is up on her confession and penance and she regularly performs corporal works of mercy and recites many prayers to saints and Mary for indulgences.
Her good deeds and the administration of so-called sacraments are her passbook through the pearly gates once she's spent her allotted time burning in Purgatory to pay for what sins might remain. And Peter himself has the keys to give her entrance into heaven and he passed those keys on to the popes, so she thinks she's got it made.
Salvation: By Grace or by Works?
There is nothing in the gospel Paul preached about the "work of salvation" being "set in train" through Catholic liturgy, as Vatican II declares. Salvation is totally a work of God and Christ, finished once and for all upon the cross, with nothing for man to do because there is nothing man can do. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12) cannot possibly mean that we are to work for our salvation (a concept soundly condemned in Scripture); it can only mean that, having been saved, we are now to live the outworking of that salvation as those "created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
A sinner (which we all are) can no more save himself than a corpse can give itself a blood transfusion. By nature we are "dead in trespasses and in sins" (Ephesians 2:1; cf. Colossians 2:13). In Catholicism, however, man has only "been wounded by sin," but is not dead in sin. Thus he can work for his salvation:
Man gains such [God-given] dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward towards his goal by freely choosing what is good, and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.
On the contrary, the Bible teaches that even the "righteousness" of a sinner is but "filthy
rags" in God's sight (Isaiah 64:6). Only after being saved can we, in the power of the Holy Spirit, do good works-not to earn our salvation, but because we love Him who saved us. To be saved, man must acknowledge his guilt and helplessness to save himself and must believe in what Christ has done, accepting His substitutionary payment of the penalty for sin. The Bible repeatedly states that salvation is by grace through faith and not of works: "Through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved" (Acts 15:11); "By grace ye are saved" (Ephesians 2:5); "The grace of God that bringeth salvation" (Titus 2:11).
Grace cannot be granted on the basis of a mere bookkeeping entry in heaven, but by the debt having been paid in full by Christ: "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24). The Catholic gospel of salvation by works and ritual stands in the fullest opposition to God's grace. It is, in fact, a rejection of God's offer of salvation by grace through faith in what Christ has done. It requires that Christ's sacrifice be supplemented by our works and/or suffering.
The gospel that we must believe to be saved is called "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24) because "by grace are ye saved." Grace by its very nature excludes works. Paul argues: "If by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work" (Romans 11:6). One cannot earn, merit, or pay for grace or else it would no longer be grace. Salvation can only be received from God as a gift of His grace by those who admit they neither deserve it nor can do anything to earn or merit it.
Vatican II repeatedly teaches salvation by works. Any active Catholic is earning his salvation. Some priests and nuns even today put stones in their shoes, wear haircloth shirts, and flagellate themselves to earn their salvation. Go to any Catholic country on Church holidays and see penitents beating themselves, pilgrims crawling upon their knees toward some Marian shrine, others staggering under heavy crosses, and still others hoping to better their chances of salvation by purchasing candles to burn before an image of "our lady" of this or that or some other "saint." In some places, such as the Philippines, a few zealots even have themselves nailed to crosses to hang in agony for a time to pay at least part of the price for their own salvation and for others as well. Far from rebuking these efforts, Rome encourages them. Salvation by works is so clearly taught in Rome's dogmas and so widely practiced by the faithful that none can deny it.
Remember Julian Hernandez, burned at the stake on December 22, 1560, in Seville, Spain, for bringing Bibles into that country from Germany? He was also immolated for believing that "whoever has faith in Jesus Christ, and trusts only in the merits of Him, is certain of going to heaven...." Imagine being condemned to the flames for believing the gospel of God's grace! Yet hundreds of thousands of others were slain by Rome for this reason.
The Gospel According to Rome
One must carefully define terms in discussion with a Catholic. Catholicism employs many biblical words (grace, redemption, salvation, etc.), but with an unbiblical meaning. Catholicism affirms that Christ is the only begotten Son of God, one with the Father, who died for our sins, rose the third day, and will return to earth to reign. To that truth, however, have been added dogmas which pervert the gospel. Ignorant of these additions, many evangelicals think Catholics are Christians and pass that delusion on to others.
Catholic Apologists such as InterVarsity author Peter Kreeft encourage such confusion by insisting that Catholics "are saved by God's free grace, not by working their way to heaven."
Yet Catholicism is all about "working one's way to heaven"! Kreeft hides the fact that "saved by God's free grace" means to the Catholic that original sin is wiped clean by baptism and that one may now earn one's way to heaven through good deeds, penance, eating Christ's body and blood in the Eucharist, prayers to Mary and the saints, qualifying for indulgences, and a host of other means. Furthermore, "grace" is not available to the Catholic directly from Christ or God but comes through the Church and its sacraments and especially through Mary, who is called "the dispenser of all grace."
The Catholic Church has long taught that "all grace is passed from God to Jesus, from Jesus to Mary, and from Mary to us. The grace of God, cure for our ills, comes to us through Mary like water through an aqueduct." St. Bernadine said:
[A]II gifts, all virtues, and all graces are dispensed b: the hands of Mary to whomsoever, when, and as shy pleases. 0 Lady, since thou art the dispenser of al graces, and since the grace of salvation can only come through thy hands, our salvation depends on thee.
Mary's Role in Salvation
Mary plays the key role in salvation. St. Bernard said: "All men, past, present, and to come should look upon Mary as the means and negotiator of salvation...." Here is a sample of what the chief Catholic saints have said about Mary's role in salvation:
St. Bonaventure says, "the gates of heaven will open to all who confide in the protection of Mary." St. Ephrem calls devotion to the divine Mother "the unlocking of the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem." Blosius also says, "To thee, 0 Lady, are committed the keys and the treasures of the kingdom of heaven." And therefore we ought constantly to pray to her, in the words of St. Ambrose, "Open to us, 0 Mary, the gates of paradise, since thou hast its keys." Nay more, the Church says, "Thou art its gate."
"For," says the saint [Fulgentius], "by Mary God descended from heaven into the world, that by her man might ascend from earth to heaven." "And thou, 0 Lady," says St. Athanasius, "wast filled with grace, that thou mightest be the way of our salvation and the means of ascent to the heavenly kingdom.". . .
"Blessed are they who know thee, 0 Mother of God," says St. Bonaventure; "for the knowledge of thee is the high road to everlasting life, and the publication of thy virtues is the way of eternal salvation." "Mary, in fine," says Richard of St. Laurence, "is the mistress of heaven; for there she commands as she wills, and admits whom she wills."
... Hence, says the Abbot Guerric, "he who serves Mary and for whom she intercedes, is as certain of heaven as if he was already there ... [and] those who do not serve Mary will not be saved...." St. Bonaventure exclaims, "Give ear, 0 ye nations; and all you who desire heaven, serve, honor Mary, and certainly you will find eternal life."
"It suffices, 0 Lady," says St. Anselm, "that thou wiliest it, and our salvation is certain." And St. Antoninus says that "souls protected by Mary, and on which she casts her eyes, are necessarily justified and saved."
Another more recent author also quotes saints from the past: "The Church and the saints greet her thus: `You, 0 Mary, together with Jesus Christ, redeemed us.... O Mary, our salvation is in your hands.... She is co-Redemptrix of the human race, because with Christ she ransomed mankind from the power of Satan. Jesus redeemed us with the blood of His body, Mary with the agonies of her heart ... suffer[ing] in her heart whatever was lacking in the passion of Christ." A
popular tract titled "Heaven Opened by the Practice of the THREE HAIL MARYS" promises:
One of the greatest means of salvation and one of the surest signs of predestination is unquestionably the devotion to the Most Blessed Virgin. All the holy doctors of the Church are unanimous in saying with St. Alphonsus of Liguori: "A devout servant of Mary shall never perish...."
I consecrate to Thee [Mary] my heart with all its affections, and beseech Thee to obtain for me from the Most Holy Trinity all the graces necessary for salvation.
"Graces" or Grace?
That Mary is the one to whom Catholics primarily look for "the graces necessary for salvation" cannot be denied. This fact is passed off by Catholic apologists as the practice of simple Catholics who don't know any better. On the contrary, the quotes above are from Catholic saints. Liguori was one of the great authorities in the Church, a cardinal and saint. Maryolatry is not rebuked by the Church hierarchy but is taught and encouraged by them. Bishops, cardinals, and popes themselves have been among the most devoted to Mary, none more so than John Paul H. "Our Lady of Mt. Carmel," who, it was said, had given The Great Promise to St. Simon Stock in 1251 ("Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire") allegedly appeared to Pope John XXII in 1322 and reconfirmed the Sabbatine (Saturday) Privilege for those who wore her scapular: "I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend on the Saturday after their death and whomsoever I shall find in Purgatory, I shall free." Confirmed by popes Alexander V, Clement VII, Pius V, Gregory XIII, and Paul V, this promise has been relied upon by tens of millions of scapular-wearing Catholics since then. De Liguori explained further:
[Pope Paul V] in a Bull of the year 1613, says that "Christian people [who wear the scapular] may piously believe that the blessed Virgin will help them after death by her continual intercession, her merits, and special protection...."
Why should we not hope for the same graces ... of this good Mother? And if we serve her with more special love, why can we not hope to go to heaven immediately after death, without even going to purgatory?
Many Catholics continue to pray to "Our Lady of Mt. Carmel" the prayer of St. Simon Stock: "Patroness of all whowear the Scapular, Pray for us! Hope of all who die wearing the Scapular, Pray for us! 0 Sweet Heart of Mary, be our salvation!" Notice that salvation is through Mary and that Catholicism speaks of "graces," not merely "grace." The Mass is said to be the means of "applying" and "confer[ring] gradually and continually" the "graces needed for salvation" which Christ won on the cross. "Graces"? The plural of grace is not found even once in Scripture.
The Bible says we are "saved by grace." Pardon of sin and eternal life is imparted by grace to all who believe God's promise through the gospel. The Catholic idea of "graces" indicates that salvation cannot be received all at once but only in installments a little at a time, principally through participation in the sacraments, which literally confer graces. Thus one never receives pardon and eternal life as a completed transaction. There are always more "graces" to be earned on the road to salvation. Yes, earned. Biblical grace is unmerited by man. Catholic "graces" are earned.
In Catholicism there is much to accomplish in order to receive "graces." In biblical contrast, all one must do to receive God's grace is to believe His offer in the gospel and accept His free gift of forgiveness and eternal life. To obtain "graces," however, there are many rules to follow, many ways by which they may be accumulated. Six hundred years later "Our Lady of Fatima" allegedly appeared in Portugal and promised to "assist at the hour of death with all the graces necessary for salvation" all who would follow certain prescribed rules for five consecutive months (which we will explain in detail later). There can be no doubt that Roman Catholicism teaches salvation through works and Mary plays the largest part and the key role. Vatican II says that to "gain indulgences the work prescribed must be done."
Here we see clearly the great difference between Roman Catholicism and the biblical gospel of God's grace. In the former, graces come from God (through the mediation of Mary) in response to what the devout Catholic does; in the latter, grace comes from God in response to what Christ has done. It is an insult to God's justice to suggest that He can forgive sins because someone prays the Rosary or goes to Mass or does something else which the Church has prescribed. God can only forgive sins and save the soul on the basis of Christ having paid the full penalty demanded by God's justice. That having been done, God can be "just, and [at the same time] the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:26).
A Semantic Misunderstanding?
In his book on apologetics, Peter Kreeft makes the outrageous claim that what Luther discovered of justification by faith was a Catholic doctrine that had all along been taught and is still taught by Rome. Surely Kreeft knows that Catholic "justification by faith" is entirely different from what Luther came to believe from Scripture and from what evangelicals believe today. Otherwise, Luther and the other Reformers must have been mentally deficient indeed. And the inquisitors must have been even more cruel than we thought not to have told the poor souls they committed to the flames that it was all a semantic misunderstanding, that Rome taught their "heresy" and was even its originator.
Keith Fournier in his book Evangelical Catholics equates Catholicism with the biblical gospel of God's grace. That some Catholics use D. James Kennedy's Evangelism Explosion materials is offered as proof that they are evangelical. When asked about this usage, however, Fournier replied:
... there were a couple of things in James Kennedy's process [of evangelism] that we as Catholics couldn't accept because it wasn't Catholic teaching. For example, too obvious was the total assurance of salvation ... and the other one is salvation by faith alone.
For Catholics we are saved by faith and also through obedience to Christ... there are acts of obedience and cooperation in God's Spirit that are tied up with salvation.
Paul wrote: "Though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8). He was referring to those of his day who "pervert the gospel of Christ" (verse 7). These "Judaizing" legalists, while partly affirming the true gospel, also declared that, in addition, one had to be circumcised and keep the law (Acts 15:24). That addendum perverted the gospel and brought Paul's curse upon them. Catholicism has had 15 centuries to add things to the gospel that the Judaizers never imagined. It merits Paul's curse.
Contrast with the Biblical Gospel
Paul made it very clear that salvation results from believing the gospel: "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth [it] . . ." (Romans 1:16). Salvation is that simple, and has nothing to do with the opinions of a Roman pontiff and his colleagues in a hierarchy which didn't even exist until centuries after the gospel was first preached and had resulted in the salvation of millions.
Paul didn't tell the desperate jailer mentioned above: "Believe on Christ and that will get you started on a long road of good deeds, church membership, sacraments, prayers to saints, etc. If you stick with it, eventually, after excruciating suffering in the flames of purgatory and if enough Masses and Rosaries are said for you, heaven's gates will at last open." But that is the gospel of Rome. These ideas are all later inventions which give Rome incredible power over those who look to her for salvation. That hundreds of millions are still being led astray concerns us deeply.
Roman Catholic salvation is not what the Bible teaches. Christ said, "Come unto me" (Matthew 11:28); Rome says, "Come unto Mother Church." Catholics can't reach Christ directly but must come through the Church, which offers for salvation, in addition to Christ's finished work, the merits of the saints plus credit for one's own penance and good works, the suffering of others on one's behalf, submission to the popes, obedience to the Church's decrees, etc. Vatican II states very clearly that the Catholic Church "is necessary for salvation."31 This dogma is stated in numerous papal decrees like that of Pope Boniface VIII:
There is one holy Catholic and apostolic church, outside of which there is no salvation.... it is altogether necessary for salvation for every creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.
The Church is the key to salvation for the Catholic, and through her the faithful are kept on a treadmill of Church-directed self-effort. The new universal Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to "all the ways of salvation" which the Church administers and declares that "salvation comes from Christ the head through the Church, his body ... [which] is necessary for salvation." Vatican II affirms that there are many "means of salvation" dispensed by the Church:
Fully incorporated into the Church are those who, possessing the Spirit of Christ, accept all the means of salvation given to the Church together with her entire organization, and who-by the bonds constituted by the profession of faith, the sacraments, ecclesiastical gov-ernment, and communion-are joined in the visible structure of the Church of Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops.
Instead of looking to Christ alone and having a personal relationship with Him, the Roman Catholic looks to the Church and must be in a proper relationship with it when he or she dies in order to be saved. This is taught to the Catholic from childhood, is found in every catechism, and is recited for confirmation. Hear Vatican II: "Basing itself on Scripture and tradition, it [the Church] teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation.... He [Christ] himself explicitly asserted ... the necessity of the Church which men enter by baptism as through a door." The Vatican's new universal catechism explicitly states that salvation flows from Christ through the Church. Canon 992 calls the Roman Catholic Church "the minister of redemption."
The Roman Catholic apologist will argue that one need not be in the Church to be saved and will cite Vatican II to the effect that even idolaters can be saved without belonging to the
Nor is God remote from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since ... the Saviour wills all men to be saved. Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience-those too may achieve eternal salvation.
The preceding sections, however, explicitly declare that "in different ways to it [the Roman Catholic Church] belong, or are related: the Catholic faithful, others who believe in Christ, and finally all mankind, called by God's grace to salvation." Moreover, the next paragraph states that salvation is denied to "those who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it." In other words, pagan idolaters somehow are in the Church, though unaware of that fact, and will be saved through her, but Protestants and especially ex-Catholics are anathematized.
What's Wrong with Good Works?
A critical distinction must be made between good works to merit salvation (an impossible task) and the good works (called the "fruit of the Spirit"-Galatians 5:22, 23) which result from being born again by the Holy Spirit. A sinner can no more become a saint by doing good works than a crab apple tree can become a Golden Delicious apple tree by pinning Golden Delicious apples upon its branches. The fruit results from the kind of tree it already is. Only after a sinner is saved by grace and thereby miraculously turned into a saint by God can good works acceptable to God result. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us" (Titus 3:5).
Moreover, what seems "good" from our perspective is badly flawed in God's eyes. Jesus said, "There is none good but one, that is God" (Mark 10:18). By God's perfect standard, "there is none that doeth good, no not one" (Romans 3:12; cf. Psalm 14:1,3). "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). So what seems like "good works" to us is unacceptable to God.
As for keeping the law, "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight" (Romans 3:20). Imagine a person arrested for speeding who thinks he should escape the penalty because he has driven that same road within the speed limit more times than he has broken it. That plea won't work in any earthly court, yet multitudes hope their good deeds will exceed their bad and thus merit heaven. Suppose the guilty party tells the judge, "Let me off this time and I promise never to break the law again." The judge replies, "If you never break the law again, you're only doing what the law demands. You get no extra credit for perfect performance." Thus to live a perfect life in the future (even if we could) could not make up for having committed even one sin in the past.
Furthermore, salvation is a gift: "The gift of God is eternal life" (Romans 6:23); "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son" (1 John 5:11). One cannot earn or merit or pay for a gift. It must be received gratis or it is not a gift. Jesus said, "I give them eternal life" (John 10:28). Salvation and the eternal life which accompanies it must be received as a gift from God. Any attempt to offer works is to reject the gift.
Is there no place for good works? Most decidedly. Good works follow salvation as surely as fruit is produced in nature and light accompanies the rising of the sun. Christians are exhorted to be "rich in good works" (1 Timothy 6:18) and to be "careful to maintain good works" (Titus
3:8). Christians are "new creatures" (2 Corinthians 5:17) "created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Ephesians 2:10), of which we are to be "zealous" (Titus 2:14).
Aren't Some Catholics Saved?
"But surely some Catholics are saved!" is often the response to the truth about Catholicism. I am more charitable than Rome, which anathematizes those who say they are saved. Yes, some Catholics may be saved, but only by believing the same gospel whereby other lost souls are saved. Nor can one believe two contradictory propositions simultaneously. One can't believe that Christ obtained redemption through His blood and also believe that redemption is being accomplished through works, suffering, ritual, and indulgences; one can't believe that salvation is by faith and "not of works" and at the same time believe that good works earn salvation.
It is often said in its defense that the Roman Catholic Church professes the orthodox creeds and therefore that all Catholics are Christians. The ancient creeds, however, do not contain the gospel. Certainly neither the Apostles' nor the Nicene creeds do. They declare the deity of Christ, His virgin birth, and that He "suffered under Pontius Pilate," but they do not specify that He died for our sins and that we have eternal life through faith in Him. So it is fallacious to suggest that the Roman Catholic Church is evangelical because it subscribes to "the ancient church creeds."
In a recent survey of 2000 homes in Spain only two persons knew clearly what the gospel was, and they were Protestants. The other 1998 were Catholics who thought good works, church attendance, etc. would get them to heaven. In 15 years of evangelizing in Spain, missionary friends of the author have never met even one Catholic who was saved or knew how to be saved. Knowing that Catholics are lost causes evangelicals to work day and night to bring them the gospel!
This author has contacted a multitude of Catholics who were saved and left that Church. Not one had ever heard the true gospel preached there; all were saved by believing a gospel that is anathema to Catholicism. It is love and compassion for Catholics, that they might be saved, that motivates a book such as this.