Do Roman Catholics have the Gospel of Christ?

On Thursday over at Parchment and Pen blog, C. Michael Patton posted an article entitled “Are Roman Catholics Saved?” In it he basically asks the question Rob Bell style, that is, asking a very complex question and not really answering it, but sort of leading you to adopt his view. He poses the question of whether RC’s are saved, and then a bit further he states

“Now, to be fair, the majority of Roman Catholics with whom I have come in contact I do not feel are true believers. But, to be fairer, the majority of Protestants (and Eastern Orthodox for that matter) with whom I have come in contact I don’t believe are true believers! It is the simple problem of nominalism. Simply confessing to be a part of any Christian tradition does not mean that one truly embraces the ideals of said tradition. Christians are those who truly believe in who Christ is and do their best to follow him.”

The glaring issue here is that brother Patton seems to have not let the centrality of the gospel enter the equation. The question is not “can a RC be saved?” The question rather is “does the RC Church have the gospel?” Remember Romans 1:16?

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the powerof God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (NKJV)

(beginning of understatement) The gospel is pretty important if it is the power of God to salvation (end of understatement). It’s not a sacrament that is the power of God to salvation, it’s not a sincere commitment to a denomination or religious tradition, and the power of God to salvation is not, brother Patton, doing our “best to follow [Christ].”

Does Roman Catholicism have the Gospel of Christ, and what is it?

Because if it does not, then people who do have the gospel need to be sharing it with them, and praying for their salvation. In the RC religion, the tricky part is understanding how they teach biblical phrases with incorrect meanings underneath. Let’s take the Reformation angle to look at this. RC’s have a doctrine of “justification,” but its not the justification that the Bible teaches.

What does the Bible teach about justification? Simply put, you can’t earn it – it is a free gift given to those who place their trust in who Jesus is and what He has done on our behalf. This is another part of C. Michael Patton’s error – he asserts that faith in the right Jesus is salvation – yes and no. The Bible shows that not only must we know and believe in the true Jesus, but we must know and believe in what He has done for us. RC’s do not have the latter!

So then, justification is a one time declaration from God – a legal standing of “right/righteous” is given to us – the very standing that Jesus has and earned as a Man. How does God deal with our sinfulness? He cannot simply declare us righteous and perfect since we are anything but that. God places our sin on the sinless Jesus at the cross, and Jesus who wears our sin as if it were His own then is crushed by the punishment of God due to you and me. Perfect atonement. Romans 3:21-26, Isaiah 53:4-12 (yes, go read them).

We get His perfect standing before God, He died under our guilty standing before God, and paid for all our sin. We cannot earn or merit this gift – otherwise it is no longer a gift. Romans 11:5-6 (I’ll wait here while you read that one too).

Yet in RC we learn that in order to gain justification, we have to look past the cross-work of Jesus to something more – as if we need something else to fully complete the circuit… and what do you know? We are told that our standing with God now will depend on our response to God’s “grace.” I put quotes around grace there because in RC “grace” has a slightly different definition than what the Apostles taught – yet it makes an eternity of difference which one you adopt.

Again, Romans 11:5-6

So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

Should we have to go on any further? If Paul is not speaking clearly here, then words have no meaning. One more place I will go for now, to Romans 5:1 to find out when justification happens. The RC teaching is that justification is an ongoing process which is initiated by God, enabled by God, and granted as a gift by God on the basis of our cooperation with sacraments like faith plus baptism, confession, and the others. This is sly and deadly. Adding to the gospel of grace and unmerited favor is like adding 3 to 100 to try and make 100 more perfectly 100. So when does justification take place? At a single point in our life when God declares us perfectly righteous on the basis of Christ’s Person and work alone, or as an ongoing process which is never sure and complete until we have done enough faithful things?

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1

Can’t make me say it!

After reading the Patton article, I spent some time making comments on his blog – my first comment starts at #48 here. Then I got a little more zealous and put this on Twitter: “Why I’m not Roman #Catholic -Romans 5:1 Having BEEN JUSTIFIED BY FAITH, (and how much clearer could it get?) we have peace w God… #gospel

A RC began to respond to me and use the standard lines about his Roman religion being the one true Church and the Bible being a product of it – to which I thanked him for the info, and asked what the tense of “having been justified” is in Romans 5:1. I will post the rest of our conversation here and leave you with that for now.

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

Letting SmokeOut @LettingSmokeOut

@Doulos2Christou It’s not about tense, but context. Bible isn’t a simple document. Can’t pick & choose readings. Have to take it as a whole.

@LettingSmokeOut does Romans 5:1mean what it says, or something different than what it says? What is the tense of the first clause?

@Doulos2Christou You miss the point. We could play scripture shoot-out all day: for every one you provide I can counter. To what gain?

@Doulos2Christou The Church existed for 300 years prior to the Bible. It put the Bible together at a Council. Thus, its the Church’s product

@Doulos2Christou That proves the fault of private interpretation and the mistake of taking scripture out of context. That’s why are are over 30K denominations from the one Church. Either one interpreter or many. Jesus never used the word “church” in plural form.

@LettingSmokeOut that’s all very interesting, your angle, but… In Ro 5:1, when are we justified in relation to the present?

Can’t make me say it!

No gospel here

Categories: Comparative Religions, The Message of the Bible | Tags: , , , , | 23 Comments

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23 thoughts on “Do Roman Catholics have the Gospel of Christ?

  1. Sparki

    Mr. Esposito, once again I find that you are willfully misrepresenting Catholic teaching. The Church does NOT teach that justification can be earned. Quite the opposite. At Parchment & Pen, I pointed you toward the exact part of the Catechism, and yet you willfully refuse to accept what is true. Lest you lead your readers further astray, I post it here:
    (1992) Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men…(1994) Justification is the most excellent work of God’s love made manifest in Christ Jesus and granted by the Holy Spirit….(1996) Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life…(2007) With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator.

    • Welcome to my little corner of the web, Sparki. I understand you believe I am willfully misrepresenting your religion, however, I can promise you I am doing my best to represent it exactly. I have no need to lie or malign something like Roman Catholicism, for the truth of the matter is quite enough to simply let it speak for itself.

      That said, I did not deny any of what you have posted from the catechism. I do believe that our disagreement comes from how we hear the Roman catechism. If you look back into my post, I do point out that

      The RC teaching is that justification is an ongoing process which is initiated by God, enabled by God, and granted as a gift by God on the basis of our cooperation with sacraments like faith plus baptism, confession, and the others.

      I see that everything you have posted here corresponds to that idea. Yes, RC teaches that justification is merited by Christ, but what do they mean? Is it a completed work which requires nothing on our part? Tim Staples from Catholic Answers says no, justification requires our response to grace and ongoing cooperation with grace. Would you deny that, Sparki?

      If not, then I have spoken accurately of your religion in equating Roman Catholic doctrine of justification = initiated by God in His grace, and received by our willing response and obedience.

      Romans 11:6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

      And just for good measure, here is section 2010 from the Roman catechism, emphases mine:

      2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God’s wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.

      Response: Romans 11:6.

      • Sparki

        I’m trying to answer this in a way that uses Reformed definitions of terms, because I think that’s where things are getting difficult. You look upon salvation as a one-time event and that a person can never lose that gift of salvation. Catholics agree with this to an extent. We believe that once we have received saving Grace, we become the adopted children of God, and He will never leave us or forsake us. However, we also believe in free will. We believe that any Christian is capable of intentionally destroying his/her relationship with God and of choosing to spend eternity *apart* from God, rather than with God. Now, as Christians who love the Lord, you and I can’t understand why anybody would ever want to do that, but in the grand scheme of things Catholics accept that this is a possibility, no matter how remote. From what I understand of Reformed theology, you would be inclined to say that a person had never really known Jesus to begin with and thus had never been saved. I would say that not only is that presumptuous, it really belies God’s will (which is that we should ALL know Him, John 3:16) and our own free will. We are created in God’s Image (Gen 1:27), and we have a will as He has a will (as we see in the account of Adam and Eve). We can choose to conform our will to His, or we can choose to go off on our own and shape our will according to our personal desires.

        So here’s the thing with the Catholic view of justification. We believe that Jesus is the one-and-only source for saving Grace. We don’t believe we can conjure it up through our works. We don’t believe that we can ever earn or deserve His saving Grace. We don’t even believe we can get Jesus’ attention by our works. I’m unclear if Reformed folks believe that a saved Christian must give a public testimony preceding baptism in order to “count” among the elect. If you do, then you agree that there is some participation in the justification process. Catholics, however, don’t require any sort of public testimony or even a choice to be baptized. That’s how convinced we are that we can’t do ANYthing to get God’s saving grace…and that’s why we bring our helpless infants before the Lord to be baptized. If you have to make a choice, then you have to do some sort of work (choosing) in order to receive God’s saving Grace. We believe we are all utterly helpless and that God must do everything for us *including* the choosing, *including* the conversion of heart.

        After we receive God’s saving Grace, however, we Catholics believe that we are called by God to participate in His work of furthering His Kingdom – not unlike what you believe, I’m sure, because you believe in evangelizing and (hopefully) other things like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and so on. What if a person refuses to do these things? Catholics don’t believe that they *can’t* or *won’t* be saved. It might weaken their relationship with God, but that’s for Him to decide. We’d never dare tell anybody that they “were never saved,” because we know that Grace comes from God, and it’s not up to us in any way. If we can’t decide for ourselves, how can we decide if other people are saved?

        • Now Sparki – this is why I began this blog. I am impressed and honored to have your comments here. Please allow me some time to respond to you in a measured, well thought out manner. Take care.

  2. You are welcome to read my post where I compare side by side Catholic and Protestant position on Justification that includes Catholic and Protestant understanding of Grace, merits and freewill. Let me know if I misinterpret your view on Justification.

    http://vivacatholic.wordpress.com/223-2/

    • Vivator – wow! Thank you for that link! I read through a great amount so far and will go back to give it deeper consideration for a full reply. I appreciate your participation. Please return when I comment to you again.

  3. LSO

    Hi Justin,

    I’ve seen other people engage in discussion/debate in their respective blogs so thought that might be a good way for us. Here’s my first response: http://lettingthesmokeout.blogspot.ca/ As I mentioned, I’m not a skilled apologetic but willing to spend some time with you. However, the bulk of my time is spent fixing things within the Church. As such I won’t have time to read any response from you until tomorrow night.

    I am glad to meet your acquaintance and see you as a fellow Christian headed in the right direction, just needing to get on the right path. I predict you’ll get there eventually in this life or the other.

    May God bless you,

    LSO

  4. Pingback: Dialogue with a Roman Catholic – Introduction Remarks « Interpreting the Cosmos

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  7. LSO

    Hi Justin,

    I replied to your reply in a new post: http://lettingthesmokeout.blogspot.ca/2012/04/on-clarity-authority.html

    LSO

  8. Hello, Justin. I must say that you come across here (as well as in our Twitter interactions) as very sincere and humble – a terrific representative for the Reformed position. We interacted a bit on Twitter on the subject of justification, and whether a Christian requires a coherent and accurate understanding of justification in order to “have the gospel,” as you put it here. By that, I take you to mean the Reformed perspective taken altogether; justification preceding regeneration, imputed righteousness, and the whole package.

    I, for my part, would allege that while doctrine is incredibly important for individuals and communities, that a bare faith in the lordship of Christ is what saves. I think it’s very telling that in this post about the gospel, you focus on abstract theological principles, and not on the story of Christ. Israel and covenant never come up in the discussion, despite Jesus being the fulfilment of God’s covenant with Abraham and reforming the people of Israel around faith in himself. I think it’s even more telling that when I asked you where you found the idea that an understanding of justification was necessary to “have the gospel,” you pointed me to Rom 3-5, which is all about God’s covenant with Abraham and Jesus’ fulfilment of it! It seems to me that that’s the object of our faith, not the doctrine of justification!

    Maybe I’m reading too much into this, and I certainly don’t mean to imply that you don’t have the gospel. I have no doubt that you do. But it seems that you’re requiring more than faith in Christ to label someone a true Christian. It seems that you’re saying in effect that The Gospel [belief in Christ’s lordship] plus doctrinal correctness, equals salvation, when the New Testament is very clear that the gospel plus nothing equals salvation.

    So hopefully you can show either how I’m misreading your intent, and you’re not conflating justification with having the gospel, or how intellectual assent to certain doctrines is part and parcel of the gospel itself, which I find summarized perfectly in Romans 10: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

    • Hi brother, thank you for your careful analysis and input. This location is built to house just such earnest seeking of truth and conversation. From your reply, it does seem either I have left something out, you misunderstood me, or both. Let’s see about that. (I’ll snip some things for brevity – [snip])

      Hello, Justin. I must say that you come across here (as well as in our Twitter interactions) as very sincere and humble – a terrific representative for the Reformed position.

      That’s a great joy to hear, thank you. The Lord Jesus would have us interact in no other way – even in polemical battles and anathematizing each other’s heresies, it all ought to be colored in selflessness. God knows how often I fail at that!

      We interacted a bit on Twitter on the subject of justification, and whether a Christian requires a coherent and accurate understanding of justification in order to “have the gospel,” as you put it here. By that, I take you to mean the Reformed perspective taken altogether; justification preceding regeneration, imputed righteousness, and the whole package.

      I do not believe the Scriptures teach justification as preceding regeneration, but rather justification is the corollary of regeneration, faith in the Lord Jesus, and repentance of sins… which are all a part of the same moment of salvation – but I don’t mean to nitpick!

      I also would not go beyond the Scriptures and claim that an individual must have a complete/perfect/near-perfect understanding of redemptive history and the gospel in order to be justified… no way, Jose. The idea behind my post is that the institution which claims to be the Church of Christ made up of His regenerate, Holy Spirit filled people has this mark of authenticity: the proclamation of the gospel of Christ, and the resultant proper worship of Him.

      I, for my part, would allege that while doctrine is incredibly important for individuals and communities, that a bare faith in the lordship of Christ is what saves.

      Yes! And no. The Word of God shows that a bare faith in the lordship of Christ, i.e. who He is – is the requirement to receive the forgiveness of sins/justification from God. The question therefore is, how much about Christ must someone know in order to have that right faith in the right Jesus? Mormons believe in the lordship of Christ, too… or so they claim. Roman Catholics have a wonderful, historically accurate Christology which sees Him as He is: high and lifted up, the God of creation, the God Man from the virgin, sinless, etc. Yet when you start probing into the Roman soteriology, they quickly lose track of what Christ has done a la the Galatian heresy. Paul could not have been more clear to the Galatians that by adding just one thing to the atonement of Christ had meant they were “fallen from grace[…]” and “cut off from Christ.” Whoa. Receiving the grace of justification is only possible to those who are placing their faith in the right Person, and the right works… Christ’s. Throw in a little of yours and you are… (take it away, Paul).

      I think it’s very telling that in this post about the gospel, you focus on abstract theological principles, and not on the story of Christ. Israel and covenant never come up in the discussion, despite Jesus being the fulfilment of God’s covenant with Abraham and reforming the people of Israel around faith in himself.

      What is it you think this omission is… telling? I would simply say that I was not aiming to encompass the entirety of redemptive history, but was speaking in synecdoche through the symbols of atonement, justification, and gift of salvation in order to refer to the broader foundational truths of covenant, promises to Israel, and the life of Jesus. I take note of your observation, however, because I too am so deeply stirred by the story of redemption, and would never want to allow someone to think in purely abstract theological terms!

      I think it’s even more telling that when I asked you where you found the idea that an understanding of justification was necessary to “have the gospel,” you pointed me to Rom 3-5, which is all about God’s covenant with Abraham and Jesus’ fulfilment of it! It seems to me that that’s the object of our faith, not the doctrine of justification!

      Yeah, I’ll let you digest what I’ve already said and not go long on this part, but I would strongly object to the insinuation that I would conflate faith in Christ and His cross with faith in “the doctrine of justification.” No one is reconciled with God by a mere intellectual assent to a doctrine.
      I pointed to Romans 3-5 as a “starting point” in discussing your questions. Within that section, we see the condition of man, his need for rescue from the condemnation of the Law, and the miracle of Christ’s propitiation. Paul then moves through the doctrine of justification in how it has always been applied to the saints by the same instrument: faith… bare naked faith without works… etc. The idea here is that the demonstration of Israel and all of mankind is our universal need for justification before God, (which includes then reconciliation, etc…), which then Christ meets for us and applies to all who are in Him and no longer in Adam – all by faith! Any proclamation of the gospel of Christ must include these elements in order to demonstrate how and in what manner Christ is Lord… so that we can have that Romans 10:10 faith that “Jesus is Lord.”

      [snip] it seems that you’re requiring more than faith in Christ to label someone a true Christian. It seems that you’re saying in effect that The Gospel [belief in Christ’s lordship] plus doctrinal correctness, equals salvation, when the New Testament is very clear that the gospel plus nothing equals salvation.

      All I’ll type here is, do you read me differently now?

      [snip]

      God bless,
      Justin

      • If I’m reading you correctly now, the center of your argument is that all that is necessary for salvation is to proclaim that Christ is lord, so long as lord is defined a certain way.

        “The idea here is that the demonstration of Israel and all of mankind is our universal need for justification before God, (which includes then reconciliation, etc…), which then Christ meets for us and applies to all who are in Him and no longer in Adam – all by faith!”

        If this is right, does it mean that any understanding of Christ’s lordship in which the Holy Spirit empowers the believer to cooperate with God in sanctification and also enables the believer to choose moment-by-moment to continue following Christ is out-of-bounds?

        • If by that you are asking if a regenerate, justified believer is able to “choose their way out of” communion with Christ, covenant with the Father, and salvation as a whole, then yes, that would be out of bounds according to biblical theology and my attempt to represent it. Is that what you were asking?

    • Check out my near-to-the-bottom comment to stan schmunk: http://interpretingthecosmos.com/2012/03/24/one-breath-struggle-question-for-christians/#comments

      I believe it is more of what you were thinking in regards to the “big picture.” It’s funny, stan did like you and called me out for a conspicuously missing element, but just the same as with him I do have these things in mind… just don’t always write everything out as it maybe should be written. I’m a learner!

      • That’s definitely in line with what I was asking. The corollary to being able to choose your way out of communion with Christ is choosing daily to continue in communion with Christ. In other words, a synergistic faith: God provides the ability to respond and the believer responds.

        This is essentially what you’re objecting to in Roman Catholic thought, right? That in RC God doesn’t judge us entirely on the work of Christ but also on our response to that work, even though our response is a function of that work? But if that’s true, do you also believe that Wesleyans do not “have the gospel,” since Wesleyans believe that we can and must cooperate with grace?

        • That’s definitely in line with what I was asking. The corollary to being able to choose your way out of communion with Christ is choosing daily to continue in communion with Christ. In other words, a synergistic faith: God provides the ability to respond and the believer responds.

          It sounds good at first, that cooperation stuff. I was born again and began my Christian faith in a synergistic frame of mind. I would contend that according to the Bible as a whole theology, synergism is the default position of fallen man, and that it unfortunately is the tendency of even the regenerate. It is, however, a mixed, adulterated philosophy which strains the language of the Bible and undoes some of the central elements of the gospel. I believe that even so by God’s grace He is able to save and keep those who hold to some of the errors and heresies within the synergistic forms of Christianity, however, when a believer is confronted with the Word of God, the Holy Spirit within will begin to open their eyes wider and wider to the largesse and largeness of His power, grace, and salvific covenant. It seems to me a very bad sign when one persists in these errors after repeated revelation from the Word, but again, only God knows the hearts. My job is to contend earnestly for the once for all delivered to the saints faith, and to speak these things with boldness.

          This is essentially what you’re objecting to in Roman Catholic thought, right? That in RC God doesn’t judge us entirely on the work of Christ but also on our response to that work, even though our response is a function of that work? But if that’s true, do you also believe that Wesleyans do not “have the gospel,” since Wesleyans believe that we can and must cooperate with grace?

          The core, the most important part of the gospel of Christ which is the power of God to salvation – the gospel which, when believed, is the instrument of regeneration and saving, rescuing faith – the core is under attack here. Once we have sufficiently undone the heart of the gospel and reoriented it to more closely resemble our understanding of how things should be, we have slipped into “another gospel,” which is really no gospel at all. For me, I am not omniscient to know exactly where that line is drawn in the spiritual realm. God knows. I do know, however, that I would rather be as close to the biblical truth as possible, rather than running near the line of apostasy. One fruit of regeneration is orthodoxy, more or less.

          And on your clause “even though our response is a function of that work” – I did not give that in my arguments. That is your generous attempt to link the anti-gospel of Galatia (and RC) with the gospel of Paul. The Judaizers would no doubt have tried to respond to Paul by claiming that the circumcision requirement was “our response as a function of that work” of initial grace. I’m sorry, you have fallen from grace, and you (anyone) are severed from Christ when you attempt to add anything to the finished work of the Messiah as a part of your final salvation. How that precisely works out, I do not know – but again I would rather be in the heart of the gospel than hoping to be rescued on the outskirts of orthodoxy/heterodoxy.
          This seemingly magnanimous doctrine of self-preservation in Christ is actually a robbery from His glory, and is based on a premise which is much more Mormon/JW/RC than Christian. What kind of eternal life is it that we have when we initially believe on Christ, brother? Is it eternal, or temporal with an eternality clause based on conditions within the believer? Yikes!

          Do we not empty the words of all meaning if Romans 5:1 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” actually means “Therefore, having been potentially, conditionally, partially justified contingent upon the continued, determined work of the believer, we might have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ if we persevere well enough in righteousness until the judgment, but beware of falling out of communion with Christ or that potential peace may return to war at anytime”? Ghastly stuff – although sweet to the taste for those unstable in the Scriptures. I hear certain deadly poisons taste sweet as well.

        • Wow. Well that certainly makes my position in the discussion clear.

        • Yet brother, although staunch and fixed, I am listening and meaning to be respectful of your thinking.

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