This is the third article on the new openness in the Roman Catholic Church. Although I am impressed with Pope Francis and find his inclusivity very welcoming, there remain significant reasons why I am not a Roman Catholic Christian. The Roman Church is sacerdotal in that it holds that grace is communicated solely by and through the ministrations of the Church. Therefore “outside the church there is no salvation.” And yet the early Christian Church believed that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The Roman Catholic Church also has a remedy to our sin that differs from Scripture. As David Norris has said, “They maintain that man possesses within himself, within his own mind, all that is necessary to set things on the right track and God is obliged to assist where necessary. The Scriptures teach differently. The natural man is unable in and of himself to understand and accept Christian truth. As he now stands by nature, every man is devoid of spiritual life, is completely insensible to the realities of the spiritual world, and in no position to receive the things of God. ‘The natural person [unregenerate] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor 2:14). The whole soul, feelings, intellect, and will, all need regeneration. The whole world, man himself, is not intelligible without reference to God. It is the false understanding of man and his capabilities that must be questioned, where he rather than God is made the ultimate reference point.”
The Reformers, Luther, Calvin and others believed not only that the power of God is needed to make us alive (Eph 2:5) and to understand the things of God (John 3:3), but that salvation comes not gradually but in a moment by His free mercy to all who through faith trust in the merits of Christ alone. The saving grace of God does not simply make a provision for all to access salvation, but it actually saves. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8, 9)..
Martin Luther in his Smalcald Articles wrote: “But the Gospel means nothing but a proclamation and heralding of the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ, merited, and procured through His death…. For it does not bid us do works whereby we may become righteous, but proclaims to us the grace of God, bestowed freely, and apart from any merit of our own; and it tells how Christ has taken our place, and rendered satisfaction for our sins, and cancelled them, and by His own works justifies and saves us… Whoever sets forth this, by preaching or writing, he teaches the true Gospel, as all the Apostles did, especially St Paul and St Peter, in their Epistles. So that all, whatever it be, that sets forth this one and the same Gospel, although one may use a different method, and speak of it in different language from another… But yet, if it tends to this point, that Christ is our Savior, and we through faith in Him, apart from works of our own, are justified and saved, it is still the same Word, and but one Gospel, just as there is but one faith and one baptism in the whole Christian world.”
I am a sinner by birth and by choice. I am dead in my spiritual life and cannot make myself alive. In my natural state I can hear about God and practice my religious duties, but it is like taking a bath in the muddy waters of the Ganges. I feel clean for a moment, but only on the outside. Then I hear the Gospel and God makes me alive; “I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose went forth and followed thee.” (Charles Wesley) In the Gospel I see my own depravity and that faith in Christ alone, not in the Church alone, brings the forgiveness of all my sin.
I believe that the task of the Church is to preach Christ and not mediate Christ. Gifts, sacrifices, penance, condign and congruent merit are not able to save nor perfect my conscience as a worshipper. Only the merits of Christ’s death can save me to the “uttermost” (Heb 7:25) and purify my conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb 9:14). Not the labor of my hands, can fulfill Thy law’s demands; could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone. (Augustus Toplady) He/She who believes this is a Christian, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic.