June 24, 2014

200 Words: Why I’m Not Roman Catholic

by Nathan Busenitz

200wordsIf someone were to ask me why I’m not Roman Catholic, this would be my answer in 200 words or less:

I believe the Roman Catholic church has seriously erred in three fundamental areas: in its approach to God, the Bible, and salvation.

1) In its approach to God, Roman Catholicism approves the veneration of (i.e. bowing down before) images and relics, encourages praying to the saints, and promotes Mary to a semi-divine status. All of these constitute varying forms of idolatry, which Scripture condemns (cf. Ex. 20:4–5; Lev. 26:1; Acts 10:25–26; Rev. 22:8–9).

2) In its approach to the Bible, Roman Catholicism elevates church tradition to a place of authority equal to (and in practice higher than) Scripture. The Lord Jesus condemned first-century Judaism as apostate because it likewise elevated the traditions of men above the Word of God (Mark 7:6–8).

3) In its approach to salvation, Roman Catholicism adds various sacramental works to the gospel of grace. In a similar way, the apostle Paul condemned the Judaizers because they added self-righteous works to the gospel (cf. Acts 15:1–11; Rom. 11:6; Gal. 1:6–9).

These fundamental issues, in addition to a host of other doctrinal problems (e.g. purgatory, the papacy, priestly celibacy, indulgences, the Apocrypha, etc.) lead me to reject Roman Catholicism.

Nathan Busenitz

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Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.
  • Anthony King

    I was a RC for the first 20 years of my life. I still try and talk to my Sisters. One of the sure fire characteristics of a cult is their unwavering belief that they are right and everyone else is wrong. The last response I had with my Sister was that she does not have to search the scriptures she knows what she believes. My immediate thought was of Paul who asked that the parchments be brought to him while he was in Gaol. (jail for those across the big pond) I know one thing for sure, I will never get tired of learning about God and I have the whole of eternity to do it.

    • Doug

      What was the turning point when you realized you were lost as a RC?

    • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

      So happy for you, Anthony! I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and saw the same thing in my family. They would refuse to examine the scriptures that disagreed with what they were taught and maintained that God could not personally teach us.

      But like you, I can also say that I will never get tired of learning about God and thanking Him for being set free!

  • Andrew

    This is a great idea – thx for posting. I’m surprised that neither “the priority of the preached Word over sacrament in corporate worship” nor “the proper subject of biblical ecclesiology being the local gathered assembly and not the leadership hierarchy” made the cut. Those are my top two!

    • Nate_Busenitz

      Thanks for your comment. I agree that both of those issues represent significant problems. They would be part of the “etc.” in my last sentence.

  • kevin2184

    Thanks Nathan…I just posted this to my facebook page with this comment:

    Amen….one’s “works” (e.g. obedience to God, acts of charity, love, forgiveness to fellow man, etc). are the RESULT and not the CAUSE of one’s salvation. THAT is the good news of the Gospel: God grant’s salvation immediately and permanently to the humble sinner who comes to Him, confesses his sins and forsakes his former sinful ways (John 3:16, Romans 10;9-10, Acts 16:31) . How joyous it is to know that salvation is a gift of God! (Eph 2:8-10; Romans 5:16, 6:23). Salvation is not “earned” as every other religion, including Roman Catholicism, mandates of its adherents. Sure, there can be Christians present in Roman Catholic parishes (those who trust SOLELY in Jesus Christ for their salvation and not in any combination of their faith and works), but such believers are there in spite of Catholic doctrine, not because of it. I pray daily for my Catholic friends and family (whom I love dearly) that they would leave the false gospel of Roman Catholicism, surrender their lives to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and attend a sound biblically-based Christian church that preaches God’s truth which is found only in His word.

    • Nate_Busenitz

      Thanks Kevin. I like that expansion.

  • Doug

    I recently talked to a RC guy who was in a desperate life situation. He talked all about glorifying God and what Jesus did on the cross, but he could not grasp that salvation is a FREE gift of God. His words were, “I just can’t believe that.” – He flat-out rejected the gospel.

    We must be articulate and careful. Some RCs believe that works and grace save. Other RCs say that they believe in “salvation by grace alone”, but they consider that grace is earned. (In other words, their works got them the grace that). This must be brought to the forefront of the conversation and quickly. Otherwise, you will spin your wheels and tire your listener out with argument over undefined words.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Hi Nathan,

    Ever thought about writing 200 words on why you are not Eastern Orthodox either?

    • Nate_Busenitz

      Good idea. Without conflating the differences between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, some of my reasons for rejecting EO would be parallel to those listed above.

      1) The prominent place of icons in Eastern Orthodox worship.
      2) The elevation of church tradition above the authority of Scripture.
      3) The insistence that salvation is through the sacramental system.

      I would also take issue with Eastern Orthodoxy’s emphasis on “negative theology” (apophaticism) and their explanation of salvation as “deification” (theosis).

  • brad

    Thanks, Nathan! I have been running into many evangelicals who are leaving Protestantism for Roman Catholicism. Most of them are young and pretty intellectual. My hypothesis for why so many people are moving towards Roman Catholicism is that 1) they desire a faith that is mysterious, 2) they desire a faith that is historical and universal (expanding across the centuries and continents), and 3) they believe that evangelicals actually aren’t about the authority of God’s Word, but about their interpretation of God’s Word.

    I can kind of see their points and I was wondering if you had any things I could say to them.

    • Nate_Busenitz

      Hi Brad,

      Thanks for your comment. Because I teach church history, this is an issue I think about quite a bit. In part, I think a general ignorance about church history within evangelical circles is also partly to blame.

      Regarding the three points you bring up, each one could be a long conversation. But I am happy to give a very brief reply.

      1) They desire a faith that is mysterious. My answer to this would depend on what they mean by “mysterious” (perhaps mystical, liturgical, ritualistic, secretive, ancient, transcendent, or just different than my home church). There are many religions that are “mysterious” (a.k.a. the Greco-Roman mystery religions), but that does not make them true.

      2) They desire a faith that is historical and universal. My answer to this is simple: the Roman Catholic Church claims to be the unchanging church of history but that claim is false. I could demonstrate this is many ways. For the sake of space, however, let me direct you to a very helpful online resource in this regard:

      • brad

        Thank you, Nathan. But I think I didn’t give enough details!

        By #1, I meant that they really believe in the Lord’s Supper (that something actually happens when they eat and drink the supper – the Lord’s supper is not a secondary thing to preaching nor is it just a remembrance of what Christ did; instead it is actual nourishment for the soul). They seem to embrace God’s transcendence – something that evangelicals really can’t offer, since we believe we can completely understand His revelation in the Bible.

        I definitely want to look into that resource for #2!

        #3 is actually the point I can’t refute. I think it is patently false that evangelicals believe in the authority of God’s Word. At best, evangelicals believe in the interpretation of the Bible of their most trusted pastor, teacher or leader and attach themselves to what makes most sense to them. That is why we have so many books, churches, networks, seminaries and websites dedicated to certain “tribes” (i.e. Sovereign Grace, Desiring God, Cripplegate, Gospel Coalition, Reformation 21, Grace to You, Acts 29, etc…).

        • These are really poor mischaracterizations, Brad.

          Regarding #1, you baselessly conflate “really believing” in the Lord’s Supper with a real presence view. Your assumption that I can’t “really believe” in the Lord’s Supper because I believe Scripture teaches that it is a memorial is uncharitable and certainly unproven.

          Further, it’s also a mischaracterization to say that we can’t offer a transcendent God because we believe in the sufficiency and clarity of Scripture. God Himself has disclosed Himself in His Word. He Himself has revealed Himself and His nature in the infallible, inspired, and inerrant Scriptures. And those sufficient and clear Scriptures present a God who is gloriously transcendent. Paul can write the most detailed doctrinal treatise in Romans 1-11:32, exposing the character and plan of God in unparalleled ways. And yet in Romans 11:33-36, at the end of that, he can be lost in the wonder of the inscrutable wisdom and untraceable ways. The sufficiency and clarity of Scripture do not rule out God’s transcendence; they actually give us the only reliable portrait of it.

          Regarding #3, you drive an unnecessary (and unbiblical) wedge between the Scripture and the reader of Scripture. By backing up the discussion to the level of “interpretation” you make the Bible entirely unapproachable by any sincere follower of Christ. The closest we can get to God’s Word, according to your erroneous reasoning, is our “interpretation.”

          But God’s Word is sufficiently clear to be understood by those who desire to understand what it means by what it says. Disagreement over non-essential doctrines doesn’t point to a lack of clarity in Scripture, but in Christians, and we should ever be going back to Scripture to test all things by it.

          You should better consider Nathan’s reference to the Bereans. When Paul came and preached the Gospel in Berea, they didn’t throw their hands up in despair of ever arriving at anything more than their “interpretation” of the Scriptures. No, they heard Paul’s teaching, and they went to Scripture to test what he said because they believed that they actually had access to a clear, authoritative Word from God.

          In fact, I would ask you what the alternative should be. If all evangelicals can do is retreat to their favorite teacher’s interpretation, how would you suggest that they remedy that? How would you suggest they actually get at Scripture’s real understanding? They obviously have to study it for themselves, but you would say that they’re merely coming up with their own interpretation.

          In point of fact, evangelicals listen to sound Bible teachers who are committed to the absolute authority of Scripture because they want to benefit from the spiritual-giftedness of those men who can make the meaning of Scripture plain by shedding light on what it actually says. I go to commentaries and listen to sermons not because I want a particular pastor’s or scholar’s interpretation, but because I want to observe how they’ve applied their skills at making the meaning of Scripture plain. When I examine their teaching in the light of the Scripture, to see if those things are so (Ac 17:11), I’m able to submit to the authority of Scripture alone, even if I’ve had help in my understanding.

          The only alternatives to that scenario are: (1) the authority of a magisterium (who mandates that I believe its interpretation); (2) the authority of self (which, again, would only be your interpretation); or (3) confessing that God’s Word is utterly un-understandable, that God has been incapable of revealing His own mind in a way that actually communicates to His creatures. None of those are biblical options.

  • David

    Thanks for this clear format.
    It has made me think through a number of other ‘religious traditions’ to see if I could come up with a similarly succinct statement…not as easy as I thought!
    Please consider making this an ongoing series- very helpful!

    • Nate_Busenitz

      Thanks David.

  • For me I don’t need 200 words. One word cuts it: “justification”

    Although the long, bloody history of killing people that disagreed with catholic doctrine is another good reason as well. I’ve got a copy of “Martyrs Mirror” on my shelf and those RCC folks historically have had quite a talent for persecution, torture and murder. Christ commanded to love your enemies and pray for your persecuters, and then Rome came along and redrew the sword…

    • Nate_Busenitz

      Thanks for your comment. If I had to pick one word, that would be mine too(though “authority” might also be a good one.) I didn’t use the word “justification” in my original post, but my third point centers on that issue.

    • Philip

      If you’re going to reject every religion with a long, bloody history of killing people that disagreed with it, then you’re aren’t going to have many choices left. Persecution, torture and murder aren’t exactly exclusive to Catholicism.

      • No, but they were most certainly masters of the craft, and the separatists/particular baptists I draw my theology from historically have more of a record of cheese casseroles than inquisitions and crusades…

        • Philip

          Ah, so what matters here is the total number of kills?

          How many cases of persecution, torture and murder must we have before we reject a religion on the grounds on persecution, torture and murder? What’s the threshold here? Catholics killed Protestants and Protestants killed Catholics. If bloody hands are a criteria for rejection, why not reject both?

          I suspect that the body count wrung up by a particular belief system is as much a matter of historical accident as it is anything else. The important questions to ask are when did the belief system arise and how much political and military power was in the hands of that system?

          I have an Irish father-in-law. You should ask him about those “cheese casserole” Protestants.

          • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

            Philip, Christianity has never been about choosing or rejecting a religion, but choosing or rejecting Christ. Which are you struggling with?

          • Philip


            I’m not sure that you followed my point. I was simply trying to apply Johnny’s criteria for deciding when to reject a particular belief system to systems other than Catholicism.

  • Thanks for this pithy post and your other posts that address the often neglected topic of Roman Catholicism. RC is such a clear example of what happens when you elevate the teachings of man to the authority of the Word of God. The sufficiency of Christ and salvation by grace through faith are added to which results in a false gospel.

    I heard Mohler say recently on the radio that though RC is false, he believes millions of Catholics within RC to be saved (http://www.albertmohler.com/2014/05/17/ask-anything-weekend-edition-05-17-14/). Such comments from leaders only sow seeds of confusion. I find it very peculiar of a notion that millions could be saved under the teaching of false teachers and remain under such false teaching as born again believers.

    Thanks for your ministry and being a clear and uncompromising voice of truth! Keep lighting a fire under those students out there.

    (RC for 23 years)

    • Ben

      Two questions for Kevin and Jason.

      What are the basic requirements of salvation and do you
      think sometimes we may require more than what is needed for salvation?

      The thief on the cross and the continuing education of
      Apollos in Acts 18 are two good examples. There is a difference between
      salvation and sanctification and what Dr. Mohler understands is that we can
      have salvation and still need to be “feed with milk”. I did not hear what he
      said, but if he did leave “it” hanging out there without an explanation I can
      see where that would be confusing.

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  • 4Commencefiring4

    Not being RC, I won’t defend its doctrines, many of which clearly run counter to the Bible, as you said.

    But this article causes me to wonder if we, as evangelicals, are too quick to assume that those who don’t hold all the “right” notions of this or that are damned. In other words, are we really going to say that God will declare, “I never knew you–depart from Me” to millions (indeed billions) of people who lived their whole lives never denying that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of men, and who could honestly say they agreed with the main doctrines of Scripture, even if they could not tell you who wrote Romans and couldn’t find the book of Judges without a table of contents. Many of these people made a decision for Christ as children–something we all say is desirable and effectual–but perhaps it wasn’t reflected in later life to a significant degree.

    There are verses that seem to clearly say that salvation is for the few (narrow gate; true disciples must daily carry their cross; “hate” father and mother, etc) and others that appear to give a lot of leeway as to what constitutes salvation (He who is not against us is for us; thief on cross who simply said, “Remember me”, whoever gives a drink of water will not lose his reward, etc).

    There are some people who believe salvation will only be for those who use the KJV, attend independent Bible churches, subscribe to the “proper” eschatology, allow no women in any leadership roles, stay separate from unbelievers, don’t have a Sunday job, and buy American cars. Oh, and shun anyone divorced.

    If you don’t check off all those–and other–boxes, well, you obviously are “none of His” and are headed for hell. All of us know people who are RC. Are we ready to say that because they are mistaken about Mary, for instance, that the trust they claim to have in the body and blood of Christ is thereby negated? Does a 7th Day Adventist miss the salvation mark because he held to a doctrinal error?

    No doubt there are red lines that cannot be crossed and still be compatible with salvation; those are cardinal doctrines of who Christ is and what He did for us. But I’m not real sure I can be dogmatic about how far afield one must be from those core things before the expectation of salvation is simply not realistic.

    • Jeff Schlottmann

      The thing is, the catholic beliefs are not just simple doctrinal errors like whether women can wear pants or not. Many of the beliefs are outright heresies. They elevate Mary to be equal with if not above God and Christ. Again, that’s not a simple doctrinal error. I believe that alone condemns them. Not to mention the worship of men angels. And even worse, the constant sacrifice of Christ in the mass.

      If you haven’t heard it already, you should check out Macarthur’s series called ‘explaining the heresies of catholicism’.

      • 4Commencefiring4

        I don’t know of any Catholics who elevate Mary above Christ. They may pray to her, which is wrong, but I’ve never heard of any who think her to be from everlasting to everlasting, or the Creator, or the one who will judge us. Any glory ascribed to her, as I understand it, only stems from the special role she was assigned. Understandable, but still wrong. Yet does the place they give her supplant their worship of Christ? Not sure I can say that.

        Not sure what you mean by “worship of men angels.” “Saints”? I don’t think they ascribe divinity or angelic characteristics to those whom they “venerate.” They just believe–again, wrongly–that some believers of sufficient “holiness”, or whatever, are somehow overseeing the affairs of men on Earth and can be appealed to for favor. Erroneous to be sure; but damnable?

        The issue of “transubstantiation” in the mass has been a bugaboo for years to non-RCs. The doctrine is not logical, it’s not biblical (we claim), it’s not a lot of things. It’s supposedly “mystical” and therefore something to be accepted by faith, just as we say Christ is “in us” by faith, even though we know He ascended to heaven and sat down at the right hand of God, there to remain until the end of the age. So how is He “in us” if He’s in heaven acting as our advocate before the Father? Not logical, but it’s stated in Scripture to be so. And we trust that it’s true, regardless of how it sounds.

        By the same token, Catholics say “This is my body” means the elements He distributed to the 12 that day were, in some mystical sense, His body; the cup was His blood. They couldn’t have been, as His real body was there passing the elements, His blood not yet spilled. But they accept it on faith. I’m not defending it; I’m just saying they have their rationales just as we have ours.

        But whether their rationales are damnable is the big question. How significant must one’s errors be before anything else you believe that IS true is of no account?

        • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

          You ask if the place that Catholics give Mary supplants their worship of Christ? Yes! Anything and anyone placed beside Christ supplants our worship of Him. Prayer IS worship and their continual prayers for Mary’s intercession supplant Christ’s role of sole intercessor (1 Timothy 2:5.)

          Likewise, their claim that Mary is without original sin is nothing but a subtle attempt to supplant Christ’s role of sole redeemer. If you doubt that, look up the effort not long ago to make Mary co-redemptive, in case you question the power she has in the Catholic mindset.

          I think it’s also important to note that when ancient Israel placed their idols IN the Temple, seeking intercession from both God and their idols, God did not deem that as simply erroneous, but damnable. It was idolatry and indicated a forsaking of the Lord.

          Put it this way, any rationale not based in the truth of God’s Word is damnable. And we would be good ambassadors of Christ to point that out to our Catholic friends and relatives.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            I’m not defending Catholic doctrine; I’m just asking if erroneous doctrine, alone, condemns anyone to being unsaved. And if it can, what things can we be in error about and still expect salvation? And can one who names the name of Christ, depending on nothing else but His sacrifice on their behalf for eternal life, also subscribe to notions that most of his fellow believers disagree with?

            The list is long comprising debatable topics among sincere christians. Without doubt, some are so central to the whole notion of the Gospel itself that to dissent is to essentially demonstrate actual unbelief and rebellion against God. Those things are in a separate category.

            But many are in that grey area that explains why we have many denominations in the first place. The Bible’s declarations about being saved boil down to some rather basic things: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.” Again, the thief on the cross didn’t know doctrine–or much of anything; he just said “Remember me.” And it was enough.

            A lot of people would seem to meet the above requirements who also belong to denominations that you and I would probably agree is wrong headed and that add things to their church constitutions that we might find peculiar and unbiblical. But does that damn them? Hard to answer.

            I’m quite sure every single christian both of us knows is wrong about some doctrine they hold (except me, of course!), so I hope whatever they wrongly believe doesn’t translate into, “I never knew you.”

          • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

            I admit to struggle with those same questions and am very cautious in thinking that I can answer them. My hope is that in the judgement I am surprised and humbled by His mercy to those who didn’t have it all right (like we do). 🙂

            But as I said before, it is the evidence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life that is the determining factor to whether they are saved or not. And that Holy Spirit bears specific fruit, especially an assurance of salvation, a “knowing of Christ intimately”.

            And I still maintain that the work of the Holy Spirit is to guide us away from erroneous doctrine and into truth. We can argue the specifics of what that truth is and defend a person’s lack of biblical knowledge, but I believe that the Holy Spirit is big enough to expose things that are false and lead His children away from them.

            Growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness I can say that my doctrine was severely messed up, but I loved Christ and believed He died for me. But it was not my erroneous doctrine that would have damned me, but the fact that I had not been given His Holy Spirit which is the deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.

            Determining that Spirit in others is often difficult. I tend to rest in the fact that God is sovereign and He knows those who are His. I just need to love them and point them to Christ.

          • I think what’s being overlooked in this discussion is that the Roman Catholic Church preaches a fundamentally different gospel than the true Gospel given to us in the New Testament. While Marian dogma can be idolatrous, while transubstantiation can be blasphemous, and while dozens of other errors can be troublesome and wrong, it all comes back to what one must believe (and in their case, believe and do) to be saved.

            The Roman Catholic Church not only rejects but anathematizes the doctrine of justification by faith alone. In other words, they do not, as 4CF4 says, “depend on nothing else but His sacrifice on their behalf for eternal life.” They insist that we are justified, not solely on the basis of the work of Christ imputed to us solely through faith, but instead we are justified as a result of being infused with a personal, inherent righteousness that we must “preserve and increase” by our own good works (see the Council of Trent, Canon XXIV). This destroys the Gospel of grace (Rom 11:6; cf. Rom 4:16) and makes it another gospel, which is really no gospel at all (Gal 1:6-9).

            For more on this, please see the following posts:

            A Tale of Two Gospels

            5 Differences between Catholic Theology and the Gospel

            The ‘Gospel’ According to Rome

            Now, that doesn’t mean that nobody at all who goes to a Catholic church can be saved (if, e.g., the church is not teaching the official doctrine of the RCC, or if through the exposure to the Scriptures the person is exposed to the true Gospel and believes it in contradistinction to the message being taught in their church). However, it does mean that they are saved in spite of the official teaching of the RCC, and not because of it. Even so, I believe the number of saved persons continuing to attend Roman Catholic churches is a much smaller number than is often assumed, because the work of the Holy Spirit in a truly regenerated believer would lead that person away from a false church that preaches a false gospel.
            None of that is throwing stones. It’s simply seeking an accurate estimation of the situation so that we might be properly informed about the necessity of taking the Gospel to our Roman Catholic friends and family. If we’re wrongfully lulled into the notion that they are true Christians, albeit misguided, then our focus will shift from the necessary mission, which is a full-scale rescue from the sin that still holds them in bondage.

            May we be faithful to proclaim the only Gospel that saves to all who still need to hear it.

          • Frank

            “Likewise, their claim that Mary is without original sin is nothing but a
            subtle attempt to supplant Christ’s role of sole redeemer.”

            False. Mary was saved because of Christ. There are so many errors on this site.

          • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

            Then why has the papacy given her the titles of co-redemtrix and co-redeemer? Perhaps it’s because the fathers of the Second Vatican Council taught:

            “…Taken up to heaven Mary did not lay aside her SAVING office but by HER MANIFOLD INTERCESSION CONTINUES TO BRING US THE GIFTS OF ETERNAL SALVATION.”
            (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 62)

          • Tim Eriksen

            To 4Commencefiring4:

            I think your understanding of the thief on the cross falls short of what Scripture teaches. Luke 23:39-43 conveys much more than just “remember me.”

            Yesterday I read this in John MacArthur’s sermon “God’s Sovereignty, the Gospel and Sleeping Well”

            ““But the other answered and rebuking him said, ‘Do you not even fear God since you’re under the same sentence of condemnation?’” That’s an interesting perspective. Where did that come from? This is a thief. This is a criminal, a criminal worthy of execution. And then his theology starts to come out. “We indeed are suffering justly, we’re receiving what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong,” and he affirms the sinlessness of Christ. Wow!

            Now understand that Jesus is half virtually naked, hanging on a cross, being scorned, mocked, ridiculed, not impressive. But this man, the other thief, says, “He’s sinless.” He understood the sinlessness of Christ. Then he says, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your Kingdom.” He understood the sovereignty of Christ, that He was a King. He understood the Savior-hood of Christ, that He could remember him and thus bring him into His Kingdom. He even understood the Second Coming of Christ, “When You come in Your Kingdom.” That is a very sound theology. It’s really stunning. “He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you’ll be with Me in Paradise.’”

            What happened to that thief? The only explanation for faith at that moment on the cross in the life of that thief was the power of God on his soul.”

    • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

      While it is not our place to determine someone’s salvation, I often go back to whether they have the joy of assurance or not, which is the mark of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

      I have found that many people are quick to speak of what they believe, their good works or positions on doctrine, but then become uncomfortable when speaking of Christ in tender terms and glaze over when the subject of grace is discussed.

      As far as your question of whether people can miss the salvation mark because of doctrinal error, I think it’s important to note that Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would “guide us into all truth” (John 16:13.) So as I understand it, if someone is truly saved they will be drawn out of that which is false and into what is true. They will have a humble, teachable spirit through which God will guide them into sound doctrine.

      “Checking off boxes” in order to be saved is the work of man. Having a heart filled with the love of Christ and the gratitude of what He has done is the work of God.

      • 4Commencefiring4

        Many people have the “joy of assurance”, but they are so far off the biblical mark that it scare me. A committed Muslim who straps C4 to his chest and walk into a marketplace of “infidels” and takes them with him has assurance of his reward, I’m quite sure.

        Being “guided into all truth” differs from person to person, even among those who truly are committed to the Lord. In theory, we should all be walking without error (“drawn out of that which is false”), but you and I both know christians are as diverse a crowd as any. We rarely agree on everything.

        Reminds me of this joke where a Jew has been shipwrecked alone on an island and isn’t rescued for years. He builds a whole community on the island to make himself feel at home, even building two synagogs. When he’s finally found, the rescuers ask him why he has two synagogs if he’s alone there.

        “The first one is the one I pray in, and the other one is the one I wouldn’t be caught DEAD in.”

        • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

          I think there is a difference in having the “joy of assurance” vs. someone who has determined and is confident that their works are sufficient to earn them salvation. Even the Muslim’s assurance is based upon the hope of successfully blowing himself and others up. Only the Christian can boast that our assurance is based on the finished work of Christ.

          Likewise, I know several Catholics who are confident in their works, but none in their assurance.Their response to whether or not they will go to heaven is always, “I hope so”. Do we define that as humility or a lack of faith? I don’t know. All I know is that when God gave me His Holy Spirit, I knew I was forgiven, saved, loved and set free. I can only hope they come to know that.

      • It’s interesting that the Roman Catholic Church anathematizes the assurance of salvation in the Council of Trent. From Canon XVI of the Sixth session:

        “If any one saith, 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.”

        One 16th-century Cardinal actually called the doctrine of the assurance of salvation “the greatest of all protestant heresies.” See here for more on that.

        While it’s true that a subjective assurance of salvation is no more ground of our salvation than it is for a jihadi Muslim (as 4CF4 points out), it seems that the RCC says if you do claim to be sure of your salvation, you’re going to hell!

        • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

          Well then, thanks be to God that we have “learned this by special revelation” when God poured His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit! 🙂

  • Franco

    1 TImothy 4:1-5 “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.” The two acts that Paul calls the doctrine of demons are two acts upheld by the RCC. Thanks for the post!

  • Rocky

    I was a cradle Catholic. I spent 15 years of young adulthood immersed in the modern culture until Christ came into my heart in a serious way. I stayed with Catholicism for various reasons: 1. I accepted its major tenets on the Trinity, Christ, etc.; 2. I accepted its moral positions on divorce, abortion, marriage, family, etc.; 3. I gave the Church the benefit of being the “Champeen” due to her long existence and manifestation in the world. A challenger would have to wrest authority and truth from her. So far, it hasn’t been done to my satisfaction.
    The church’s history has blemishes, and the extent of her claims has problems. This is a human problem. It is a huge institution with a long history. If I were to pick a church based on sinlessness, I’d be out of luck twice, because there is no such church, and if there were, it would cease to be one once I joined it, peccable human that I am.
    I believe in the Trinity, in the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, fully God and fully human in all things but sin. I accept Scripture but not Scripture alone. I believe in faith but not faith alone. I believe grace is a gift, unearned. I believe we are saved by grace, through faith, worked in hope and charity.
    In this monstrous new world of atheism, modernism, relativism, consumerism, with its accompanying growth of fornication, adultery, abortion, divorce, repeatedly broken families, pornography, homosexuality, transgenderism, we Christians are being increasingly persecuted. When you and I share a cell for not agreeing with the new agendas, the state won’t care that I’m Catholic and you are not.

    • And yet, the State’s evaluation of us is not what will matter, Rocky. It is Christ the Judge’s evaluation that will alone be of any import. And when you deny the authority of Scripture alone, you dethrone God and His infallible Word and subject Him to man and his often-fallible word. When you deny the instrumentality of faith alone, you destroy the Gospel of sovereign grace (Rom 11:6; Rom 4:16).

      The demons believe in the Trinity, in the incarnation, resurrection, the sinlessness, and the full humanity and deity of Christ (Jas 2:19). And yet they are not saved by that creed. What makes the difference is what we are trusting in for our righteousness before God. The Roman Catholic Church teaches us to trust in Christ, yes, but also to trust partly in ourselves and our own works — our ability to “preserve and increase” our inherent righteousness through the sacraments (quoting there from the Council of Trent, Canon XXIV). The Scriptures teach us to trust in Christ alone for righteousness — to count whatever we may have thought to be to our credit as loss, even refuse — so that we might gain Christ, and, in union with Him, find ourselves credited with an alien righteousness that is not our own and that is not derived from commandment-keeping, but which is received through faith alone (cf. Phil 3:3-9).

      Good works are the necessary fruit of saving faith; so that if someone is claiming to be saved but their life is in entire discord with that profession, we have reason to question the sincerity of their faith. But the Roman Catholic Church teaches that good works are not merely the fruit or the evidence of our salvation, but the root or the ground of it, even if only in part. And that is not the Gospel.

      We’ve developed these themes at greater length elsewhere on this blog, and I would invite you to read through these resources and to put your trust in Christ alone for your righteousness.

      A Tale of Two Gospels

      5 Differences between Catholic Theology and the Gospel

      The ‘Gospel’ According to Rome

      • Fibber MaGee


        Wasn’t Nathan’s post about RC doctrinal error and the theological
        differences that would keep him from being a Catholic? I don’t think anyone except Rocky disagrees with you or Nathan but, what people seem to be questioning is, what does the bible teach regarding basic salvation requirements?
        Do we have to consciously know and believe in faith alone for our
        salvation? I don’t think the bible teaches that. It certainly teaches that faith alone is how we obtain salvation. It’s just not a prerequisite for salvation to believe that specific doctrine. I have no doubt that the RC church is a false teacher concerning this doctrine and that Rocky has been misled by it, but I am certainly not going to say he is not saved because he believes that salvation is also by works. He may (due to poor teaching) not understand that we have works because of our faith and the love of Christ in obedience and not to validate our faith and secure salvation. I believe Rocky has salvation based on his profession of faith in Christ, but he needs sanctification (as do we all).

        • Wasn’t Nathan’s post about RC doctrinal error and the theological differences that would keep him from being a Catholic?

          Yes, and the third “theological difference” went to the very heart of the Gospel. The official teaching of Roman Catholicism teaches and preaches a different gospel than the Scriptures do, which means it is really no true Gospel at all and cannot save. In his comment, Rocky seems to be subscribing to that false gospel, and I hoped to show him the difference between the RCC’s false gospel and the Gospel of the NT, so that he might turn from trusting in Christ plus, and come to trust in Christ alone.

          …what people seem to be questioning is, what does the bible teach regarding basic salvation requirements? Do we have to consciously know and believe in faith alone for our

          I’m not saying that we’re justified by believing in justification by faith alone. Rather, we are justified by believing in Christ alone for our righteousness. In order to be saved, one must believe that he is a sinner deserving eternal punishment from God because of his sin, and that he can do nothing at all to even contribute to his rescue (cf. Luke 18:9-14; Eph 2:8-10; Titus 3:5; etc.). He must also believe that, as the Son of God and Son of Man, Christ has paid man’s penalty in His death and has accomplished man’s righteousness in His life and resurrection. He must also be trusting in that payment and provision of righteousness alone for his salvation. If he trusts in something other than that, or if he demeans the sufficiency of that work by trusting in something in addition to that, he believes a gospel that cannot save.

          In the case of an informed Roman Catholic who is not merely ignorant of Scripture’s teaching but, when presented with Scripture’s teaching, denies that it is so (such as when Rocky explicitly says he does not believe in “faith alone,” or that he believes in “faith worked through charity”), it’s hard to make the case that he’s trusting Christ alone for his righteousness. It seems plain that he’s trusting Christ and grace-wrought works of his own. I would invite you, again, to see this post for why I believe that such a person does not go to his house justified.

          …but I am certainly not going to say he is not saved because he believes that salvation is also by works.

          Then I’m not sure how you would ever come to the conclusions that Paul does about the Judaizers in the Book of Galatians, or even in Philippians 3, which I was referencing in my previous comment. Here were men who believed and taught that salvation is not by faith in Christ alone, but also (note, not instead of) by works. And yet Paul does not count them to be merely misled brothers in Christ. He calls those were teaching this damning doctrine “dogs, evil workers, and mutilators of the flesh” (Phil 3:2), and says they will bear their judgment (Gal 5:10).

          And to the Galatians, who were not propagators of this doctrine of demons but simply tempted to believe in it, Paul says he fears he’s labored over them in vain (Gal 4:11), which is to say he fears they may not be saved. He says if they receive circumcision — which is to say, if they allow even the smallest of religious rituals to become part of the ground of their confidence for salvation — “Christ will be of no benefit to you” (Gal 5:2). Not: “He will be of some benefit to you, just not as much as otherwise.” No. Paul says that everyone who receives circumcision as a ground of righteousness is obligated to keep the whole law (Gal 5:3). In other words, if you want your righteousness to be based even partly on works, you’re under obligation to earn the whole thing by works. And then, seeking to be justified by the law, you are severed from Christ (Gal 5:4).

          You see, Christ will do everything or He will do nothing. Why? Because if salvation “is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom 11:6). To introduce works is to corrupt the Gospel of grace, which is the only Gospel that saves.

          So, again, while I understand that we’re not saved by faith in the doctrine of sola fide, we are saved by trusting in Christ alone for righteousness. That is incompatible with outright denying sola fide and insisting that salvation is grounded at least partly by works. And as I said above, this is not Catholic-bashing. It’s simply seeking a biblically accurate estimation of the situation so that we might be properly informed about the necessity of taking the Gospel to our Roman Catholic friends and family. If we’re wrongfully lulled into the notion that they are true Christians, albeit misguided, then our focus will shift from the necessary mission, which is a full-scale rescue from the sin that still holds them in bondage.

          May we be faithful to proclaim the only Gospel that saves to all who still need to hear it.

          • Zachary

            Mark 1:15, Jesus Christ preached repentance and faith. Action + Belief. The Bible mentions “faith alone” once, James 2:17. Let us believe in and turn to the Living God, Jesus Christ alone and be saved! Protestant Churches are responsible for a least an equal number of heresies as the RCC. Don’t trust either for your salvation or sanctification. The God of the Universe, The Holy Spirit is entirely sufficient and capable. Let us sing the praises of the Glory of our Father in unity. Grace and peace be with and in you all!

          • Mark 1:15, Jesus Christ preached repentance and faith. Action + Belief.

            No one denies the need for repentance. Luther was a humongous proponent of sola fide, and his 95 Theses began by underscoring the need for repentance in all of life. But the initial repentance that is called for in the Gospel message (Mark 1:15; cf. Ac 17:30-31; etc.) is not something that is separate from saving faith; rather it is a vital component of faith itself. Saving faith is a repentant faith. You cannot turn to Christ for salvation without also turning from your sin and from your self-righteousness (i.e., good works) as a means of salvation (cf. 1 Thess 1:9). You can’t imagine that you can “believe in Christ” for salvation without turning from a life of sin an self-righteousness at the very same time.

            Where the RCC goes wrong is in conflating justification and sanctification. After that initial repentant faith in Christ alone for justification that purposes to turn from sin and repudiates any reliance upon self for my acceptance with God (which, again, is what saving faith is), the whole life is to be marked by continual repentance — the constant battle of putting off sin and putting on righteousness. But that life of repentance is the consequence of justification, not the cause of it. Sanctification is the necessary fruit of justification; it is not the ground of justification. The RCC denies these claims and teaches the opposite, which is to destroy the Gospel of grace as I noted above (cf. Rom 11:6; cf. Rom 4:16; Gal 5:2-4; Eph 2:8-10; Phil 3:3-9), and thus to preach a different gospel, which is really not another (Gal 1:6-9).

            The Bible mentions “faith alone” once, James 2:17.

            James 2:17 doesn’t mention the phrase “faith alone.” You’re probably thinking of James 2:24. I know, it’s hard to keep those verse references straight when you’re just regurgitating talking points.

            In any case, James is speaking about the good works that are evidence of saving faith. Abraham’s faith (which was credited to him as righteousness; cf. Rom 4:3-6) was vindicated (i.e., another sense of the term “justified”) by his works; his works showed his faith was real. But the cause for God’s declaration of Abraham as righteous was the imputation of that righteousness through faith alone (again, see Romans 4:3-6 and the rest of the chapter). The good works that James speaks about are not the ground of our justification, but are the necessary evidence of our justification.

            For Scripture to say that we are saved by faith, not of ourselves, and not by works (Eph 2:8-9), apart from works (Rom 3:28), and not on the basis of works otherwise grace is no longer grace (Rom 11:6), and by faith so that it may be in accordance with grace (Rom 4:16), and that righteousness is not inherent but comes from God by faith (Phil 3:9) — all of that doesn’t leave room for any other conclusion than that we are justified by faith alone. And though Scripture is our sole infallible authority, it’s interesting that the church fathers affirmed justification by faith alone as the teaching of the Scriptures (especially note #7, 14-16, 20-21).

            Let us believe in and turn to the Living God, Jesus Christ alone and be saved!

            To Christ alone? Or to Christ plus our own “preservation and increasing of our righteousness through our good works” (cf. Trent)?

            Protestant Churches are responsible for a least an equal number of heresies as the RCC.

            That may be so, but the reason that charge doesn’t stick is that I’m not under a magisterial decree to affirm everything that every Protestant church ever does. If a Protestant “church” teaches heresy, I can reject that heresy on the basis of the sole infallible authority of Scripture. But if the Roman Catholic Church teaches heresy, and then requires, by magisterial decree, all who belong to the Roman Catholic Church to adopt such teaching, then the RCC cannot stand. You can’t reject a RCC heresy and remain Catholic, because your infallible authority is the magisterium that canonized the error in the first place, and not the Scriptures alone.

            Let us sing the praises of the Glory of our Father in unity.

            Unity is based upon truth, Zachary. There is no unity between groups who preach fundamentally different gospels. Christ has no harmony with Belial (2 Cor 6:15).

          • Fibber MaGee


            I really needed to hear that and quite frankly a little embarrassed
            that I needed to hear that.

            Thank you!!!

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  • Frank

    Where is scripture alone in the bible? If you are going to criticize the Catholic Church for tradition, where is it that all tradition is bad?

    • Tim Eriksen

      Isn’t the real question, Where is anything but Scripture alone taught in the bible? Where are the Israelites told to add traditions to the Law? Nathan quotes Mark 7:6-8 regarding tradition. 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:2 is quite clear regarding the sufficiency of the Word.

    • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

      Frank, but what if that tradition contradicts scripture? Which would you choose?

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