Catholicism and Christianity
There are nearly one billion Catholics in the world today. Catholics testify to believing in Jesus Christ, believing the Bible and participating in Mass. However, are Catholics Christians? That is a question best left to the Lord Himself, but we can ask the question; Is the teaching of the Catholic Church Christian?
The Protestant Reformers of the 16th century clashed with the Roman Catholic Church on a number of issues. One of those issues was on the authority of the Bible. Reformers argued that Scripture itself was the only infallible and proper source for doctrine. The Catholic Church took the position that extra-biblical material, church councils and traditions within the Church also held authority alongside of Scripture. It is interesting in the gospels to see Jesus’ emphasis upon the Scriptures and His reaction to the the traditions of the religious leaders of His day. Sometimes, when He conflicted with the Pharisees, He would comment or ask them a question, such as these; “… (and the Scripture cannot be broken),” (John 10.35) or; “ … ‘Did you never read in the Scriptures : …” (Matthew 21.42) and; “ … ‘You are mistaken, not [a]understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. ” (Matthew 22.29 footnote:[a] “Matthew 22:29 Or knowing”). Again and again, Jesus taught His disciples the Scriptures. Even after He rose from the dead, we see Him doing this to the two disciples on the road to Amaeus. We read; “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24.27KJV). From this we see Jesus using the Scriptures to teach doctrine. While Jesus used the Scriptures to teach doctrine, He had a negative response to many of the traditions of the religious leaders of His day. We read of a time when the Scribes and Pharisees confronted Jesus with the question; “ ‘Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? …” (Matthew 15.2). We read ; “And He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? ” (Matthew 15.3) and; “ … And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” (Matthew 15.6). In Jesus’ day, Jesus placed authority on the Scriptures rather than on tradition. If we just use the Bible as our source, then we have a very narrow path to salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ through what He has done for us at Calvary. If we use the whole body of Catholic teaching as our base, this narrow way is changed to a much broader way to include a religion of rituals and sacraments which are thought to be instrumental and important in experiencing God’s grace.
In Roman Catholicism, the saving work of Jesus Christ is believed to be communicated through the Roman Catholic Church. The catechism of the Catholic Church states; “Christ manifests, makes present and communicates [H]is work of salvation through the liturgy of [H]is Church.”1 More specifically, it is taught that Christ’s work of salvation is passed through the Church by means of seven sacraments. These sacraments are Confirmation, Chrismation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony.2
These sacraments are viewed not merely as symbols. Rather, it is viewed, by the practicing of the sacraments, that the grace of Christ is activated and made beneficial to Catholic participants. Catholicism teaches that “[c]elebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify. They are efficacious because in them Christ [H]imself is at work: it is [H]e who baptizes, [H]e who acts in [H]is sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies.” 3 If they confer the grace that they signify, sacraments in Catholicism become enormously important. We are told that “[t]he Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.” 4 I disagree with these quotes from the Catholic catechism because I feel that they teach salvation through the meadiatorship of sacraments and the Catholic Church.
What does the Bible teach concerning the mediatorship of salvation? We are told, in the book of First Timothy; “ For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, ” (1 Timothy 2.5). Christ, alone, mediates between God and man, granting salvation to those who receive Him. His salvation is not contingent upon religious rituals or the authority of men. He clearly declares; “…’I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. ” (John 14.6). In the Old Testament, the Jewish people also had a system of priests that performed religious rituals and duties. In the New Testament, we learn that Christ takes the position of priest to mediate a New Covenant. Hebrews records:
But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
Hebrews 9.11-15 KJV
Since the time of Christ’s sacrifice, people are not required by God to go to priests to have sacrifices offered for their sins. Christ’s sacrifice became the perfect sacrifice, offered once, for all. Christ now fills the position of High Priest, and the New Testament teaches that we are to go to Him for salvation. Scripture further contrasts the function of Old Covenant priests with the work of the Man, High Priest Jesus Christ; “And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; ” (Hebrews 10.11-12KJV). Christ’s work of atonement, and saving grace, is not contingent upon the priestly operation of the religious rituals of Catholicism, just as it is not contingent on the priestly operation of Jewish sacrifices. This is good news, for it means that we can come to Him, directly, for salvation. We read; “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:” (1 John 2.1KJV).
Dear friend, salvation is not ritualistic. Salvation is about becoming born again. A man or woman may become born again by coming to God by faith.
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Romans 5.1-2 KJV
Jesus, on one occasion, asked; “… ‘Where is your faith?’… ” (Luke 8.25). I believe that Jesus asks men and women this same question today. God has ordained that the receiving of salvation is by faith. In fact, when we come to God by faith, Jesus Christ comes to dwell within us. The Apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesian church “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; …” (Ephesians 3.17).
What then, is faith? It is believing. We are told that it pleased God to save those who believe the Gospel (see 1 Corinthians 1.21). How does one come to true faith in God? Firstly, it is by believing the truth that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again. He not only died on the cross but, after three days, God resurrected Him. Just as Jesus died on our behalf, for our sins, He rose from the dead to conquer death on our behalf. Because He was raised back to life, He can grant spiritual life to those who come to Him by faith. In this way, those who are spiritually dead in sin can be born again to life.
So, firstly, we must believe this truth and, secondly, we must believe in Jesus Christ Himself. Believing in Jesus means beginning a personal relationship with Christ. This can be done by coming to Christ in prayer, acknowledging to Him that you are a sinner, expressing to Him your remorse for sin and asking Him to forgive you; it is also acknowledging that you believe that He died for you, that He rose from the dead for you, and committing to turn from your own way to follow His will.
Dear Reader, have you believed in Jesus? The Bible tells us; “And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.” (1 John 3.23 KJV).
Remember the discussion between Jesus Christ and Nicodemus (see John, Chapter 3) on being born again. Further on in that discussion, Jesus said:
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. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
John 3.16-18 KJV
Many today try to come to, and be accepted by, God on the basis of the good things that they have done. However, good works do not earn us salvation. Salvation comes another way. The Scriptures teach; “ … but the just shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2.4KJV).
Biblical faith leads to, and is an expression of, obedience to God. Faith is not an involuntary act, on our part, that just simply occurs due to the sovereign actions of God. Faith is a response which we must make to God and to His Gospel. Faith is not merely affirming a set of doctrines or believing in a creed. Faith is an experience where a man or woman expresses trust. Wesley described it as “a sure trust and confidence in God, that, through the merits of Christ, his sins are forgiven, and he [is] reconciled to the favor of God.” 5
Faith is a response from man to God. It is a change from the common course of unbelief that humanity is traveling on. Faith is necessary for salvation, for one must believe in Christ to be saved. Paul says this about the message of faith which he preached: “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, [a]that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; ” (Romans 10.8-9 footnote: [a] Romans 10:9 Or because). “Confess” is a term for acknowledging, agreeing and affirming. A man first believes in his heart that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus died for our sins and that He rose from the dead and, then, because his heart believes, he eagerly confesses this to God and to others.
Faith is absolutely indispensible. We must have faith if we are to please God. Scripture teaches; “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. ” (Hebrews 11.6). In order to come to God, we must believe in Him. We must believe that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. That means we must believe that God will hear the cry of, and reward, those who are truly seeking Him.
Faith is more than a mental act of understanding that something is true. Faith is tied to repentance and surrender to God. One thief on the cross, beside Jesus, exercised faith. The Scriptures tell of how there were two criminals who were crucified along with Jesus. As they hung on crosses, one of these criminals blasphemed Jesus. The other criminal then rebuked the blasphemer, saying; “ … ‘Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’” (Luke 23.40-41 footnote: [a]Luke 23:41 Lit things worthy of what we have done). The next verses say; “And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’ And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise. ’” (Luke 23.42-43).
In this amazing account we see a man putting faith in Jesus and receiving forgiveness, salvation and hope. What did he do? First, he acknowledged his sin; he said that he was deserving of the penalty he was suffering. He acknowledged that his deeds had led him to judgment. Next, he acknowledged that Jesus was pure and innocent. Then he called out to Jesus, calling Him Lord. This thief put faith in Jesus. Jesus saved the soul of this thief and blessed him with the promise of being with Jesus in Paradise.
Oh, the salvation which came to the thief on the cross; how wonderful and good and extensive is the grace of Jesus Christ. The thief called out to Jesus. The thief was humble and confessed that he was deserving of judgment. He knew that he was a sinner needing God’s forgiveness and he called out to Jesus. He put his faith in Jesus Christ and was saved. Today he is with Christ.
Friend, how about you? Have you made this all-important choice to repent and put faith in Jesus Christ? Jesus has gone to great lengths to save you from hell, a place of judgment and suffering. Have you called out to Him in prayer? Remember Jesus’ question earlier: “Where is your faith?” Where is it, and what is it in?
Friend, if you do not know the Lord, then it is time to put your faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is a voluntary act. You must choose to believe, or you do not believe. You must choose to obey God, or you disobey Him. Faith is not merely affirming a creed. Faith is an experience. It is a trust and a confidence in God. Faith is a response from man to God. Is faith your response to the Lord’s love for you?
Friend, you are a sinner, just as the thief on the cross was a sinner. Jesus, the pure and innocent Son of God, died in your place and mine. Then He rose from the dead, showing His authority and power over death. Now Jesus calls men and women to put faith in Himself. Faith is two-fold; firstly, it is believing in the truth of the Gospel, that Jesus died on account of our sins and that He rose from the dead. Secondly, faith is actively putting your trust in Jesus Christ, Himself.
Friend, do you have faith, as I have described it here? You may have good deeds, or even religion, but without faith it is impossible to please God. God is, and He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Call out to Jesus Christ now. Call out to Him in prayer. Call out in faith.
Friend, if you are Catholic and are reading this now, I want, in as loving a way as possible, to challenge the validity of Catholic theology. I love Catholic people, and I believe that most of them sincerely want to follow God. Following God begins with believing in God’s message or gospel. The gospel of God is that salvation is available to man through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice. Good works, and ceremonies and sacraments, can’t bring salvation to your soul. Only Jesus Christ, God’s one Mediator, can bring that to you. Call out to Him today. Consciously choose to trust Him for salvation. Commit your life to Him. Receive His grace. Make Him your High Priest, your Savior, your Lord. Take your direction from His infallible word, the Bible. God bless you.
1 Catechism of the Catholic Church (Ottawa: Publications Service, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1994), 237.
2 Ibid., 245.
3 Ibid., 247.
4 Ibid., 247.
5 John Wesley, quoted in A Compend Of Wesley’s Theology, Robert W. Burtner, Ed. Et al (New York:
Abingdon Press), 160.
Boettner, Loraine. Roman Catholicism. Phillipsburg: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.,
Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ottawa: Publications Service, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1994.
Coffey, Tony. Answers to Questions Catholics Are Asking. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2006.
Wesley, John. quoted in A Compend Of Wesley’s Theology, Robert W. Burtner, Ed. Et al. New York:
“Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,
1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission.” (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture quotations also taken from the King James Version