Apologetics,  Theology

What is the Catholic View of Salvation?

photo of the Catholic pope

A question I occasionally get is what the difference is between the Catholic Church and the Evangelical church. Isn’t the Catholic Church just another option for where to go to church, based on the preference of the individual? To many people it is. However, the Catholic Church officially holds to beliefs which do not align with what the Bible teaches, and therefore it is not a true church. In fact, the Catholic Church is a pseudo-church which is leading millions of people to hell.

Whoa now, is that a little strong? Now, I have many friends and relatives who go to the Catholic Church. So I don’t write this without knowing friends who are in the Catholic Church. But that personal experience does not affect what is objectively true—the fact that the Catholic Church teaches a different way of salvation.

The Catholic View of Salvation

In Catholic belief, one must enter into a state of grace through baptism. After this is done, a Catholic goes through life, and if they commit any “less serious” sins, they may deal with those through “sorrow, prayer, works of charity and abstinence, [and] reception of Holy Communion” (Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 433). Thus, to a Catholic, salvation is a constant process which much be worked for by human achievement.

Man’s effort is essential to the Catholic Church. They combine their work with the work of Christ. In fact, man’s effort is just as essential to salvation as Christ’s work. One Catholic theologian states it this way:

Man, for his part, in order to arrive at full sanctification, must cooperate with the grace of the Holy Spirit through faith, hope, love of God and neighbor, and prayer; but he must also perform other “works.” It is a universally accepted dogma of the Catholic Church that man, in union with the grace of the Holy Spirit must merit heaven by his good works. These works are meritorious only when they are performed in the state of grace and with good intention. (Premm, Dogmatic Theology for the Laity, 262).

Not only is works an essential part of salvation, but to teach that salvation is only by God’s grace is to deserve the curse of the Catholic Church. Notice what was said at the Council of Trent in the 16th century, where the Catholic Church declared in Canon 9,

If anyone saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

In sum, faith is not enough to save you in the Catholic Church. Human merit and achievement must be added to faith in Christ to earn salvation. It is a serious enough issue to put a curse on anyone who teaches salvation by grace alone through faith alone.

The Bible’s View of Salvation

The Catholic view of salvation differs directly with what the Bible teaches. When the Bible was written there were already groups who thought one must earn their way to heaven. Paul writes the following against those who believe such a thing:

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Rom 3:28)

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (Rom 4:2-5)

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:5-7)

The Bible teaches that salvation comes solely because of God’s grace on the basis of faith, not works (cf. Eph 2:8-9). Good works, on the other hand, are the proof of salvation, but they do not lead to salvation. When any religion or church adds to the biblical requirement for salvation, this becomes a false gospel which no longer leads people to salvation (Gal 1:6-9).

The Sum of the Matter

The Catholic Church teaches a different way of salvation than what the Bible teaches. Hence, they can’t be viewed as a legitimate church because they have departed from the teaching of Scripture, and they are in the process of deceiving and misleading people.

Now, it may be possible that someone can be saved and go to a Catholic Church, but in order to be saved, they will be depending exclusively on God’s grace apart from works, thus making them a disobedient Catholic, which means they should leave the Catholic Church anyway and go somewhere else. In any case, it is obvious that the Catholic Church is not like us. The Catholic Church differs in the most important teaching—the teaching about how to be reconciled to God.

photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales) via photopin cc

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

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