In the 1990’s a group was formed called Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). This group united because of their common convictions concerning social issues such as family life, abortion and relativism. It was a good cause.
Confusion was cultivated, however, when ECT signed a document declaring that Catholics and Evangelicals also agreed about the nature of the Gospel. This caused many to ask the question: Are Evangelicals and Catholics united about this most important issue? Do we, after centuries of debate, finally agree about how man can be made right with God?
Right now I am teaching a sermon series at my church where I am seeking answer this very question. As I explained to my congregation, Evangelicals and Catholics may agree about social issues, and even some areas of biblical doctrine, but one area we have always fundamentally disagreed about is how man is made right (justified) before God.
According to Catholicism, faith is necessary for salvation but it is not sufficient. In fact, the council of Trent declared that “If any one [says] that by faith alone the [unbeliever] is justified…let him be [damned]” (Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, 6th Session, Ch. XVI, Canon IX). That has been the official position of the Catholic Church since at least the 16th century. Faith is necessary for man to be saved, but it is not sufficient to receive and maintain salvation. You must also receive the sacraments and perform good works.
According to the Church, in addition to faith in Christ, “[Baptism] is necessary for salvation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1277). This sacrament begins Christian initiation. Once this is accomplished the new believer then must be confirmed. The Church asserts that, “It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1302). After Confirmation, the believer’s salvation is strengthened by the Eucharist (communion). The official stance of the Catholic Church is that justification is gained and maintained by faith and adherence to the sacraments of the Church. Faith is necessary, but without the Church, man cannot be saved. Essentially the Church teaches, faith plus the sacraments and good works equals salvation.
This differs from what Evangelicals believe and Scripture teaches. The Bible is clear that justification is by faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 3:28, 4:1-5, 5:1; Galatians 2:15-16, 3:24; Ephesians 2:8-9). The Bible teaches that once we trust in Christ, all the benefits of salvation are given to us by faith alone apart from works. In fact, Paul was so adamant that salvation cannot be earned by human effort, he says, “If righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 3:21). That’s a strong statement! This is why righteousness before God is by faith. A prime example was Abraham who “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3). Abraham wasn’t inherently righteous. He was declared righteous by faith apart from works.
This is where Evangelicals and Catholics still fundamentally disagree. Evangelicals believe that right standing with God was achieved completely by Jesus Christ, and all the benefits of salvation are appropriated by faith apart from works. Catholicism, however, teaches that faith in Christ is necessary, but one must follow up with the Sacraments prescribed by the Church as well.
My intentions in teaching these things is not to attack, but to educate. You must decide for yourself. Be like the Bereans who examined the Scriptures to see if these things are true, because at the end of the day these two groups prescribe two completely different ways of being saved. It’s up to you to find the truth.
Thanks for reading!