Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Roman Catholicism, Salvation, Fellowship, & Growth

Given how I understand the Scriptures and what they say about salvation in Christ, a question was recently posed that caused me to pause a bit.

Question: Can someone be saved in the Roman Catholic Church?

In order to answer this question, I will have to break it down, a bit. The first issue that I want to address is the gospel message itself. The gospel message of salvation is one that undeniably received by the individual through faith by the means of God’s grace (cf. Ephesians 2:8,9). Roman Catholicism not only rejects this doctrine, but denounces the requirement of “faith alone” as heresy. Roman Catholicism sets up a system where the individual cooperates with Christ in various ways that actively keep him saved or can place his salvation in jeopardy. So if it were ever unclear (now or before) as to what my thoughts are regarding the matter, let me say this: true Roman Catholicism does not communicate or preach the gospel message of salvation in their liturgy, their sacraments, their books, their sermons, or in their religious hierarchy up to and including the Pope. Theirs is a false system of works based righteousness that offers no salvation, no justification, no peace, no hope, and no deliverance from God’s wrath.

Can someone be saved (i.e. get converted) in the Roman Catholic Church?

The above being the case, I do believe that a person can be truly saved by God’s grace through faith while inside of the Roman Catholic Church, and I will give three reasons for my answer.

Reason One: Hypothetical

If someone attends a dreadful church that doesn’t preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, would it be possible for that person to get saved? I have heard some stories where people were attending churches or gatherings of ministries like T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, and others. Now I understand that these two individuals are not Roman Catholic, but they are also not orthodox in their theologies about God. For instance, Benny Hinn has repeatedly gotten in trouble for promoting the “little god’s” theology that seemed to first hit the radar on the November 6, 1990 TBN Praise-a-thon. Sadly enough, Hinn is not alone, I have heard contemporary prosperity preacher Creflo Dollar make very similar allusions.

T.D. Jakes, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t believe in or preach this doctrine, and that is good, but another doctrine that he doesn’t believe in is the doctrine of the Trinity. Suffice it to say, if you don’t have the Son then you don’t have the Father either. And if you’re preaching a Jesus that is not the Second Person of the Trinity, you might as well be worshipping Oprah, Buddha, or a used up Kleenex. But, I have heard enough stories of people coming to Christ through these men’s ministries to make me believe that it has, and can, happen. And if it can happen in a setting where the hearer is told that they are a little god or where the Triune God is denied, why could it not happen in a gathering where neither of these abhorrent false doctrines are preached?

Reason Two: Historical

Now, I admit that my first reason is very flimsy and I would never make the same assertion if that were my only basis. My second, and most brief of the three, reason that I believe that someone can be saved in the Catholic church has to do with the testimony of history. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other reformers were Roman Catholics before they broke from Rome during the Reformation. Exactly what positive influence may have been derived from the apostate Roman Catholic Church is hard to tell, but the fact that they were in the Catholic Church at the time of their conversion is undeniable.

Reason Three: Biblical

My final reason, and really the only reason if you really boil them all down, is that I believe the Bible holds that you can get saved in the Roman Catholic Church. Again, the prescribed and official method of salvation that the Roman Catholic Church preaches is false, faulty, and will not save, but I am not referring to that. We know that men are saved, regardless of when they live, through faith in God. And that faith is not a vague or mere mental assent, but a true repentant trust that places all of that person’s eggs in one basket. So, how can my two seemingly contrary beliefs coincide? Simple.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

Simply stated, man needs to be presented with the Word of God, and once he has heard the Word, faith is possible. And I submit that if the Word of God is simply read or heard, even in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church where its application and interpretation is contorted and twisted by the priest, that it is God-glorifyingly possible for someone to be transformed, and made new.

It is the hearing of the Word, whether it was at a Benny Hinn miracle crusade, a “Woman Thou Art Loosed” T.D. Jakes conference, a Roman Catholic Mass, a good gospel preaching church, or (read) on a blog like this one that is the means by which man receives faith from God in order to believe in His Son.

Question: Can someone be saved (i.e. come to salvation by grace through faith) in the Roman Catholic Church?

Answer: Yes. Wherever the Word of God is read or heard, it is possible to be saved.

Can someone be saved (i.e. remain in fellowship and grow spiritually) in the Roman Catholic Church?

This is a completely different spin on the same question. I believe that a born again believer can attend Roman Catholic Mass, but like any true new believer, they will desire the Word. And in studying the Word, they will come to see more and more things about the Mass and other Roman Catholic practices and doctrines that are in direct opposition to that of the Scriptures. And just like Martin Luther, John Calvin, or any other figure from history or from our contemporary time, I believe that when this happens something must give. There will be either the allegiance to the familiar establishment or allegiance to Christ and His Word, but not both. If a believer leaves the familiarity of the Roman Catholic Church to find a home in a Bible preaching church, that would be the ideal and (I would assert) normal occurrence. But, is it possible that someone who is saved may remain in faithful attendance to a Roman church? The answer, I believe, is yes. But similar to someone who doesn’t study their Bible and adhere to its admonitions and continues to attend T.D. Jakes church or some other non-gospel preaching fellowship inside of Christendom, this believer will be prone to be led astray and be misled and be tossed about by every wind of false doctrine (cf. Ephesians 4:14).

Question: Can someone be saved (i.e. remain in fellowship and grow in holiness) in the Roman Catholic Church?

Answer: Yes and no. I believe that a true Christian can remain in the fellowship at a Roman Catholic Church, but their growth will be stunted at best because they will either (a) not be consistently fed with the truth of God’s Word rightly understood or (b) they know the truth of God’s Word rightly understood but foolishly choose to stay where their Lord and Savior is not lifted up rightly and thus remain in a more immature state for longer periods of time.

I believe that if someone is truly saved and growing in the Lord, they will find it (at best) very difficult to remain inside of the Roman Catholic Church. But if that true believer is not feasting on the Word to know right doctrine, they may remain in the church and be tossed about as a child by the waves of false doctrine in that fellowship.

Granted, some of the above thoughts of mine are more conjecture and extrapolation than exegesis. So, if anyone has any Biblically based concerns as for why I am totally wrong or simply off a bit here or there, please enlighten me.

The only thing worse than finding out that you have held wrong thoughts, opinions, or theologies even after you’ve given them considerable thought is never finding out at all.

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