Why Catholics Aren’t Christians

calvin and hobbesThe fact that Evangelical Christianity is so confused as to whether or not Catholics are, or can be, genuine Christians only shows us just how far we’ve come since the Protestant Reformation. There is little doubt that the Reformers who were willing to give their lives for the doctrine of Sola Fide (justification by faith alone) would be rolling over in their graves if they knew how readily many Christians will affirm fellowship with today’s Roman Catholics. It was quite clear to them how far the Catholic Church had deviated from biblical truth and the Gospel. In fact, even the Catholic Church was aware of this, but to preserve its power, they outlawed the publication of the Bible in the public’s spoken language everywhere they could. They could not allow the general public to read Scripture for themselves, so they even chained the Bibles to the church pulpit to ensure no one could take them home. Ironically, this was under the guise of preventing heresy. In reality, it was all about the preservation of it.

What’s worse is that many Christians will vehemently defend friends and loved ones who belong to the Roman Catholic Church, and will often angrily oppose the very notion that Catholicism is in direct opposition to the Gospel. Others will praise the Pope for popularizing Christianity throughout the world by his good works. The problem is, the Pope only popularizes hypocrisy. But why so much confusion?

It was in 1545-57 that the Roman Catholic Church anathematized any who would proclaim that salvation is by faith alone (the Protestant Reformers) at the Council of Trent. It was at this point that “Catholic” really took on a new meaning. Before this (and yes, this is a somewhat simplistic historical overview), the catholic church referred to the “universal,” “orthodox,” “true,” or “global” church. Gradually, the churches between the East and the West divided, and the western church set its headquarters in Rome. The Council of TrentThrough time, “the” church morphed into “The Church,” and while there was much corruption and false teaching in the Catholic Church by the 1500’s, the Council of Trent marked when the RCC became outright heretical. Before that point, even Martin Luther believed that there was the possibility for the Church to return to biblical orthodoxy, but now there was no question. The RCC left the faith. Even when Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517 (Reformation Day), he did so in Latin. Why? The general public could only read German. Only the trained clergy would be able to read his protests – because Luther initially believed that there could be reform from within the church. It quickly became obvious that this wasn’t the case.

But how is it that so many people could blindly follow an apostate religion? The answer, as the RCC knew, was through ignorance. If the public couldn’t read the Bible, the public would have to depend on what the “Church” told them the Bible said. They’d be ignorant. In that regard, little has changed.

ostrich with head in the sand signIgnorance is the reason that many Christians believe Roman Catholics are saved – only now, the goal of the RCC is not to keep people ignorant about what the Bible teaches, their goal is to keep people ignorant about what the RCC teaches. Hence the confusion, and although this was a gradual development just as the events that preceded the Council of Trent in 1545, we can probably trace much of today’s confusion about Catholicism to an event in 1983. Yes, there was certainly confusion before then. Even in the earliest years of the Billy Graham Crusades, Graham shared the pulpit with Catholic bishops and referred new “converts” to RC churches. Ecumenical thinking had already infiltrated many of the seminaries in the United States who adopted the liberal “scholasticism” of the European schools. But in 1983, a group of Lutheran and Catholic theologians announced that they had “come to agreement on justification.”

First of all, I don’t really care if Lutherans did come to agreement with Catholics on justification because frankly, Lutherans (who generally don’t even believe in biblical inerrancy) don’t represent me anyway.

religious war signSecondly, no such agreement occurred. The “bilateral talks” that produced a document called “Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue” in 1985 was unofficial and wasn’t even accepted by Rome, in spite of all the media attention it got. Even so, the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” was an official follow-up, because of so-called “insights of recent biblical studies” referring to the aforementioned dialogue. 1 Truthfully, all that was produced was a document that said, in so many words, “we’ll say we agree even though we’ve said we won’t agree, and without changing what we said about not agreeing.” If you’re confused by that, so am I, because what happened was the Lutherans and Catholics came together and produced an official document that said words don’t really mean what they say, and we can say we agree even though our doctrinal statements say we disagree. So really, there was no agreement.

All that happened was that vernacular was simply modified, leading many to believe that the Catholics was affirming the evangelical doctrine of justification. Nothing could be further from the truth! All it did was affirm what Catholics already believed about justification, and the RCC never rescinded what it canonized in the Council of Trent. Now, this is about to get a little long, but I’d encourage you to take a look at what Catholics still believe, as opposed to what Scripture teaches on justification and salvation. If we can’t agree on justification and salvation, how can we call them Christians?

do not proceed sign

I. United on Justification?

Justification by Faith

We believe that justification is first of all, an act of God whereby He declares righteous by the imputed righteousness of Christ of those who, by faith in Christ, repent of their sins and profess Him as Lord, apart from any work.

Cf. Isa. 55:6,7; Lk. 13:3; Acts 2:38;3:19; 11:18; Rom. 2:4; 3:20,26; 4:6; 8:30,33; 10:9,10; 1 Cor. 1:2,30; 6:11; 12:3; 2 Cor. 4:5; 5:21; 7:10; Col. 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:24.

Justification by the RCC

CANON 9:  “If any one 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.” 

  1. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin,” (Rom. 3:20).
  2. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Rom. 3:24).
  3. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law,” (Rom. 3:28).
  4. “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness,” (Rom. 4:3).
  5. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5:1).
  6. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God,” (Eph. 2:8).
  7. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost,” (Titus 3:5).

CANON 12:  “If any one shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy pardoning sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is that confidence alone by which we are justified … let him be accursed”

  1. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name,” (John 1:12).
  2. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law,” (Rom. 3:28).
  3. ‘For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness,” (Rom. 4:3).
  4. “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. 26For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; 27Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the peoples: for this he did once, when he offered up himself,” (Heb. 7:25-27).
  5. “For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day,” (2 Tim. 1:12).

Canon 14: “If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.”

  1. “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness,” (Rom. 4:3).
  2. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5:1).

Canon 23: “lf any one saith, that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose grace, and that therefore he that falls and sins was never truly justified; or, on the other hand, that he is able, during his whole life, to avoid all sins, even those that are venial,- except by a special privilege from God, as the Church holds in regard of the Blessed Virgin; let him be anathema.”

  1. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him,” (John 3:36).
  2. “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day,” (John 6:40).
  3. “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand,” (John 10:28).
  4. “That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Rom. 5:21).
  5. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us,” (1 John 2:19).
  6. “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God,” (1 John 5:13).

Canon 24:  “If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.”

  1. “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? 2This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:1-3).
  2. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. 2Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. 3For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law,” (Gal. 5:1-3).

Canon 30:  “If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.”

  1. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5:1).
  2. “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; 14Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross,” (Col. 2:13-14).

Canon 33:  “If any one saith, that, by the Catholic doctrine touching Justification, by this holy Synod inset forth in this present decree, the glory of God, or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ are in any way derogated from, and not rather that the truth of our faith, and the glory in fine of God and of Jesus Christ are rendered (more) illustrious; let him be anathema.

II. United on Salvation?

Now, obviously justification is a part of salvation, so there will be some overlap here. However, this mainly addresses how someone comes to salvation, rather than what happens at salvation (justification and sanctification).

Salvation by Faith

We believe that salvation a gift of God’s grace based only on the redemptive work of Christ by the shedding of His own blood as a payment for our sins. It is not on the basis of merit or works, but by faith and repentance (synonymously). It results in our justification and sanctification, and we are promised eternal security through Christ.

Cf. Jn. 1:12; 5:24; Rom. 5:9,10; 8:1, 31-39; 1 Cor. 1:4-9; Eph. 1:4-7; 2:8-10; 4:30; Heb. 7:25; 13:5; 1 Pet. 1:4-5,18-19; Jude 24.

Salvation by the RCC

1. Salvation by grace through faith in Christ and the RCC

This is probably what causes the most confusion for Evangelicals because they hear Catholics who will say, “Salvation is by faith.” However, what the RCC means is completely different than Scripture’s use of Ephesians 2:8.

Actual grace is “A supernatural help of God for salutary [beneficial] acts granted in consideration of the merits of Christ,” (Catholic Encyclopedia, “Actual Grace”).

“Habitual grace, the permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God’s call, is distinguished from actual graces which refer to God’s interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification,” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, or CCC)

With grace working in a person, he or she is then able to have the faith necessary for salvation.  But this faith is not faith in Christ’s work on the cross so that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone (Rom. 4:5; 5:1; Gal. 2:16).  According to the RCC, the faith that is necessary for salvation must be a faith that also affirms what the Roman Catholic Church teaches.

“Faith is necessary for salvation. The Lord himself affirms: ‘He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned,’ (Mk 16:16),” (CCC 183).

Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself,” (CCC 1814).

“Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation,” (CCC 846).

2. Salvation by the sacrament of water baptism

Water baptism is considered one of seven sacraments necessary for salvation in the RCC (we have two and we differ greatly on their meaning). It is necessary because this is actually when sins are removed and a person is justified before God. However, a person must keep being re-baptized because a “mortal” sin will cause you to lose your salvation.

“. . . Baptism is the first and chief sacrament of forgiveness of sins because it unites us with Christ, who died for our sins and rose for our justification, so that ‘we too might walk in newness of life,'” (CCC 977).

Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude…” (CCC 1257).

Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us. It has for its goal the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. It is the most excellent work of God’s mercy,” (CCC 2020).

At baptism, a person is restored to a state of innocence before God by erasing what is referred to as “original sin.”  Apparently, it seems that this, coupled with the work of the Virgin Mary, places you in a sort of pre-Fall condition.

Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin…” (CCC  405).

Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy,” (CCC 1992).

“The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism,” (CCC 1999).

3. Salvation by works

According to the RCC, once a person is baptized, you must also perform works which are also necessary for salvation. Good works are also necessary, because the RCC rejects justification by faith alone whereby the sinner is declared righteous by God (the protestant position). Anyone, according to the RCC, who accepts salvation by faith alone, is anathema (accursed by the church and God).

The specific precepts of the natural law, because their observance, demanded by the Creator, is necessary for salvation,” (CCC, par. 2010).


The Decalogue [the Ten Commandments] contains a privileged expression of the natural law. It is made known to us by divine revelation and by human reason,” (CCC 2080).

“…the Second Vatican Council confirms: ‘The bishops, successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord . . . the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments,'” (CCC 2068)

If any one 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,” (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9).

“If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema,” (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 14).

If any one saith, that the justice [righteousness] received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.” (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 24).

So, does that mean that if someone is a Roman Catholic that they can’t be saved? Not necessarily, but to be saved it means they have to reject everything that the Catholic Church teaches about the Gospel and salvation! They would quickly come to the realization that the Catholic Church teaches a false gospel and they would certainly not be able to stay in the Roman Catholic Church.

  1.  Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. Part 2, paragraph 13.
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Matt Tarr

About Matt Tarr

Matt currently serves as pastor-teacher at High Point Baptist Church, Larksville, PA. Prior to his ministry at High Point, Matt also served in the counseling department at Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA, and as a chaplain at the Scranton-Wyoming Valley Rescue Mission. He enjoys spending time with his wife Melody and his two children, Jonathan and Timothy.
  • Jason

    Hi Matt, this is helpful and clarifying. Thanks for posting. As for the Lutherans the Missouri Synod has quite a clear statement in favor of inspiration. Too bad they don’t hold more sway within the denomination as a whole! http://www.lcms.org/belief-and-practice

    • Your right… very helpful and thorough, especially where they articulate their key differences with the mainstream Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. It’s unfortunate that they’re an anomaly, and what’s equally alarming is what Lutheran seminaries, as well as most “Evangelical” seminaries teach on inspiration. According to Barth Eerdman, all we have at best is the “footprints” of Jesus.

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