Reprise: Is Rome a Christian Church?


Note:I am running this reprise about the theology of the Roman Catholic church in anticipation of my next post.  And yes that is a teaser.

There has been a lot of talk in recent months about evangelicals, Roman vaticanCatholics and the pope. Whether John Piper’s recent tweet, or the recent march of Evangelical leaders to the Vatican, or the unprecedented interest among prominent evangelical celebrities in the most recent papal election, many are asking anew, or for the first time, is Rome a Christian church and are Catholics brothers in Christ?

Mike Gendron from Proclaiming the Gospel Ministries ruffled more than a few feathers when he said:

“I’m very concerned because what this does is it confuses the average evangelical. Right now, the Body of Christ doesn’t know whether to evangelize Roman Catholics or to join hands with them to go out and evangelize the world, [and] it’s because of people like Rick Warren who either don’t know how exclusive the Gospel of grace is, or he’s not aware of the false and fatal Gospel of the Roman Catholic religion.”

But is he right? Was Tim Challies right when he labeled pope Francis a false teacher? The only way to decide is to compare the biblical gospel with the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, as they themselves present it.

What is the Biblical Gospel?

For by grace you have been saved through faith and it is not your own doing; It is a gift from God not a result of works, so that no one may openbibleboast” – Ephesians 2:8-9

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9

The biblical Gospel is that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. There is nothing that we need add to or can subtract from the justifying work of Christ on behalf of His people. As He said as He hung on the cross “it is finished (John 19:30).” But is this what Rome teaches?

What is the Roman Catholic Gospel?francis1

Salvation is not by grace through faith alone. It does not come through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner.

Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9: “If anyone says, that by faith alone the impious is justified . . . let him be anathema.”

Council of Trent, Canon 11: “If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, excluding grace and charity which is poured into their hearts by the trentHoly Spirit and inheres in them, or also that the grace which justifies us is only the favor of God, let him be anathema.”

Good works are necessary for salvation. They are not merely the fruits of salvation, they are actually the root of it. They are meritorious and will be rewarded with eternal life.

Council of Trent, Canon 20. If anyone says, that the man who is justified . . . is not bound to observe the commandments of God and of the Church, but only to believe; as if indeed the Gospel were a bare and absolute promise of eternal life, without the condition of observing the commandments; let him be anathema.

Note: in context, the “commandments” are the Ten Commandments (being so defined in the previous canon.)

Council of Trent, Canon 24. If anyone says that the justice [or justification] received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of the increase, let him be anathema.

Council of Trent, Canon 32. If anyone says that the good works of the one justified are in such manner the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of him justified; of that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life . . . let him be anathema.

These are not just ancient and disused doctrines. The Council of Trent is still the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. Additionally the current Roman Catholic Church articulates these same beliefs.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, in an article entitled Sanctifying Grace, states that the sinner “is formally justified and made holy by his own personal justice and holiness” such that “over and above faith other acts are necessary for justification” including acts of charity, penance with contrition, and almsgiving.

The Catholic Answers apologetics website states:

Even though only God’s grace enables us to love others, these acts of love please him, and he promises to reward them with eternal life (Rom. 2:6–7, Gal. 6:6–10). Thus good works are meritorious. When we first come to God in faith, we have nothing in our hands to offer him. Then he gives us grace to obey his commandments in love, and he rewards us with salvation when we offer these acts of love back to him (Rom. 2:6–11, Gal. 6:6–10, Matt. 25:34–40). . . . We do not “earn” our salvation through good works (Eph. 2:8 – 9, Rom. 9:16), but our faith in Christ puts us in a special grace-filled relationship with God so that our obedience and love, combined with our faith, will be rewarded with eternal life (Rom. 2:7, Gal. 6:8–9).


The Catholic Catechism teaches:CCC

The Council of Trent teaches that the Ten Commandments are obligatory for Christians and that the justified man is still bound to keep them [fn, Cf. DS 1569–1570]; the Second Vatican Council confirms: “The bishops, succors to 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” [2]


We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere ‘to the end’ and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ[3]


Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification[4]

Roman Catholic theologian, Ludwig Ott:

The Council of Trent teaches that for the justified eternal life is both a gift or grace promised by God and a reward for his own good works and merits. . . . According to Holy Writ, eternal blessedness in heaven is the reward . . . for good works performed on this earth, and rewards and merit are correlative concepts.


As God’s grace is the presupposition and foundation of (supernatural) good works, by which man merits eternal life, so salutary works are, at the same time gifts of God and meritorious acts of man. . . . By his good works the justified man really acquires a claim to supernatural reward from God. . . . A just man merits for himself through each good work an increase in sanctifying grace, eternal life (if he dies in a state of grace) and an increase of heavenly glory.[5]

Catholic theologian John Hardon:

Habitual or sanctifying grace is a supernatural quality that dwells in the human soul, by which a person shares in the divine nature, becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit, a friend of God, his adopted child, and able to perform actions meriting eternal life


Are the sacraments necessary for salvation? According to the way God has willed that we be saved the sacraments are necessary for salvation.[6]

The Roman Catholic Gospel is that salvation is not through grace alone and not by faith alone but that salvation must be earned worksalvationthrough obedience to the commandments of Scripture and of the (Roman Catholic) church and observance of the sacraments.

The gospel as preached by the Roman Catholic Church is diametrically opposed to the gospel as presented in Scripture. Therefore there can be no theological affinity between evangelicals and Roman Catholics or cooperation in ministry. To put it bluntly the Roman Catholic Church is no more Christian that Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam, and Scripture is quite clear, we shouldn’t call Catholics brothers or partner in any ministry or political work with the Roman Catholic Church. Scripture is clear:

“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?” – 2 Corinthians 6:14-15

Moreover we must understand the Roman Catholic Church not merely as neutral but as an enemy of the true gospel.

 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” – Matthew 12:30

Therefore we can conclude that not only should we not cooperate with the Roman Catholic Church in ministry, we have to regard them as enemies of biblical truth.

We must also be mindful that there are likely attenders of Catholic churches who are saved, but they are saved in spite of the teachings of the RC church, not because of it. Roman Catholics are the mission field not our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Catholic leaders, teachers, priests and the Pope are a different story. They are ravenous wolves (Acts 20:29) and false prophets and teachers (2 Peter crazypope2:1) who are actively in the service of the kingdom of darkness and leading people to destruction. The will of God for them is, unless they repent and believe in Christ alone, their destruction (2 Peter 2:1-2).

It is appropriate to pray for their repentance and their silence and their destruction, but never for the success of their false religion, and we should never partner with them. God does not celebrate the similarities between false gospels and the true Gospel, and neither should we.

[2] p 2068

[3] P 1821

[4] P 2010

[5] Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma [Rockford: Tan, 1974], 264.

[6] John Harden The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism [Garden City: Image, 1981], Question #1074.

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About John Chester

John serves the saints of Piedmont Bible Church, a Grace Advance church plant in Haymarket Virginia, as their shepherd, a position he has held since 2012 and hopes to serve in the rest of his life. Prior to being called to ministry John worked as a lacrosse coach, a pizza maker, a writer, a marketing executive, and just about everything in between. John is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary and The Grace Advance Academy. He hails from The City of Champions, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and is unbelievably blessed to be married to his wife Cassandra.