In my conversations and email exchanges with Roman Catholics, certain issues come up again and again. They concern core doctrines at the very foundation of evangelical Christianity – doctrines that are diametrically opposed to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. These issues usually are raised by Catholic apologists hoping to “prove” the legitimacy of Catholicism by attacking evangelical beliefs. Once in a while, Catholics who appeared genuinely interested in learning more than what their own church teaches on the subjects have asked about them. I will post a few of their questions--in red-- below, along with my responses.
Does the doctrine of salvation by faith alone exclude obedience of the gospel?
The operative word is “alone.” I believe that if God had intended that faith AND obedience were required for salvation, the Bible would read differently than it does. For example, Ephesians 2:8,9 would read
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; and obedience, which is of yourselves, so it is not the gift of God, but the just recompense for works, in order that some should boast.
Personally, I prefer to go with the original wording:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Certainly, after regeneration, one should strive to please God through obedience, charitable works, prayer, etc. All this, however, comes after saving faith. As I state in the Declaration of Faith on my website,
I believe that the new birth of the believer comes only through faith in Christ and that repentance is a vital part of believing, and is in no way, in itself, a separate and independent condition of salvation; nor are any other acts, such as confession, baptism, prayer, or faithful service, to be added to believing as a condition of salvation.
(John 1:12: 3:16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:29; Acts 13:39; 16:31; Rom. 1:16-17; 3:22, 26; 4:5; 10:4; Gal. 3:22.)
The doing of good works should be as natural to the regenerated believer as breathing. This is not meant to imply that believers do nothing but godly deeds, though that would indeed be wonderful. Sadly, it at times appears that loving words and actions do not predominate in the daily living of many who claim to follow Christ. Christ knows His own.
Do you believe that obeying the gospel is a Biblical concept?
I believe the Gospel is the good news of Christ’s redeeming work and atoning sacrifice which, according to God’s merciful provision, makes it possible for us to be joined with Him as adopted children and joint heirs with Christ to the riches of Heaven. I do not believe the Gospel is a set of rules and ordinances similar to the laws of the OT. Certainly, Scripture is filled with commandments and instructions for Christian living; however, these are not, in my opinion, part of the Gospel.
Paul, in the “catechism” he wrote for the Corinthian church, provided a summary of the Gospel in four short verses:
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:"--1 Corinthians 15:1-4
As children of God, we are to do our best to live in accordance with the commandments and instructions given us and summarized in the two New Commandments:
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.--Matthew 22:37-40
Do we need today to teach a different personal response to the gospel than that taught by Jesus and His apostles?
Were we to teach anything different from what God has provided, then we would either be adding to or subtracting from the Word, and that is something we surely should not do.
Did Jesus or His apostles teach that we receive Christ as savior by praying the sinners prayer?
Surely you are joking.
Do you believe in the free will of man to accept or reject the gospel message?
I believe that God sovereignly chooses who will be saved and that all whom He has chosen will respond to His call. Did not Jesus tell us that
All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.--John 6:37
What is wrong with the statement "He that believes and is baptized will be saved."
This was covered above. Baptism is not a requirement for salvation.
"Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus to receive remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit."
I’ll address this by quoting from a great Fundamentalist preacher and educator:
The gospel is not a call to repentance, or to amendment of one's ways, to make restitution for his past sins, or to promise to do better in the future. These things are all perfectly right and perfectly proper in their place, but they do not constitute the gospel; for the gospel is not good advice to be obeyed, it is good news to be believed. Do not make the mistake then of thinking that the gospel is a call to duty or a call to reformation, a call to better your condition, to behave yourself in a more perfect way than you have been doing in the past. (H. A. Ironside, God’s Unspeakable Gift, Chapter 2 (London: Pickering & Inglis, 1908).
Contrast the above with this teaching from the Catholic Catechism:
980. "It is through the sacrament of Penance that the baptized can be reconciled with God and with the Church: Penance has rightly been called by the holy Fathers 'a laborious kind of baptism.' This sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation for those who have fallen after Baptism, just as Baptism is necessary for salvation for those who have not yet been reborn.[Council Of Trent (1551): DS 1672; Cf. St. Gregory Of Nazianzus, Oratio 39,17: PG 36,356.]"--Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed., © 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc.