Catholic soteriology appears to me to be an incredibly complex examination of an indistinct doctrine concerning an ephemeral condition. Salvation in the Catholic manner is a sometime status that must be earned and maintained in accordance with rules and requirements established by the rulers of the Catholic Church. Once conferred by Mama Church, this earned salvation is subject to withdrawal at the whim of the Catholic priestly hierarchy.
As a cradle Catholic raised in the Roman Church, I don't recall having been taught much about salvation by faith. What I was taught involved ticking off steps in a virtual checklist.
I clearly remember my very first lesson at Sts. Peter and Paul elementary school. As Sister walked me down the hall to my new classroom, she required me to say with her, over and over, the mantra known as The Hail Mary. The great bulk of other religious training I received in that school apparently was intended to cement me into a master/slave relationship with the Catholic priesthood—and I was the slave.
In this school, which stood in the shadow of a truly enormous Catholic seminary, it was made crystal clear that one is saved by faith in Jesus Christ. Any benefits from such faith, however, were controlled by the Church and doled out by her priests. Man is born in sin, I was taught; being baptized cleans one from the stains of original and subsequent sins committed up to the moment of receiving what Catholicism calls the Sacrament of Baptism.
This cleansing and salvation is not permanent and can quickly be compromised or lost by sinning after baptism. This means that the sinner, now fallen from grace, is destined to the fires of Hell, unless he participates in various RCC Sacraments for cleansing the stains of sin. The sinner's state of grace may be restored or enhanced by one or a combination of Sacraments and ancillary acts (The names change from time to time, so I will name them as I was taught as a child: Confession, Penance, Communion, attendance at Mass [Eucharist], Extreme Unction). There are other provisions for the removal of some or all the effects of sin, such as indulgences and so forth, but all these means to be restored to a state of grace are controlled not by God but by the all-powerful Roman Catholic Church. In other words, salvation is not so much a gift of God but a beneficence controlled and bestowed by the Roman church.
Should the out-of-grace sinner die before having been shriven by a Catholic priest, he would be bound for an eternity of torment in the fires of Hell. Thus, fear of condemnation was instilled in we Catholic children as an incentive to go frequently to Confession, so that our priest could absolve us of the consequences of our sins. In the confessional, the priest would listen to our recitation of childish sins and then pronounce us forgiven, subject to our doing a penance and making an act of Perfect Contrition. Modern Catholic jargon identifies this process as the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Once I had made my first Confession, I was eligible to make my First Holy Communion. My training for this great moment in Catholic religious life involved quite a bit of teaching on the priest's role as a surrogate Christ; on the Real Presence in the consecrated host, or communion wafer; and on the importance to my spiritual journey of taking this sacrament frequently. I also was taught that it was forbidden to consume either food or drink from midnight until an hour after having taken Communion. So strict were the rules that we children were warned to exercise great caution when brushing our teeth; lest even a drop of water find its way down our throats. We were to kneel at the communion rail, our eyes looking downward, until the altar boy passed the paten under out chins; at which point we were to raise our heads, keep the eyes closed, and stick out our tongues to receive the host from the priest's fingers. Then, after a brief interior prayer of thanksgiving and the making of the sign of the cross, we were to return to our pews. As we walked back to the pews, we were to keep our eyes cast downward and hold our hands in a prayerful clasp. Under no conditions were we to chew the host, which we were told was the “real and substantial body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.” Being made of flour and water, the host soon turned to a glutinous paste when combined with saliva. This gooey mass quickly deposited itself on the roof of the mouth, where it would stay as it slowly dissolved.
As I grew older, I began preparations for my Confirmation. This is another Catholic sacrament of initiation that is intended to enhance the gifts received at baptism. It presupposes a mature Catholic commitment and, Sister often told us, would make us “Soldiers of Christ.” My Confirmation was a ritual thing of beauty; celebrated during a special High Mass. During the ceremony, Archbishop John T. McNicholas blessed me and laid hands upon me, thereby giving me the Holy Spirit. At least, this is what I was taught.
Once the Sacraments of Initiation were completed, I was a full-fledged member in good standing of the Roman Catholic Church.
But was I truly saved?
I sometimes ask Catholic apologists what is, to me, a simple and straightforward question:
In every instance when my Catholic antagonist responds, his reply cites things that I must do, if I am to be saved. What follows is a typical Catholic apologist's simplified declaration of Catholic soteriology:
My reply would go something like this:
Your response seems to reflect RCC semi-Pelagian soteriology, but how do you know that what you believe is correct? You have provided no sources to authenticate the four requirements you list.
According to your response, man is not only a partner in his own salvation, but actually controls the process. Let us examine the steps:
1) Accept God's grace: Does man choose to accept or reject God's grace, thereby negating the sovereignty of God? Scripture is quite clear that it is God who chooses and that those whom He chooses will be saved. Does it not seem just a bit unlikely that God would elect an individual to salvation and eternal life and then leave it up to that individual to decide whether to conform to God's will and accept His gracious gift? Such a point of view makes Almighty God no more mighty than the mother who buys a shirt at K-Mart and offers it to her son, hoping he will accept and wear it.
2) Believe in God and be baptized: Certainly, one must believe in God, but the Scriptures tell us, over and again, that salvation comes by faith in Christ, by believing in the Son of God. For example:
Every Protestant professing Christian I know considers the ordinance of baptism to be of great importance, but not necessary to salvation. In baptism, the Christian publicly identifies with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ; thereby proclaiming his faith to the world. He is not saved by baptism, nor are any sins forgiven as a consequence of being baptized. There is nothing in Scripture to suggest that, in baptism, sins are forgiven. Catholic spokesmen sometimes point to John's baptism for repentance as a proof that baptism removes the stain of sin. This is not so, of course, for it was but a call to Jews to publicly declare their intention to repent of their worldly ways and to return godly living. Jesus submitted to John's baptism. Surely He had no sins of which He needed to be cleansed. Baptism is a work, in the Roman Church it is a sacrament; in Protestant churches it is an ordinance. Having water dribbled on the forehead or taking a dip, in either church, does not erase sin and its effects on man. Salvation is by faith, not by works.
3) Persevere to the end: This is a tough issue. Even in some non-Catholic churches, there are those who believe that God's mercy and salvation are sometime things to be given and taken away repeatedly. The Bible is clear that not one soul that God gives to the Son will be lost – not a single one. Is God a liar?
We've looked at the Catholic requirements for salvation. Now, it's time to see what Scripture says:
In His written revelation to man, Almighty God tells us:
What more need be said?
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