Roman Catholicism & Sola Fide




In the first part of our study, we noted that Sola Scriptura (the Scriptures only) is an impenetrable divide between New Testament Christianity and the Catholic Church.  I will be using the term “New Testament Christianity” to describe my view rather than “Protestant” for three reasons. 

    1) First, New Testament Christianity does not hold to some of the doctrinal teachings that the Protestant Church does.  The Protestant Church carried over some of its unique teachings from the Roman Church. 

    A) The belief that the Church has replaced Israel in God’s program.  Known as Replacement Theology, these Churches see themselves as Spiritual Israel and the fulfillment of the promise of the Kingdom of God on earth. 

    B) The belief in infant baptism.  In both the traditions of the Catholic and Protestant churches it is believed that infant baptism, to differing degrees, imparts to the infant some level of saving grace. 

    C) The belief in a denominational hierarchy.  This hierarchy rules over all the local congregations of its denomination.  Thus the local congregation must answer to, support financially, and surrender ownership of all property.

    2) Secondly, New Testament Christianity does not trace its origins through the Catholic Church and Protestant Reformation.   New Testament Christianity was founded by the Apostles teaching as recorded in the New Testament and practiced universally during the first three Centuries of the Church age.  It was not until the beginning of the 4th Century that a split formed in the Church resulting in a departure from the NT Church model and the start of what would eventually evolve into the Roman Catholic Church.  Though the majority of the church adopted the Catholic model, New Testament Christianity continued on in the form of remnant groups of believers who often found themselves the target of persecution by both the Protestant and Catholic Churches.  It was not until religious freedom was adopted in America that these remnant groups found the fertile soil to reestablish themselves and prosper.

    This is an important point to note since it is commonly held by many that churches based on New Testament Christianity are the product of the Protestant Reformation.  This is also the position taken by the Roman Catholic Church which incorrectly claims that it is the original New Testament Church and all non-Catholics are Protestant.  This claim by the Church of Rome can be easily dismissed when comparing the large divergence in doctrinal teaching between the Roman Church and the First Century Church.     

    3) Thirdly, New Testament Christianity is committed to 66 books of the Bible and the New Testament model of the Church as set forth by the Apostles of Christ.  The Catholic Church adds an additional 7 books to the Scriptures along with the writings of the Church Fathers and the decrees of the Church Councils and Popes.

The Issue Addressed:  “Sola Fide” is the Latin term for “faith only or faith alone” and refers to the teaching that our rescue (salvation) from hell is found only through a personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Salvation does not come through our human efforts nor does it come through a particular Church that imparts saving grace to its members.  Therefore salvation is totally the work of God from the start to the finish. 

In Roman Catholicism, this doctrine is considered heretical for two reasons.

Reason #1: the Roman Church is a necessary part of the individual’s salvation.  The Church provides ritualistic acts that impart meritorious saving grace to the sinner.  For example infant baptism places the individual into the church and removes all prior sin.  The celebration of the Mass atones for sin committed by the believer uncovered since his last Mass.  The Church provides Sacraments that aids the believer in his/her salvation. 

Reason #2: the Roman Catholic Church teaches that human effort plays a role in the believer’s salvation.  The avenues of human effort in acquiring salvation can be seen in numerous Catholic practices.  Let me give you a few examples

Penance: the believer upon confessing his sins is given certain tasks to be accomplished for the absolution of the sin

Indulgences: the believer by either a task or gift to the church can lessen or remove the temporal punishment associated with sin.  This practice completes the purification from certain sin and in the case of the dead shortens the time they must be tormented before entering into heaven. 

Purgatory: a place between death and heaven in which the Catholic believer endures torment for the completion of the purification of sins. 

Sainthood: a few believers live such holy lives that they store up extra merit not needed to enter into heaven.  This merit can often be applied to those believers who need it for purification from sin. 

Prayer for the Dead: one can pray for and even obtain indulgences that lessen the time their loved one’s time spends in purgatory.  Some would argue that Purgatory and indulgences are no longer practiced by the church however these teachings are still held by the Roman Church and followed in most Catholic Churches outside the US.

In this day of ecumenicalism and co-operation between Evangelicals and Catholics, it is hard to accept that this is the position and current teaching of the Catholic Church.  In anything I write regarding the Catholic Church or any other group I seek to state their position as accurately as possible.  For this reason I would like to support this information from Catholic sites and encyclopedias.  Underlined portions in these quotes have been added for emphasis.

1) The Roman Church is necessary for Salvation

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church, following historic Christian theology since the time of the early Church Fathers, refers to the Catholic Church as "the universal sacrament of salvation" (CCC 774–776), and states: "The Church in this world is the sacrament of salvation, the sign and the instrument of the communion of God and men" (CCC 780). . . .The following quotations from the Church Fathers. . . show that the early Church held the same position on this as the contemporary Church does—that is, while it is normatively necessary to be a Catholic to be saved (see CCC 846; Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 14), there are exceptions, and it is possible in some circumstances for people to be saved who have not been fully initiated into the Catholic Church (CCC 847)”  (note the last statement indicates that those from other denominations may be saved if they are at least partially initiated into the Catholic Church – mine)

2) Works are necessary for Salvation

"Let me take one minute to help reiterate Catholic teachings on the necessity of works. In James 2:26 it states clearly: “For even as the body without the spirit is dead; so also faith without works is dead." Everyone, no matter if they are the highest kings or the lowly servants, must put their faith into action to obtain salvation. Simply, if you are in sanctifying grace you are saved, and grace is given freely by God so only He knows the state of your soul. This is precisely why frequently Confession is necessary because our soul is cleansed and we are in sanctifying grace again. . ."
"We certainly must believe that Christ had great faith in the Father’s plan, and He adhered to it perfectly; yet, Christ also had works beyond comprehension. After all, the greatest work ever committed for the human race rested upon a wooden cross at Calvary. How would our lives have been different without that work? And it is precisely for this reason that we too must also work towards our salvation through the Sacraments, the Church, prayer, and many other wonderful opportunities one of which is devotion to Mary. Jesus said,  "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). Jesus never said, "Just believe and you will be saved." Rather, St. James mentioned this in James 2:19-20. "You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble. Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless? "

"The Catholic Church, along with St. James, teaches that both faith and works, in the cognizant Christian adult, are necessary for our justification by God.  He further explains that Faith alone does not justify when he explains: You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe- and shudder (Jas 2:19.)  If Faith in itself could justify, then all demons would be in Heaven rather than Hell.  But, Faith requires an action.  This action will either be the embracing of the believed-God or a rejection of Him.  The demons rejected God and thus were not justified.  Abraham, on the other hand, James explains, was justified when that initial Faith led to the action of offering his son to God.  Faith without works, he proclaims, is dead and barren, and thus the faith must move into faithfulness.

The Catholic position seems to have merit until we understand a couple of facts.  First, the word “believe” has more than one meaning and that must be determined by the context of the sentence it is found in.  For example, the Catholic articles sited indicate that the demons believe but do not have works and so that is the reason they are not saved.  However a closer look at the sentence indicates that they believe “in God” not in salvation.  How could they not believe there is a Creator God when they are confronted by His presence and work on a daily basis?  However, their belief is an intellectual acceptance of the fact of God’s existence.  This fact in no way impacts how they relate to God or how they will conduct their lives.  A true saving faith is one that goes beyond the intellect and resonates from the heart.  The sinner repents of his sin and puts his trust (faith or belief) in the Christ Jesus of the Scriptures to take away his sins and grant him salvation.  It is a personal application of the saving truth.  Many fall short of salvation because though they believe intellectually in the Jesus Christ and the message of the Bible, yet they have never given themselves to this truth.  They have chosen to go their own way.

Secondly, the Catholic is quick to point out that the words “faith alone” are not found in the Bible.  This is a true statement however it does not mean that the concept of justification by faith alone is absent from the Bible.  The Trinity is clearly taught in the Scriptures but you will not find the term “trinity” ever used.  The concept that genuine faith alone justifies the sinner and grants him eternal life is expressed in many places in the Bible.  Let me site just a small portion to prove my point.  Note that in these passages that the only avenue of salvation is faith.  In some of them they clearly indicate that works has no saving merit.

John 3:36, “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him.” NKJV

Romans 3:27-29, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith.   Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” NKJV

Romans 4:2-4, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.  For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."  Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.”  NKJV   If we can be saved through our own efforts we could boast about it but God makes it clear there is no room for boasting when it comes to salvation

Galatians 3:11, “But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for "the just shall live by faith." NKJV

Ephesians 2:8-10, “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. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. NKJV

2 Timothy 1:9, “Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began”  NKJV

Hebrews 12:2, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” NKJV – Salvation is completely the work of God not of any earthly individual or organization.

We indicated that “Scripture Only” is an impenetrable divide between NT Christians and the Catholic Church so is the biblical teaching of “Salvation by Faith Only.”  Any system of beliefs that teach that one must come through a particular Church (denomination) or at least in part through ones own works is teaching a way of salvation that contradicts both the teaching of our Lord and His apostles.  Paul seeing the day coming when some would depart from the clear teaching of the Scriptures wrote the following warning.

Galatians 1:6-9, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel,  which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” NKJV