A Filipino pastor reached out to say that a Free Grace professor was teaching them not to evangelize Roman Catholics because Catholics are already saved. “What Roman Catholics need is discipleship, not evangelism.” If those charges are accurate, that is a sign of deep theological confusion in that ministry.
Are Roman Catholics saved?
It turns out that’s a big debate even among Catholics.
Crisis Magazine is a Roman Catholic publication. In a recent article, “A Church Without Purpose”, Clement Harrold demonstrates the extreme confusion about salvation in the Roman Catholic Church.
On the one hand, there are Roman Catholic near-universalists and pluralists who believe in multiple ways of salvation. And on the other hand, there are traditional Catholics who believe in salvation by works. Harrold discusses the tension between them both.
Harrold laments that “the Western Church is undergoing a catastrophic decline and has been for some decades.” Part of the decline is due to confusion about salvation. For example, he notes that the practice of offering communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians has implications for the Catholic understanding of salvation:
Within this context, the Holy Father’s comments back in September regarding the distribution of Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians were not particularly surprising. For what they betrayed was the already rife assumption that one’s salvation is assured—or at least highly probable—regardless of one’s sins and regardless of whether one is baptized. On this account, anybody can and should receive Holy Communion because such antiquated concepts as “mortal sin” and “state of grace” simply don’t matter anymore.
According to Harrold, the Pope’s comments suggest that sins and lack of baptism are not barriers to salvation and simply don’t matter anymore. On the contrary, Harrold, representing the traditional position, thinks they are important and matter very much.
But do not make the mistake of thinking that, by rejecting baptism and sins as barriers to salvation, the Pope affirms salvation by faith apart from works. Not at all. Sins and baptism are not issues in salvation because mostly everyone will be saved:
For if more or less everybody is saved regardless of the condition of their souls, then the importance of persevering in a state of grace becomes radically diminished. But if this is so, then what exactly, we must ask, is the Church for?
As you see in the quote, Harrold affirms the more traditional Catholic position that “persevering in a state of grace” is necessary for salvation. And that, of course, means doing the works required by the Church for the rest of your life to qualify for heaven.
Harrold quotes Pope Benedict XVI (then Father Ratzinger) wrestling over the question of there being multiple ways of salvation:
“The question that torments us is, much rather, that of why it is still actually necessary for us to carry out the whole ministry of the Christian faith—why, if there are so many other ways to heaven and to salvation, should it still be demanded of us that we bear, day by day, the whole burden of ecclesiastical dogma and ecclesiastical ethics?”
Since there are many ways of salvation, and since almost everyone will go to heaven, who then will end up in “hell”? According to some Catholics, only a small number of people, the worst of the worst, will go there:
On this theologically neoteric account, Hell is reserved for only that tiny number of souls who have “totally destroyed” the good within themselves. But, we are told, “For the great majority of people…there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God.” Hence, in one fell swoop, the majority report of the tradition—including such luminaries as Augustine, Aquinas, and Newman—is overturned, and in its stead we may now presume with some degree of confidence that “the great majority” of people will eventually be saved.
The author notes that, in the past, Roman Catholics believed you had to “opt in” to salvation by doing the good works required by the Church. But now many Roman Catholics think everyone is saved unless they self-consciously “opt out” of salvation by being especially wicked:
Whereas in the past salvation was primarily seen as something that souls had to “opt in” to by the grace of Christ manifested through good works and the Sacramental life of the Church, nowadays the prevailing consensus within most parishes is that salvation is purely an “opt out,” reserved only for exceptionally malign and twisted characters like Henry VIII or Judas Iscariot.
Of course, given the traditional Catholic view of salvation by works, you can never be certain whether you’ve done enough to be saved or damned. How many good works must you do to be saved? It’s an impossible question to answer. Hence, instead of having assurance of salvation, the author recommends that Catholics exercise caution as they work out their salvation because they don’t know if they’ll ultimately end up in hell:
Whatever humanity’s final fate, therefore, it seems that the psychological modus operandi Jesus invites us to adopt is one of extreme caution. It is the Pauline perspective of working out one’s salvation with “fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). For although it is not our place to know who or how many will be damned, the simple and undeniable fact of the matter is that the Gospels give us every indication that the numbers are great and they could easily extend to you or me.
What I find helpful about this article is how it demonstrates the tremendous confusion and utter apostasy of the Roman Catholic church. Whether a Roman Catholic supports the near-universalists or the traditionalists, neither group believes that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for everlasting life. Consequently, some Catholics have false assurance, because they think only the very wicked go to hell, and most everyone else will be saved. And other Catholics understandably lack assurance because they think only good people go to heaven, and they can’t be sure if they’ll meet the standard. Both beliefs ultimately depend upon works: you lose salvation by going out of your way to do wicked works, or you gain salvation by persevering in good works.
A final quote from the author:
The only way to overcome this crisis is to begin to seriously engage with those vexatious but essential questions upon which our salvation may well depend.
I appreciate that the author sees the need for Roman Catholics to “begin to seriously engage” with the “essential questions” of salvation. Let’s treat that as an invitation for Free Grace pastors and people everywhere to talk to Roman Catholics about Jesus’ promise of eternal life. Given the depth of their error and confusion about salvation, we conclude there is no question that Roman Catholics need to be evangelized.