This is the second part of Carmelina's discussion of the differences between how Roman Catholics and Protestant address the question of how God reveals himself to us. You can find the first part here.
On Monday, I introduced the issue of the differences between how Roman Catholics and Protestants answer the question, ‘How does God tell us what He thinks?’. I’m not going to spend a lot of time explaining the differences because Ray Galea does it so well in chapter 4 of this month’s book. But what it boils down to is that Roman Catholicism teaches that God’s word AND Roman Catholic Church traditions are BOTH God’s special revelation. And just as significantly, that the Roman Catholic Church is INFALLIBLE (ie they can’t get it wrong) and it’s the ONLY interpreter of the Bible and Church tradition.
This position has a logical outcome. If the RC Church is the only infallible interpreter of the Bible, then if my interpretation is different from what the RC Church teaches (about the Bible and in their church tradition), then I must be wrong and if I want to be an obedient and faithful Roman Catholic, I should submit to what I am being taught by those who know better than me. Indeed, not only does the RC Church know better than me, but it holds the view that the RCC is the literal body of Christ or so it can never be wrong.
I would say very few, if any of my Roman Catholic family or friends know or believe this about the Roman Catholic Church. In fact most of them would openly disagree with certain teachings (eg. priests not being able to marry and contraception – as proven by the negative birth rate in Italy).
Protestantism, on the other hand, teaches that THE BIBLE is the SOLE authority on matters of faith and morals. The Reformers, people like Martin Luther and John Calvin believed in a slogan coined at that time – Sola Scriptura or Bible alone. They insisted that the Bible stood above any other teaching, including church traditions and the teachings of other people. Not only that, but in distinction to RC teaching, the Bible is sufficient and clear. The Bible contains all we need for salvation and instruction on how to live a godly life and is able to teach me all I need to know about faith and morality (see 2 Timothy 3:15-17)
So why is this difference such a big deal? Because what I read in the Bible is the opposite of what the RC Church teaches about how a person can be saved from hell. I can’t state this clearly enough. I am not saying that every other church gets what it teaches absolutely right. Only Jesus gets everything right. But when I read the Bible I see teachings which aren’t just different from what the RC Church teaches - like the difference between strawberry jam and blueberry jam, just a matter of personal opinion. What I read in the Bible must mean either the RC Church is right and the Bible (and hence Protestants) are wrong or vice versa. Either we’re saved by Jesus’ death plus our good works/participation in the sacraments (as per RC teaching) or we’re saved by Jesus’ death alone (as per Ephesians 2:8-9). I hope to chat more about this very issue in the next 2 posts.
I’d like to add, that the Roman Catholic Church itself agrees with me that only one view can be right. The Council of Trent occurred in response to the views put forward by the Reformers. The Council’s ruling (6th session, 1547: ninth canon on justification) still stands - anyone who believes that they can be saved through faith in Jesus’ death alone, without good works is anathema, that is, condemned to hell.
What does all this mean for the every day person? The more I read the Bible, the more I am convinced that the Bible is saying the opposite of what the RC Church teaches. And that means, the RC Church is teaching people not only a different way to salvation, but a wrong way to salvation and this means it’s no gospel at all. The irony is that when the apostle Paul addressed this very issue in the book of Galatians, he said anyone who teaches a gospel which is no gospel at all (ie. one that says you also need works to be saved) should be anathema.
Why do I keep mentioning anathema, hell? Because that’s exactly what’s at stake. Salvation itself is at stake. I can’t be part of any church that holds itself over the Bible and teaches a way of salvation which denies the one true way of salvation I see clearly written in the Bible.
Once again, can I stress, I don’t hate Roman Catholic people. I don’t consider myself better than them. A few of my closest Roman Catholic friends put me to shame in their discipline in reading of the Bible, in their daily prayers, in their open talk of Jesus and in their regular attendance at church. But if they’re trusting in a church and teachings which lead lead them to miss out on being saved (despite their good works), then it’s a terrible tragedy. A tragedy that because of my love for them, I need to call them away from.
PS. Once again, I add a note to any Roman Catholic reader. Please, can I encourage you, read the Bible or keep reading the Bible. Engage with it. Don’t just read it, but ask yourself ‘is what I’m reading the same as what I’m hearing at church?’ Take your Bible with you to church, follow along when the readings happen and compare what the priest is saying to what read with your own eyes and understand with your mind in the Bible. God wrote the Bible for you. I know that at the church I attend (and many others like it), every week, the Bible teachers encourage people to open their Bibles to follow along. And they even encourage people to ask questions, to chat to them about what was said and to raise any differences we see between what they taught us and what we read in the Bible. After all, the truth is at stake.
Discussion questions for you or to work through with some friends:
1. Why is the place of the Bible on issues of faith and morality important?
2. What does the Bible itself have to say about God’s revelation and the place of Scriptures in the life of a Christian? (2 Timothy 3:15-17)
3. In light of what you’ve read in this week’s EQUIP book club posts, how can you start to talk to Roman Catholics about Jesus and the Bible? What part could the Bible play in this?