This may be a record -- 2 blogs in one week!
I have been surprised and even shocked by how much attention the evangelical world has given the visit of the Pope. In many ways, we are embracing him as the leader of the global church and listening to his voice as the final moral authority.
The moment I realized all of this is when a friend remarked how “Christ-like” the Pope was.
I also have had several evangelical friends using the Pope's words as if they carried weight in the modern evangelical worldview.
Ok… so I know this post won't be popular because we are living in a more pluralistic world every day. In a world that claims many ways to heaven at least the Catholics have Jesus, right? They believe in Jesus, don’t they? If you will humor me for a few moments, I am going to try to explain where Catholics have turned away from true faith and become a false religion.
The key and fundamental difference between Catholics and Protestants is how God gives us grace.
Both Catholics and Protestants believe in an idea called original sin. This means that man is born in this world a sinner condemned. On his own, there is no way for him to know God or be with God eternally. He is destined for death.
Picture man as a cup. We are born into this world empty of the grace we need to enter heaven.
Where Catholics and Protestants differ is the source of grace.
Let me explain Protestants first. Protestants believe that when you trust Jesus by grace through faith you are saved once for all time. We believe that our salvation is not based on works, but instead, it is a gift of God. God alone gives grace and gives us more than we will ever need to have a right relationship with Him. Our works, confession, baptism, and communion are in response to God’s grace.
As we are an empty glass, we are filled overflowing with God’s grace.
Catholicism is different. Where Protestants believe they receive grace free from God Himself, Catholics believe that the Holy Roman Church dispenses grace. This is called the sacramental system. They believe you gain grace through 7 sacraments: 1. Baptism 2. Communion 3. Penance 4. Conformation 5. Marriage 6. Ordination and 7. Last Rites. With each one of these, the Church dispenses a little grace, filling your empty cup up.
As you participate in the sacramental system, your cup is slowly filled until death. What happens when you die without enough grace is that you enter a place in between Heaven and Hell called Purgatory. Think of it as the waiting room of eternity. Purgatory is the place for those who have attained some grace from the sacramental system but not enough.
The hope of those in Purgatory lies in the prayers of those left behind and the extra grace of the saints. This is why Catholic followers pray to saints. They believe that Mary and many others lived such extraordinary lives that they have extra grace to give to those who don’t have enough. Most Catholic followers won’t have enough grace so they depend on the faith of the saints to fill them up.
Imagine you sit at the bottom of a pyramid of glasses. Eventually some of the grace being poured out on top will overflow out of those higher than you to you.
Let’s go back to the question. If Catholics believe in Jesus they are saved, right? I think the answer is whether their faith is in the system, the saints, the virgin Mary, the Pope or in Jesus Christ.
In the early Reformation, the church coined the phrase by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Faith in Jesus plus works, sacraments, the church, saints, or the pope leads to Hell. I know this is harsh, but so is the doctor who tells you about your cancer. Truth, even harsh truth, that leads you away from death is life saving.
The reason that Catholicism is a false religion is that it leads people to trust in a system for grace. It leads people to trust in dead saints for grace. It leads people to lift up a man to a place where he “speaks for God.”
Are there some who trust in Christ alone despite the system? Yes. That said, it is despite the system, not because of it. The system, religion, of Catholicism leads people away from grace, not to the author of grace, because it leads them to trust false forms of grace.