Ok, I know this is a classic issue between Catholics and Protestants, and I won’t lie…I am very conflicted on this.
I understand that the Catholic position is that one must have faith worked out through charity and love. In other words, to be saved, a Catholic must have faith, but mental assent of the identity of Christ is not enough for salvation. Salvation also depends on our working our faith out through love (meaning there are “acts” of faith).
I also understand that the traditional Protestant understanding of faith as expressed by Martin Luther is that true faith is more than just mental assent…it’s a faith that creates in every Christian a “new creature,” a creature that will act as Christ commanded. Thus, true faith leads to particular works.
As recent talks between Lutherans and Catholics in Germany have shown, the differences on these points are not nearly as large as so many once though - the language is just different.
However, where I think things are in fact really different is this…The Catholic Church says that in order to be saved, one must act in love and charity. This really isn’t much different from the Lutheran position since their view of faith includes many of these same acts. The problem arises when one must identify what is and what is not something that must be done.
Lutherans and Catholics all agree on what Jesus said constitutes a Christian life, but what about all of the “extras” that the Catholic Church has decreed over the years. For instance, contraception, which Jesus didn’t say anything about, has been declared a mortal sin by the Catholic Church. So if someone believes wholly and completely in Jesus Christ, lives his or her life just as Jesus describes in the Bible, and is one of the greatest people of all time, but uses contraception because he or she genuinely believes its not a sin…that person is dying with mortal sin and, under Catholic theology, is going to hell. That does seem to deny what the Bible says about the role of faith in salvation. One could believe wholly and completely but still be damned because they disagree with the Church’s understanding of what is and what is not a mortal sin.
Now, I realize that issues regarding infallibility, authority, and all the rest play a part in all of this. If a Catholic believes in church infallibility, then the Church cannot be wrong about what is and what is not a mortal sin, so in that sense, none of this would matter to the Catholic. But to the Protestant, who starts out rejecting that authority, this argument does not at all work.
How can Catholics explain this problem to Protestants? If a Christian truly believes with all of his heart but rejects certain Church teachings as being wrong…can he or she be saved? Doesn’t a view of Catholic salvation make faith in the Church more important than faith in Jesus?
I am looking for an honest, thoughtful dialogue on the issues here…Just trying to understand how to approach this.