I am a Protestant. My wife and I enjoy worship at Catholic churches, but we know that we cannot participate in the Eucharist. We have both attended RCIA. I have read the entire Catholic Catechism. I have studied the early Church Fathers, Augustine’s works, and Aquinas’ Summa. Also, I have read, and thoroughly enjoyed, several books by Pope Benedict XVI. I appreciate the deep roots of the Catholic Church in rationality. I find the Sola Scriptura doctrine within Protestantism to be somewhat fedeistic (reasoning “from” the Bible before reasoning “to” the Bible). In general, there is much about the Catholic Church that is appealing to me. But there are some fundamental Catholic teachings that scare me, and which prevent me from fully embracing Catholicism.
My main concern is that the Catholic Church teaches that our works are necessary for our justification. Although I agree that good works are necessary, I believe they are the fruit of faith, the product of my justification, not the basis of my justification. So a faith without works is indeed dead – a dead faith rather than a living faith. My righteousness is a result of my being alive in Christ, through the indwelling presence of his Spirit, who then produces good works as the evidence of my faith, and for my continuing sanctification.
It is truly scary to me when I begin to trust anything other than the shed blood of Christ for my justification. The apostle Paul said, “I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:8-9).
Yes, I believe that we must “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling,” but that is because it is “God which worketh in [us] both to will and to work, for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). It is “to make [my] calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10) – that is, to confirm to myself that Christ is indeed within me.
Catholic soteriology appears to assert that although Christ has done his part, I must still add my own works to complete my justification. But I, as a sinner, cannot do anything that is without the taint of sin. How can I add to what Christ has already accomplished on my behalf? I can only lift empty hands of faith. To Christ alone be the glory for my salvation.
Every time I begin to draw close to embracing Catholicism, I get caught up in all of the rules and regulations that ultimately become the means of my salvation, and not the fruit of my salvation. Ultimately, it appears that I must justify myself, and not depend entirely upon the completed work of Christ. That scares me. How does the Catholic Church avoid the charge of Pharisaical legalism? What is wrong with my understanding of works as necessary, but only as the fruit and proof of what Christ has already accomplished for me personally through his life, death, and resurrection?