This past October, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops published a 12-page booklet titled, “Our Evangelical Neighbours – A Catholic Reflection on Evangelical Christianity.” The stated purpose of the booklet is to promote dialogue and unity between evangelicals and Catholics.
For the PDF version, see here.
This booklet very briefly touches upon some of the similarities and differences between Bible Christianity and Catholicism. Regarding the most important difference, the issue of salvation, evangelicals believe in salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, a person is convicted of their sinfulness, repents, and accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior. At the moment a person accepts Christ as Savior, His perfect righteousness is imputed to them; they have no righteousness of their own. Most every evangelical can remember the moment they accepted Christ.
For Catholics, salvation is a life-long process. God’s sanctifying grace is infused into the soul of the supplicant via the sacraments. The Catholic must then “cooperate with grace” until their dying day by obeying the Ten Commandments (impossible!) and church rules in order to merit salvation. Catholics will say that the ability to obey the commandments (impossible!) is only through God’s grace but it’s extremely clear from God’s Word that no one can possibly obey the Law. The Law only shows us our sinfulness and our need for the Savior.
The booklet points out that Catholics magnanimously consider evangelicals to also be Christians (that was not the case prior to Unitatis Redintegratio in 1964), but the favor is not always reciprocated by some evangelicals (such as myself). I would respond that the Catholic church also teaches that members of non-(c)hristian religions and even atheists will merit Heaven if they “follow the light they’ve been given” and are “good.” None of that is Christianity.
“Our Evangelical Neighbours” is a very short summary of how Catholics view evangelicals, which many will find interesting. Differences are winsomely glossed over, which is the point of any ecumenical endeavor.