Over the years, I’ve engaged with many Roman Catholics and ecumenically-minded evangelicals who took umbrage at my outreach to Roman Catholics with the Gospel of grace.
One incensed, ecumenically-minded, evangelical blogger smugly put it to me this way:
“Going to a Catholic church doesn’t make anybody a non-Christian, just like sitting in a pew at a Baptist church doesn’t make anybody a Christian.”
Well, that argument is a logical fallacy. Yes, we certainly agree that just by attending church services or by being a member of a particular religious denomination or church doesn’t make anyone a Christian. According to the Bible, God’s Word, an individual becomes a Christian only when they repent of (turn from) their sinful rebellion against God and accept (trust in) Jesus Christ as their Savior by faith alone. A person must be born-again, spiritually reborn in Jesus Christ, in order to become a Christian.
Many of the old mainline Protestant denominations drifted into modernism many decades ago and no longer teach that the Bible is God’s Word and no longer preach the Good News! of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. People who still bother to attend those dead churches are not going to hear the Gospel. But thankfully, there are still many conservative-evangelical Baptist, Presbyterian, old-school Lutheran, and non-denominational churches where the genuine Gospel of grace is preached. At least unsaved people who attend those churches will have the opportunity to hear the Gospel. They must then decide whether to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior or not.
In the case of Roman Catholic churches, the Gospel is NEVER preached in ANY of them. Roman Catholicism teaches a false gospel of sacramental grace and merit. Catholics are taught by their priests that they must receive graces from the church’s sacraments, so that they can successfully obey the Ten Commandments (impossible!), in order to hopefully merit their salvation at the moment of their death. That is a false gospel, NOT the genuine Gospel!
There are certainly some individuals who still identify as Roman Catholic who have genuinely accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior by faith alone after hearing the Gospel of grace from a Christian friend, by reading a Gospel tract, by hearing a Christian preacher on television or radio, or by reading God’s Word themselves and responding in faith. But their salvation in Jesus Christ by faith alone is always, always, always in spite of their church’s teachings and not because of them. As they grow in Christ and His Word, the Holy Spirit will draw them out of the false (c)hristianity of Catholicism.
So, my indignant, ecumenically-minded, evangelical friend, I totally agree with you that sitting in a church pew Sunday after Sunday makes no one a Christian, BUT that doesn’t preclude the fact that the 1.3 billion souls who sit in the pews of Catholic churches around the world NEVER get to hear the genuine Gospel of grace from their church’s pulpit. Many evangelicals today just don’t know a lot about the particular teachings of the Catholic church and wrongly interpret Gospel outreach to Catholics as sectarian intolerance.