Apologetics for the Masses #361 - A Few Questions

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Answering Some Questions



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I am always getting questions sent to me from all over the country and, if fact, from all over the world.  Unfortunately, because I am not able to devote myself full-time to my job here at the Bible Christian Society, I am only able to answer a very small percentage of those questions.  But, every now and then, I answer some of those questions in this newsletter, which is what I am going to do in this issue.  So, just a few quick questions and answers below:



1) Question

Are you trying to bring folks to the Church or to Christ?


Both. You cannot bring people to the Church without bringing them to Christ.  Why is that?  Because the Church, as the Bible tells us, is the Body of Christ (Eph 5:23; Col 1:18, 24; Eph 1:22-23, 5:23).  So, if you bring someone to the Church Jesus founded, which is His body, you are necessarily bringing them to the Church.  Which is also why you cannot bring people to Christ unless you bring them to the Church.  You cannot separate the Body of Christ (the Church) from its Head (Jesus).  If you try to do so, you are essentially decapitating Christ.  It is not a question of either Jesus or the Church, as many Protestant faith traditions make it, rather it is a question of both Jesus and the Church, as the Catholic Church makes it. For more on this, check out my newsletter: Decapitating Christ


2) Question

[Asked in response to my last newsletter - "Problems With Protestantism #6": Teach No Other Doctrine.]  My only problem [with what you said] is the "tens of thousands times tens of thousands" bit. It seems a countless task as little congregations can come and go, but you seem to make infinity a real number. I need better verbiage. Also, Evangelicals and non-Denominational folks don’t consider themselves Protestant at all...they’d balk at the Protestant label.  I’d appreciate your comments.

First of all, its tens of thousands upon [not "times"] tens of thousands of Protestant denominations and non-denominations.  And it is indeed a "countless task" to try and assign a specific number to all of the denominations out there.  That's the point of what I said.  And, yes, these "little congregations that come and go" cannot be accurately counted - but they are each a separate denomination, nonetheless.  So, if by needing "better verbiage" you mean you need an exact number, well, you're not going to get it, anywhere.  Just ask any non-Catholic Christian who balks at the verbiage of "tens of thousands upon tens of thousands," to give you a number.  Tell them to drive through a city of any size and try and count the number of denominational churches, independent churches, non-denominational churches, mom and pop churches, etc. and see if they don't come up with hundreds in just that one city.  Now, add to that the count from thousands of cities and counties in all fifty states, and then add in all of the different Protestant churches in a couple hundred countries around the world.  Then, add in all of those Protestants who believe they don't need a church, it's just them and their Bible.  Each of those individuals are a denomination unto themselves.  When you do that, you have tens of thousands upon tens of thousands of Protestant denominations.
In regard to "Evangelicals and non-Denominational folks" not considering themselves Protestant, there are two things I would say to them:
1) Ask them how far back they can trace the existence of their church.  The vast majority of Evangelical and non-denominational churches cannot trace their church's roots back more than about 60 or 70 years.  I would doubt a single one of them could trace their church back more than 100 years.  Which means, they are children of the Protestant Deformation.  Their spiritual heritage - the doctrines and dogmas they believe, the rites (or lack of rites) they practice - can be traced back to Martin Luther and the other Protestant Deformers. 
2) Ask them if they go by the Bible alone.  When they say, "Yes," ask them how many books the Bible they go by has.  When they say, "66," then you point out to them that there was no such thing as a Bible with only 66 books until the Protestant Deformation came along.  Tell them that they have a "Protestant" Bible.  Which means, since they go by the Bible alone, and the Bible alone that they go by is a Protestant Bible, they are, in essence, Protestants, whether they call themselves that or not.  And if they still refuse to accept it, then just say to them, "Okay, fine.  Instead of tens of thousands upon tens of thousands of Protestant denominations, there are tens of thousands upon tens of thousands of Evangelical and non-denominational denominations."  Let them deny that.
3) Question

I have received numerous questions, complaints and concerns about remarks concerning salvation outside the Catholic Church made by one of our parishioners.  [As a deacon] I would be remiss if I didn’t address these concerns. Therefore, would you please answer each of the following questions:

a) What is the position of the Catholic Church concerning salvation outside the Catholic Church

b) Would it be true to say that:

   1. If you are not Catholic you are going to hell?

   2. That God’s grace is only dispensed through the Sacraments of the Catholic Church?

   3. That all Churches outside the Catholic Church are cults?



#3.a: The position of the Catholic Church is that there is no salvation outside of the Church.  Or, restated, since the Bible tells us that the church is the body of Christ, we can say there is no salvation outside of the body of Christ.  And, since the Catholic Church views itself as the Church, one could indeed say that there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church.  Does that mean, then, that anyone who is not a formal member of the Catholic Church here on earth - whether Protestant, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, etc. - is going to Hell?  Not necessarily so, as I will explain in the answers to the 3 parts of Question #2.

#3.b.1: Yes, in one sense.  No, in another sense.  I will explain the latter then the former.  Does the Iroquois indian living in what is now upstate New York in the year 1350 have any chance of going to Heaven?  No Christian has ever set foot anywhere within a couple thousand miles of him, so he has never heard - and never even had the possibility of hearing - of the Triune God, of Jesus Christ, of the Catholic Church, of Baptism and the other Sacraments.  Is he then automatically condemned to Hell?  The Church says, "No."  The Church teaches that God is a just God, Who, according to Scripture, wants "all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth," (1 Tim 2:4).  So, if God is just, and He wants all men to be saved, then it is reasonable to believe that there is some means provided by God by which all men at least have the opportunity to be saved.  So, we say that the "ordinary" means of salvation comes through the Church, by way of the Sacraments.  However, if one never knows the Church or the Sacraments, then the Church reasons that there could be some extraordinary means of salvation, known only unto God, by which that person may be saved.  That does not mean, though, that they are automatically saved because of their ignorance...far from it.  Paul tells us in Romans 2:14-16 that when Gentiles (which would include our Iroquois) "who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.  They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse, or perhaps excuse them on that day when...God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus." 

What form does this extraordinary means of salvation take?  We do not know.  It is known only to God.  They way I think of it - and this is my personal thought, not anything taught by the Church - is like this: What if our Iroquois friend lived as good and holy life as he possibly could given his circumstances...given the law written on his heart?  So, right at the moment of his death, let's say God, in the blink of an eye, takes him through a whole other lifetime - one in which he is able to hear about Jesus and the Church and he has the opportunity to decide "fer or agin" Christ.  And he has the opportunity to be baptized and receive the Sacraments.  Could God do that?  I'm not going to say He can't.  So, at the moment of His death, God, through extraordinary means, gives our Iroquois friend the opportunity to come into the Church, and he takes it.  So, he dies Catholic even though by all normal appearances he didn't die Catholic.  That is why I say, "Yes," in one sense, to the question about not being Catholic and going to Hell.  Everyone in Heaven is Catholic, but they may be Catholic through extraordinary as opposed to ordinary means.  And, if God could do that in 1350, could He not also do that today?  I'm not going to say He can't. 

3.b.2: God's sanctifying grace, merited for us by Christ, is indeed only dispensed through the Sacraments of the Catholic Church.  But, again, there may be some extraordinary means by which a person obtains access to the sanctifying grace of the Church and the Sacraments.  Actual grace is dispensed to all, through the Church, by the merits obtained for mankind by Christ, but is available to all men - Catholic or not.

3.b.3: Technically, there are no "churches" outside of the Catholic Church.  The Church refers to Protestant denominations as "ecclesial communities."  I often call them "faith traditions."  Are they all "cults"?  The Church does not use that language; therefore, neither do I.  Technically, you might be able to call them cults, but you might, in one sense, also refer to the Catholic Church as a cult.  However, in the common usage of the word, the Catholic Church is not a cult and neither are most Protestant denominations.  Again, the Church doesn't use that language to refer to Protestant faith traditions, so I would not use it, either. 

Now, if I might add a little extra.  What I believe the main question here is, if I am discerning this correctly, is the question of those who have been baptized, but are not formal members of the Catholic Church - Baptists, Evangelicals, Protestants, in general.  Through Baptism, they became members of the Catholic Church.  The question is, are they in a state of mortal sin, through their formal rejection of, or through ignorant non-adherence to, the teachings of the Church after their Baptism?  One goes to Hell if one dies in a state of mortal sin.  That is true of Catholic and non-Catholic.  So, are the Protestants in a state of mortal sin?  Culpability has to be judged on a case-by-case basis, and we simply do not have the information necessary to definitively make that call for any given individual, much less for entire groups.  Paul says in 1 Cor 4:5, "It is the Lord Who judges me."  In Revelation 2:23, Jesus says, "I am He Who searches mind and heart."  I.e., God handles the Heaven and Hell stuff, not us.

I will close with what I always tell people who ask me questions along these lines.  It is not up to us to condemn anyone to Hell, just as it is not up to us, as individuals, to canonize anyone into Heaven.  When it comes to Protestants, the question that needs to be asked is not: "Are they saved?"  That we cannot know in this lifetime.  The better question to be asked is: "Would they have a greater chance of being saved if they were fully Catholic and receiving the Eucharist and other Sacraments on a regular basis?"  The answer to that question is a resounding, "YES!" which is why it is incumbent upon us, as Catholics, to evangelize always and everywhere...to continually be throwing out the seeds of the fullness of the truth that is found in the Catholic Church.  Because, if it is difficult for us as Catholics to be saved, even with all the graces we receive from the Sacraments, then how much more difficult must if be for those without the benefit of all that grace to be saved (1 Peter 4:17-18)?


Closing Comments

I am going to try to get another issue out on Tuesday next week, but in case I am unable to do so, I want to wish all of you a happy and holy Thanksgiving holiday.



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Apologetics for the Masses