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Scott wrote:

Hi, guys —

I'm a Baptist who has been studying the Roman Catholic Church for about a year now. In my studies, I have discovered that Catholic doctrine has endured since Jesus ascended to Heaven. This is actually contrary to what I expected to find. I expected to find that Baptist doctrines were actually taught since early church times.

After making this discovery, I have thought about converting to the Catholic faith, but one thing stands in my way: the issue of inter-religious dialogue. The director of RCIA at my local Catholic parish told me:

"Muslims are saved, and so is anyone else who sincerely follows any religion."

She even told me:

"An American who was not raised in church, and never accepts Christ, will be saved because God will not hold him accountable due to the fact that his parents neglected to give him a Christian upbringing."

She also told me:

"It will be fine" if I decide not to convert, because "all Christians are brothers and sisters, regardless of their denominational affiliation."

In addition, I've been reading accounts of the inter-religious days of prayer for world peace that were held at Assisi in 1986 and 2002. I was always taught that Christians should not pray with non-Christian religious people because their deities such as Allah, Shiva or Ganesh are false and most likely demonic. I've read reports of Cardinal Law worshipping in mosques with Muslims.
I've also read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and it seems to indicate that Muslims and other non-Christian religious people are, indeed, saved. My Baptist church has always taught that these are signs that the Catholic Church is the "Harlot One World Religion" that will, one day,
be in league with the Antichrist.

While I admire the fact that the Catholic Church seems to be attempting to achieve Christian unity, after all, Jesus didn't pray the unity prayer (John 17:21) for nothing; this inter-religious dialogue disturbs me.

  • Does the Catholic Church believe that all religious people, even non-Christians, are saved?

I've been told by Protestants that the Catholic Church has become pluralistic and universalistic in its doctrine of salvation.

  • Is this true?

Please help me; I'm very confused.

Thanks.

Scott

  { Does the Catholic Church believe that all religious people, even non-Christians, are saved? }

Eric replied:

Hi Scott,

Thanks for writing. That is a very good question.

I have to be brief tonight — perhaps some of my colleagues would like to follow up — but I was eager to respond.

First of all, your director of RCIA is full of it. Jesus is the only way to salvation, and not everyone who "sincerely follows a religion" is saved. That being said, it is *possible* for a non-Christian to be saved, but it is difficult. They have to be ignorant of the truth through no fault of their own, and they have to obey the dictates of their conscience and the law written by God in their hearts:

14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: 15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;

(Roman 2:14-15)

"Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation."

(CCC 847)

Note the Catechism says *may*, not *will*. Some have abused this, and made it much, much broader than it has been stated in Church documents, even to the point, as you heard, of saying that all religious people will be saved. We still believe that the Gospel needs to be proclaimed and embraced, as it is the way to salvation. While it is possible, in God's great mercy, He may extend his salvation to those ignorant of the Gospel, we must not presume on that mercy and spurn the grace of God. This applies also to Protestants in that there is more grace available in the Catholic Church: the means God established for salvation; and so God wishes all to be part of the Catholic Church.

Note that the Catechism makes clear that not even all Catholics will be saved:

"Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but 'in body' not 'in heart.'"

(CCC 837)

With respect to praying with non-Christians, I haven't followed what happened at Assisi, but
I would first of all verify we are actually talking about praying *with* non-Christians, as opposed to merely gathering with them, or even praying independently from them, if simultaneously.
Just because two people are in the same room praying doesn't mean they are praying "with" one another.

In any case, if we suppose that this were sinful, we simply have an example of Pope John Paul II, like Peter, failing to live out the Gospel faithfully, and providing a bad example; not teaching error.

I hope this helps. If I have any additional thoughts I will share them.

Yours in Christ,

Eric Ewanco

Mike replied:

Hi Scott,

Thanks for your question. My colleague Eric did an excellent job in answering your basic question.

It is sad that some of our RCIA programs have leaders who have not been catechized correctly.
It appears your RCIA instructor is one of them.

For your RCIA instructor to tell you "that Muslims are saved" or "anyone who sincerely follows any religion", is saved is scandalous.

  • Ask your RCIA instructor what she thinks the mission of the Catholic Church is?
  • To serve Catholics only? (Certainly not.)
    Our Church is not a country club.

The mission is to save all souls through the one Church Christ established with the provisos, my colleague, Eric stated. Christians can only find the fullness of happiness and participate fully with Christ, Our Lord, in His Church.

Even to this day, the Church officially teaches that:

"Outside the Church there is no Salvation" CCC 846
This is Catholic dogma. {Something all practicing Catholics have to believe.}

The biggest problem we have in the Church is a correct and proper explanation and understanding of what we believe when we state this important dogma of our Catholic Faith and what we don't believe. For this reason, I've dedicated a whole section of our knowledge base.

My colleague Eric has done a very good job in bringing up the main points to remember. I highly suggest re-reading his reply (above). My two cents:

  1. All mankind is bound by their consciences to develop their faith regularly, and to seek out the fullness of Faith in Christ that can only be found in His one Church. We are encouraged when we see areas of the faith that we can agree with our Protestant brethren on, and we strive to acknowledge these areas in our faith-sharing discussions. As Catholic evangelists and apologists, we can start here as an area of agreement that we have, but the fact is, we are still not one in faith, especially eucharistically. (John 6:53-70)
  2. Those who know that the Catholic faith is the True faith, and understand the rationale of the teachings of the Church that Christ established yet refuse to enter into it, risk their salvation gravely.
  3. Those who don't rationally understand Her (the Church's) teachings are called to study and prayer in those areas they do not comprehend yet.

    You are to be applauded, as this is what you appear to be doing.

RE: Faith-sharing and Interfaith dialogue

In this area, the best line I have heard was from our previous Cardinal of Boston, Cardinal Law. He was on an EWTN show and a priest was urging him on to, what appeared to be, a false sense of Christian unity. In his reply, he was quoted as saying:

"The most ecumenical thing a Catholic can do, is to be unmistakably Catholic."

This is the attitude all Catholics should have. We can achieve this by studying and learning what the Church officially teaches, on issues of faith and morals, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

If you need a copy, you can get a pretty cheap one here.

True friends can:

  • agree to agree, and
  • agree to disagree

while still being friends. [e.g. Like my Baptist friend and I.]  We are friends despite our faith differences. We don't respect the error of what each other believes, but we respect the person as a friend, made in the image and likeness of God and we respect their free will to listen and
faith-share with us ... or not.

I'm concerned about whether or not you are getting a proper RCIA education.

  • Ask your RCIA instructor if she believes that, on issues of faith and morals, you have to believe what the Holy Father teaches officially?
  • Ask her if you can dissent from official Church teachings?

If she says that you can dissent on Church teachings, or that there are errors in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I would run as fast as I could from that instructor, and pray that the Lord assist you in finding a better Catholic parish where you can receive instruction and be brought into the faith!

I hope my two cents helps.

Mike Humphrey

Eric followed-up:

Hi Scott,

I had an additional comment. I don't know if you've ever heard the saying,

"The Church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners."

As much as I would want the Catholic Church to be a museum for saints, it is much more a hospital for sinners than Protestant churches. My experience of Protestant churches is that they tend to be self-selecting; those who are truly committed to Christ tend to gather together into the same churches, and those who never truly experience conversion tend to drop out or be left behind. A Protestant who doesn't believe, or ceases to believe, has no reason to continue to go to church, so they typically stop going. Consequently, there tends to be an expectation among the true believers that everyone in the church should be a true believer. We know though, from the parable of the wheat and the tares, that this is not so. Even their definition of "Church of Christ" reinforces this: the invisible collection of all true believers.

The Catholic understanding, on the other hand, is very different. For better or for worse, there are strong forces that keep the unconverted in the churches.

  • one is the teaching that if you deliberately stop coming to church, you lose your salvation.
  • one is the strong cultural ties.
  • one is the emphasis on membership starting from infant Baptism.
  • one can certainly argue that the unconverted will at least hear the Gospel if they come to church, and for this reason, it is better to let them stay.

On the other side of the coin, Catholic parishes have always been very strongly geographically based (in fact, at one time you were obliged to go to your geographical parish.), so the true believers tend not to self-select themselves into the same parish.

The consequence of all of this is a big culture shock when Evangelicals or Fundamentalists look into becoming Catholic. To them, it is a big scandal that there are so many unconverted in Catholic parishes. Yeah, they are probably the majority, depending on how strict your definition of "converted" or "true believer" is, so this makes the Church look, to them, apostate in practice (compared to the ultra-fervent islands they live on). You have to decide for yourself whether this is truly a mark of reprobation or not.

I would like to point out, however, that in the Old Testament, where Israel was the type of the Church, more often than not, virtually all of Israel was disobedient and wayward, if not outright apostate. (Note: A type is a person or thing in the Old Testament, which foreshadows something in the New Testament.) You will never find instances of mass idolatry in the history of the Catholic Church as there were in the history of Israel, yet Israel was still Israel, God's chosen people, and God never took his promise away, regardless of how unfaithful Israel was. When we compare the Catholic Church to ancient Israel, She is, after all, the new Israel (cf. James 1:1, Galatians 4:26), I think we'll come out looking better. I'd also point out that Jesus was criticized by the Pharisees for letting a lot of impure people into His company.

So, approaching the Catholic Church, I guarantee you will be scandalized. She is not going to look pretty to you, and She will take some getting used to; I won't deny that.

The question I think you should ask, though, is not whether She looks good, but:

  • whether She teaches the Truth
  • whether She is the Church founded by Christ, and
  • whether She has the fullness of the means of salvation.

Yours in Christ,

Eric

John replied:

Hello, Scott —

Both my friends have given you the pieces of the puzzle. Being a former Baptist myself, let me try to put it together for you in terms that an Evangelical could be able to see the picture as a whole.

We seem to have a dichotomy here: on the one hand we read,

"Outside the Church there is no salvation"

on the other hand, we read that it is possible that some who do not know about Christ, or fully understand the Gospel, can be saved.

Let's start with the words of St. Paul:

8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:8-10

Notice that St. Paul said it was grace and not correct or perfect theology that saves us.

The Bible teaches us that people are held accountable for the knowledge and understanding which they are given.

The Church ultimately acknowledges what the book of Revelation records in Chapter 7 verse 10, which reads:

10 ..., "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"

Revelation 7:10

Thus, it is God who decides who is saved and who is not. This is not to discount free will — but it is to say that we don't walk around saying "so and so" is damned and "so and so" is saved.
That is God's job, and we rely on His great mercy to triumph over what we all really deserve.

Turning to the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:

31 "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 "All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 "And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 "Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 'for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 'I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.' 37 "Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 'When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 'Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' 40 "And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.' 41 "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 'for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 'I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.' 44 "Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' 45 "Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' 46 "And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Matthew 25:31-46

If you read the preceding verses you will read about the angels gathering the elect, and how they will be judged, but notice "All the nations will be gathered before Him", not

  • the churches,
  • elect or
  • Kingdom.

As we read further, Jesus talks to these people and says,

"42 For I was hungry and you never gave me food, I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, lacking clothes and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me.” 44 Then it will be their turn to ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or lacking clothes, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?

(Matthew 25:42-44)

Notice how they answered;

  • When did we do this?

As if to say, Who are you?

Note that no Christian would ask the Lord this question. Christians know that when they do good or evil to their fellow man, they do it unto the Lord. Thus, I believe this text is talking about those who do not know Him in this life. So we see them being judged on the basis of how they respond to God's grace in their lives, according to the measure with which they received it.

Returning to our dichotomy. When the Church says "Outside the Church, there is no salvation", the Church is not saying that there is no salvation for all those outside the walls of the Catholics Church. Rather, it is saying that the Church is the visible mystical Body of Christ on earth from which the Grace of Salvation flows to the world. Thus if it were not for the Church, just as, if it were not for Jesus Christ, there would be no salvation.

If a Muslim is ultimately saved, it is because Christ died for him, not because he followed Islam; that goes for anyone else.

Now as to interfaith dialogue, such dialogue should be the foundation of relationships which lead to evangelization.

St. Paul was the first big advocate of such dialogue. When he argued with the Greeks, he did not quote Scripture as he did with the Jews. Rather, he quoted their poets and made analogies which related to their pagan faith. He did that in order to foster understanding. (Read Acts 17.)

Unfortunately, we have our share of idiots in the Catholic Church who have turned interfaith dialogue into a treaty negotiation, whereby we all compromise in the name of fostering a unity which does not exist.

However, there are also those who have accomplished much in the spirit of true dialogue:

  • Recently, the Catholics and Lutherans were able to release a joint statement regarding Justification, which clarifies both positions and recognizes that the differences are semantical and not substantial. [EWTN|Vatican]

  • Similar dialogues with ancient Eastern Churches have led to a mutual understanding of Christology. These Churches have been in schism over the definition of Christ for sixteen centuries, yet now we realize it was the language barriers of the early century that led to our misunderstandings. [EWTN|Vatican]

Scott, as you continue your journey into the Church, you will find that unlike your local Bible fellowship, the Church has a billion people. Amongst those are "our share of morons and heretics". Unfortunately, some have "theology degrees" and influence the catechesis of the laity. That is not to say that they influence the "official teaching" of the Church.

Nevertheless, we trust in Christ's promise to preserve the Church as we await His return.

God Bless,

John DiMascio

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