Defining the Terms

In a recent issue of The Texas Baptist, Peter J. Riga, a self-proclaimed "evangelical Catholic" has written an article wherein he makes certain affirmations for the Roman Catholic religion and endorses the recently published document: Evangelicals and Catholics Together.[1]

We applaud Mr. Riga in his earnest desire to take a stand on the social ills of our culture which he correctly lists as, "massive abortion, anti-Semitism, racism, euthanasia, sexual excesses, adultery-fornication, practicing homosexuality everywhere encouraged as a normal sexual behavior."

We are, however, shocked by Mr. Riga's apparent failure to grasp basic Christianity. In the first place, there is no such thing as an evangelical Catholic. This may be a popular term, but it is utter nonsense. The Evangelical belief system and the Roman Catholic belief system are in open and perpetual conflict. It is a destruction of language and word meanings to thrust them together with the hope of creating anything other than a monstrous oxymoron. Mr. Riga might as well have said that he believes in square circles!

Furthermore, we question Mr. Riga's understanding of Roman Catholicism. He begins his article with these bold words:

  • "Catholic doctrine from Scripture and from the Council of Trent and Vatican II teach the following as an absolute: We are saved only in and by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, our resurrected Lord..."

  • "That faith in Jesus Christ is an utterly gratuitous and free gift from God which can in no way be merited by man but is freely, lovingly and abundantly given by God through Jesus Christ."

  • "Let that be clearly understood by my evangelical brothers and sisters: No works, no liturgy, no human endeavor whatsoever can 'merit' this grace of faith. Nothing. Sola Fide is as much a Catholic doctrine as it is a Protestant one."
  • What Mr. Riga fails to inform the reader is that Roman Catholicism teaches that grace is a supernatural substance infused by God through the Catholic Sacramental system. Grace can be won or lost in the Catholic system. Also, Catholics believe that grace is first infused into a child by the Catholic Sacrament of infant baptism. So, it is with tongue-in-cheek when Mr. Riga asserts Catholicism teaches a salvation by grace and faith. It is a grace infused and a faith that believes the Catholic system will give more of it to which Mr. Riga has given his trust.

    What does the Catholic religion teach her adherents about Justification? Let us take a look. We find these sobering words taken verbatim from the 6th Session of the Council of Trent on Justification:[2]

  • "Hence, to those who work well unto the end and trust in God, eternal life is to be offered, both as a grace mercifully promised to the sons of God through Christ Jesus, and as a reward promised by God Himself, to be faithfully given to their good works and merits." (italics ours)
  • "...we must believe that nothing further is wanting to those justified to prevent them from being considered to have, by those very good works which have been done in God, fully satisfied the divine law according to the state of this life and to have truly merited eternal life, to be obtained in its due time, provided they depart this life in grace." (italics ours)
  • "If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sin for Christ's sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be accursed."
  • "For God does not forsake those who have once been justified by His grace, unless He be first forsaken by them. Wherefore, no one ought to flatter himself with faith alone, thinking that by faith alone he is made an heir and will obtain the inheritance even though he suffer not with Christ, that he may be glorified with him." (italics ours)
  • We are at a loss. How can anyone, remotely familiar with the Council of Trent, miss the point? Trent teaches the opposite of Sola Fide (faith alone) for justification!

    The Roman Catholic religion teaches that works are part and parcel as the cause of being forgiven by God. Roman Catholics are to earn their forgiveness through works of penance in the Catholic system. Both the sacrament of penance and the doctrine of purgatory make works indispensable as the ground of their acceptance before God.

    Furthermore, unlike Christianity, works are not the guaranteed effects of a saved man in the Romish system. They are rather the standard upon which Catholics are judged. They are not necessarily produced by the Spirit of God in the Roman Catholic religion. Man must first obey the program. Works of religion must be performed by man or man loses out on salvation! Listen to Trent:

    "It (the council) teaches furthermore that the liberality of the divine munificence is so great that we are able through Jesus Christ to make satisfaction to God the Father not only by punishments voluntarily undertaken by ourselves to atone for sins, or those imposed by the judgment of the priest according to the measure of our offense, but also, and this is the greatest proof of love, by temporal afflictions imposed by God and borne patiently by us." (italics ours)
    In Roman Catholicism, God can be appeased by our sufferings, by penalties imposed by a priest and by afflictions imposed by God. These are said to atone for sins. This is the antithesis of Christianity.

    Also, Mr. Riga does not mention forgiveness of sins through the Catholic sacrament of the Mass. This is the un-bloody altar of the Catholic religion upon which Christ's sacrifice is re-presented for the remission of sin. He does not mention papal authority, Catholic tradition, Maryolatry, Baptismal regeneration, (although he alludes to it in his proclamation: "That glorious gift of faith professed in the waters of Holy Baptism." This is the Catholic sacrament of infant baptism for the remission of sin), Priestly caste system, the Eucharist and Romish ecumenism. All these things are omitted. Instead, the article closes with the challenge that "The church must announce the Gospel clearly and forthrightly." But, Mr. Riga has not done so! We question if he can. He says what binds us (Evangelicals) to them (Catholics) "is confession of the resurrected Lord, our witness of Christ boldly in the Spirit of this truly good news, the good works for each other and the world as testimony of faith..." He says these are "infinitely more profound than our differences."

    We ask the reader to contemplate what exactly Mr. Riga means by "our witness for Christ." If it is the Roman Catholic system of merits and sacramental salvation then we have nothing in common. For it is a false hope and a false gospel. If he means justification by faith alone apart from works of any system and law, the sole authority of the Bible and the security of eternal life based on the imputation of the righteousness of Christ alone, then let him say so. If, indeed, this is what he means then he is not a Roman Catholic in any true sense of the term. If this is not what Mr. Riga means by "our witness for Christ," he is not a Christian.

    [1] We have prepared a critical analysis of ECT. It is available upon request and is an appendix in Zins' book, Romanism.

    [2] All quotations are taken from The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent by H.J. Schroeder, l978 by Tan Books and Publishers, Rockford, Illinois.

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