Are Catholics in the Kingdom?

I had a conversation with my minister in at my local Anglican Church last night about the Christian status of Roman Catholics. Are Catholics in the Kingdom?

That is, could Roman Catholics be saved or born-again, despite the teaching of that Church about relics, icons, the Mass, tradition & the Bible, Mary & the saints, the Papacy, indulgences, Purgatory, justification, faith & good works and so on? The same question could be asked of Eastern Orthodox or the Coptic Orthodox in a slightly alternative form. Still, the essential concern is the same.

I think this issue can be particularly emotional and volatile. I myself have had friends leave Evangelical Christianity to join a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox church. So I am often subject to the waves of the passions when thinking about the issue.

But in moments of honest reflection, I think there are a few fair things one could say from an Evangelical perspective that may allow one to give a qualified answer in the Affirmative in distinct, individual cases. What follows are a few thoughts in that regard.

1. God is not the God of any particular church denomination or tradition, but He is the God of Jesus Christ. Now this assertion, ironically, is almost certainly inconsistent with Roman Catholic belief. For Roman Catholicism teaches that the Roman Catholic Church alone is the true church of the Lord Jesus Christ, established by Him, and governed by the successor of St. Peter, the Pope of Rome, who is the Vicar of Christ, so-claimed (currently Pope Francis, b.1936, Pope from March 2013). However, I, as an Evangelical, would reject that. God is never called the God of Rome. Yet neither is God called the God of the Anglicans, nor the God of the Baptists, nor the God of the Pentecostals and so on. God is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whoever belongs to Christ belongs to Him, and whoever belongs to Christ belongs to Him by faith alone in Him (Rom. 8:9). But in that case, one could imagine a person going frequently into a building called a ‘Catholic Church’ and who, in the midst of the false rituals of that place, nevertheless has a simple faith in Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour. A person could be a member of the truly universal and elect Church of Jesus Christ — which knows no denomination or other such human dividing walls (e.g. Eph. 2:14) — and be a person who is born-again and saved despite the failings and weaknesses of the church that they go to on a Sunday.

2. God is faithful to us in our ignorance, our failings and mistakes. Say there is a person sitting in a Catholic Church who calls themselves Catholic but who also has a simple, personal faith in Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour, and who seeks to follow him. This person may believe and practice all kinds of falsehood. That would be sin, and people involved in that practice most certainly need to be sanctified of that sin (Rev. 22:15). But as I honestly reflect on this, I realise that in my religious life there may be all kinds of false ritual and idolatries still present in my heart. For example, pornography remains a massive problem in my life. I’ve gotten better with it over the years. But I still struggle with it. Is pornography any less sinful than asking a deceased saint’s help? God is patient with all who trust in him and is working slowly toward their sanctification. God may take many years to show someone something wrong in their life and their need to submit to Him in that area. God took forty years with Israel in the wilderness so they would learn their own heart (Deu. 8:2). Is the worship of the Mass any less sinful than pride? Is the doctrine of auricular confession any less harmful than the love of money? Is trusting in Mary or some other wrongly and exceedingly exalted saint to help with something any less sinful than trusting in oneself to do that very same thing? We all stumble in many ways. But God is patient with us all. Why, then, are we so quick to point the finger at others? “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9.)

3. We are not saved by believing true doctrines, but by faith. If we truly believe justification is by faith, then surely we are not saved by believing in the doctrine of justification by faith, but by the faith itself.  I do not believe that we are saved by believing a doctrine per se, but by trusting in a divine-human Person — Jesus Christ. Obviously, it is not okay in God’s sight to deny biblical doctrines (1 Tim. 4:16). I think false teaching and heresy is destructive, and that it can indeed lead people away from the truth and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Believing the wrong thing and stubbornly going on believing it under correction is obviously not okay. But I think there can be a difference between being ignorant, on the one hand, and being truly defiant on the other hand. I believe that many Roman Catholics and others may be truly ignorant of the glorious freedom and assurance of the biblical teaching about divine justification by faith alone through grace and without good works, and yet their church leaders guide them wrongly away from this doctrine. This probably leads many if not most Roman Catholics to hold to a false gospel, which is really no gospel at all (Gal. 1:6-10). But that doesn’t mean there cannot be some Roman Catholic who is simply misguided but who is nevertheless born-again in faith. A person might believe the wrong thing but still have a living faith in Jesus that shows itself in love and good works. Many early Christians did not even have the privilege of possessing a full Bible. Who knows how many misconceptions about God they must have had? Even today with full Bibles it is often hard to understand, or it can be misapplied. But our God is a loving Father who is patient with us and who disciplines us over time that we might be his children, built up and mature, like strong men, and not as infants (Eph. 4:14; Heb. 12:7-10).

4. Of all the false beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, we Protestant Evangelicals tend to tolerate doctrines among those we consider to be brothers our circles which are just as bad if not worse than Roman Catholic doctrines. Take the worship of the Mass or the veneration of icons and relics. Are not such practices heinous? I sincerely believe that they are offensive to God. Now consider what God said to Eliphaz the Temanite concerning what he and his two friends Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite were saying to God’s righteous servant Job about the nature of God and the explanation for Job’s suffering earlier in the dialogue of the Book of Job:

“I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about Me…” (Job 42:7)

Now consider this: God immediately provided atonement and forgiveness for these three men (42:8-9). What I mean is this. There are people in Protestant churches today who actually hold doctrines that are probably just as heinous in God’s sight as certain distinctive Catholic doctrines. For example, classical Calvinists actually believe (contra 1 Tim. 2:4 and other clear texts) not that God is willing that all should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, but rather that God has simply and unconditionally predestined where every human being will ultimately end up for eternity before they are born — and that based on nothing good or bad they have done. That’s right! They actually interpret the biblical doctrine of Predestination in such a way that precludes God’s saving love and desire for every human being. Or take early American Protestantism for example. Segregationist churches split Christian believers into separate black and white skinned racial congregations that either could or would not mingle. Or take Martin Luther. Luther was a rabid anti-Semite at the end of his life (Von den Juden und ihren Lügen). Racism has been rampant among churches and leaders within Christianity — not that such attitudes come from the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. My point is, is that not all a blasphemy? Is it not all a mockery of the love of God to believe so? What I’m saying is that there are all kinds of beliefs and practices that we have or do that are not okay, but God our Father is unimaginably forbearing and long-suffering toward us, his people, who so often stuff up. Hence, I could imagine an individual Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox or Calvinist or perhaps even maybe — just maybe — even a Unitarian (someone who denies the Trinity) who yet has a simple faith in Jesus Christ as their Saviour, who therefore belongs to Christ, yet who nevertheless perseveres in absurd doctrines that are harmful to their sanctification and others’. Hopefully, God would bring them out of their deception soon. But can one not be mistaken and yet belong to Christ?

5. If there is a Roman Catholic who is born-again, it is not by virtue of their Roman Catholicism that they are so. The Roman Catholic Church surely has a high view of itself: that it is the Mother of all churches, the Bride of Christ, who alone has supreme authority to interpret scripture, forgive sins, exercise teaching and disciplinary authority and to determine the meaning and implications of church tradition, and to minister through her priesthood the saving sacraments, and so on. As I hope is clear by this point, I think the lot of this to be a foolish myth, and surely the vast majority of people who gather in that church are nominal Catholics who are not born-again, and those who truly, truly trust in their own good works to save them before the Throne of Judgement on the Last Day. But of the 99% of Roman Catholics in the world who may be lost, is it not possible that perhaps 1% of the people who meet in a Catholic Church and do Catholic things may indeed have a mustard seed of true faith and dependence on Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and the salvation of their souls, even in the midst of the false hustle and bustle of the Mass, the relics, the icons, the bishops, the Papacy and the priests?

Well, I think so. And I think the way one thinks about this will profoundly impact the way one approaches one’s Roman Catholic friends. Here’s few suggestions:

First, we mustn’t judge by mere appearances (Jn. 7:24). We can’t simply paint everyone with a broad brush because they give themselves the title “Catholic” or even “Anglican” or “Christian.”  Anyone can claim a title. It’s the Spirit that counts: Is the person born-again? That’s the question. Do they have a living faith in Jesus Chris? Do they ultimately depend only and ever upon Him? What we should be interested in is where that particular individual’s heart is at with God and Jesus Christ, not what title they have or what building they go to.

Second, we need to be conscious of our own weaknesses (Matt. 7:1-2; Rom. 2:1-4, 21-22). Sure, your Roman Catholic friend might have a lot of problems, and in the course of their Christian life it may turn out that they need to leave that Church at the prompting of the Spirit who is in them. But in the meantime, why not be conscious of your own pride, your own anger, your own lust, your own possible false beliefs and traditions and have some charity towards another person who, for all intents and purposes, is seeking to know and serve God rightly?

Third, we need to be strong in our convictions, and tentative in our fellowship (2 Cor. 6:14). I have a mate who is a Roman Catholic but who to me seems to exhibit a genuine faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. Whenever I meet up for him for coffee and we start to talk about Christianity and the Bible, we seem to get along quite well on most things. I’ve even gone with him to visit the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Sydney. In my heart of hearts, I hope that he is my brother in Christ, and not just because he’s a good friend, but because I’ve talked with and listened to him on many things. But I must confess that I have reservations about him because of my knowledge of what Roman Catholics believe and do. Essentially, I don’t know. So in my lack of knowledge, I couldn’t minister alongside him in Gospel work. But I can hope to God and pray for him. I can ask our friendship grows stronger, and that God would give me true discernment, based on the Spirit and in truth.

What do you think? Are Catholics in the Kingdom? As far as I have thought about it, I would say: Maybe. It depends on the individual person you’re talking about. May the God of grace grant us the grace to love each other and to judge and divide properly and impartially, not based on mere appearances.

St Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Sydney.

St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Sydney.


The Lord is our Lion

Recently, I was watching a documentary about lions narrated by Sir David Attenborough on YouTube.

One of the most interesting parts of the documentary was when it talked about when outsider nomadic male lions try to take over a pride by force (see 44:15 to 46:40 of the video, below.*)

Apparently, when nomadic male lions from the outside want to join the pride, they will first challenge and attempt to kill the current pride leader, and then they will kill all the male offspring of that pride leader and begin anew.

What the pride leader therefore has to do is to defend his pride and send these outsider nomadic challengers packing.

* * *

 As a Christian, this had me reflecting on two passages of the Bible, both of which describe both Jesus and the Devil as lions:

Revelation 5:5. “Stop crying. Look! The Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has been victorious so that He may open the scroll and its seven seals.”

1 Peter 5:8. “Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.”

In the first passage, Jesus is said to be the victorious Lion from the tribe of Jesse, David’s father’s line. In the second, Satan is said to be prowling around like a lion seeking to devour believers.

Thinking about how nomadic lions challenge the leaders of the pride, we can imagine an analogy where Jesus is the leader of our pride and Satan is a nomadic lion from the outside prowling around the wilderness trying to seek to take over Jesus’ pride, the Church, and devour its young, the believers.

But just as the leader of the lion pride will fight for his pride and fend of the adversaries in the animal kingdom, so too will Jesus fight for us against the Devil when he comes to challenge Jesus’ leadership in the heavenly kingdom.

The one point of dis-analogy would be that sometimes the leader of a pride in the animal world can be defeated by the challengers from the outside.

But Jesus never fails us.

So I hope you take encouragement from this today. The Devil may prowl around seeking whom he may devour. But the Lion of the Tribe of Judah has triumphed.

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*Video (see 44:15 to 46:40): 

* * *

My Personal Testimony: The Word, the World and the Way.

Here’s the story of my Christian journey of how I came to know Jesus and be a Christian! I hope you are encouraged by it!

I was born September 15th 1992. I wasn’t brought up in a Christian home. But then, one Spring, in Year 6, my Primary School put on a carnival where people had various rides and stalls with things on display for sale.

On one stall, there was a stand of Bibles. So I picked one up, and asked the lady, “How much is this one?” and I remember her saying, “It is a gift.”

So I took the Bible and I began to read it. I believe the first book I ever read was the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah begins with a bang! Immediately I was captivated by its central character: the LORD. He was powerful and mysterious; fearful, but good and loving. Most of all, the Temple Vision in Isaiah 6, where the LORD appears surrounded by angels was particularly amazing where God manifested his glory.

As a result of reading this I was awe-inspired by the LORD such that I believe I asked my elder brother Matthew (who was going to a Youth Group at the time which apparently I also once visited) who the LORD is supposed to be. And he told me somewhat about Jesus.

So I put two and two together and got JESUS!

Then the next year, in Year 7, the Gideons (a society of Christian business men) came to our High School year group. They came and gave us all little red books: “New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs.” So I took one and read portions of the New Testament.

Reading the New Testament confirmed my simple faith in Jesus. More than that, the Gospel of John testifies concerning JESUS, referring back to what I has read in the Isaiah 6 Temple Vision:

“These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.” (John 12:41)

The only “His” or “Him” in John’s immediate context is Jesus himself! Isaiah saw *his* glory, and spoke of *him*? Isaiah saw Jesus! Jesus was not only a man. Jesus was the LORD, the God of all creation, come to dwell among us. (I learned all this without any preconceptions.) Jesus made me and crafted me to know and live for him, and be sent as his messenger.

As the LORD God says in Isaiah 6, “Whom shall I send for us?” And Isaiah replied, “Here am I: Send me.”

So then I truly trusted in Jesus and knelt to receive him. I got a new heart and new spirit. I was washed, and I was cleansed of all my sins by Jesus, the LORD God of Israel, by faith.

Now, the first thing I did when I believed was try to learn how to share my faith. It only seemed natural, after all, that the awesome God who made himself known to me wanted to be known by everyone else. One of the primary ways I did this was by watching videos of Christians sharing the hope and love of God in Jesus but being opposed to their faces by the world. They were confronting to watch! I was both terrified and inspired by the example of these courageous Christians.

One of the ways I learned to share Jesus was with “The Way of the Master” method taught by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. Their method makes the person to whom you are witnessing condemn himself so you don’t have to! You ask a person if they’ve ever told a lie or lusted or hated somebody else and so on. Then show them that it is sin according to the Bible (e.g. Sermon on the Mount). Then you share the biblical consequences for sin: namely, death and hell. Finally, you present Jesus’s death on the cross as God’s way for people to escape God’s judgement against sin. (By and large, my evangelism still takes this general shape!)

The other thing I did was to soak in music. I remember playing “Planet Shakers” on my PlayStation full blast and just worshiping God. I also kept reading the Bible.

As I started to put my faith into action and by being different and sharing Jesus, I was also very naïve. For example, I would mix my Christianity with other things. At one point, for instance, about through Year 8, I thought NewAgey spiritualism through rocks and crystals and tarot cards and so on was all fine and good. For, surely, if God is “spirit” and these things are “spiritual” that should be fine, right?

Wrong. Remember I was still reading my Bible. What did the Bible say?

“Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” (Revelation 22:15)

Woah! The Bible actually teaches that things like magic lead people not to God but away from God; that is, “outside” or into hell. So not everything is acceptable before God; there are boundaries of right and wrong.

Needless to say, I completely cast that stuff from me, and turned back to the Lord, to do what he wanted me to do. It was then that I found a little church, in about Year 9, at Loftus Uniting Church. That little fellowship gave me a sound example in Christian love. From things as small as allowing me–a mere kid among the mature and the elderly–to answer sermon-questions, or being made tea at the end of service, talked to, and getting lifts home… All these were practical examples of Christian love. So I came to value Christian fellowship very much.

From about Year 10, I found a new church, Jannali Anglican Church, I think because it had a Youth group. I still go there! (You should come along to our Sunday 7:00pm Evening Service.)

Next, came other challenges. You might remember that I was sharing my faith often. So I would often run up into opposition–sometimes for the right reason, and sometimes for the wrong reason.

For example, when I shared Jesus, some of my non-Christian friends would often mock Christ and Christianity. These weren’t really bad people per se; they just weren’t interested in religion. Some of them were also influenced by Dawkins and Hitchens and so on. So I began to read Christian intellectuals, like Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig and Alister McGrath to hold on to Christ and give a more courageous witness for Jesus. In sharing my faith regularly I found value in apologetics (defending the faith) and learning about how and why Christianity has historically come to believe what it does (theology). And I remain, as ever, a learner of Christ Jesus.

One time, I was publicly mocked by many people at lunch time following an episode that morning where I rebuked one of my non-believing friends from using the name of Christ in vain. Needless to say, this embarrassed and offended him to such an extent that he decided to stir up the particularly belligerent atheists against me. I distinctly remember them putting on a show of mock-worship. They set up some kind of a wood-log as a god to fall down before and glorify–a mindless, nonexistent thing… Get the idea? They were also just very spiteful, and it was very, very hurtful. Had it not been for two older Christians I would have been very, very downcast, and perhaps given up. But what man had intended for evil God had intended for good, and God crafted this episode as a means of making me bolder to share Christ.

I am also a naturally stubborn person, and this can be shaped and expressed in various ways, both good and bad. For instance, I can be bold and resilient in the midst of opposition. But, “Love builds up, but knowledge puffs up,” says the Lord (1 Corinthians 8:1b). This saying is true. For sometimes I would act rather disdainfully towards who are admittedly truly ignorant people. Not often did I show the grace, the patience and the mercy that Jesus would show to those who doubt: “Be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 1:22). But I would often become puffed up in my superior understanding of religion, and become arrogant. God needed to sanctify me of that, and he is in many ways still sanctifying me of it.

I was also massively hypocritical. On the one hand, I would speak out in evangelism against lust, but I was full of lust. In the Bible, I would read, “Do not steal,” yet I would steal. (I committed petty theft numerous times.) I would also speak out against impurity. But I was often engaged in crass, foul joking, and still fall into that sometimes. Yet again, I knew the Bible spoke out against drunkenness. but I remember at least two instances where I got blind drunk and was vomiting everywhere… I reckon my friends remember it too, and frankly, I think it permanently soiled my witness to Christ so that, today, at the end of the day, I don’t know if any of the years I spent at High School trying to be the best Christian I could be were of any advantage to anyone at all.

Well, finally it all came to a head. I made some really bad choices in High School. One particularly shameful event (which I will not go in to here) left me quite shaken about my Christian convictions. Eventually this went on so that I came to a place where I had to choose to be a Christian or not. Maybe to try and blend Christianity and this other thing… But as I spoke to one of my faithful church ministers about this, I knew from the Bible that that was illegitimate to identify both with Christ and with my sin. (C. S. Lewis talks about the dangers of “Christ-And” thinking.) But in many areas of life, you see, I was in the habit of justifying what I liked, and making God into my own image. But I knew I couldn’t do that here. Scripture was quite clear.

Long story short, I knew that if Jesus is Lord–indeed, the LORD God–who has created heaven and earth and me for himself, who died for my sins and risen again so I could live for him, then I would never be satisfied outside of him. So I pledged myself to identify with and serve Jesus Christ as Lord forever and ever. I was baptised on Sunday the 12th of September 2010, three days before I turned 18, proclaiming openly about who I am and who Jesus is, turning away from Satan and his works. I’m very thankful for the fact that some of my non-Christian friends and family came to my baptism.

Since then, I’ve been at the university for four years, from 2011 to 2014, learning Philosophy, and History and Literature, and so on. One of my favourite things has been to participate in the Sydney University Evangelical Union where Rowan Kemp is the chaplain. I feel I might go on to study Teaching and go back into the High School system. I have also considered the Christian Ministry.

God still has a long way to go with me yet. I am still learning, shaping and being shaped by others.

If you’re a Christian in my personal acquaintance reading this: you have no idea how much I love, value and appreciate every single one of you, and how I am jealous for you and your faith, and for your keeping on in the Christian life. Don’t give up, my brother/sister. Jesus is worth it!

If you’re a non-Christian, why don’t you do what I did, and pick up the Bible. Read Isaiah, or read the Gospel according to John. The Bible is the Word of God, and in it is found the testimony about Jesus. Find Jesus. Find Life.

This is my signature verse which I strive to live by:

Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

God bless you! Thanks for reading.