Faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. What does that mean? For me it means faith that Jesus is the Son of God, the Second Person in the Trinity, and that his flesh redeems my flesh, and that his once-for-all sacrifice on the Cross acts as atonement for my sins and the sins of the world – but the world has to follow and repent and walk in his ways. That, for me, is that. What, then, about the Catholic Church and its claims that outside of it there’s no salvation?
Unlike some Evangelicals, I’ve moved from a position of extreme hostility to the Catholic Church to one where I am saddened by some of the brainless attacks on it. Contrary to what young Bosco appears to believe, no Catholic worships statues, or Mary, or saints, or anything else other than God. So why do so many think otherwise? Part of it is clearly historical; a few centuries of anti-Catholic State propaganda will not vanish in short while; and secular societies are ones in which anti-religious prejudice will always run wild. But here I want to offer a couple of suggestions as to other reasons – not in the spirit of carping, but in order to stimulate reasonable discussion.
One problem with Catholicism is part of its appeal – that is its long continuity. Take, for example, asking Mary and the Saints for intercession. Protestants point out that we have one mediator – Christ Jesus, and he is the propitiation for our sins. But in the Middle Ages, and now in monarchical or authoritarian States, it is common enough to approach the top man via some influential underling. In the Middle Ages, if you could get hold of the ear of the bishop, or a cardinal, or an important courtier, you could get privileged access to the Monarch. Now, and I’m happy to be corrected here, it seems to me that’s the model for what Catholics do in asking the Mother of God for her services as intercessor – that she has some form of privileged access to her Son, above all others, and is, therefore, a most useful intermediary. My question would be this: is there any reason to suppose this is how Jesus works with us?
The same thing applies with the Pope. It’s good to have an arbiter on matters of faith, but, as many traditional catholics are discovering, it can be a double-edge sword when the Pope appears to be a garrulous old fellow with a thin grip on what his own Church teaches. It may be, as Chalcedon has argued here, that the way the papacy is developing isn’t over, but it surely has to develop away from the monarchical model?
Being headquartered in one of the more backward parts of Europe (in political terms) the RCC has retained too many of the attitudes and characteristics of an Italian princely state. Princely States encourage byzantine intrigues, cabals, patronage and all the rest of that sort of thing, and that, naturally, spills over into a view of how God’s kingdom operates. So it is natural to go to the mother of the King, or one of his favoured advisers, and to buy oneself influence; that’s how kingdoms (and democracies to some extent) work. But, and here’s the nub of my problem, I see no ground for thinking that God is some kind of earthly king writ large.
Jesus calls him ‘father’, not ‘king’, and encourages us to do the same. We don’t, in a proper family, need to take a sideways approach to dad to get him onside (though it never hurts to have mum onside). We need to develop a loving relationship, and one in which we, on our side, know the limits, and, when we transgress them, apologise.
Now, from outside, I cannot tell is the RCC has evolved or is evolving in that direction, but I do know that if it is, and when it does, some of these problems will fall away. I hope I’ve not offended anyone, and am happy to be corrected, but I thought this perspective might get us away from some of the barren discussions of late.