“If you died tonight, why should God let you into heaven?”
[see the earlier, extremely lengthy version]
Matt Slick, a Presbyterian pastor oversees the very large Protestant discussion forum called “CARM.” His words will be in blue.
[5-20-03 at CARM] I consider official roman catholic doctrine to be apostate and Roman Catholics to be the objects of evangelism.
Now, I realize that some RC’s may be saved, that they believe they are Christian, etc. Maybe you are. Maybe I am wrong about Catholicism. Maybe you are right and I’m lost. But, I don’t see the infusion of grace into a believer that enables him to do good works by which he can then be saved. I don’t see penance to achieve forgiveness of sins. I don’t see praying to Mary. I don’t see purgatory. I don’t see bowing to the pope. I don’t see maintaining your salvation by what you do….
I am only able to be subject to what I believe the word of God says. . . .
–just like mormons… they say they believe in Jesus, too… and add works to their salvation. They also attack and ask where “I” get the authority, etc. Look at the Bible and see if praying to mary is there, penance, indulgences, purgatory, keeping salvation by works, etc… Not there.
. . . the mormons talk about keeping salvation by their works…
. . . –oh, so there are TWO mediators?
. . . [purgatory] is an apostate doctrine of the RC.
I am pro Jesus, pro Bible. Anti mans-doctrines.
[5-21-03 at CARM] Also, I do NOT consider RC doctrine to be Christian. I consider the catholic church to be apostate.
Now, I mean no offense by that, as hard as it may be not to be offended by what I said, but that is how I feel about it.
I see the RCC to be no different than cults that teach unbiblical doctrines, and works righteousness.
I’ve studied cults and the Bible far far too much to ever become an RC. It just won’t happen. No way I will bow to a pope, pray to mary, do penance, believe in purgatory, indulgences, etc… no way.
I’d be glad to debate RC’s on this on paltalk sometime.
If you are pro Bible, then why do you pray to mary, believe in penance, indulgences, purgatory, etc.?
[Matt started a new thread on the Catholic board of CARM, entitled “To Armstrong” (obviously a challenge to me in some sense, or an inquiry, at the least). It consisted of but a few lines, and I responded:
If you were to die tonight and face judgment and God were to ask you why He should let you into heaven, what would you tell Him? Just curious.
First of all, I don’t see anywhere in the Bible that God ever acts like this (if I have overlooked it, you can educate me; the Bible’s a big book — the book of Job would seem to present a quite different perspective), so this is simply one of many Protestant catch-phrases or slogans or evangelistic techniques which cannot be found in the Bible (as far as that goes). I’m not saying it’s Unbiblical; just not the sort of thing that one can find there, by example.
Going to heaven and being saved or damned is not a trite affair like a TV quiz show or something. One will either be saved or not, and they will know that instantly when they stand before God. There will be no arguing with God (Job 40:1-2; cf. 42:3). They will know truth and know why they missed the mark. People who are damned may try to foolishly plead their case, I suppose, as in Matthew 25. But Jesus simply declares and sends them away to their fate. He doesn’t stand there like Bob Barker and ask them questions — not in the sense of this Protestant catch-phrase, anyway.
That said, Catholics believe in sola gratia as much as Protestants do. You ought to know this, but it appears that you do not.
Would you mention your prayers to Mary, your indulgences, your works, your sincerity, or what?
This is covered in my above answer. Each of those matters must be discussed individually, given the abominable ignorance that many Protestants have concerning them. Suffice it to say that we do not accept the unbiblical, damnable notion of “works-salvation.” Catholics are neither Pelagians nor semi-Pelagians. And you ought to know that, too. But (by the looks of it) you do not. Join the crowd.
[Matt writing about me] I do not know if he is a Christian or not and if he told me he had to do good works in order to be justified before God, I’d say he was NOT a Christian. I won’t budge on this.
But, since I don’t know what his position is, I can’t say.
You didn’t answer my question. Instead, you blurred the issue with prose. I am waiting.
I answered in four different ways:
1. I said Catholics believed in sola gratia.
2. I said that we are not Pelagians.
3. I said we don’t believe in works-salvation
4. Furthermore, I denied that the hypothetical situation would even take place (thus questioning why you put it in those terms), judging by the biblical teachings. I will be silent when I am before God, on Judgment Day, and I’ll already know in an instant if I am damned or saved, and there is no arguing with God and no nonsense or prideful self-delusions any longer at that frightful, awesome hour.
So I answered thoroughly, and in answering I was also making the point that in your very asking of the question, you show that you only dimly understand Catholic soteriology, if at all, which is a prior, presuppositional issue that has to be dealt with before you start asking cliched questions of Catholic (and former evangelical Protestant) apologists such as myself (who know better than some nominal, under-catechized “cultural Catholic” in a pub at 1:30 on Saturday night).
You just didn’t hear me, and so come back with a one-line semi-insulting repetition. If you want to learn about the Catholic position on faith and works, grace, salvation, merit, etc., go read my papers or find some other similar ones to read, or get the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It’s time you learned, as you are in an influential position. But in any event I answered. Catholics also believe in the predestination of the elect. Did you know that?
Protestantism did not “descend” from the CC [Catholic Church]. God called his elect out of the CC as He calls them out of the world and into the TRUE church, the Body of Christ.
No you didn’t [answer my original question]. By the way, you don’t know what I know. I often ask questions simply to see where an individual is.
It is correct that I don’t know what you know. But I know what you don’t know (or at least get a good indication of same), if you say things that illustrate that you don’t know something (in this case, Catholic theology).
Don’t assume too much or too little.
With your cliches and short answers, it is difficult not to, because there is so little content.
So far, you’ve shown yourself to be evasive, a bit pedantic in your writing, and you can’t seem to answer a simple question.
Do I need to define sola gratia, Pelagianism (which we do not believe), and works-salvation (which we do not believe) for you? What is it about “grace” that you don’t understand? Catholics agree with Grace Alone. Now, it is a simple matter of logical deduction to figure out from that how I would answer God if He were to ask the question you pose.
Now, we protestants have an answer to the question, a simple question.
Of course: “I’m saved by Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior, by His blood, shed on the cross for me, when He atoned for the sins of the whole world* and redeemed sinners — totally by His grace and no conceivable work of my own” (and perhaps proceed to quote John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:8-9 –never 2:10). Now, if you could figure out that Catholics agree with you wholeheartedly on this, we would get somewhere.
[*NOTE: Matt, as a Calvinist, believes in limited atonement, so he would say that Jesus died and atoned only for the elect, not the whole world. I noticed this “mistake” later. Many Protestants, however — called Arminians — , would agree with the Catholic position of universal atonement]
Since you won’t answer it,
I just did. Since I used the Protestant lingo maybe you’ll understand it this time. My previous three answers asserted exactly the same thing:
1. We oppose Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism (therefore man can do nothing whatsoever to save himself).
2. We oppose works-salvation (ditto).
3. We adhere to sola gratia (grace alone and not works save one).
What is to not understand in all that? I assumed that I was talking to an apologist who didn’t have to have all these things spelled out, lest I get accused of refusing to answer.
rather, you bury it in prose and argumentation, I’ll consider our conversations ended since you will, I am sure, continue in the same vain [sic] if I were to pose other questions to you and I do not want to become entangled in the mire of hairsplitting.
I predicted this very response from you to my wife at dinner tonight, that you wouldn’t want to engage in dialogue and would find some way to blame me for your reluctance and unwillingness, so my prophecy proved to be true. I’ve seen it a million times from Protestant apologists. You can always prove me wrong, of course. I’d be delighted to take you up on it. And the reason is not anything particularly noteworthy in me, but because Catholicism is true, or at the very least, Christian (the very issue at hand). It’s much easier to defend truth than non-truth. The latter takes far more work, and I don’t blame you for wishing to avoid such work, because it is a lost cause and fruitless. I just get tired of the subterfuge and rationalizations people use for the purpose of avoiding a debate that they know they can’t win.
My answer to Matt’s initial question was precisely designed to deal with the fact that he is already mistaken as to the nature of Catholic soteriology. Then I proceeded to deny that we believe what he thinks we believe, by asserting that we are not Pelagians, and don’t believe in works-salvation, and believe in Grace Alone. And that, in turn would cause a Catholic to answer pretty much how the Protestant would.
[5-22-03] Are catholics saved by their works is THE question!
From what I understand of Catholic soteriology, justification is by grace AND their works. In other words, official roman catholic doctrine DENIES justification by grace thru faith ALONE!
Mr. Armstrong, I assume, knows this and chose his words carefully to appear within the scope of orthodoxy while still maintaining the heresy of works-salvation.We are justified by faith, not by faith AND something we do. That is it.
We do good works BECAUSE we are saved, not to get saved or stay saved… the distinction between justification and sanctification in Catholicism is not only blurred, it is castrated.
My examination of the cults has led me to learn that they ALL require some works to be saved. The CC is apostate since it also requires our obedience to works in order to be saved.
To me, this is flat out heresy, from the pit.
I consider catholicism to be one of the major sources for the damning of souls.
Now, what I said is very serious and I definitely believe it. If I am wrong about catholic soteriology, I’d love to see the documentation from official roman catholic sources to the contrary.
From what I read of CC theology, I am damned to hell for believing in justification by faith…. all the cults, also deny justification by faith.
Yet, the scriptures declare we are justified by faith.
Which should I believe? easy. The Lord I will serve, not the teachings of man, or a “true church”.
What I was trying to get across [in my initial replies] was that the very situation was implausible to me, and couldn’t be backed up by biblical example (I don’t recall God acting like this anywhere in the Bible, and nothing Matt offered in reply disabused me of the notion at all), and so I wondered aloud why Matt asked the question in the first place?
Again, in strictly logical terms, the conclusions now being drawn about Catholics’ assurance of salvation or lack thereof, from my comments, do not follow. The two propositions are:
1. One knows with absolute certainty in heaven on Judgment Day whether they are saved or damned, and God will not question them like a TV quiz show host or certain Protestant evangelists who too often resemble carnival barkers or used car salesmen in the subtlety of their approach.
I affirmed this in my responses.
2. One knows with absolute certainty on earth whether they are saved or damned.
I said nothing whatsoever about this. Other Catholics can answer, or go to my website (or the relevant papers linked below) and you’ll assuredly get an explanation of our view. To illustrate and drive home my point, let me give a few analogous examples:
1. I have absolute assurance of my marriage after my wedding ceremony and the pronouncement by the clergyman.
2. I have absolute assurance of my marriage when I propose to my future wife and she accepts.
You tell me if you see any difference between the two scenarios and if one is more certain than the other, and whether #1 logically suggests that #2 is a case of the equivalent amount of certainty or assurance.
1. I have absolute assurance of my pardon by the Governor from my jail sentence when I walk out of the door of the jail free to go wherever I want and do as I please.
2. I have absolute assurance of my pardon by the Governor from my jail sentence when I hear news of his pardon, which was announced a month before it was to actually occur.
Is #2 as “certain” as #1? Can someone absolutely know the future (barring a direct private revelation from God or an angel appearing and suchlike)? The person might die before the pardon date arrives — therefore he wouldn’t have been absolutely sure of the pardon-in-actuality because in fact it never occurred, and never would or could occur. He died before it could. Further evidence of guilt in the crime for which he was convicted, or another crime might come to light. Or the Governor could change his mind for some reason. All of this proves (I think, clearly) that the “assurance” of #2 is considerably less “certain” than that of #1.
I know the Calvinist perseverance and Baptist assurance replies up and down. I’m not dealing with them here per se; I’m dealing with the logic of “absolute assurance” (and also the illogical assumptions drawn from my earlier remarks). To me it is obvious, but anyone can draw their own conclusions from the above examples of analogy.
At the Final Judgment God doesn’t wrangle with people (and people don’t argue with God — just as with any earthly judge); He simply declares judgment, which is precisely what happens in Matthew 25. He doesn’t ask them questions about their eschatological fate in heaven or hell. This is true in Matthew 25 and also suggested at the end of Job (which I also cited).
What I called a “game show” was God asking them questions about something they already know (because there are no longer any self-delusional games when one stands before God, as I think most Christians would agree; see, e.g., Isaiah’s response in Isaiah 6:1-6). I wasn’t discussing what was in the Bible, but precisely what isn’t in it, as far as I could tell.
God (as far as we know from revelation) doesn’t inquire of the person on Judgment Day, “why should I let you into heaven?” Lastly, while one may know he is damned, all the particular reasons may not be known, as indicated in Matthew 25, and God could explain that. But I wasn’t dealing with that question in my reply; I only asserted that God didn’t talk (based on biblical revelation) in the manner that Matt’s familiar evangelical slogan and lingo would have Him talk.
I never described anything actually in the Bible as a “game show,” but the sloganistic evangelistic caricatures of what happens at Judgment (which have not been shown to be in the Bible) as a “game show.” All we learn is that He declares and records earthly deeds and damnation or salvation: precisely as I argued: God declares, He doesn’t act like a game show host! — talking back and forth with the sinner, as if salvation were the equivalent of negotiations at a vegetable market.
I find it extremely interesting that in both passages our Protestant friends cite to us concerning judgment we hear not a single word about the “faith alone” which is all that Matt can talk about in the context of judgment. Why is this, if in fact, faith alone is the sole criteria of salvation or damnation? Wouldn’t that seem to be, prima facie, a bit strange and unexpected from an evangelical viewpoint? If Jesus had attended a good evangelical seminary and gotten up to speed on His soteriology, the passage no doubt would have been considerably shorter:
But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Then He will also say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for you did not believe in Me with Faith Alone.” These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous who believed with Faith Alone into eternal life.
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to whether they had Faith Alone.And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to whether they had Faith Alone.
Instead, we hear all this useless talk about works, as if they had anything to do with salvation! Doesn’t Jesus know that works have no connection to faith whatsoever, and that sanctification and justification are entirely separated in good, orthodox evangelical or Calvinist theology?
Maybe our Lord Jesus attended a liberal synagogue, influenced by heretical Romish ideas. Why does Jesus keep talking about feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, inviting in strangers, clothing the naked, visiting prisoners, and being judged “according to their deeds”? What in the world do all these “works” have to do with salvation? Why doesn’t Jesus talk about Faith Alone??!! Something is seriously wrong here. Perhaps all those Pelagian, idolatrous Catholic monks who transcribed the Bible changed it in the Middle Ages.
Seriously, though, what is in the Bible is the following declaration against faith alone:
What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? (James 2:14; RSV)
So faith itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2:17; cf. 2:20, 2:26)
You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)
Why, then?, does Matt assert:
We are justified by faith, not by faith AND something we do. That is it.
From what I understand of Catholic soteriology, justification is by grace AND their works. In other words, official roman catholic doctrine DENIES justification by grace thru faith ALONE!
Indeed, just as James does above. Despite all this overwhelming biblical data, Matt insists on speaking only of faith at the Judgment, to the complete exclusion of works (most contrary to the biblical record of what actually happens, whenever judgment is described):
If you were to die tonight and face judgment and God were to ask you why He should let you into heaven, what would you tell Him? . . . Would you mention . . . your works, . . . ?
Now, I may not personally mention my works, but the striking point here is that God certainly does mention works, and works alone, as at least one reason (if not the sole one) for someone’s salvation, in the same exact passages we have been presented for supposed confirmation of Matt’s slogan, which expressly questions any role for works whatsoever. Catholics do not believe in “works-salvation.” Works do not save anyone. This is Catholic teaching. But works are neither absolutely separated from faith nor from salvation. This is a different concept. And we clearly see that in the passages above.
Biblically speaking (at least from the above passages, if nothing else), the exact opposite of what Matt asserts is true: if God asked me Matt’s question (assuming for the moment that God acts like this), and I replied by recounting repeated acts of charity and mercy that I had done: feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, inviting in strangers, clothing the naked, visiting prisoners, and various other “deeds” of mine, I would be doing nothing other than what Jesus Himself does when He describes why a person is saved (at the very least part of the reason why, but the only one given in these passages — which is my immediate point).
As a result of this encounter, I started to look up passages in Scripture having to do with judgment day. I found fifty. Of these, not a single one stated that faith alone was the reason we were saved. None even mentioned faith, excepting one (Rev 21:8), which included faith (but not faith alone) along with works. See my paper:
[the first part of this paper repeats some of the material above, for background information. Just scroll past that to get to the Bible passages]
(originally 5-22-03; abridged on 1-16-18)
Photo credit: The Last Judgment (1541), by Michelangelo (1475-1564) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]