A Reader’s Questions: Papacy and Certainty of Salvation

Alexander’s words are in blue, my words are in red.

Hi Patrick,
My name is Alex and I was doing some deeper research of my own on Catholicism where I ran into your website and had some questions of my own. Just a quick back story… I am a practicing cradle Catholic but over the past 2 1/2 years I was really beginning to doubt my faith because I began to date a woman who is a Bible christian.
Great! I appreciate your questions and I’ll give them my best shot. Please note that I have a very straightforward approach to apologetics, and some Protestants who are more emotionally than intellectually attached to their religion are often, to their misfortune, put off by my style; I know how to address people I understand. If you choose to share this material with your girlfriend then you might want to run it though your friendship filter. I address facts and principles, not personalities; I’m more logical than pastoral.
Catholics are “Bible Christians.” Protestants have sort of hi-jacked that term and many Catholics unknowingly go along. Within Protestantism, even the term “Bible Christian” is almost meaningless, as shown by the fact that this blog’s subject is mostly about the Protestant Church of Christ “denomination”, and your friend seems to be more of an Evangelical (as I understand her/your questions); both types of Protestants claim to be “Bible Christians”. Know that I’m happy to discuss the full spectrum of Protestantism, though!
By addressing your two questions, I will demonstrate how Catholicism is “Biblical Christianity” and show how Protestants are actually “partial-Bible Christians”, prefer some verses over others, how Protestants ignore some verses over others, and how Protestants really don’t have the fullness of the truth because they have removed the Scriptures from their initial context: as part of the Deposit of Faith, which is the Sacred Scriptures WITH Sacred Tradition (the Church’s teachings). You see, a “Bible Christian” is one who accepts both forms of the word of God; we don’t separate the Scriptures from the Teachings. (My essay here gives one example and my book here explains it further.) You see, every Bible passage Protestants use to “prove” “Bible-only Christianity” actually supports the Catholic position if read within its full context.
She is pretty strong in her faith and she always brings up some good points.
I completely understand how Protestants feel strong in their faith, because I was one. But I was also completely wrong about many important things. I was a Protestant “Church of Christ-er” who thought of myself as a true “Bible Christian”; I was very good at telling Catholics *what they think* and them telling them that what they think is *wrong*. If your friend’s “good points” are designed to give you doubt about the Catholic Church and prop up a non-Catholic community then I encourage you to study her points (and the quality of her arguments) in depth, because there is nothing from “the Bible only” that can be a stumbling stone for Catholics. You see, the Catholic Church gave us the Bible (an historical fact). Suggesting that the Bible causes problems for Catholicism is like suggesting that Ford doesn’t understand the owner’s manual for its Mustang. Even from a secularist perspective, it would be like telling a Mormon that the Book of Mormon isn’t a Mormon product, or that the Quaran isn’t Islam’s holy book.
After studying myself and asking questions, I, for a while, believed that the Catholic church was wrong but I really could not wrap my mind around it.
Great! Please read my essay here (it’s also part of the book I linked to above) and see how I used the words “ungraspable Rule” to show how the “Bible only” position is not something people who approach God with their minds believe. Alex, it is impossible to, in your words, “wrap your mind around” the “Bible-only Christianity” model.
Not till recently, I feel more confident that the Catholic church is correct in its teaching and I want to share what I know with her.
Great! I will pray for both of you! I am happy to help you with answers or resources.
Anyways, these are my questions:
– If Peter was the leader of the Church (the Pope) then why was he rebuked by Paul (Galations 2:11-14)?
I think your friend doesn’t want to know why he was rebuked, but rather, wants to highlight the fact that he was rebuked. I’ve actually written a book about the papacy’s reflection in the Bible. I even addressed this exact protestation in it. You can find the book here. I use the word “reflection” because the Bible (the NT specifically) came into existence after the papacy. Mirrors reflect light that is created before it hits the mirror. Therefore, it makes no sense to expect the Bible to mandate the papacy (mirrors don’t mandate light). It does, however, make sense for us to expect the papacy to be alluded to in some ways, and it makes sense for the Bible to never teach against the papacy. The passage that your friend is using to argue against the papacy actually does allude to the papacy and does not teach against it.
The portion of Galatians that your friend is referring to is most likely this: “I [St. Paul] approached him [St. Peter] to his face . . .” (2:11). Verses 12-14 aren’t relevant to the subject.
In my book about this subject I used about one hundred verses that reflect the papacy, but what most Protestants can provide is a couple examples that, if interpreted as Protestants demand, might communicate something against the papacy. In this case, Protestants see a person (St. Paul) rebuking a supposed pope, and therefore, St. Peter couldn’t have been a pope.
1) The passage does not address the papacy in any way. Its an example of a process that has now existed for two thousand years. Even today, bishops confront the pope, the pope welcomes it, the college of bishops exists for this precise reason. So, in a way, this Protestant proof-text, at best (or worst!) can be used to prove either position.
2) For the sake of argument, let’s assume that St. Paul’s behavior is meant to provide proof against St. Peter’s leadership. If we do that, then we must also allow St. Paul’s *other* behavior to provide insight into St. Peter’s leadership role. So let’s do it!
But first, note how St. Paul’s Galatian audience had a foreknowledge of who Cephas (St. Peter) was, which reveals the catholicity of St. Peter’s position, a position that existed prior to any New Testament text. Had St. Paul not defended his new position within the fledgling hierarchy – by appealing to his communion with St. Peter – the gospel he preached might have been suspect of being a tradition of men: “Of which I am writing to you, I do not lie!” You see, if the “churches of Christ” were what Protestants want them to have been, what we would see is a collection of congregations that have no central leadership, have no appeal to one bishop, local elders would not appeal to a hierarchy, etc. What we see in your friends example is precisely Catholic!
St. Paul introduced his Letter by first establishing his credibility and authority by emphasizing his association with St. Peter, which is a practice that is internally present here in the New Testament and externally portrayed by all the successors of the Apostles (the bishops) throughout the remainder of Christian history.
In the exact same chapter (actually, the end of chapter 1 and beginning of chapter 2) that your friend wants to use to argue against St. Peter’s leadership, we see that after fourteen years St. Paul submitted his message to the leadership of the Church for approval – so that he was not “running in vain. *That* looks pretty “Catholic” to me, Alex. It is within this context that the Apostles’ disagreement in Galatians 2:11 is shown to be a preview of how the papacy would operate throughout history – welcoming the consult of the bishops, and an acceptance by even the least of the Apostles to recognize the supreme leadership of Christ’s Church on earth. Basically, it is irrational to think a disagreement within a hierarchy can somehow disprove a hierarchy.
My book The Church of Christ Is Built on Rock addresses most Protestant “Bible Christians'” protestations of this subject.
– And what would 1John 5:13 mean then? He states that you KNOW you are saved. My girlfriend stated that there then would have been no reason for Jesus to die if works are involved in salvation. Being Catholic would reject Him as the Saviour.
There are a few parts of that question, and they don’t seem related. I’ll pick it apart.
1) – And what would 1 John 5:13 mean then? He states that you KNOW you are saved.
Just as earlier with my example of how Christians are supposed to mind both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and as earlier with my example of how Protestants should consider the full context regarding the “disagreement within a hierarchy”, Protestants often bury scriptural passages that contradict their private interpretation of passages that they *do* like. (This is why there are thousands of competing Protestant sects; they all “see” different “things” in the Scriptures – they are all their own personal popes. Can you not detect the hubris? For a Protestant to argue against “popery” they establish themselves as “pope”.)
Catholics don’t search the Bible for preferred passages to form a theology, or form a theology and then search the Bible for proof-texts to support their own theology. What the Church does is consider the entire Deposit of Faith (which includes the entire Bible) as equally-breathed by God. Therefore, all relevant passages are viewed as contributing evidence of truth. Therefore, when we read of the Apostle John’s words “I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, we are able to place those words into a paradigm that is fleshed out by several passages.
Consider St. Paul (Your friend seems to prefer his testimony!). He didn’t “know” he is saved in the manner that I think your friend is insinuating. He wrote, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians, 2:12).
“Certainty of Salvation” (or “assurance of salvation”) is the Protestant theological concept that your friend is referring to. Catholics are certain that Christ is our Savior, that proper obedience to the gospel is a certain “vehicle” of salvation, and that we might know we are saved if we, using the language (and context!) of 1 John, “remain in the light” (1 John 1:7). We Catholics are not so arrogant to insist that we are always in the light; we know that we can be deceived, and so we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
Catholicism requires continuous conversion, steadfastness. St. Paul didn’t “know” he was saved in the manner that your friend believes. Read carefully! He wrote, “Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it on my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13,14).
St. Paul continues, and he couldn’t be any clearer. He wrote “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me (1 Corinthians 4:4). Many Protestant, however, “know” that they’re saved even when St. Paul didn’t.
As Catholics, we “know” (we’re “certain”) that the “vehicle” of salvation (“walking in the light as He is in the light” works (pun intended)! That is what the Apostle John wrote in 1 John 1, but we don’t ignore the first chapter and interpret the fifth chapter in a way that clearly contradicts St. Paul’s passages; we use all the available texts.
2) My girlfriend stated that there then would have been no reason for Jesus to die if works are involved in salvation. Being Catholic would reject Him as the Saviour.
I really don’t understand what she means; the two sentences are a non-sequitor. Catholics preach Christ crucified every hour of every day. It is not our “works” that save us; it is clearly Christ who saves. That’s what the Church wrote in the Bible and that’s what she teaches.
There’s a strain within Protestantism that thinks Catholics rely on “works” for salvation. I can’t figure out why, other than because such a motif runs counter to their idea of believing one is “saved” by having a proper “sate of mind”.
St. James said pure religion is “doing”, not “knowing” (cf. James 1:27). Jesus said *Christianity* is “doing”, not “knowing” (cf. Mt 5). Loving is doing, and yes, Jesus commanded love; He didn’t command a “state of mind”. Our obedience is a response, our response to the gospel is how we participate in the drama, and, as St. Paul stated earlier, is how we “press onward“. If not for the work of the cross there would be no pressing onward. In other words, the “work” that Catholics “do” is done by the power of the cross—our Savior. Without our work, our faith would be dead, which is exactly what the Church teaches: “Faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). We “know” Jesus saves; it’s how salvation is implemented that Protestants argue about.
NOTE: Some Protestants confuse themselves about the word “works” in the NT (I can’t detect if your friend is one). The NT’s use of the word “works” is almost always about the works of the Old Law. So, if Protestants want to accuse Catholics of trying to save themselves with “works”, then such Protestants would need to show how, and which, works of the Old Law Catholics are in fact trying to save themselves with (which they cannot provide). Do you understand that illogic, Alex?
What are your thoughts?
  • “Bible Christians” mind both the Bible and the Church (both the Bible and the Church teach that).
  • “Bible Christians” aren’t their own pope; they have one Christ-intended pope.
  • “Bible Christians” believe “Faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26).
Don’t be a stranger, Alex. Feel free to email in the future.
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