In 2018 the Vatican issued a letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church regarding salvation (see reference section for letter). Here I mention a few observations about the content of the letter as it relates to the entire Christian (not just Catholic) faith.
Section V is entitled Salvation in the Church, Body of Christ. Paragraph 12 begins by saying
The place where we receive the salvation brought by Jesus is the Church, the community of those who, having been incorporated into this new order of relationship begun by Christ, can receive the fullness of the Spirit of Christ (cf. Rom 8:9).
Paragraph 12 ends by saying:
… the salvific mediation of the Church, “the universal sacrament of salvation”, assures us that salvation does not consist in the self-realization of the isolated individual, nor in an interior fusion of the individual with the divine. Rather, salvation consists in being incorporated into a communion of persons that participates in the communion of the Trinity.
My analysis of paragraph 12 follows:
- The Catholic Church recognizes Jesus and only Jesus brings salvation. However, it errors in projecting/teaching that participation in ceremonial rites (called sacraments) such as baptism and the eucharist are part of Jesus bringing salvation. Such participation is intended to and does represent/project communion with Jesus but it does not bring salvation. For indeed, Jesus brought and rendered visible salvation on the cross and resurrection such that a person’s faith in that sacrifice and resurrection as exhibited by the person’s personal discipleship/relationship renders the person’s salvation real or pretense. Yet, participation in the life and work of the visible church is part of that person’s discipleship/relationship for obedience (not salvation) purposes.
- The biblical church (not just the “Catholic Church”) is the worldwide community of believers. This means assemblies are what I call local/regional expressions of that church, a subcommunity of the total worldwide/universal community. The word catholic means universal though I prefer the word universal as it is more generic in everyday usage not indicating a particular denomination.
- The phrase “new order of relationship begun by Christ” is best viewed as not about getting saved but what I call living saved. It speaks to how the sinful (having yet a corrupted un-reborn body, not yet totally perfect) believer projects the state of salvation into and onto the world in his dealings with God, self, and other humans. For the Catholics, this is a major important function of the sacraments. For me, it goes beyond the sacraments and involves both private and public projections everyday in every place in all things. The sacraments are useful to remind and teach about the importance of reaching for and projecting t better and better true discipleship.
- Catholic doctrine is rightly rooted in the idea that the universal visible church has primary responsibility to extend salvation to all the world in the sense of the Great Commission (e.g., Matthew 28:18-20) and to ensure that right doctrine is being set forth (Matthew 28:20). Indeed, spiritually immature renegade individualism can wreak havoc to the message of the gospel. Here visible means assemblies of believers in some form. (Of course, I use the term universal as inclusive of all believers worldwide regardless of denominational association.) Hence, Catholics hold that the communion (assembly) of believers is the place where salvation is made visible through participation in various ceremonial elements. In other words if one does not formally gather with other believers for the intended purpose of being a visible component of the worldwide church then one is engaging in self-realization and individualism which is not what Jesus Christ did. For he as the Bible says made it a point to go to the synagogue every Sabbath Day. Now this does not mean believers are required to “go to church” every week but believers ought to go on a regular basis rather than having an isolated faith.
Paragraph 13 is where Catholic doctrine begins to error. It does so because it goes to far in the reach for visibility. The last part of Paragraph 13 says:
… The participation, in the Church, in the new order of relationships begun by Jesus occurs by means of the sacraments, of which Baptism is the door, … and the Eucharist is the source and the summit…. the Faith confesses that we are saved by means of Baptism, which seals upon us the indelible character of belonging to Christ and to the Church, from which derives the transformation of the way of living our relationships with God, with other men and women, and with creation (cf. Mt 28:19). Thus, purified from original, and all other sins, we are called to a new existence conforming to Christ (cf. Rom 6:4). With the grace of the seven sacraments, believers continually grow and are spiritually renewed, especially when the journey becomes more difficult. When they abandon their love for Christ by sinning, believers can be re-introduced into the order of relationships begun by Christ in the sacrament of Penance, allowing them to again walk as He did (cf. 1 Jn 2:6). In this way, we look with hope toward the Last Judgement, in which each person will be judged on the concreteness of his or her love (cf. Rom 13:8-10), especially regarding the weakest (cf. Mt 25:31-46).
Well the Bible does not say Baptism saves us even though some point to 1 Peter 3:21 where he says “baptism doth also now save us”. But there to properly understand what Peter is saying one must consider the entirety of 1 Peter 3:21 and indeed the scriptures surrounding 1 Peter 3:21. For then one should realize that Peter is saying the ceremonial symbolism of baptism provides a soothing relief to the conscience when a person participates in the community of faith that confirms and celebrates the person salvation along with the person. We are not purified by water baptism but by the blood of Jesus Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit for that which is born of the Holy Spirit is spirit (John 3). So then though baptism is not necessary for salvation, it is in a sense a door not to salvation but to formal participation in the visible church. It is not necessary for even formal participation for all matters but some local churches rightly require it for some matter as it is a matter of obedience to the command of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20). Paul did not see baptism as something he should focus on doing though he did do it and expected others to do. But certainly if it was a requirement for salvation one would have expected Paul to give great attention to doing it himself.
Let me also mention that the Bible associates the principle of sealing not to baptism but to the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30).
The Eucharist is what is more commonly known as the Last Supper or Communion. Participating in it is commanded by Jesus but once again, it is not required for salvation but is a matter of obedience.
The sacrament of Penance is merely a recognition of the need to confess, be contrite about, and repent of one’s sins. That all Christians regardless of denomination should do no matter the terminology that the denomination or person subscribes to. Indeed we all must one day be judged by Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:21-29; 2 Cor 5:10; entirety of Hebrews 12:). Indeed, Jesus and only Jesus will make the decision for each person that day no matter the theories being promulgated by humans regarding judgement day.
In my view the “sacraments” in no way saves a person for Jesus and him crucified and resurrected is the basis for salvation. The sacraments are useful however in rendering visible in a ceremonial manner one’s commitment to living a saved life and helping one to stay so committed and teaching one how to spiritually grow and helping one to so grow. I certainly do not agree with some of the terminology used in the “sacraments” but since the “sacraments” do that determine salvation I find that such terminology arise because of the Catholic overreach regarding the goal of formal participation in the visible church.
The rest of the document I really do not find problematic as to salvation.
In my view the Catholic Church is Christian with some false doctrines just as all other denominations with whom I am familiar to include the Baptist denomination with whom I mostly associate. I personally have attended Catholic Mass and observed for myself. I just don’t participate in that part that concerns me. But I do that even at Baptist churches.
Letter: Vatican Website PDF