A furor was reignited recently when news outlets reported that “Pope Benedict XVI” made the claim that the Catholic Church is the only true path to salvation. Various “pastors” of non-Catholic persuasions denounced the assertion, while some Catholic officials since have contended that the “pontiff’s” message had been “misconstrued.” Several observations regarding this confusion are appropriate.
If the Roman Catholic Church were a genuine reflection of first-century Christianity, as inaugurated by Jesus Christ and taught by his inspired apostles, Catholics would have every right to contend that Catholicism is the sole route to salvation — for the exclusive uniqueness of his “Way” is the precise affirmation of Christ (John 14:6), and this inflexible proposition was echoed by both Peter (Acts 4:12) and Paul (Ephesians 4:4). The truth is, however, the Catholic Church is not a depository of the original Christian teaching.
This current theological tempest is but another example of Romanism’s duplicitous attempt to obscure its longstanding position on this matter. Catholicism’s maneuvering of the “mental reservation” concept is well known.
Catholic scholar Bertrand Conway wrote:
We believe that the Catholic Church is the one society for man’s salvation instituted by Christ, and that, therefore, man must be affiliated with her in some way to be saved (1929, 216).
He went on to explain, however, that many who are “outside” the Church “in fact,” actually are “within the fold in the sight of God.” This means, he surmises, that if one is “in desire” of salvation, he is, in a sense, a Catholic already; he just doesn’t know it! This implies that one may be in fellowship with God, even though not in full fellowship with the Church.
Conway quoted Pope Pius IX who declared: “We must hold as of faith, that out of the Apostolic Roman Church there is no salvation.” This ignores the fact that there was “salvation” in the first-century church before there ever was an “Apostolic Roman Church” (Acts 2:47). He did allow an exception for those who are “in invincible ignorance.” Presumably that would include everyone who is an honest and searching soul, but is not yet formally a Catholic.
Stephen Blaire, “Bishop” of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Stockton, declared that news accounts had “misrepresented” the pope’s message. With his own assemblage of word wizardry, Mr. Blaire said that “the church of Christ is also present and operative in the churches and ecclesiastical communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church” (The Record, July 14, 2007; emphasis added). Note carefully the phrase, “not yet fully in communion.” If words carry meanings, these imply that non-Catholic churches have some level of “communion” with Romanism already, and that these fringe groups are expected to fully integrate into the Church at some future point. Catholicism’s obfuscation is perfectly transparent.
On the other hand, it must be recognized that Roman Catholic theology is subject to change at any time. Today’s official dogma may be in tomorrow’s theological trash can. In Romanism, “tradition” is to be valued equally with the Scriptures—even more so (Attwater 1961, 41-42). Vox populi vox Dei (“The voice of the people is the voice of God”) is the mantra of this amalgamated system that has evolved by a blending of components from Judaism, Christianity, and paganism (Ibid., 363-364).
While there are many morally good and lovely Catholic people, whom we admire and for whom we have affection, the Roman Catholic concept of salvation is what it is, and that may not be glossed over. It stands in stark contrast to the teaching of the New Testament.
The dogma of original sin, infant baptism, sprinkling as a substitute for immersion, auricular confession, penance, the sacrifice of the mass, etc., all are quite alien to the divinely revealed plan of salvation as set forth by Christ and his inspired spokesmen. Roman Catholics need true conversion as much as any lost person on earth.