Why We Aren't Catholic (Part III)

Having shown the vast differences between evangelical belief and catholic belief in regards to both Scripture and salvation in my first two posts, it is time to conclude this study by looking at the final two slogans of the Reformation: solo Christo (Christ alone) and soli deo gloria (glory to God alone). These two are intimately linked; therefore, they must be understood in their relation to each other.

Solo Christo is the belief that salvation comes by and through the person of Jesus Christ alone. This may seem like an uncontroversial statement, but it does stand in stark contradiction to what the Roman Catholic Church officially teaches. It is true that the Catholic Church teaches Jesus’ death is what makes salvation possible, but there is still more needed. There are two main distinctions between Catholics and evangelicals in regards to solo Christo.

The first distinction is the Catholic Church places more than one mediator between God and mankind; while evangelicals hold that it is Christ alone who is the mediator. In addition to the mediatorial of Christ, Catholics add a mediatorial role for the Church (its priests, bishops, and Pope), the Virgin Mary, and official Catholic Saints.

For Catholics, salvation is brought about through the work of the Church as much as it is through the work of Christ. They believe their sacraments actually grant saving grace as the Church operates in its role as a mediator of salvation. In this way, the priests of the Church stand between their congregants and God in the sacraments (especially communion and penance) as the priests grant access to God and his grace through their actions.

For Catholics, the Virgin Mary occupies near Christ-like status in the Church. She is the “mediatrix” (female mediator) of all graces in the Church. She stands between man and Christ and through her supposed “suffering” salvation was made complete. To quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Taken up to heaven she (Mary) did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation”. More could be said about the Catholic misunderstanding of Mary (her sinlessness and ascension), but that must be saved for another day. This much is clear, the Catholic Church teaches that Mary partakes in Christ’s suffering and the process of mediating salvation to mankind. It is not Christ alone.        

The Bible leaves no room for such thinking. Salvation is accomplished through God alone: planned by the Father, accomplished through the Son, and applied by the Holy Spirit. There is no need for another mediator besides Jesus Christ. For Catholics, the work of Christ was lacking and needed completion in varying degrees through their mediators. But the cry of Jesus on the Cross was, “It is finished.” And Hebrews 10:12 says that after Christ made atonement for our sins he “sat down at the right hand of God.” This sitting shows us that the work is complete. There is nothing or no one else needed.

There are many other passages which demonstrate that any there is no need for additional mediators for man to be saved. Acts 4:12 states, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” and 2 Timothy 2:5 states, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. There is no room and no need for another mediator, Christ is the only mediator, he is our great High Priest. Christ alone is our bridge to God (John 14:6). He is enough.

The second area of concern here was already mentioned, for Catholics salvation comes not just through Christ but also through Mary and the Church initially. Catholics hold that the work of salvation and the work of sustaining in the faith (our first point) must come through the Roman Catholic Church as well as the work of Christ.  The issues of this are the same as above; such thinking leads to a minimizing of the completed work of Christ and Scripture never speaks of our need for more than Christ. Christ alone does the saving, not Mary, not the Pope, and not the Church.

All of this leads us to the final slogan: soli deo gloria (glory to God alone). Because salvation is only a work of God, glory belongs to him alone. This means that the veneration (worship) of Saints, Popes, Mary, or angels is not allowed and is not necessary. Salvation is God’s work and he therefore deserves the glory. Evangelicals undoubtedly have a lot to learn from this slogan too. We often place too much emphasis and praise on “popular” or “big name” pastors. Because God alone saves, our glory and honor should be reserved to him alone. He alone deserves our praise and adoration.

Glory to God alone should be the goal of our life. Paul puts it well in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This is to be our burning passion because God through the person of Jesus Christ has saved us. This amazing reality should drive us to worship him with everything we have and for us to see Christ at the center of salvation and our entire lives. In Christ alone our hope is found.