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Summary of "40 Questions About Roman Catholicism" by Greg Alison

In 40 Questions About Roman Catholicism, Greg Alison provides summaries of the formal teachings of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). Misrepresentation and confusion abound by both Catholics and Protestants alike as to what the RCC actually teaches. Because Alison writes with such a charitable spirit, I was glad to see that he had written this book. I have benefitted from his wisdom and have been personally challenged by his advice in chapter 40. I would recommend this book to both Catholic's and Protestant's alike.

In the following summary, I (1) summarize Alison’s responses to each of the forty questions, (2) quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) that corresponds to that question/chapter where applicable, and (3) give common Protestant objections to the position of the RCC. My hope is that this summary of Alison's work provides a brief, objective, and accurate depiction of the formal teachings of the RCC so that misrepresentations and confusion can be alleviated, and more beneficial conversations can be had.



The descriptors one, holy, catholic, and apostolic had defined the church since the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed written in 381. In 1208, the descriptor ‘Roman’ was added to this description. The word Roman refers to the centralized authority and pyramid leadership structure which begins with Christ’s representative on earth, the Pope. The word Catholic refers to the universality of the church and the great commission to make disciples of all nations.


~80s-90s – Ignatius’s bishop-led churches. Ignatius’s letters to the church lead the early church to become bishop-led.

Mid-200s - Bishop of Rome. There is a dispute between the bishop of Rome, Stephen, and the bishop of Carthage, Cyprian, as to the meaning of Matthew 16. Stephen argued that Jesus referred to Peter and his successors as the supreme authority on earth. Cyprian argued that Jesus gave this authority to all of the apostles. Stephen’s view won the day, and the bishop of Rome became the supreme authority in the church. He would be called the pope by the seventh century. Though neither Peter nor any other apostle founded the church in Rome, much was made of the tradition of Peter’s—as well as Paul’s—burial in Rome.

300s-400s – The bishop of Rome protects a proper Christology amidst the increase of heretical teachings.

300s-400s – Infant baptism begins. Largely influenced by Augustine, the practice of infant baptism begins. The motive behind this shift was the removal of original sin.

600s - Use of the word “pope”. The leader of Rome begins to be referred to as the pope.

754 – Forgery of the “Donation of Constantine”. Pope Stephen presented king Pepin with a forged document supposedly written by the emperor Constantine in the early 300s where Constantine had given “the city of Rome and all the provinces, districts, and cities of Italy” to the bishop of Rome. With this forged document, Stephen as the bishop of Rome acquired massive amounts of land (the Papal States), became the most important leader in the west, and took authority over churches throughout the world.

1215 - Transubstantiation. Transubstantiation becomes the official position of the RCC. The doctrine of transubstantiation contends that at the consecration of the elements, the bread and the wine change into the substance of Christ while maintaining all of their natural, physical attributes (i.e., smell, look, feel, taste, etc.).

1300-1400s - multiple popes. While the pope is the final authority in the RCC, during the 1300-1400s, different European countries lined up behind two different popes and, sometimes three.

1300s – ‘Tradition’ with a capital T is adopted. In the fourteenth century, the RCC adopted the concept of Tradition as part of its understanding of revelation.

1400s – The Magisterium gain power over Scripture and Tradition. The magisterium (the pope and bishops) gain authority over Scripture. During these power struggles, “the notion of church tradition—the unwritten teaching of Christ that was communicated orally from Him to His disciples, and from them to their successors, the bishops—gained ascendancy in the Roman Catholic Church” (27).

1542 – Roman Inquisition. In an attempt to counter the reformation, Pope Paul III begins the Roman Inquisition to stamp out the Reformation.

1546 – Apocryphal books officially added. The apocryphal books of the Old Testament are officially adopted by the Magisterium.

[KP note - The following have been added to give a better picture of the history of the Roman Catholic Church today.]

1854 – Immaculate conception. Pope Pius IX pronounces Mary’s immaculate conception (that she was free from original sin from her conception) as dogma.

1870 – Papal infallibility becomes dogma. Vatican Council I pronounces the doctrine of papal infallibility as “divinely revealed dogma”.

1950 – Mary’s bodily assumption. Pope Pius XII pronounces Mary’s bodily assumption as dogma. The bodily assumption of Mary states that Mary was taken up body and soul at the end of her earthly life.

1962-1965 – Vatican Council II. The RCC changes its view on salvation to include non-Christians. Vatican Council II changed the position of the RCC from an exclusivist position (salvation is found in Christ alone) to an inclusivist position (adherents of other religions who are sincere can be saved unknowingly through Jesus’s work; see question 4 for further explanation).


In the 1300s, Reformers John Wycliffe and John Hus began to openly criticize the worldliness of the papacy, the spiritual bankruptcy of the Church, the sale of indulgences, and the idea of transubstantiation (31). Martin Luther and John Calvin, along with other reformers, articulated a variety of ways that Roman Catholic teaching stood in contrast with Scripture. Their goal was to reform the church from within. Issues such as the church’s source of authority, justification by faith alone, the number of sacraments, and the idea of papal authority were a few of the issues that the reformers sought to reform to biblical standards and that of the early church. The RCC rejected their ideas and excommunicated the reformers as well as anyone who did not embrace the teachings of the RCC.


During this council, the RCC updated its doctrines, practices, liturgy, structures, and relationships. Most notably, the RCC changed its position on salvation from an exclusivist position (one can be saved through Christ alone) to an inclusivist position (those from other religions can be saved). This council also reiterated the threefold authority structure of the church: Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium.

  • CCC 841 - The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.

  • CCC 843 - The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.”

  • CCC 847 - This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church: Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.



There are two foundational axioms that permeate the heart of the RCC: (1) the interdependence of nature and grace and (2) the interconnection between Christ and the church. While the nature-grace interdependence is dealt with in this chapter specifically, this axiom permeates the book as it forms the foundation for many of the practices of the RCC.

Nature is whatever God has created, and grace refers to God’s unmerited favor (CCC 1996). When the elements of nature—water, oil, bread, and wine—are consecrated by the church (specifically, by the priest, bishop, or pope) they are capable of transmitting God’s grace. Grace is transmitted (1) through water in baptism which cleanses an infant of original sin, saving them from condemnation and corruption; (2) through oil used in confirmation, which binds the young adult to Christ and strengthens him or her with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit; (3) through the bread and wine of communion, which infuses Christ’s presence into a person on a weekly basis, which enables them to engage in love and good deeds and thus merit eternal life. "Helped by grace, they are able to do their part in the process of obtaining salvation by their meritorious good works” (51). Human beings, though fallen and corrupted by sin, are not so fallen that they are “incapable of cooperating with God’s grace infused through the sacraments so as to do their part to merit eternal life” (51).


Protestants reject this axiom of a nature-grace interdependence. Because the scriptural basis for this idea is lacking, they find it to be philosophical rather than biblical. They also find that the “mystery” of the transformational powers of the natural elements overshadow the profound symbolism that the natural elements are meant to convey. While Protestants believe that the elements of nature symbolize God’s grace (Romans 6 for example, where immersion into and emersion from water in baptism is a sign of being dead to sin and alive in Christ), they disagree with the RCC's notion of nature transmitting (or infusing) God’s grace for the transformations of one's character. Because they regard this idea of nature transmitting God’s grace to effect character transformation as unbiblical and deeply troubling as one of the two axioms for everything else that the Roman Catholic Church does.


The incarnate Christ connected God’s grace to nature as the God-man. The second axiom of the RCC is that the incarnate Church is a continuation of the life of the incarnate Christ. This axiom is based on Ephesians 1:20-23 and Ephesians 5:32 where Christ is the head of His body, the Roman Catholic Church. This is often referred to as the Christ-Church interconnection. Practically, ministers within the RCC act as another person of Christ to mediate between the realms of nature and grace. For example, a priest administers consecrated water (in the realm of nature) for the sacrament of baptism. Once consecrated, the water cleanses an infant from her original sin, regenerates her, and unites her to Christ and the Church (all in the realm of grace; 61). RCC theology, practice, liturgy, sacraments, and mission are grounded within this framework. As the continuation of incarnate Christ, the RCC is the incarnate Church that now “mediates grace to nature and connects nature to grace” (62-63).



Protestants disagree with this RCC axiom. First, while Protestants and Catholics agree on Christ’s incarnation, they disagree that the RCC is the continued incarnation of Christ’s body on earth. Second, Protestants contend that the RCC’s interpretation of Paul’s imagery in Ephesians 5 is too literal. Third, Protestants find that the RCC as the incarnation of Christ’s body and the mediator between grace and nature leaves little room for the outpouring work of the Holy Spirit to bind the church together as the church.

Protestants argue that Jesus’s ascension emphasizes four critical points that contradict the RCC view. First, Jesus is not here. Second, Jesus will return one day. Third, because Jesus is not here, He cannot be present in the Lord’s Supper. Fourth, against the concept of the incarnation of the church, the Father and the Son poured out the Holy Spirit as the binding and defining characteristic of the new covenant church. On this point, Alison writes: “Certainly, the Catholic Church appeals to, even focuses on, the work of the Holy Spirit throughout its hierarchy, liturgy, ministries, and mission. But this emphasis has a certain hollow ring to it, appearing as almost an afterthought or add on to the Christ-Church prominence” (68).

Alison concludes, “Given that these principles are not unrelated but intimately connected, the weaknesses of both [the two foundations for RCC faith and practice] present problems for the two combined as the foundation of Catholic doctrine, practice, liturgy, mission, and more” (69).



The RCC and Protestants share the following ten areas in common: (1) The doctrine of the Trinity; (2) The nature of God; (3) The revelation of God; (4) The person of Christ; (5) The saving work of Christ; (6) The person and work of the Holy Spirit; (7) The glory and depravity of human beings; (8) the divine initiative in salvation; (9) The community of faith; (10) and the living hope of eternity (76). While these are commonalities, caution must be exercised as words such as grace, mercy, justification, evangelization, the gospel, and the sacraments take on very different meanings.



There are six general areas where Protestants and RCC disagree.


Roman Catholic Church

Protestant Church

Divine or Special Revelation

Scripture + Tradition. Consists of both Scripture and Tradition. Tradition is the oral teaching that Jesus communicated to his disciples who, in turn, communicated it to their successors, the bishops of the church (78).


Scripture alone. Scripture is the ultimate authority—but not only authority—for faith and practice.

Canon of Scripture

(The New Testament for RCs and Protestants are the same).


The books of the apocrypha were adopted as an official part of the RCC Bible in 1547 following the Protestant Reformation. The RCC holds the Latin Vulgate (translated from the Greek) as the official version of the Bible. The books of the apocrypha contain the Old Testament books of Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, additional sections of Esther, and additional sections of Daniel.

“If anyone does not receive, as sacred and canonical, these books, with all their parts, as they have been read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the above mentioned traditions, let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, Session 4, Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures, April 8, 1546, The text has been rendered clearer).


Protestants hold that there are 66 books in the Bible. They also hold that the official New Testament is the original Greek New Testament.

Protestants reject the addition of the apocryphal books for several reasons. First, the “Old Testament” that Jesus referenced did not include the apocrypha. Second, Josephus stated that Malachi was the last prophet and that other books written were unworthy of the same veneration. Third, early church fathers such as Athanasius and Eusebius rejected the apocryphal writings as part of the canon. Fourth, Maccabees was added to the Catholic Bible in 1546 (after the Reformation) to support the Catholic position of purgatory.

The Nature of Scripture

The Bible is one of three authorities: Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. The RCC does not affirm the necessity of Scripture for the Church to continue. Because the RCC specifies that the Magisterium possesses the right and ability to provide proper interpretation of the Bible, there is little emphasis for their members to read and study the Bible on their own.

The Bible provides everything necessary for the salvation of unbelievers. In addition, the Bible contains all that is necessary for believers to live a life that pleases God. Thus, Protestants place great emphasis on Christians reading their Bibles.


Both the RCC and Protestants affirm Jesus’s virgin birth and look at Mary as a model for the obedience of faith.

Free from original sin. Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin from the moment of her conception.

Sinless. Mary was sinless throughout her entire life and thus able to cooperate with God’s divine plan for the incarnation of Jesus.

Perpetual Virginity. Mary remained a virgin her entire life and thus never had other children.

Intercessor. Mary interceded on behalf of humanity at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11).

Bodily assumption. Mary was taken up “body and soul into heavenly glory.”

Titles. Titles such as Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, Mediatrix, and Queen well describe Catholic Mariology (81).

Protestants believe that Mary, like every human being born after the fall (and every person listed in the genealogy of Jesus other than Jesus Himself), was born with original sin. The incarnation of Jesus was a result of God’s unmerited favor. Mary, like the apostles, largely misunderstood who Jesus was as well as His ministry. Protestants believe that Mary died and now exists in the intermediate state as a disembodied believer (81).

The Church.

One church, the Roman Catholic Church: “There exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Dominus Iesus, August 6, 2000, 17,; Pope Benedict XVI, “Responses to Some Questions regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church,” July 10, 2007, Because of the view that there is only one true assembly of the church, the RCC, RC theology states that Protestants gather in ecclesial communities, not churches.

Sacramental economy. The RCC transmits Christ’s saving benefits by means of seven sacraments. The administration of the sacraments is effective by their administration.

The church administers two ordinances: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These ordinances are aligned with the Bible, the working of the Holy Spirit, and by faith by those participating in these ordinances.


Justification: a lifelong, collaborative process with God. Justification includes progress in holiness and the loving performance of good deeds. Justification is “not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.” (Council of Trent, Session 6, Decree on Justification, January 13, 1547, chap. 7.)

Purgatory. Because most RCs fall short in this earthly life, their soul goes to purgatory when they die.

CCC 1030. “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”

Biblical basis. James 2:14-26

Justification. God’s once and for all declaration: “Not guilty.” Jesus’s righteousness is imputed to sinners once and for all so that they can stand righteous before a holy God.

“Response to” not a “means of.” Protestants affirm that saving faith results in good works. However, they differ from the RCC’s position that works contribute to salvation. Good works are a “response to” the change of a sinner’s heart through the indwelling and empowering of God’s Holy Spirit. While good works reflect that one is saved, they are not a means of meriting one’s salvation. Protestants embrace the entire counsel of Scripture in teaching that believers are justified by faith as a God-given, undeserved gift whereby God receives all of the glory in salvation (Rom 3:21-28). Jesus’s death is sufficient to pardon the repentant sinner.

Biblical basis. Deut. 30:6, 20; Jeremiah 31:33-34; Ezekiel 36:26-35; John 3:3, 36; Romans 3:23-26; 5:18.

Warning. Roman Catholics and Protestants both state that faith in Jesus is required for salvation. The difference is that RCs believe that it is faith plus good works that merit justification over the course of a lifetime and into purgatory.


There are two modes of divine revelation: divine acts and divine speech. The RCC insists that the oral communication of divine acts through Tradition and divine speech as set forth in Scripture are intrinsically woven together (86). The RCC derives this view through two primary examples. First, the communication of the ten commandments from God to Moses was shared orally before being recorded as Scripture. Second, the apostles shared the gospel orally before recording the message in writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The RCC adds the office of the Magisterium, which is the teaching and interpretation office of the church. This office consists of the pope and the bishops to preserve this twofold pattern of transmission. Because Tradition is the broader of the two, Scripture is encompassed under the authority of Tradition. Thus, the RCC uses the following three elements to derive and transmit God’s revelation: (1) Oral Tradition; (2) The sacred writings of Scripture; (3) The office of the Magisterium.




Inspiration. Scripture is dually authored by God and human authors. Scripture is the inspired Word of God written in human words (90). 

Truthfulness (Inerrancy). “Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures” (Vatican Council II, Dei Verbum, 11).

Importance. The importance of Scripture is affirmed in both the RCC and Protestant church.


Canon. The Hebrew Bible was completed around 435 B.C. with thirty-nine books. The Scripture that Jesus and the apostles used was this Hebrew Bible that did not contain the apocryphal writings. The Apocrypha—used by Greek-speaking Jews who lived away from Palestine—was not considered inspired, authoritative revelation by the early church. Not until the later part of the fourth century were the apocryphal writings included in a new, Latin version of the Bible. Early church leaders such as John of Damascus, Hugh of St. Victor, John of Salisbury, and the Venerable Bede, as well as leaders of the reformation such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, insisted that the Old Testament canon should not include the apocryphal writings that at times contradicted the rest of Scripture (doctrine of purgatory, earning merits before God, the practice of almsgiving, etc.). Following the reformation, the RCC officially adopted the apocryphal writings and responded to the reformers by stating that anyone who did not embrace these writings as sacred Scripture was to be an “anathema” (excommunicated from the Church).

Necessity/Sufficiency. While Protestants hold that the church would lose its way without Scripture (94), the RCC maintains that the Church, while it would indeed suffer without Scripture—could exist without Scripture because it would still possess the Tradition that had been handed down.

Authority. Protestants hold that, while other authorities exist and derive from Scripture and tradition is indeed important, Scripture alone is the ultimate and supreme authority when it comes to faith and practice. The RCC believes that Scripture is one authority among others, and that Scripture and Tradition are to be held with equal devotion and reverence.


Tradition in the RCC refers to the teachings of Jesus that He communicated orally to his apostles who then transmitted those teachings orally to their successors, the bishops, and the pope, who make up the magisterium of the RCC. Tradition also includes the Holy Spirit’s communication to and through the Pope and the bishops of the RCC.

  • CCC 81 - “And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound, and spread it abroad by their preaching.”

PROTESTANTS. Protestants argue against the RCC’s notion of Tradition primarily on the word “expound” in CCC 81 (above). Second, they reject the RCC doctrine of Tradition because of its very late development in the fourteenth century. It’s adoption during a period marked by tremendous turmoil is viewed as a struggle to regain control. Third, the notion of Tradition that appeared in the fourteenth century was vastly different than the concept of tradition up to that point in time. Fourth, great instability exists between the threefold authority as posited by the RCC. When instability and conflict occur within the RCC framework, it is neither Scripture nor Tradition that make the final judgment, but the Magisterium’s interpretation of both Tradition and Scripture that ultimately decides.



As the continuation of the ministry of the apostles, the RCC Magisterium—consisting of the college of bishops and the pope––bears the ultimate responsibility for interpretation and instruction. The Pope stands as the continuation of the ministry of the first Pope, Peter, upon whom Christ built His church (Matt 16:13-20). Thus, the Pope is the primary pastor of the RCC. The RCC holds that the Magisterium has the right to (1) determine the Canon of Scripture (as it did in 1546 with the apocryphal writings), (2) the content of Tradition (like Mary’s immaculate conception (1854) and bodily assumption (1950)), and (3) to give the only authoritative interpretation of both modes of divine revelation—Scripture and Tradition.

  • CCC 857 - The Church is apostolic because she is founded on the apostles, in three ways:

    • - she was and remains built on "the foundation of the Apostles," the witnesses chosen and sent on mission by Christ himself;

    • - with the help of the Spirit dwelling in her, the Church keeps and hands on the teaching, the "good deposit," the salutary words she has heard from the apostles;

    • - she continues to be taught, sanctified, and guided by the apostles until Christ’s return, through their successors in pastoral office: the college of bishops, "assisted by priests, in union with the successor of Peter, the Church’s supreme pastor":

PROTESTANTS. Protestants affirm with Catholics the foundational role of the apostles. They disagree, however, with the RCC interpretation of Matthew 16 of the ministry of the apostles continuing through the Magisterium. They reject the Magisterium because (1) of its late development, (2) its hierarchical approach that developed over centuries that lacks biblical support, (3) the adoption of the apocryphal books as canonical in April, 1546 as a response to the reformation ((Catholic Encyclopedia (1908). Canon of the Old Testament. New York: Robert Appleton Company), (4) a denial of the clarity of Scripture, and (5) the number of instances where the Magisterium have demonstrated their inability or unwillingness to follow the most basic rules of interpretation (hermeneutics) of Scripture.

For example, the Magisterium interprets Jesus’s response to Mary in John 2:2-3 ‘O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come’” (John 2:3–4 RSV) as an example of the “deep understanding [that] existed between Jesus and his mother” (John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater). From this interpretation, the Magisterium argues Mary’s unique mediatorial role between Jesus and humanity. Alison contends that “It is a mistake to pivot from a rebuke from Jesus to an escalation of Mary’s importance and cooperation with him. Poor expositions such as this example undercut the Magisterium’s claim to determine the authoritative interpretation of Scripture” (112-113).



In 1870, Vatican Council I pronounced as dogma the doctrine of papal infallibility. This dogma stipulates that when certain conditions are met, the Pope, seated in the chair of Peter, speaks infallibly. Since 1870, the Pope spoken with papal infallibility once. If anyone rejects papal infallibility, Vatican Council I stated, “let him be anathema” (Vatican Council I, First Dogmatic Constitution of the Church of Christ, 4.9, Vatican Council II extended infallibility to the college of bishops when they exercise authoritative teaching through an ecumenical council. Alison clarifies, "When the pope makes a spontaneous, informal remark about atheists being saved if they do good, such a comment is his private judgment and does not constitute an authoritative, infallible doctrine about salvation" (119).

WARNING. Contrary to the opinion of many Protestants, the pope does not speak with papal infallibility every time that he speaks. At the same time, while the Pope has spoken only one time with “papal infallibility,” what he said regarding the bodily assumption of Mary is biblically unfounded. Protestants hold that believer’s will go to an “intermediate state” where their souls wait for the resurrection of their bodies when they die (for more on the disembodied or “unclothed” state, see Phil 1:20-24; 2 Cor 12:2-3; 1 Cor 15:50-53).



Exclusivism. The traditional position of the RCC is that the RCC is the only Church of Christ which is governed by the successor of Peter and the apostles. For centuries the RCC had contended for an exclusivist position, whereby no one outside of the RCC could be saved (Fourth Lateran Counsel, 1215; Council of Florence, 1441). During the Reformation, many of the one-hundred and fifty threats of excommunication implicitly condemned Protestants for their refusal to abide by the teachings of the RCC in which salvation alone could be found. 

Change to Inclusivism. With Vatican Council II (1962-1965), the historical position of the RCC on salvation changed. During this council, the RCC stated that (1) other Christian traditions such as Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism, (2) non-Christian religions such as Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, and (3) animists, agnostics, and atheists, could be saved (CCC 841, CCC 843, CCC 847).

PROTESTANTS. Protestants argue that both Scripture and the historical position of the Roman Catholic Church itself stand in stark contrast to the RCC’s formal, current position (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim 2:5). Alison states that the concept of inclusivism as Catholic theology (the salvation of non-Christians) is a novel belief and a betrayal of the Church’s lengthy tradition (130).

[Additional note - This RCC doctrine falls far outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. It presents a direct affront to Christ's work on the cross. It directly contradicts Scripture. It kills any sense of emphasis on God's mission of redemption on earth. If, as the RCC contends, other religions are included in God’s plan of salvation, what motivation does anyone have to share the good news about Christ?]



There are two primary aspects of a RC mass: the first is the liturgy of the Word; the second is the liturgy of the eucharistic. Prior to Vatican Council II, the RCC had emphasized the Eucharist to such a degree that attention to Scripture was almost entirely lacking.



There are three sacraments of initiation to become a member of the RCC: (1) the sacrament of baptism, (2) the sacrament of the Eucharist, and (3) the sacrament of confirmation. Infants are incorporated into the RCC through (1) the sacrament of baptism. They become full members through (2) the sacrament of the Eucharist and (3) the sacrament of confirmation. These three sacraments of initiation also apply to becoming a member of the RCC for anyone who is over seven years old.

  • CCC 1275 - Christian initiation is accomplished by three sacraments together: Baptism which is the beginning of new life; Confirmation which is its strengthening; and the Eucharist which nourishes the disciple with Christ’s Body and Blood for his transformation in Christ.


A sacrament involves the use of a physical element (water, bread and wine, oil, etc.) to physically transmit God’s divine grace. God infuses his grace through these physical elements in order to transform the character of the faithful and prepare them to love and engage in good works so that they can merit salvation (149). The Christ-Church axiom dictates that it must be a representative of the RCC (the Pope, a bishop, cardinal, or a priest) that administers the sacraments for their effectiveness and validity. Alison clarifies, “Christ’s work of salvation is represented every time and in every place that the Church administers the sacrament of the Eucharist. Christ is not recrucified for the 3,483,092,195th time today at one particular Mass. Rather, Christ’s Paschal mystery is made present when the priest consecrates the elements of nature—bread and wine—so that they become sacramentally the body and blood of Christ” (150).

PROTESTANTS. Protestants assert that the ministerial acts of Jesus are unique to Jesus as God Incarnate. Rather than the church dispensing Jesus’s benefits through nature, Jesus dispenses His benefits to those that are His through His Holy Spirit.


The RCC holds to seven sacraments that are effective ex opera operato, that “the sacraments confer the grace that they signify” (CCC 1127). Infusion. Based on the RCC axioms of the “nature-grace interdependence” and the “Christ-Church interconnection,” the RCC states that God’s divine grace is infused through the administration of the sacraments by a minister in the RCC who has consecrated the elements in order to transform one’s character so that they are then able to engage in good deeds and thus merit eternal life.

  • CCC 1127 - Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify. They are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work: it is he who baptizes, he who acts in his sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies. The Father always hears the prayer of his Son’s Church which, in the epiclesis of each sacrament, expresses her faith in the power of the Spirit. As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power.

PROTESTANTS. Protestants hold to two ordinances—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper—because these are the only two ordinances that were ordained by Christ (Matthew 26:26-29; Matthew 28:19). Critical to the difference between Protestants and the RCC is the notion of infusion and imputation. Imputation. In contrast to the view of the elements infusing the believer with grace, Protestants believe in the doctrine of imputation. In the great exchange, the sins of the sinner are imputed to Christ, who through His atoning and sacrificial work on the cross, paid the debt of sin that that the sinner owed, and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner who repents and believes. God makes the once and for all declaration that that person is now “righteous” and “not guilty.” Protestants believe that once a person is declared righteous, their nature has been transformed by the Holy Spirit whereby they begin to delight in the law of Christ out of joy and with a heart of thanksgiving because of their new nature.

“Repent.” The interpretation of Matthew 4:17—“Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt. 4:17)—is a key element in the debate about infusion and imputation. Alison contends that the RCC interpretation of “do penance” is a poor translation: “The Catholic notion of the sacrament of penance is based on the Latin Vulgate’s poor translation of Jesus’s command. It renders metanoeite (“repent”) as pœnitentiam agite, which in English is ‘do [acts of] penance.’ However, Jesus did not institute a sacramental action involving contrition, confession of sins to a priest, absolution, and rendering of satisfaction to make amends for harm done. Thus, the Catholic sacrament of penance is not supported biblically” (158-159).


When a Catholic priest, bishop or deacon who is acting “in the person of Christ” consecrates water, the water becomes capable of transmitting the divine grace of God physically to the recipient. The RCC teaches that baptism is (1) necessary for salvation and (2) cleanses people from their sin and regenerates.

  • CCC 1256 - The Church finds the reason for this possibility in the universal saving will of God and of the necessity of Baptism for salvation.

  • CCC 1257 - The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are “reborn of water and the Spirit.” God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.

  • CCC 1213 - Through Baptism we [the Catholic faithful] are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers of her mission.

PROTESTANTS. Protestants object to the RCC position on baptism on several grounds.

Early Church. The early church practiced credobaptism, whereby it baptized believers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Didache stipulated that (1) candidates for baptism fast before they were baptized (infants don’t fast) and (2) that they should be baptized in moving water (i.e., water deep enough to be immersed; Didache 7).

βαπτίζω (baptizō). The meaning of the Greek word “baptizō” means “to plunge” or “to immerse” (165). Believers are not sprinkled into Christ’s death and resurrection. They are immersed into Christ’s death and resurrection. Baptism by immersion signifies one’s union with Christ both in His death (immersion into the water) and in His resurrection (emersion from the water; Acts 22:16; 1 Pet 3:18-22).

New Testament. Baptism is administered after someone has heard the gospel and turned and trusted Jesus Christ for his or her salvation (Acts 10:47–48; 11:15–18; Acts 16:31–33; Acts 18:8; Romans 6:1-6).

Salvific? While baptism symbolizes the transformation that has taken place in the core of one’s being and is an important first step, Protestant’s do not believe that baptism itself is in any way salvific. Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with Him in paradise. Paul told the Philippian jailer to “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31, emphasis added). Jesus said that “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” and that the work of God is “that you believe in him who he has sent” (John 3:36; 6:29). Belief is central. Baptism follows as a sign of belief to the watching world of one’s union with Christ in His death and resurrection. While not required for salvation, it must be reiterated that baptism is necessary in the sense that it is one of the first steps of obedience for those who have been saved.

Late development. Infant baptism does not become an official practice of the church until the fifth century. The motive behind this shift was the effort to remove original sin from infants. In making this shift, Protestants contend that irreparable damage was done to the church as the bounds for who was in and who was out of the church became blurry.

Other examples. Alison gives other examples: “In the narrative of Peter’s proclamation of the good news on the day of Pentecost, three thousand people were baptized (Acts 2:41). Other baptism stories include the Samaritans (Acts 8:12–17), the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:36, 38), Saul/Paul (Acts 9:18–19; 22:16), Cornelius and his family and friends (Acts 10:47–48; 11:15–18), Lydia and her household (Acts 16:15), the Philippian jailor and his family (Acts 16:31–33), many Corinthians (Acts 18:8), and the disciples of John the Baptist” (Acts 19:1–7; (167)).



Infusion. When the minister (a priest, bishop or deacon who is acting “in the person of Christ”) engages in the epiclesis (the prayer that God the Father will send His Spirit to change the bread and the wine), Christ is “really and mysteriously made present” (CCC, 1357). Four themes. There are four themes present in the RCC of the Eucharist: (1) an objective and present memorial of the sacrifice of Christ; (2) a re-presentation of the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross; (3) a re-presented offering of Christ on the cross that is also offered to release souls from purgatory and go to heaven; and (4) the physical presence of the actual body and blood of Christ is “truly, really, and substantially contained” (CCC 1362-74). The biblical basis for this position is based on Luke 22:19-20; Matthew 26:26, 28; John 6:53.

  • CCC 1325 - The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit.”

  • CCC 1331 - Holy Communion, because by this sacrament we unite ourselves to Christ, who makes us sharers in his Body and Blood to form a single body.

  • CCC 1353 - In the epiclesis, the Church asks the Father to send his Holy Spirit (or the power of his blessing) on the bread and wine, so that by his power they may become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and so that those who take part in the Eucharist may be one body and one spirit (some liturgical traditions put the epiclesis after the anamnesis). In the institution narrative, the power of the words and the action of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, make sacramentally present under the species of bread and wine Christ’s body and blood, his sacrifice offered on the cross once for all.

  • CCC 1375 - It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament.

  • CCC 1384 - The Lord addresses an invitation to us, urging us to receive him in the sacrament of the Eucharist: “Truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” John 6:53

PROTESTANTS. There are several objections Protestants have to this RCC position.

Biblical. Hebrews 10:10-14, 18 stands in contrast to the RCC philosophy of the Eucharist and the infusion of God’s grace over a period of time: “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified … Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin” (Heb 10:10-14, 18, emphasis added).

John 6. Protestants reject the literal interpretation of the RCC of John 6:53, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” What the RCC fails to consider is (1) the context of this verse, (2) the illustration that this verse is pointing to, and (3) that nobody including the apostles has ever eaten Jesus’s actual body or drank His actual blood. The context that Jesus is speaking revolves around what it means to “believe in him who he has sent” (John 6:29). The crowds had asked Jesus for a sign like the bread that came down from heaven during Moses’s day. Jesus responds by saying that this was a sign that was pointing to Him, the true bread of life that satisfies those who come to Him spiritually, not those who eat Him physically. Other verses in John 6 clarify what Jesus means when He says “eat the flesh” and “drink His blood”:“I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35); “Everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40); “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). Jesus explains that to feed on Him is to abide in His word. Simon Peter’s answer reflects this truth, “You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69-69). While Jesus emphasizes belief for salvation, the RCC church emphasizes the partaking of sacraments to be saved.

Philosophical origins and late development. Protestants reject the concept of transubstantiation because it did not exist as dogma until the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. Later that century, Thomas Aquinas, relying on Aristotelian philosophy, offered a philosophical explanation for how the physical presence of the actual body and blood of Christ is “truly, really, and substantially contained” when all of the physical attributes remain exactly the same. While the use of the word “mystery” surrounds the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into Jesus’s actual body and blood, Protestants question what the mystery is if the physical makeup of the elements remain the exact (taste, smell, looks, etc.).

Symbolic rather than literal. While the RCC emphasize a literal interpretation of Jesus’s words in Matt. 26:26 and 28, “This is my body…this is my blood,” Protestants emphasize Jesus’s words that follow, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Protestants therefore contend that communion is therefore to be done in remembrance of Christ’s death on the cross, not as a re-presentation of it. Protestants believe that Jesus is speaking in physical terms to describe spiritual realities.


Two conversions. Through faith in Jesus and the sacrament of baptism, believers undergo a first conversion. The second conversion involves the lifelong struggle to be free from sin, which involves penance and reconciliation. Alison writes, “On the human side, the three acts of the penitent are contrition, confession, and satisfaction or penance. The actions on the divine side come through the intervention of the Catholic clergy who administers the sacrament and absolves the penitent of her confessed sins” (190).

  • CCC 1440 - Sin is before all else an offense against God, a rupture of communion with him. At the same time it damages communion with the Church. For this reason conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.

On Indulgences.

  • CCC 1471 - The doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church are closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of Penance. What is an indulgence? “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints. An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin. The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead.

While a mortal sin is a serious sin that (1) violates the Ten Commandments, (2) is done knowing that it is sin, and (3) involves a personal and deliberate choice, venial sins are less serious, such as “thoughtless chatter or immoderate laughter” (CCC 1856). Mortal sins require the sacrament of penance and reconciliation whereas venial sins do not.

PROTESTANTS. Protestants reject the notion of indulgences and the sacrament of penance on several grounds.

μετανοέω (metanoeō). According to the Latin Vulgate (a translation of the original Greek that the RCC has adopted as its’ official Bible even to this day), Jesus commanded, “Do penance, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). This translation is an inaccurate rendition of the Greek New Testament. The Greek word, metanoeō, is defined as “to repent, to change any or all of the elements composing one’s life: attitude, thoughts, and behaviors concerning the demands of God for right living.” Thus, a better translation of the Greek is rendered “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (188).

Justification. There are not two conversions, but a single conversion whereby God declares a sinner to be “not guilty” and “righteous” once and for all. It is God’s declaration rather than a person’s actions that bring about the cleansing of all sins—past, present, and future.

Sanctification. After someone has been saved, he or she undergoes a process of sanctification which involves further conformity to Christ’s likeness.

Penance is impossible. Alison writes, “Penance is impossible because only Christ could render satisfaction to God; no human being can possibly do so. And penance is unnecessary because Christ did indeed render satisfaction to God (Rom. 3:23–26). No human penance—fasting, praying, almsgiving, and the like—can or need render satisfaction to God, as the Catholic Church envisions the sacrament doing” (190).

Penance is impossible because only Christ could render satisfaction to God; no human being can possibly do so. And penance is unnecessary because Christ did indeed render satisfaction to God (Rom. 3:23–26; 190).


As noted previously, the RCC is grounded upon the succession of the apostles through the sacrament of holy orders. The bishop, priest, or deacon is given sacred powers upon ordination such that, for instance, when they baptize a person, it is Christ Himself who baptizes. (Key text: Matt 16:13-20).

  • CCC 1535 Through these sacraments those already consecrated by Baptism and Confirmation for the common priesthood of all the faithful can receive particular consecrations. Those who receive the sacrament of Holy Orders are consecrated in Christ’s name “to feed the Church by the word and grace of God.” On their part, “Christian spouses are fortified and, as it were, consecrated for the duties and dignity of their state by a special sacrament.”

PROTESTANTS. Rejecting the idea of priests mediating God’s grace, Protestants contend for the “priesthood of all believers” (1 Peter 2:5, 9; Rev 1:6). Protestants hold that “All believers pray for one another, hear confession of sin and offer assurance of forgiveness, love one another, evangelize together, and teach and admonish one another with the Word of God (Col. 3:16) …. All people are image-bearers of God, and all Christians are priests to God and for one another” (198).

[Additional note - Protestants also question the notion of the “succession of Peter.” As the successor of Peter, the Pope, bishops, and priests are required to be celibate. However, according to Matthew 8:14 and 1 Corinthians 9:5, Peter was married. Scripture also stipulates that those who desire to be overseers are to be the “husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2). See the following for a defense of the RC position that Peter was unmarried)].




  • CCC 1285 - Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the “sacraments of Christian initiation,” whose unity must be safeguarded. It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For “by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.

Anointing the Sick

  • CCC 1421 - The Lord Jesus Christ, physician of our souls and bodies, who forgave the sins of the paralytic and restored him to bodily health, has willed that his Church continue, in the power of the Holy Spirit, his work of healing and salvation, even among her own members. This is the purpose of the two sacraments of healing: the sacrament of Penance and the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.

  • CCC 1499 - By the sacred anointing of the sick and the prayer of the priests the whole Church commends those who are ill to the suffering and glorified Lord, that he may raise them up and save them. And indeed she exhorts them to contribute to the good of the People of God by freely uniting themselves to the Passion and death of Christ.


  • CCC 1534 - Two other sacraments, Holy Orders and Matrimony, are directed towards the salvation of others; if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God.

  • CCC 1535 - Through these sacraments those already consecrated by Baptism and Confirmation for the common priesthood of all the faithful can receive particular consecrations. Those who receive the sacrament of Holy Orders are consecrated in Christ’s name “to feed the Church by the word and grace of God.” On their part, “Christian spouses are fortified and, as it were, consecrated for the duties and dignity of their state by a special sacrament.”

PROTESTANT. Protestants reject these as sacraments. While marriage is a major part of God’s good design, the notion of marriage being a sacrament is foreign to Scripture. In a similar way, the anointing of the sick is found in the Bible but was never ordained by Christ as a sacrament/ordinance (James 5:13-16). Regarding confirmation, Alison notes that many Protestant churches have catechism classes for their new members. However, on the RCC sacrament of confirmation, Alison writes, “Jesus did not ordain confirmation; indeed, it is not treated anywhere in Scripture” (158).


The process of salvation from the perspective of the RCC has many aspects. Sin. Sin is a “serious disturbance but not a devastating disaster” (213). Redemption. In one sense, redemption is fully accomplished through Christ. In another sense, salvation is accomplished by continuing in the RCC. Law. The law reveals the ways of evil and thus turns man toward God and His love. Grace. Grace is needed to cleanse man from sin and to communicate the righteousness of God through faith and through baptism. Baptism. Baptism (1) cleanses a sinner from original sin (and actual sin in the case of an adult), (2) regenerates that person, and (3) incorporates that person into Christ and His Church. Conversion. Conversion effects justification, whereby, “Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high” (CCC 1989). Conversion results in justification. Justification. Justification is “not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man” (214). From here, the RCC administers the sacraments which infuse the believer with grace so that they can continue the process of justification, engage in good works (almsgiving, prayers and offerings, fasting, and chastity), and thereby merit eternal life. “A merit is the recompense God owes to the Catholic faithful as a reward for their part in this divine-human cooperative process” (215). Purgatory. In purgatory, those who are imperfectly purified are purified in purgatory “so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”

  • CCC 1030 - All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

  • CCC 1949 - Called to beatitude but wounded by sin, man stands in need of salvation from God. Divine help comes to him in Christ through the law that guides him and the grace that sustains him: Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

PROTESTANTS. While Protestants utilize the same words as the RCC, those words have very different definitions. Protestants reject the RCC definition of sin as it denies the devastating consequences of sin, the doctrine of the total depravity in humans, and the inability of humans to save themselves. They also reject the notion that the RCC is the only dispenser of salvation and divine grace. Finally, Protestant’s reject the notion of purgatory and anything else that speaks of meriting or earning God’s salvation. Protestants believe that Christ’s work on the cross satisfied everything necessary for salvation (Eph 2:8-9).

WARNING. Contrary to the popular opinion of many Protestants, the RCC holds that “no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification” (214). However, the RCC adds that after the initial application of salvation, the new believer embarks on a cooperative and synergistic venture with God toward ultimate salvation (215).


The RCC teaches that God’s grace initiates an inward change of sinful people such that they begin to become truly righteous. It is Christ’s act of redemption that is the ground of justification for both Roman Catholics and Protestants. However, Roman Catholics believe that through their cooperation with divine grace, they can earn merits and gain eternal salvation. A merit is “the recompense God owes to the faithful as a reward for their part in this divine-human cooperative process” (222). “In summary, the Catholic view of justification includes the forgiveness of sins, regeneration, sanctification, a synergy of divine-human cooperation, divine grace infused through the sacraments, and the earning of merits for the attainment of eternal life” (223).

  • CCC 1989 - The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus’ proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.

  • CCC 2008 - The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.

“In summary, the Catholic view of justification includes the forgiveness of sins, regeneration, sanctification, a synergy of divine-human cooperation, divine grace infused through the sacraments, and the earning of merits for the attainment of eternal life” (223).

PROTESTANTS. The doctrine of justification is the most divisive doctrine between Catholics and Protestants. Where the two traditions differ is in the way that justification is appropriated. Where the RCC appropriates justification through faith and the sacrament of baptism, Protestants believe that justification is through faith alone, not faith plus works or faith plus the sacraments. Protestants believe that it is God alone who justifies whereas Catholics believe that justification is a cooperative effort with God on the part of the believer. In contrast to believing that God justifies good people who are cooperating with God’s grace to one day merit eternal life, Protestants believe that God “justifies the ungodly” (Rom 4:5), “credits righteousness apart from works” (Rom 4:6-8), that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). Justification for Protestants is the once and for all legal judgment by God, “not guilty.”

WARNING. Contrary to the opinion of most Protestants, the RCC emphasizes the initiating role of God’s grace in justification and the fact that “no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification” (see CCC 2010 above).


No. While efforts have been made (The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification), the doctrine of justification remains a—perhaps the—significant divide between Roman Catholic’s and Protestants.


The RCC closely associates justification, regeneration, and sanctification. Baptism starts the process of regeneration and sanctification. Sanctification is enabled by the infusion of grace through the sacraments.

Regeneration. Regeneration comes about by (1) the infusion of grace in the sacrament of baptism, (2) which causes infants to be cleansed of their original sin and adults of both their original and actual sin, (3) give them a new nature, and (4) join them to Christ and His Church. The basis of the RCC’s doctrine on regeneration derives from Jesus’s words in John 3:5, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” The RCC interprets “water” here to be the sacramental waters of baptism.

Sanctification. Following baptism, the person is sanctified through new infusions of grace contained within the sacraments. “Through the sacramental economy of the Church, the Catholic faithful continue to receive new infusions of grace for the increase of sanctification” (239). After death, it is necessary for most Catholics to undergo a final purification to achieve the holiness necessary to enter heaven.

PROTESTANTS. Protestants see clearer distinctions between justification, regeneration, and sanctification. Regeneration. Protestants disagree with baptismal regeneration. In John 3:5, they see Jesus’s reference of being “born of water and the Spirit” as a reference to Ezekiel 36:25-27 that explains what it means to be “born again.” To be born again is to be cleansed of sin and given a new heart that delights to follow God’s ways. Baptism is a sign of this cleansing and new life, but it has no regenerative power in itself. Sanctification. Sanctification, according to Protestants, is “the cooperative work of God and Christians (Phil. 2:12–13) by which ongoing transformation into greater Christ-likeness occurs. Such maturing transpires particularly through the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 5:16–23) and the Word of God (John 17:17)” (240). Protestants argue that sanctification is not a means of achieving salvation but is a result of having been saved.


The RCC teaches that God’s grace can be resisted and faith to be a virtue that can be lost (along with salvation; 1 Cor. 10:12; Phil 2:12; 1 Tim. 1:19). According to the divine-human cooperative process, if the “Catholic faithful do not continue to collaborate and progress in holiness, they will not persevere” (247).

  • CCC 162 - Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. We can lose this priceless gift, as St. Paul indicated to St. Timothy: “Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith.” To live, grow and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be “working through charity,” abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church.

  • CCC 1993 - Justification establishes cooperation between God's grace and man's freedom. On man's part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit who precedes and preserves his assent: When God touches man's heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God's grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God's sight.

PROTESTANTS. Perseverance of the Saints. Most Protestant churches teach that once someone is truly saved, they cannot lose their salvation. In John 10:27, Jesus states, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Rather than being dependent on one’s faithfulness, the perseverance of the saints is dependent on God’s faithfulness to persevere those whom He has chosen. Thus, Protestants believe that those who do not persevere were never truly saved (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:1-15; 1 John 5:11–13; 1Pet 1:5). Assurance of Salvation. Assurance of salvation is “the subjective confidence that is the privilege of all genuine believers that they will remain Christians throughout their life. This doctrine is dependent on the doctrine of perseverance …. Such assurance is experienced by means of Christ’s sacrificial death (Heb. 10:19–20), through the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:16), and by the confidence that comes through faith in the promises of Scripture (1 John 5:11–13)” (243-244).


The RCC teaches that God prepares people to receive His grace. Once they have received His grace, God continues to strengthen and equip the Catholic faithful through the sacraments so that, through their cooperation, they are able to merit eternal salvation. Alison writes, “Synergism is at the heart of the Catholic view of salvation. God, by his initiative, prepares people through grace and, once they have received it, continues to strengthen and equip his people with grace. The Catholic faithful, then, responding to God’s initiative and transformed by infused grace, cooperate with it, engage in good works, and thus do their part to merit eternal life. God rewards his people’s good works and considers them as meritorious for salvation” (252).

  • CCC 2010 - Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God’s wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.

“The Catholic faithful, then, responding to God’s initiative and transformed by infused grace, cooperate with it, engage in good works, and thus do their part to merit eternal life. God rewards his people’s good works and considers them as meritorious for salvation” (252).

PROTESTANTS. The Protestant view of salvation leaves no room for meriting or attaining salvation. Because God “raises the dead to life” (Rom 4:17), Protestants teach that salvation is monergistic: God saves apart from any human effort (Eph 2:8-9). Alison writes, “And what of good works? Out of thankfulness for their standing before God through justification, and as the fruit of their new nature through regeneration and sanctification, Christians engage in good works, which God himself will richly reward—grace upon grace! Such rewards, however, have nothing to do with merit as Catholic theology understands that idea. God alone has accomplished salvation for sinful people through Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection. They have been declared completely righteous through the divine act of justification. They cannot contribute to their salvation nor increase their justification. So they engage in good works out of a heart of thankfulness for divine grace” (253). Both Paul and James contend that those whom God justifies will engage in good works. Good works show that someone has been saved but play no part in the act of saving. “Saving faith that justifies results in good works, but it is not contingent on those works” (255; quote from Brian Vickers). Thus, Protestants reject the Catholic view.  (Rom. 3:28; 4:1-5; Eph. 2:8-10; James 2:20-24).

[Additional note - As stated in Ephesians 2:9, good works are excluded so that (1) boasting is eliminated on our part and so that (2) God receives all of the glory in salvation.]


The RCC believes that all people will go to either heaven or hell. Some of those that go to heaven must first enter a place of purgatory. Here, the Catholic faithful undergo purification in order to “achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (CCC 1030). It is in purgatory that their remaining debt is paid off through prayers, offering Eucharistic sacrifices, indulgences, and the use of other means on their behalf (2 Maccabees 12:38-46; Matthew 12:31-32; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

  • RCC 1030 - All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

  • RCC 1031 - The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire: As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.

PROTESTANTS. Protestant’s find the notion of purgatory to contradict their doctrine of justification. First, they believe that either Christ’s life, death, and resurrection achieved “the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” or it didn’t. There is no middle ground. Second, they find the notion of achieving “the holiness necessary” to stand in contradiction to Scripture (Rom. 3:28; 4:1-5; Eph. 2:8-10). Third, Protestant’s find the use of 2 Maccabees 12 to support the idea of purgatory as (1) suspicious due to its timing of being declared canon by the RCC in 1546 as a response to the reformation and (2) self-conflicting in that the RCC teaches that the sin of idolatry—that which Judas and his soldiers commit in 2 Maccabees 12—is a mortal sin. According to the RCC, a mortal sin leads to hell, not purgatory (see CCC 1033 below).

  • CCC 1033 - To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”

Fourth, Protestants believe that the RCC inserts their own ideas of purgatory into their interpretations of Matthew 12:31-32 and 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. In Matthew 12:32, Jesus says, “Whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” The RCC interprets this verse to mean that there are some sins that can be forgiven in the “age to come.” Protestants believe that the RCC miss Jesus’s actual point about the heinousness of blasphemy against the Spirit which will never be forgiven, “either in this life of in the age to come.” Regarding 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, the RCC interprets the idea of testing by fire as relating to the purification process that the Catholic faithful will experience in purgatory. Protestants believe that this interpretation misses the context of the passage, where Paul’s focus is on Christians doing their work with excellence on the foundation of Christ so that when it is tested it will survive.


The RCC teaches that: (1) Mary was a second Eve who could reverse the curse that had followed the first Eve’s failure; (2) Mary was protected from original sin from her conception; (3) Mary was sinless throughout her life; (4) the phrase “full of grace” in Luke 1:28 is a new name for Mary; (5) Mary’s response to the angel in Luke 1:38—“Let it be to me according to your word”—was an authoritative decree (a fiat) without which the divine plan of God would not have been accomplished; (6) Mary never had any other children; (7) Mary was a “mediatrix” between Jesus and mankind (based on Mary’s role when Jesus turned water into wine in John 2); (8) Mary was mother of Jesus and mother of the church (Redemptoris Mater, 24); (9) Mary received a type of apostolic mission (based on Mary’s presence with the other apostles in Acts 1:12-14); (10) unlike other believers, Mary’s soul and body was taken to heaven immediately at her death.

  • CC 969 - This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation …. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.

  • “There is mediation: Mary places herself between her Son and mankind in the reality of their wants, needs and sufferings. She puts herself “in the middle,” that is to say she acts as a mediatrix not as an outsider, but in her position as mother … Her mediation is thus in the nature of intercession: Mary “intercedes” for mankind” (271, quote from Redemptoris Mater)

  • “By ‘suffering deeply with her only begotten Son and joining herself with her maternal spirit to his sacrifice,’ Mary lovingly consented ‘to the immolation [sacrifice] of the victim to whom she had given birth.’ … “Through faith the Mother shares in the death of her Son, in his redeeming death.” (RM, 18, citing Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, 58).

PROTESTANTS. Protestants and Catholics agree on (1) the virginal conception of Jesus, (2) that Mary was blessed as she believed the words of the angel Gabriel, and (3) that Mary is an example of the obedience of faith. However, because biblical support is lacking or stands in contradiction to the 10 items referenced above, Protestants disagree with each doctrine articulated by the RCC. Several of these are articulated below.


The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) believes that (1) Mary, “full of grace,” was redeemed from the moment of her conception and was thus preserved from the stain of original sin (her immaculate conception); (2) that Mary lived her entire life without sin; (3) that Mary remained a virgin her entire life; (4) that because she was free from sin, Mary was taken to heaven body and soul (her bodily assumption; while the RCC claims that this has been its’ position for centuries, this has been official “tradition” since 1950); (5) prays to Mary “under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix” (CCC 969) and “Queen over all things” (281-282).

  • CCC 493 - By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long.

  • CCC 966 - The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians.

  • CCC 969 - Under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.

  • The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin. (Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854,

  • Finally, the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death. (Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, November 1, 1950,

PROTESTANTS. As noted in the previous chapter, because biblical support is lacking or stands in contradiction to the RCC position, Protestants disagree with the RCC for the following reasons (numbers correspond to the RCC position above). (1 and 2) Scripture states that all humans sin. Because Scripture never specifies that Mary did not sin and because Jesus’s family—which seems most often to include Mary—did not understand and even resisted Him (Mark 3:20-21), Protestants disagree with this RCC teaching (1 Kings 8:46; Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:10–18, 23; 1 John 1:8–10). (3) Joseph “knew her not until she had given birth to a son” (Matt. 1:25; emphasis added). Mary was a virgin until she had given birth to Jesus. Afterwards, Joseph and Mary had other sons, James, Joseph, Judas and Simon, and at least two daughters (Matt. 12:46; 13:55-56; Mark 3:31-35; 6:3; Luke 8:19; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5; Gal. 1:19). (4) Because most Protestants believe that, following death, Christians enter a time of disembodiment as they wait for the final resurrection of their bodies (2 Cor. 5:1–9), and because there is a lack of biblical warrant for Mary’s immaculate assumption, they reject this notion. (5) Scripture uses the names “helper,” “advocate,” and “mediator” for Jesus and the Holy Spirit, never for Mary (1 Tim. 2:5–6). Protestants also find that the RCC teaching of Mary’s central role in Jesus’s death detracts from His redemptive work.


The RCC believes that the saints are: (1) models of holiness and faithful Catholics who “practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace” (holiness of the saints; CCC 828); (2) are interceding for the Catholic faithful on earth and for the souls in purgatory (communion of the saints; 289); (3) can help the Catholic faithful in purgatory get to heaven quicker with their extra acquired merits beyond what they themselves needed (treasury of the saints); (4) the Catholic church on earth can disburse these merits to the Catholic faithful who purchase indulgences in order to open the treasury of merit of Christ and the saints for the remission of sins (CCC 1478).

  • CCC 1478 - An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity.

PROTESTANTS. Protestants disagree with most of these teachings because they lack biblical support. When Scripture refers to the saints, it refers to all Christians (1 Cor. 1:2 – “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”). Alison writes, “Through the gospel, sinful people are saints by divine decree, or they are not saints but lost instead. There is no such thing as sufficient progress toward meriting eternal life” (292). While God the Son and God the Spirit intercede for Christians (Rom. 8:26–27, 34), there is not a single mention of Mary or the saints interceding on behalf of believers in the New Testament. Nor can the notion of praying to Mary or the saints be found. Nor does this idea exist in the first two-hundred years of Church history (292). Because sinful people are declared “not guilty” and “righteous” by God’s divine decree rather than anything that they have done, are doing, or will do, Protestants reject the idea of progress towards meriting eternal life (Eph 2:8-9).


Allison focuses on 4 major challenges that the Catholic Church faces today: (1) the sexual abuse scandal and the numerous ensuing cover-up attempts; (2) the scandal of clerical homosexuality whereby clergy engage in homosexual activity and a gay lifestyle (estimates range from 30 to 50% of the clergy; Pope Francis also confirmed the presence of a “gay lobby” in the Vatican); (3) the ambiguity of Pope Francis toward traditional Catholic doctrines and practices; (4) a lack of priests for the growing number of Catholics (420,000 priests in 1970 to 414,500 in 2017; 303).


John Paul II (1978-2005). John Paul II was an advocate for human rights, freedom, and democracy. His devotion on Mary, Mother of the Redeemed in Redemptoris Mater (March 25, 1987), reaffirmed the RCC traditional doctrines of Mary including her immaculate conception, perpetual virginity, sinlessness, suffering at the cross, and bodily assumption, as well as her titles of Advocate, Benefactress, Helper, Co-Mediatrix. It also confirmed her traditional role as Mother of the Church and of all people. Once when recovering from being shot, he attributed his survival to the intervention of Mary. Finally, John Paul II reaffirmed the Church’s traditional rejection of women to the priesthood and opposition to clerical marriage.

Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013). Pope Benedict XVI’s tenure was characterized by the “Roman” aspect of Roman Catholicism. He led a commission of twelve cardinals to write a new Roman Catholic Catechism. Notably, the catechism updated many issues such as the two movements of the Mass, an inclusivist view of salvation, and the necessity of ecumenical dialogue (309). He was a champion of the relationship between faith and reason as well as the virtues of faith, hope, and love.

Pope Francis (2013-). Pope Francis’s time as pope has been marked by controversy. He affirmed the compatibility of the creation account with evolution. He’s publicly commented on atheists going to heaven because they obeyed “their conscience,” because they were “good,” and because “The Lord has redeemed all of us … Everyone … Even the atheists.” Lastly, Francis made headlines with his declaration that priests have the authority to forgive the sin of “procuring abortion,” which has traditionally been held by the RCC as one of the gravest sins punishable by excommunication.


Some are leaving Protestant churches to join Catholic churches in a search for transcendence in four areas: certainty, history, unity, and authority (316). The Protestant churches they know lack the sense of reverence and robustness that they find attractive in the Roman Catholic Church. “The [Roman Catholic] Church’s historical consciousness contrasts with the temporality of evangelicalism. It provides Protestants who become Catholic with a sense of connectedness to the past” (317). The numerous denominations and divisions that exist within Protestant churches is met with unity and universality in the RCC (united by the Creed, by a common liturgy, structurally organized according to apostolic succession, etc.). Great comfort is found in what they see as the historical certainty and stability, universal unity (catholicity), and strong sense of authority they find present in the RCC.


Alison describes the rationale behind five common Roman Catholic practices.

(1) Indulgences. Indulgences are still an essential part of the RCC. A person can obtain an indulgence by following a prescribed course of action. Then, the church pulls from the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to “obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishment due for their sins” (CCC 1478).

  • See CCC 1471 above for the definition of an indulgence.

  • See CCC 1478 for how an indulgence can be attained.

(2) Abstaining from meat on Friday’s. Canon Law 1983 stipulates that abstinence from meat is to be practiced on all Fridays except for special feast days when they fall on a Friday. These fasts constitute acts of penance. While the observance of this practice has waned, the abstinence from eating meat on Friday’s is a fast that is intended to unite Catholic’s around the world.

(3) The Crucifix. The crucifix (an image of Jesus hanging on the cross) is worn as a reminder of (1) Jesus’s atoning sacrifice for our sins and (2) Jesus’s example of self-denial in carrying one’s cross and suffering in the same way that He did (Matt 16:24; 1 Pet 2:21-25).

(4) The Sign of the Cross (see CCC 2157 below). The sign of the cross serves to (1) mark the Catholic faithful, (2) acknowledge the Trinity (“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit …”), reminds them of Christ’s saving work on the cross, and supports them in their daily struggles. There is a strong biblical (Matt 28:19), theological, and historical basis for acknowledging the Trinity in the sign of the cross. Tertullian, Cyril, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, and Athanasius were some of the early church fathers who mentioned this practice. Martin Luther also approved of the sign of the cross.

  • CCC 2157 - The Christian begins his day, his prayers, and his activities with the Sign of the Cross: “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” The baptized person dedicates the day to the glory of God and calls on the Savior’s grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father. The sign of the cross strengthens us in temptations and difficulties.

(5) Praying the Rosary. The rosary is a string of beads that serves as a counting device for the Catholic faithful to use in an exercise of prayer. One pass through the rosary includes 150 “Hail Mary’s” to Mary, the mother of Jesus, which is done three times (450 Hail Mary’s total; here is a link for “How to Pray the Rosary”).


Alison describes three misconceptions that Catholics have of Protestants.

(1) The Five Solas. There are several misconceptions that many Catholics have of the Protestant five solas (sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), sola fidei (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone). Sola Scriptura. Catholics misunderstand the Protestant principle of sola Scriptura to mean that there is no authority outside of Scripture and that tradition is to be outright rejected. This misconception often stems from misinformed Protestant’s saying such things as, “no creed but the Bible.” Contrary to this misconception, however, Protestant’s (1) affirm and embrace the early church creeds (Nicene-Constantinopolitan, Apostles’, Athanasian, Chalcedonian); (2) affirm and embrace the early church councils—Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon; (3) stand with the early church which condemned heresy. Again, the Protestant Reformation was a protest against the abuses of the RCC. The reformers desired a reform to the purity of the early church which derived its ultimate authority from Scripture. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura stands against the Roman Catholic tri-part authority structure of Scripture, Tradition, and the magisterium. While Protestants reject the capital T Tradition of the RCC, they affirm and embrace tradition that is chastened by the authority of Scripture. Sola Fidei and Sola Gratia. Many Catholics misunderstand sola fidei and sola gratia to mean that Protestants have no place for good works. However, what Protestants deny is that good works can contribute anything to salvation (Eph 2:8-9). Salvation is by God’s grace alone through His gift of faith alone for the glory of God alone. When someone is born again, they can begin to do good works because they are now dead to sin and alive in Christ (Eph 2:10). Protestants are free to do works that are indeed good and pleasing to God because they have been saved, not in order that they might be saved. Good works are a fruit of having been saved, not a root that is needed to be saved. Protestants believe that the RCC view of meriting or in any way contributing to one’s salvation stands in direct contradiction to the clear teaching of Scripture and minimizes the glory of God alone in salvation (soli Deo Gloria; Eph 2:1-10). Thus, with sola fidei and sola gratia (and solus Christus), the Protestant Reformation protested the Roman Catholic notion of faith plus works as contributing to or meriting one’s salvation.

Protestants are free to do works that are indeed good and pleasing to God because they have been saved, not in order that they might be saved. Good works are a fruit of having been saved, not a root that is needed to be saved.

(2) Individualistic Conscience. When Catholics look at the Protestant tradition over the past 500 years, they see an elevated view of the individual conscience that has led to the fracturing of both churches and denominations alike. Indeed, Protestant history has been fraught with division over the last five-hundred years. However, Protestants believe that it is not the individual conscience or Protestantism itself that led to these divisions. The reformers sought to reform the RCC to the teachings of Scripture. Because the RCC rejected this rebuke, divisions ensued. The aim of the reformers whose individual consciences were bound to and driven by the Word of God was to reform the Roman Catholic Church from the inside, not to start a revolution.

(3) Interpretative Chaos. Finally, Catholics see an interpretive chaos in the different Protestant traditions that leads to divisions that are easily solved in the Catholic tradition that submits to the single interpretation of the magisterium. Alison colorfully illustrates the horror Catholics experience when visiting small groups and hearing a question such as, “What does this verse mean to you?” While the variety of interpretations are rightfully disconcerting, Protestants reject the idea that the individual reader or an individual group is the final interpreter of Scripture. In contrast, because God is the single divine author of Scripture, Protestants believe that (1) Scripture has one authorial intent, (2) that this intent can be made clear by the Holy Spirit, (3) that the validity of intent can be achieved, and (4) that Scripture itself is its best interpreter (clearer parts explain the parts that are less clear). Also, while some may find the single and final interpretation of the Magisterium as attractive and unifying, Protestants do not. Because Protestants believe that the Magisterium has misinterpreted, distorted, and inserted their own ideas into Scripture, they reject this single “interpretation” as better.


Alison concludes his work with three ways to talk to Catholics about the Gospel. (1) Love. First, he emphasizes the need to be (or become) the right kind of people. He encourages those who are former Catholics to resist expressions of resentment. Such expressions have the potential to destroy relationships. Instead, he encourages the cultivation of strong and loving relationships with loved ones who are Catholic. (2) Gospel Reading Groups. Second, Allison suggests reading groups with Catholics. These groups study the Gospels in three steps: (1) they read the gospel text from the mass that day two times; (2) they pray for an understanding of the text; (3) they study the text together. The study time is broken up into three sections: observation, interpretation, and application. (3) The Gospel as the Hope for All. Finally, he reminds the reader that the gospel is the only hope of any person, whether they are Roman Catholic, Muslim, Protestant, Atheist, Hindu, etc. Instead of quick gospel presentations that call for an immediate response, Alison encourages “significant exposure to the person and work of Christ on their behalf” (346).

Alison’s concludes his work with an emphasis on the affirmation: “Faith comes from hearing” (Rom. 10:11). He writes, “In conjunction with the Holy Spirit, the gospel ignites faith, convicts of sin, exposes the futility of religious practices, softens hardened hearts, and brings about the new birth. … When sharing the gospel with Catholics, the final question I ask them before encouraging them to turn to Christ is, ‘Have you ceased to rely on all your own efforts to earn God’s love and forgiveness?’ My question highlights that doing good works, going to Mass, trusting in our baptism and participation in the other sacraments, and more, still expresses reliance on our self-righteousness and our good works to prepare us for salvation. … Central to our concern is the simple formula ‘faith + ________’ (fill in the blank: going to Mass, doing good works, depending on our baptism, relying on the infusion of sacramental grace, praying the rosary, and more) cancels faith and renders salvation null and void” (346-347).

‘Have you ceased to rely on all your own efforts to earn God’s love and forgiveness?’



I hope that this summary of Alison's work has provided you with a brief, objective, and accurate primer on the formal teachings of the RCC. I also hope that you will consider purchasing Alison’s book, 40 Questions About Roman Catholicism to gain a more thorough understanding of the RCC. May the Lord use this work to stimulate conversations that are necessary, honest, and God-honoring.



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