Roman Catholics and Evangelicals

Agreements and Differences

Last updated Wed Jan 31 23:23:51 EST 2001

Revelation and Infallibility

This week we discover a big reason why Roman Catholics and Evangelicals are still separated. Nevertheless, we start with a lot of common ground. We all believe that God reveals Himself to us, both generally and specifically.

General revelation is what we can know about God through nature. "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse." Rom 1:20.

Our knowledge of nature is gained primarily through the tradition of the fathers (e.g. Galileo, Newton, Einstein) and confirmed by our own investigations. The ultimate authority that judges a theory of nature is the universe as it is itself.

Special revelation is what God has specifically said to us, intervening and even stepping into the natural world to do so. "God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds." Heb 1:1-2

We all agree that the Old Testament preserves what God has spoken to the fathers by the prophets. The result of God speaking to us by His Son is the Tradition of the Church - the teaching of Christ and the Apostles. The argument is over how this Tradition is preserved and delivered to you and me.

The Magisterium

The Catholic position says that the Church preserves and interprets the Tradition of Christ and the Apostles. The Church has preserved the Tradition in the form of the New Testament as well as Ecumenical Councils and Papal Dogmas. "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you." John 14:26.

For Catholics, this applies to the Church, though it was spoken to the Apostles. This teaching and remembering authority is called the Magisterium. A Catholic learns about God primarily from the tradition of the fathers (e.g. Augustine, Aquinas) and confirms this in his own walk with God. The ultimate authority for judging any theology is the Catholic Church.

The Magisterium does not mean that the Church receives new Revelation, or invents new doctrine. The Magisterium preserves and clarifies the Tradition of Christ and the Apostles. Because of this, no Papal Dogma can contradict Scripture or previous Dogmas.

Sola Scriptura

The Evangelical position says that John 14:26 applies to the Apostles. (Paul is included by virtue of speaking face to face with the risen Christ.) They preserved this Tradition by writing it down.

An Evangelical learns about God primarily through the tradition of the fathers (e.g. Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin) and confirms this in his own walk with God. The ultimate authority for judging any theology is the Scripture.

The Scripture refers to the autographa - the original manuscripts written by the Apostles. We don't have any of these manuscripts. God has preserved the original text (through the instrument of the Church) in the form of over 5000 copies - all essentially the same. (Modern textual criticism tries to get a better idea of the original by working out a mutation tree for the changes.)

The Latin Vulgate and the King James Version

Around 405 AD, Saint Jerome saw a need for a translation of the Scripture in the language of the common (vulgar) people. The common language at that time was Latin. About a century before the reformation, the Latin Vulgate had attained a status rivaled only by the English King James Version today.

Over time, the common Latin of the various regions had become the European languages of today. The Latin Vulgate was unintelligible to the less educated, but traditionalists condemned the new translations.

For Protestants, making Scripture available to all was essential to Sola Scriptura. Eventually, this needed reform was brought about through authorized channels in the Roman Catholic Church as well. Today there are fine authorized Catholic translations into many languages. Now history mirrors itself as some Protestant sects condemn all translations except the KJV Bible.

What Must I Know to be Saved?

Roman Catholics and Evangelicals agree that general revelation alone is not sufficient to save anyone. Evangelicals claim that the Scripture alone is sufficient for salvation. Catholics claim that while the Scripture might be materially sufficient (it contains the Gospel), it is not formally sufficient. To properly understand and act on the Gospel requires the Magisterium of the Church.

How then can Protestants be saved? "God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9. Catholics believe that anyone who believes and acts on the little truth that he has, will be given more grace. Eventually, they will come to know the true God, and the Son whom He has sent. Those who are on this path of Grace will be saved, even if they do not come to a full knowledge of the truth available in the Roman Catholic Church in this life, for "he that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out" John 6:37.

No Agreement in Sight

To the Evangelical way of thinking, Catholics are guilty of adding to the Gospel. To the Catholic way of thinking, Evangelicals are guilty of subtracting from the Gospel. These are both serious errors (See Revelation 22:18-19). But while we are holding fast to the light which we have, we must continue in Charity, "For by this will all men know that you are My disciples, by your love one for another." John 13:35. Creative Commons License
This work by Stuart David Gathman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.