The Gospel That Saves |

Hunt, Dave

To gain wider acceptance of the original ECT ("Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium," March 29, 1994), nineteen evangelicals (Bill Bright, Charles Colson, Richard Land, Max Lucado, Os Guinness, J.I. Packer, et al.) and fifteen Catholics (Jesuit Avery Dulles, Peter Kreeft, Ralph Martin, Richard John Neuhaus, et al.) have now signed ECT2. It would have us believe that evangelicals and Catholics agree on the gospel.

On the one hand, the document is without significance. First of all, the fifteen Catholic signers represent neither their Church nor its 1 billion members. There is a wide range of belief. Many Catholic priests and nuns and leading theologians are into every New Age heresy from mind science to Hinduism and Buddhism.

Secondly, the official teaching of the Church of Rome (which claims to be infallible and therefore cannot repent of its errors), and the daily practice of Catholics (who look to their Church for salvation, however it defines and offers it) are untouched by ECT2 and remain as far from the biblical gospel as ever.

Thirdly, the document itself admits that many "interrelated questions that require further and urgent exploration" remain. They include among others "the meaning of baptismal regeneration [a Catholic is "born again" in infant baptism and there is no salvation without baptism]; the Eucharist [Christ is being perpetually immolated on Catholic altars as an ongoing sacrifice for sin in denial of the full efficacy of His once-for-all sacrifice on the cross], and sacramental grace ["the merits and graces" Christ won on the cross are "conferred gradually and continually" through the sacraments, i.e., salvation is an ongoing process rather than an accomplished fact]; the historic uses of the language of justification as it relates to imputed and transformative righteousness [the Catholic must acquire enough righteousness to merit heaven and is always in danger of losing it, thus rejecting the truth that God "justifieth the ungodly" on the merits of Christ (Rom:4:5)]; diverse understandings of merit, reward [for the Catholic salvation is assisted by works]; purgatory [in addition to Christ's suffering on the cross, one must personally suffer for sin in order to be purified for heaven], and indulgences [one can suffer for others, and the wearing of a medal or scapular or saying Hail Marys or a Mass said in honor of the dead can reduce purgatorial suffering]; Marian devotion and the assistance of the saints in the life of salvation...." Every one of these points denies the very unity which is professed by ECT2!

On the other hand, the document is a valuable aid to Satan in his preparation of the world and a false church for Antichrist. It gives the appearance of agreement when there is none. ECT2 creates compromise by pretending that the issues separating evangelicals and Catholics are not serious, when actually they mark the divide between heaven and hell. Typical of the contradictions inherent in the document is the statement, "we commit ourselves to evangelizing everyone....Evangelicals must speak the gospel to Catholics and Catholics to Evangelicals...'working hard to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace' ...." If evangelicals and Catholics are both saved and united in the Spirit, then what does "evangelizing" mean?

The Judaizers of Galatians could have signed a similar document. In fact, theirs would have had a much shorter list of issues that "require further and urgent exploration": the relationship of the Law to salvation. The Judaizers affirmed that Christ died for our sins, but they added that to be saved one must also "be circumcised, and keep the law" (Acts:15:1, 5, 24). Instead of signing an agreement with the Judaizers as though their heresy were merely something for "further...exploration," Paul cursed them for preaching another gospel (Gal:1:6-8). But ECT2 makes it seem that the things upon which we differ are inconsequential. ECT2 is an even more deceptive document than its predecessor!

Paul said that "the gospel of the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Rom:1:16). He also called it "the which also ye are saved" (1 Cor:15:1-2); and "the gospel of your salvation" (Eph:1:13). Clearly, from these and other verses, salvation comes only through believing the gospel. Christ told His disciples to go into "all the world, and preach the gospel" (Mk 16:15), a gospel which the Bible precisely defines.

Salvation has nothing to do with a church, whether evangelical or Catholic. It comes by the unchangeable, "everlasting" (Rv 14:6) "gospel of God" (Rom:1:1; 15:16; 2 Cor:11:7; 1 Thes:2:2, 8, 9; 1 Tim:1:11; 1 Pt 4:17). Salvation comes on God's terms and by His grace and we negotiate the gospel neither with God nor with one another. "The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world" (1 Jn:4:14). Salvation is a work of God and His Son. We either believe it or reject it. We don't "dialogue" about it.

It is also called the "gospel of Christ," (Mk 1:1; Rom:1:16; 15:19; 1 Cor:9:12, 18; 2 Cor:4:4; 9:13; 10:14; Gal:1:7; Philippians:1:27; 1 Thes:3:2; 2 Thes:1:8). He is the Savior, and salvation is His work, not ours, as the angels said: "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11). Paul specifies the gospel that saves: "that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures" (1 Cor:15:3-4). "I am the door," said Christ: "by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved" (Jn:10:9).

The gospel contains nothing about baptism, good works, church membership or attendance, tithing, sacraments or rituals, diet or clothing. If we add anything to the gospel, we have perverted it and thus come under Paul's anathema in Galatians:1:8,9!

The gospel is all about what Christ has done. It says nothing about what Christ must yet do, because the work of our redemption is finished. "Christ died for our sins." He isn't still dying, as Catholicism maintains. Christ triumphantly declared, "It is finished" (Jn:19:30)! Nor does it say anything about what we must do, because we can do nothing. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us" (Titus:3:5); "for by grace are ye saved, through faith...the gift of God [is] not of works, lest any man should boast..." (Eph:2:8-9).

Instead of works, the gospel requires faith. It is the power of God unto salvation to those who believe. "Now to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Rom:4:5)..."that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (Jn:3:16).

We could hardly make the Catholic position clearer than by quoting New York's Cardinal O'Connor: "Church teaching is that I don't know, at any given moment, what my eternal future will be. I can hope, pray, do my very best—but I still don't know. Pope John Paul II doesn't know absolutely that he will go to heaven, nor does Mother Teresa of Calcutta..." (The New York Times, Feb. 1, 1990, B4). Nor does the average Catholic know, because his Church has taught him that he can't know he is saved. Official Catholic dogma could not be changed no matter how many ECTs were signed—even by the Pope himself.

Christ says, "I give unto them [My sheep] eternal life; and they shall never perish" (Jn:10:28). Catholicism rejects that offer and instead offers continual installments of grace toward eternal life through the priesthood and sacraments of the Church, through wearing scapulars, earning indulgences, saying Hail Marys and praying to the saints. Such a pathway to heaven makes Christ a liar.

The gospel is a two-edged sword. It declares, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life." The same verse also says, "and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (Jn:3:36). Right here we come to the most difficult part of the gospel to accept: that those who do not believe it are eternally lost—no matter what good works they do.

The reasons for that fact are grounded in both God's love and His justice. God loves us enough to correct us and to stand firm on what He says. Tragically, many parents mistake sentimentality for love and do not mean what they say, and thereby train their children in disobedience. "If you do that once more, I'll spank you [or some other threat]," says Mommy. The child does it again and nothing happens. What Mommy says means nothing. But God says what He means and means what He says.

God's justice requires that the infinite penalty for sin must be paid. In payment we would be separated from God forever, so He became a man through the virgin birth to pay the penalty for us. No one can complain against God. He has proved His love by doing all He could for our salvation. He has himself paid the penalty and on that basis can be both "just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Rom:3:26).

Christ pleaded in the Garden, "if it be possible [i.e., if there is any other way mankind can be saved], let this cup pass from me" (Mat:26:39). We know that there is no other way or God would not have required His beloved Son to bear the full brunt of His wrath against sin. That men nailed Christ to the cross would only condemn us. But on the cross, when man was doing his worst to his Creator, Christ paid the penalty for our sins in full.

"How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation" (Heb:2:3)? There is no escape because there is no other way of salvation! Only if we accept that payment on our behalf can we be saved. "[T]here is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts:4:12); "what must I do to be saved?...Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts:16:30-31).

To "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" includes who He is and what He has done. Jesus said, "...Ye are from beneath; I am from above...if ye believe not that I AM [this is God's name, Jahweh], ye shall die in your sins" (Jn:8:23-24). Jesus himself says we must believe that He is God, for He is; and no one less than God could save us. We must believe that the sinless One "died for our sins," and was buried; and that He rose bodily from the grave. Only by believing this gospel are we saved. So says God's Word.

Why couldn't even a Mother Teresa get to heaven by good works? Because we are all sinners; and because once we have broken one of God's commandments we "[are] guilty of all" (James:2:10); and "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight" (Rom:3:20). Keeping the law perfectly from now on could never make up for having already broken it.

For God to grant salvation by any other means than faith in Christ alone would be an insult to the One whom the Father insisted had to endure His wrath as the sacrifice for sin. Furthermore, God would be breaking His own code of justice and going back on His Word. No, even God himself could not save earth's most notable "saint." Christ's blood avails only for repentant sinners.

In expressing concern in these pages for many heresies, we have tried to confine ourselves to those which impact the gospel and the salvation of souls. It is because the apostles in Jerusalem "walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel" that Paul rebuked them (Gal:2:14). Tragically, the gospel is now being challenged and compromised by leading evangelicals! Yes, evangelical leaders who preach the gospel also compromise it. On January 21, 1997 Larry King interviewed Billy Graham on his program:

KING: What do you think of the other [churches] Mormonism? Catholicism? Other faiths within the Christian concept?

GRAHAM: Oh, I think I have a wonderful fellowship with all of them. For example....

KING: You're comfortable with Salt Lake City. You're comfortable with the Vatican?

GRAHAM: I am very comfortable with the Vatican. I have been to see the Pope several times. In fact, the night the day that he was inaugurated, made Pope, I was preaching in his cathedral in Krakow. I was his guest...[and] when he was over Columbia, South Carolina...he invited me on the platform to speak with him. I would give one talk, and he would give the other...but I was two-thirds of the way to China....

KING: You like this Pope?

GRAHAM: I like him very much.... He and I agree on almost everything.

KING: Are you...are you comfortable with Judaism?

GRAHAM: Very comfortable....In New York, they have had me to the Rabbinical Council with them and Rabbi Tannenbaum, who was a great friend...he gave me more advice and more counsel, and I depended on him constantly, theologically and spiritually and in every way....

KING: Mr. Graham, if you had 30 seconds during the halftime at the Super Bowl, what would you tell the audience?"

GRAHAM: I would tell them to...think about another game...the game of life, and to be sure they're on God's side, that God loves them and God is interested in them, and they can pray to God, and He'll answer their prayers.

Billy Graham has preached the gospel, souls have been saved, but on this occasion he offered a false gospel without Christ or the Cross—as he did when interviewed by Robert Schuller on "The Hour of Power" some months later. Paul said he had been "put in trust with the gospel" (1 Thes:2:4). So have each of us. Let us be certain that we keep that trust for the sake of the lost and in honor of our Lord who paid the full price for man's redemption! TBC