The Catholic Church — Is There Salvation Outside the Church?

Question from a Site Viewer
I was reading some information on the Internet today, and I ran across some quotes that supposedly show the Catholic church believes there is no salvation for those outside the church. Is this true? If it is, what do you believe should be our response to this as Christians?

Tim’s Answer
The position you state concerning the Catholic Church was the long-held view of the church. The Roman church repeatedly had stated that outside of the church there was no salvation. This view, however, is not presently the official view of the church. In the second Vatican Council the view was moderated in a significant way. In the Decree on Ecumenism, the church said:

It follows that the separated Churches and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church.

Since that time, Pope Benedict XVI, in 2000 while he was still a cardinal, reaffirmed the teaching of the second Vatican Council with respect to other Christian communities. The Roman church teaches that there is salvation in other Christian communities, but that the fullness of the life in Christ only exists in the Roman church. The Roman church only recognizes two true churches (the Roman Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church) but recognizes that there are other Christian communities in which the Spirit of God works.

In 2007, Cardinal Levada, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the same position that Pope Benedict XVI formerly held, explained this and more in a question and answer format that you can find here.

You ask what our response should be to the position of the Roman Catholic Church. In my view, our response should be to focus our eyes on Jesus Christ and show the grace and presence of His life in us to all people, including those in the Roman Catholic Church. Our calling is to lead people to Him, and this includes people both within our own churches as well as those in other churches and those outside the Christian faith community. I certainly do not agree with the Roman Church’s position that it is the one true church and I believe that its claim to apostolic succession has less merit for it than the claim by the Jews in Jesus’ time to being descendants of Abraham. Yet I believe that there are members of the true church within the Roman Church just as there are in many other Christian groups. The church, the body of Christ, is present wherever His Spirit has regenerated souls. And to the extent that individuals in the Roman Catholic Church follow in the steps of Jesus, they are part of His church. To the extent that individuals, including the popes, do not, they have no more claim to the church of Christ than any pagan does. The church does not save, whether it is the Roman Catholic Church, an Orthodox Church, a Lutheran Church, a Baptist Church, a Christian Church, or any number of other churches. There is only one Savior and His name is Jesus Christ.

I have encountered some Protestant groups that also assert a very closed view of the body of Christ; that one must be a member of their group to be part of the right group with God. My attitude and response to them is the same as with the Roman Catholic Church. I do not worry about what people teach on this subject, as they are not the judge. I think of the passage in Luke 9:49-50 where the Apostle John said that he saw someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name and the apostles forbade that person from doing so because he was not following with the disciples. Jesus answered that the one who is not against us is for us. There are those outside of our little groups who are part of the greater fellowship of Jesus Christ. We do well to remember that it is His church, composed of all whom His Spirit has regenerated. And we are highly privileged to have a part in His church.

I trust that this will help.

May the Lord Jesus continue to guide and bless you.

a fellow pilgrim,

tim

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