What is the saving Gospel?

Some time ago our USC apologist Wes Hunt offered a point by point rebuttal to Protestant pastor Matt Slick's "Questions for Catholics." In Part 2 of this series, Wes Hunt will tackle the heart of Slick's objections to the Catholic faith, centering on the question, what is the Gospel? The process of asking a list of "questions" is a common Protestant method for leading Catholics to doubt their faith and give credence to the claims of Protestantism. As Wes Hunt will show, not only are the questions themselves founded on misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the Scriptures, but even the mode of questioning itself is tilted unfairly against the Catholic by giving the false impression of a preponderance of evidence. This method of questioning is not meant to facilitate a sincere search for truth, but rather its purpose is to lead the Catholic along to a predetermined answer.

The Protestant Matt Slick will be designated by MS. Our own Wes Hunt will be WH

What is the saving Gospel? Are you keeping the commandments of God? Are you doing what is necessary to be saved? In Roman Catholicism that which is necessary for salvation includes the church (CCC 846), baptism (CCC 1257), penance (CCC 980), sacraments (CCC 1129), service and witness to the faith (CCC 1816), keeping the ten commandments (CCC 2036 and 2070), and detachment from riches (CCC 2556). If you are keeping the commandments of God, do you also go to confession? Since it is possible for you to lose your salvation in Roman Catholicism, are you doing enough good works to keep yourself saved?

WH: Truth be told, every Catholic should be able to answer this simple question: what is the gospel? Or more specifically, what is the true gospel? The reason we call this a “simple question,” is because both Catholics and Protestants know the go-to verses that clearly express what the gospel is. Unfortunately, there is a world of difference in how the fruits of the gospel are applied to, maintained, and benefit a person. For example, Reformed Protestant Matt Slick believes that all one need do to be saved is a) confess Christ; b) repent; and c) believe.  Once the individual fulfills these criteria, he can be said to be “saved.” Presumably, Matt gathers repentance as a necessary criteria for justification based on passages like Mt 3:2; 4:17, Mk 1:15, Ac 2:38, and so on. Likewise, passages such as Jn 3:18; 4:36; 5:24; 6:47, appear to indicate belief as a necessary criterion. The same can be said for confessing and acknowledging that Jesus is Lord (Mt 10:32; Lk 12:8; Rm 10:9), which, for the record, falls under the Churches command to “witness to the faith” (CCC 1816).

Unfortunately, despite Matt’s recognition of the necessity for confession, belief and repentance, he has failed to recognize, whether intentionally or unintentionally, a number of other factors at play in one’s justification. For example, in regard to the sacraments, Mk 16:16 Jesus says that “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,” indicating the necessity of both belief and baptism for salvation (cf. Jn 3:5; Ac 2:38; 22:16; 1 Co 6:11; 1 Pt 3:19-21). Moreover, Jn 6:54 shows that salvation is also contingent upon eating Christ’s flesh and drinking His blood (“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day”). But that requirement is also left out of Matt’s gospel. The sacrament of penance was instituted in Jn 20:21-23, where Jesus gives His apostles the charism of forgiving and retaining sins. Obviously, forgiveness is necessary for salvation, so it goes without saying that this sacrament would be necessary for salvation.

As for keeping the commandments, Jesus specifies that this is how we are to “remain in His love” (Jn 15:10), implying that, should we fail to keep such commands, we run the risk of falling out of His love. In Rm 2:13, Paul specifies that it is the “doers of the law who will be justified.” Not much ambiguity in that statement.

Regarding falling away from the faith, Matt believes that once a person places his faith alone in Christ, there is nothing he can do to jeopardize his right-standing before God. Only problem is, practically the entire New Testament is loaded with verses teaching otherwise, save for perhaps Paul’s letter to Philemon. In 2 Tm 2:12, for instance, Paul says that “If we deny Him, He will deny us”; Gal 5:1-5 indicates that a believer can “fall from grace”; Rm 11:18-22 says we can be “cut off” from Christ (cf. Jn 15); there is a risk in being “blotted out” of the book of life (Ap 22:19); engaging in grave sins without repenting of them will exclude one from the kingdom (cf. Eph. 5: 3-5; 1Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19, Rev. 21:6-8). The list goes on.

If you hadn’t noticed, Matt lists these things we believe are necessary for salvation as if they are abhorrent, impossible things for God to ask of us. The lengthy list provided by Matt is designed to bring out the “wow” factor from the individual questioned, causing him to doubt whether he, or anyone else for that matter, can possibly carry all that out. Matt’s mode of questioning makes it seem like a lot, but Matt has never had to live under the Mosaic Law before, which touts a daunting 613 some commands from God. Suffice it to say, scripture indicates that God’s commands are not burdensome (1 Jn 5:3), but Matt wants you to believe they are too much to handle. 

Unfortunately, because of Matt’s deep, unrelenting devotion to his mentor, John Calvin, he cannot read scripture without filtering everything he reads through his Calvin-Goggles. Everything must pass through Calvin’s screen test, and thus the most simple of verses automatically become the most complicated for guys like Matt to deal with. So, if Matt has any questions or concerns with our criteria for salvation, we’d be happy to answer any questions/objections he brings to the floor.

Click here for Part 1, "Slick's Not-So-Slick Questions for Catholics"