Jimmy Akin outlines the Catholic Church’s teachings on Protestants, salvation through invincible ignorance, and mixed-faith marriages.
Host: Dan in Las Vegas Nevada, listening on Immaculate Heart Radio, you are on with Jimmy Akin.
Caller: Okay, thank you very much. The question I have today is, being that you of course are a Catholic station, I hear things that are kind of a mixed signal to me, from time to time, and, you know, I want to be saved more than anything else, it’s like if I miss Heaven then I’ve missed it all. The question I have is, occasionally statements…well first of all, statements will be said in a negative manner, let’s say somebody’s got a daughter that wants this Catholic, and they want to start dating a Protestant boy, and that’s really, you know, put down and said, “Nope, no, you can’t do that, and that’s wrong,” and on and on, but I’ll hear things again at another time regarding Protestants, they’ll say well you know they may be okay.
So my question is, I guess, is, if Protestants may be all right, what is the plan of salvation that the Catholics believe in that makes it to where Protestants may be saved?
Jimmy: Okay. Just for my own clarity, and other people in the audience who may be wondering, do you come from a Protestant background yourself, sir?
Jimmy: Okay. Well, the Catholic understanding is that Protestants are our brothers and sisters in Christ. So all Christians who profess faith in Christ and who are properly baptized are Christians and were put into a relationship with Jesus that Scripture describes in terms of being members of his Body. Different people have different degrees or forms of incorporation into His Body, though. And the goal is for everyone to be fully incorporated into Jesus, so we’re united with Him in the most ways possible. So that includes things like having the fullness of the Christian faith, understanding and accepting all of Jesus’s teachings. It also includes things like receiving all of the Sacraments that he would have us receive. Not just baptism, but the other Sacraments as well, and in the Catholic view there are seven sacraments.
It also includes being fully united with His Church, because Jesus said, “I will build my Church–” singular, not plural– “and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” So Jesus established a Church in the first century, and it’s continued down to the present day. And we also know that that Church is a visible Church, because he gave it leaders, like Saint Peter and the other Apostles, and the other ministers that they appointed to lead the Church in their absence, and so there has been a single visible communion of believers in Jesus that’s existed all the way from the first century to today.
And if you look around and say, “Well, ok, who would that be,” the Catholic Church fits that description, and other churches such as those who come from the Protestant community, they don’t fit that. They still share many elements of grace, and have many wonderful aspects about them; they they honor Scripture, they may have a slight difference about, you know, what some of the books of the Bible should be, but they still honor God’s Word, they believe in Jesus, they believe in the Holy Trinity, they have a valid Sacrament of Baptism, and they have a lot of elements of grace and sanctification. And so that would explain the language that you’ve heard on this station, whether on this program or other programs, that, you know, talks about our Protestant friends in positive terms.
At the same time, we have to acknowledge that, you know, there are some differences between Protestants and Catholics, and from a Catholic perspective, those differences aren’t a good thing, just like, from a Protestant perspective, the differences between Protestant Catholics wouldn’t be a good thing. You know, Jesus wants us to all agree, and since we have some different doctrines and some different practices on some fundamental matters, that obviously isn’t something that’s pleasing to Jesus. So the question then becomes, “What if someone knowingly refuses to accept something that Jesus willed us to have?”
If someone knew that the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus and that He wanted all of his followers to be united to it, and they said, “You know, I’m just not going to do that. I know Jesus wants me to do it, I know that he prayed for Christian unity on the night of the Last Supper, I know that’s a high on his priority list, but I’m just not going to do that,” well, then you’d have to question whether that person actually has a saving relationship with God, because he’s turning his back on something that’s fundamental and very important to Jesus, and therefore it looks, at least from outward appearances, like he’s cutting himself off from the means of grace that Jesus gave us. And so that person would be in spiritual jeopardy.
But that’s a different position than a person who doesn’t say that. You could have someone who, let’s say, was raised in a Protestant community, may have heard that Catholics believed Jesus founded the Catholic Church, but they don’t KNOW that; that hasn’t been proven to them, they haven’t seen sufficient evidence for that, and so through no fault of their own, they’ve never joined the Catholic Church–but they would if they knew that this was Jesus’s Church.
I know a lot of people who are in the Protestant community who would say, “Oh yeah, if I was convinced the Catholic Church was the one founded by Jesus, I would join it today.” Well, that person is not deliberately cutting himself off from from what Jesus would have him experience. He’s open to what Jesus would have him experience, and he’s already experiencing many elements of grace and sanctification. But he’s not deliberately refusing to do something he knows Jesus wants him to do. And so that person, even though they haven’t been fully incorporated into the Catholic Church, they’re still in a saving relationship with God. And so, if someone is not Catholic, through no fault of their own, but they’re otherwise responding to God’s grace, then they’ll be saved.
But if a person, whether they’re Catholic or not, refuses to do something of fundamental importance, like it could be not joining the Catholic Church, could be leaving, it could be any number of other grave things, like go out and commit murder or adultery; well, you’re deliberately defying the will of Christ in a fundamental matter there, and that will result in you being lost unless you repent. So everybody, both Protestant and Catholic, needs to be open to the grace that God wants us to have, and needs to be willing to respond to the call of Christ in all of these very fundamental matters.
In terms of the language that you mentioned about some problems when a Catholic is dating a non-Catholic, well, the Church actually–I don’t know what show you were listening to, and so I don’t know what was said, but the Catholic Church acknowledges it’s quite possible for Catholics and non-Catholics to date and to marry, it’s a situation called a mixed marriage, and there are special provisions in the Catholic Church for handling mixed marriages. It’s something that happens all the time, and the Church acknowledges that it can be profitable and they can have successful marriages.
But there are also some practical concerns, because–and this is something I can speak to personally, because before I was a Catholic, I was in a mixed marriage–and there’s a spiritual barrier that’s there between you and your spouse when you’re in a mixed marriage, because you don’t agree, at least fully, you don’t agree fully on religion, which is the most important issue in life. And not being united with your spouse on that most important issue in life–not being fully united–is a source of pain, at least if you take your religion seriously. And it can also pose practical difficulties.
And so after I became Catholic and after my wife passed on, I said for myself, for practical reasons and for these reasons, “I’m not going to go into another mixed marriage. If I marry again, it will be to a Catholic woman.” Because I’d experienced the pain of taking my religion seriously and being in a mixed marriage. And so the Church acknowledges that there can be successful mixed marriages, it allows for mixed marriages, but there are also some practical challenges to be met in those situations that I can understand why parents would, you know, tell their children, “You know, I’d really rather you date somebody who’s of your own faith, so that you can be spared these issues.”