Pro-life organizations are notorious for their association with the Roman Catholic church. Look no further than the recent popularity of Unplanned, a movie about Abby Johnson’s experience as the former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic and her transition into pro-life ministry. Abby Johnson is not only the new darling of the pro-life movement; she is proudly Catholic and has talked about her conversion out of a Baptist and Episcopalian background. Johnson is only one of many Catholics at the forefront of pro-life ministry.
Earlier this year, I resigned my participation with the pregnancy resource center at which I volunteered after a disagreement with a Catholic volunteer over the nature of the gospel. In a nutshell, I was told that we should be treating Roman Catholics as members of the larger body of Christ. The staff’s argument was that a belief in the Triune nature of God was enough to mark someone as a Christian. Sure, they had included in their statement of the gospel the importance of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, but I was told this pivotal point was not to be pressed in conversations with Catholic volunteers or clients.
This is Mere Christianity, a new movement that seeks to whittle Christianity down to its most basic building blocks. Doctrine doesn’t matter. The nature of justification, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, the transformative power of God’s sanctifying work in us−don’t you know none of that matters if you simply believe in the Trinity and Christ’s resurrection?
Salvation by Grace Alone through Faith Alone
How far are we willing to go to save the unborn? Before you pick up your signs and storm the sidewalks of your local Planned Parenthood, let me make myself clear. My question for Christians in pro-life ministry is really this: Is it enough to end the practice of abortion by any means necessary, even if that means undermining the gospel message? It should be obvious to us that any Christian ministry must start with the gospel as its primary mission (Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19). Who then should we partner with in ministry? Fellow believers.
“Peace is not to be purchased by the sacrifice of truth.”John Calvin, Tracts and Treatises
Should we partner with Roman Catholics? Are they fellow believers? The real question is not whether there are true Christians within the Roman Catholic church. It is possible there are people who attend Catholic churches who believe in the truth of the gospel−that they are saved by grace alone through faith alone and not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9). But is this what the Roman Catholic church teaches? Is a faithful follower of the Roman Catholic church (one who understands and affirms the doctrines of Roman Catholicism) holding to a Biblical soteriology? Unequivocally, the answer to both questions is no.
Are Roman Catholics simply Protestants with the addition of smells and bells? At the Council of Trent, Rome gave its response to the Reformation. Rome argued that faith was the start of justification, the jumping off point if you will, but only accomplished through the sacraments (the works of baptism, penance, communion, etc.). In one hand they held faith and grace, in the other the sacraments. One could not be justified before God without both. The Roman Catholic church has even gone so far as to call the priest an “Alter Christus”, literally “another Christ”. The Roman Catholic doctrine of justification espoused in the Council of Trent was in direct opposition to the Reformers who affirmed justification was through the imputed righteousness of Christ and not through works (2 Corinthians 5:21).
“The faith of the church must be tried by God’s word, and not God’s word by the church; neither yet my faith.”Lady Jane Grey
In Galatians 5, Paul expresses his deep concern that the church would stray from the true gospel. In Galatia, a group of Judaizers were influencing Christians, and there was pressure to blend Jewish custom with their new beliefs. Paul was emphatic that if the Galatians accepted circumcision as a necessary component of justification, they would be “under obligation to keep the whole Law” (5:3). He goes farther still in saying that those seeking to be justified by anything other than faith alone have been “severed from Christ” and have “fallen from grace” (5:4). Severed!
It is not enough for a Catholic to affirm the triune nature of God and Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Scripture is clear that the gospel is a fundamental truth and must not be perverted (Galatians 1:6-9). The Roman Catholic church teaches a different gospel than what is presented in Scripture. Anyone who holds to a different gospel, Roman Catholic or otherwise, is not a brother or sister in Christ.
How are we supposed to share the true gospel in ministry side-by-side with someone who holds to a different gospel? Whose gospel is presented? Whoever gets to the microphone first? By taking turns? Or have we decided a general, abstract mention of Jesus is enough?
My intention is not to offend or cause division within the true body of Christ, but to ask that we, as believers, consider how we are conducting ministry. It is out of my deep concern for the preservation of the true gospel within pro-life ministry that I raise these objections. The times in which we live will continue to try our commitment to the word of God. Will we be bold in our proclamation of the gospel and in God’s truth or will we compromise in a well-meant effort to keep the peace? We must ask ourselves if in seeking to end the practice of child sacrifice, we are actually sacrificing the gospel.