The Coming Catholic Ad Blitz

It is coming. Among the largest religious media blitzes in U.S. history—scheduled to air more than 400 times during a three-week run—these commercials will depict humanity’s experience of hopelessness before presenting redemption in Jesus Christ as the answer. Millions will view them on major television networks from December 16 through January 8. The program is called Catholics Come Home.

The primary audience—men and women who grew up Catholic, and are now inactive or “lapsed”—is 27.5 million strong, according to the Pew Forum. They constitute roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population, making them the second-largest religious demographic in America behind Roman Catholics at 77.7 million and ahead of the Southern Baptist Convention (at 16 million plus). These former Catholics are among your church’s elders, nursery workers, and often compose a sizable portion of your congregation.

The Message of Catholics Come Home

If you have watched one of the commercials or visited the website, you were probably impressed by the “evangelical” tone. It is unmistakably warm and inviting with a refreshingly clear focus on the person of Jesus. These programs are the fruit of the Second Vatican Council’s vision for mobilizing the laity for outreach (see the encyclical, Evangelii Nuntiandi, by Pope Paul VI), along with recent statements such as John Paul II’s Redemptoris missio and the current agency dedicated to evangelism.

While the Vatican’s agency is generally aimed at combating the global threat of “de-Christianization,” the activity of the New Evangelization in America seems to focus on returning lapsed Catholics from a particular place. A clue to the identity of this destination can be found in the “Answering Your Questions” section of the Catholics Come Home website. Here, apologetic canons take aim at specific doctrines such as “Bible alone” and “faith alone,” with arguments marshaled for papal authority and auricular confession. Protestants, especially evangelicals, are evidently the group in view. With 15 million former Catholics now worshiping in Protestant churches in America, this concentration is not surprising.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote an article for Christianity Today on the history and purpose of Catholics Come Home (shortly afterward, a member of this outreach staff graciously sent me a CD and tract urging me to return home to mother Church). The movement is a fascinating story of a Catholic layman, Tom Petersen, who applied his expertise in the field of advertising to his renewed Catholic faith. Summarizing his strategy, Petersen explains:

Each of our television commercials invites people to come to, where they are given the opportunity to learn (or relearn) the truth about the Catholic faith, find their local parish and return home. As our site says, coming home to the Catholic Church has never been easier!

The $3.5 million worth of campaign ads are queued to air during programs such as “60 Minutes,” “Today,” and “NBC Nightly News,” primetime shows such as “NCIS,” and major college football games on the Dish Network. About this schedule, Petersen speaks with evangelistic zeal: “In our 2,000-year-history, the church has never run a nationwide campaign like this.”

The Opportunity before Us

I want to persuade you that the next few weeks represent an extraordinary opportunity for evangelism and discipleship. I think, for instance, of several churches where I have recently enjoyed ministry and fellowship—in Southern California, Louisville, South Bend, New York, and here in Chicago—places in which 50 to 60 percent of the congregations are formerly Catholic. I envision the profusion of conversations that will spring from these ads. In the office, among neighbors, on campuses and, perhaps most predictably, at dinner during Christmas, the question will be asked, “Have you seen those commercials?” So the opportunity begins.

A faithful, missionally minded response will require pastors to model the proper attitude. We should resist the intestinal compulsion that causes many of us in the Reformed tradition to immediately implement the rhetorical howitzer whenever we broach the topic of Catholicism. Yes, we must be concerned with clarifying doctrinal error and offer a faithful answer for our redemptive hope. But, as Scripture admonishes, we do so with “gentleness and respect, having a good conscience” (1 Pet 3:16). Governed by the “grace and truth” character of Jesus himself (John 1:14), this attitude is committed to sharing the message of grace with a gracious posture and voice.

Engaging the Conversation

Evangelicals often fall on one side or another of the theological horse. On one side, some Christians categorically reject the notion of sharing the gospel with Catholics. The mere suggestion that we should articulate the good news to Catholic friends opens a can of worms labeled “proselytism,” which is tantamount to sheep stealing and injuring the body of Christ. On the other side of the horse some seemingly cannot visit the Catholic/Protestant intersection without lambasting the pope, Mary, and launching an arsenal of anti-Catholic invectives. Hopefully, we can agree that both of these approaches fall short of our missional calling.

As for the first of these concerns, proselytism, let’s be clear that communicating the gospel is a nonnegotiable for every Christian. In the opening chapter of Acts, Jesus says, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). In other words, sharing Christ is more than something we do; it is what we are. There is, in a sense, ontological significance to our witness. Therefore, we say with Paul, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor 9:16).

Moreover, data shows that most Catholics don’t have a firm grasp on the gospel. The recent survey by sociologists at Catholic University, led by William D’Antonio, bears this out. They reported that a whopping 88 percent of Catholics in America believe that “how a person lives is more important than whether he or she is Catholic.” This is precisely what Catholics, such as Peter Kreeft at Boston College, have been saying for years:

There are still many who do not know the data, the gospel. Most of my Catholic students at Boston College have never heard it. They do not even know how to get to heaven. When I ask them what they would say to God if they died tonight and God asked them why he should take them into heaven, nine out of ten do not even mention Jesus Christ. Most of them say they have been good or kind or sincere or did their best. So I seriously doubt God will undo the Reformation until he sees to it that Luther’s reminder of Paul’s gospel has been heard throughout the church (Ecumenical Jihad, 36).

So let’s proclaim the gospel with the utmost passion and clarity. But the manner in which we do it is also important. Kindness, meekness, and gentleness must attend all that we say.

Over these upcoming weeks, when we are confronted with conversations about the Catholics Come Home commercials, let’s use missional wisdom. There is much in these ads that we can affirm: the problem of sin, the splendor of Christ, humanity’s need of forgiveness, new life, and family bonds in the church. These commercials tee up the evangelistic ball for spiritual topics. In fact, they set us up so nice and high that any duffer with a driver can hit it. But God help us to swing at the correct target. Don’t swing at the Catholic Church; swing at the message of God’s redemptive grace and drive it deep into the hearts everyone who will listen.

  • paul

    “We should resist the intestinal compulsion that causes many of us in the Reformed tradition to immediately implement the rhetorical howitzer whenever we broach the topic of Catholicism.” –

    this is a great reminder. Thanks Chris!

  • Yolanda

    Thanks for the great reminder. I am an evangelical Presbyterian that leads a small group Bible study for Catholic women. My experience has been that many Catholics are quite hungry for the Gospel and to learn the Word. It has just never been taught to them. I don’t ask my ladies to forsake Catholicism, and we don’t focus on the theological issues that divide us. I focus on the Gospel, and I let God’s Word do the teaching. If they eventually see that some of their beliefs do not agree with God’s Word, we will discuss then. I am also convinced that many who sit in the pews of our evangelical churches do not clearly understand the Gospel and are not saved. So we must be Gospel focused in our own churches as well.

  • Andy Wilson

    The Scriptures certainly confirm what you are saying about responding to our opponents with patience and gentleness (see esp. 2 Tim. 2:24-26). I agree that we need to be reminded of this. At the same time, I think we also need to be reminded of the importance of confronting false doctrine. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a prime example of this, and it is especially relevant to this matter because its focus is on the same doctrine that is at the heart of the dispute between the Reformed and Rome (justification). I am concerned that in some circles of the Reformed world today there is an unwillingness to confront Rome’s teachings for fear of being seen as uncharitable or divisive. As a result, the tendency in these circles is to focus almost exclusively on the positive proclamation of the gospel, underscoring the common ground that we have with Rome. I am not disputing the fact that we do have a lot of common ground with Rome. In fact, there is a sense in which confessional Presbyterians like me might even feel more of an affinity with Rome than we do with some streams of evangelicalism. However, I do not see this as a complement to Rome as much as I see it as an indication of the serious problems within evangelicalism. My point is that we need to make sure that we are holding to both poles of the Bible’s teaching when it comes to how we interact with Rome. On the one hand, we need to emphasize the seriousness of the theological issues at stake, especially when it comes to sola Scriptura and sola fide. These are not peripheral concerns, but are at the very heart of the gospel. On the other hand, we need to do this in a fair and respectful way. I think that R.C. Sproul and Michael Horton model this in the way they have engaged Rome’s teachings.

    • Devin Rose


      It makes sense that we Catholics would try to win back some of the many who left the Catholic Church (whether for Protestantism or atheism or what-have-you).


      Galatians does talk about justification through faith but doesn’t say faith alone, it says faith informed by love (Gal. 5:6). So getting sola fide from that letter is not such a slam-dunk.

      • Hutson Dodds

        True Devin, it doesn’t say “faith alone,” But would you agree that it does say, “but ONLY faith”?

        • Devin Rose

          I agree that it says only faith-working-through-love. :)

          Do you think that only is is only modifying faith?

          • Brian

            Paul is talking about a living faith like James does in James 2, a true faith in Christ will be evidenced by good works.

            On a side note since I’m sure it’ll be brought up, in James 2:24 when he talks about being justified by faith and works, he’s not talking about being justified in the sense that he’s showing that he has righteousness, its not what is making him righteous or maintaining his right standing before God, but proof that he has it. Found that out today by researching, great, great resource


      • Brian

        Hey Devin,

        From what I can tell Paul is talking very much about faith alone being sufficient, in the context of Galatians 5 Paul is addressing people who were teaching that faith alone was not sufficient for salvation and that their were additional works required(ie circumcision specifically) in this case. In 5:6 Paul is speaking if a true, God-given faith in Christ that produces love and good works(the love and good works being evidence of salvation in a person, not the cause of salvation but the result of).

        Of course, the best way to interpret the Bible is by the Spirit, and with the rest of the Bible(after all, He wrote it)

        Gal 2:15-16 – We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

        Paul makes it clear here that faith is what justifies, not works or works + faith(since clearly the people he was writing to had some sort of faith, he was writing to a church after all, the problem was they were saying faith was insufficient. Paul also re-enforces this in the entire third chapter of Galatians

        Romans 11:6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

        In context Paul is saying that Israel(as in the physical nation, not spiritual Israel, but I digress, was seeking to be justified by their faith and their works. Paul then says that if God justified them based on the basis of their works salvation would no longer be grace. He is saying the very meaning of grace is that its not deserved or merited, but freely given. This is made even clearer by going back to Romans 4

        Romans 4:1-8 – What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
        “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
        and whose sins are covered;
        blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

        Last but not least, Ephesians 2:8-9

        Ephesians 2:8-9
        For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

        Paul makes it clear, salvation is monergistic, even the faith to be saved by grace, comes from God.

        Now I can go on and show even more verses from the Bible showing that salvation is by grace through faith, but I think those verses communicate it just fine. My problem with “joining forces” is that catholics seem to be proclaiming a different Gospel, unless their cathecism is out of date/

        From Paragraph 2068 of the official catholic church catecism, “The Council of Trent teaches that the Ten Commandments are obligatory for Christians and that the justified man is still bound to keep them;28 the Second Vatican Council confirms: “The bishops, successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord . . . the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments.”

        I don’t know about ya’ll, but that seems like a pretty different Gospel from ours and the one Paul preached.

        • Devin Rose

          Hi Brian,

          Catholics can affirm that we are justified through faith and not works of the law. But is that faith completely alone? Paul doesn’t say that in the verses you mention. He contrasts faith with works of the law, but then in Galatians 5:6 he illuminates that this faith is conjoined with agape (divine love). This is the Catholic teaching: faith without agape cannot justify.

          Regarding keeping the commandments, do you disagree? Are you “free” to steal and murder and dishonor your parents now that you are justified? Jesus came to fulfill the law, but he didn’t abolish it. Instead, He revealed its full dimensions (Kill/hatred in one’s heart; adultery/lust in one’s heart, etc.).

          God bless,

          • Brian


            Yes he does say “faith” alone, Paul does not add works to it. Anyone in Christ is not under law but under grace, Romans 6:14. Christ fulfilled the law on our behalf(Romans 8:3-4) so that when God judges us He doesn’t look at our actions(which are dirty rags in His site) but He looks at Christ.

            What I’m say is that anyone in Christ is justified before God regardless of what they do, because of what Jesus did.

            Now would a new creation in Christ live in those things? Or, would a person that lives(in other words not struggle but fully accepts) in those things and professes Christ be saved? I’d say they probably were never saved, because they clearly have a dead faith like James talks about in James 2, or the licence to sin people that Paul talks about in Romans 3:8. I believe there’s a lot of people out that profess Christ, might know about Him, but aren’t known by Him. Even Jesus says in Matthew 7:22-23 that many will come to Him claiming that He is their Lord, but Jesus will tell them to depart because He never knew them, despite the works they performed in His name. Notice it doesn’t say “I knew you but you walked away from me” it says “I never knew you”, that means they were never saved to begin with.

            Yes, as Christians we do follow God’s commands, but not attain salvation, we already have that in Christ, we do so because we love Him and we want to live for Him in a life of worship. We do so because He paid the ultimate price for us, to show Him that we acknowledge His love for us, and that we love Him.

            • Devin Rose

              Hi Brian,

              I agree that works are not added to faith when one is first justified. But I pointed out that faith has to be informed by agape to be justifying faith, as Paul says in Gal. 5:6.

              Do you disagree–can faith be without agape and still be justifying?

            • Brian


              I would say that love will flow out of a justifying faith, not that it is a requirement for maintaining right-standing before God. You could say, agape is the evidence of saving faith.

  • Brandon Vogt


    Great post! It was very even-handed and charitable, even though you obviously disagree with Catholic theology.

    I think even most Catholics would embrace your proposal for Protestants:

    “Don’t swing at the Catholic Church; swing at the message of God’s redemptive grace and drive it deep into the hearts everyone who will listen.”

    As Kreeft’s anecdote suggests, most nominal Catholics are ambivalent of the Gospel. But from personal experience, the same holds true for most Protestants. That’s not necessarily a knock against the teachings of either tradition, just a sign of their failures to communicate.

    Your brother,

    • Chris Castaldo

      Thanks, Brandon. Yes, I agree. God help us to faithfully equip the saints. Merry Christmas brother, to you and yours! -CC

      • Brandon Vogt

        You too, Chris! I’ve told you before, but it’s always a pleasure to talk theology with you. You’re one of the rare apologists–Catholic or Protestant–who strives for real “caritas in veritate”–charity in truth. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  • Melody

    “some seemingly cannot visit the Catholic/Protestant intersection without lambasting the pope, Mary, and launching an arsenal of anti-Catholic invectives.”

    Seemingly is definitely an understatement. I often wonder if those that think confronting false doctrine more than sharing the gospel even believe in the power of the Holy Spirit. Or if the idol of self and being right all the time just wins out in their heart instead.

    How many of us have been raised in the protestant church being taught that if we didn’t go to church every Sunday we were going to hell? The saving grace of Christ’s sacrifice opens many eyes to the ways that men try to add or subtract to the gospel.

  • http://thetribulationtimesherald-exhorter.blogspot LD

    “In our 2,000-year-history, the church has never run a nationwide campaign like this.” That’s true – previous campaigns included burning men alive for translating the Bible (Huss, Wycliffe, etc), or ripping out men’s tongues and drowning them (and their wives) for teaching Biblically-accurate baptism (Michael Sattler, etc)

    • Brandon Vogt

      “On the other side of the horse some seemingly cannot visit the Catholic/Protestant intersection without lambasting the pope, Mary, and launching an arsenal of anti-Catholic invectives.”

      I think Chris would safely put you on this side of the horse, LD.

  • David


    This is a very timely post and one I was interested to read. I wonder what was the context of Kreeft’s quote and what do you think he was specifically getting at when hesaid, ” I seriously doubt God will undo the Reformation until he sees to it that Luther’s reminder of Paul’s gospel has been heard throughout the church.” It seems to me to imply affinity for “Paul’s gospel” as understood by Luther.

    • Brandon Vogt

      If you read any of Kreeft’s other 60 books, you’ll see that he doesn’t completely accept Luther’s interpretation. Yet he doesn’t wholeheartedly reject it either. Like many Catholic scholars, Kreeft sees the Reformation as essentially a confusion of terms. What Luther meant by “faith” and “works” is very different than what the Catholic Church (and St. Paul) mean by them.

      What Kreeft is saying, along with the Catholic Church, is that Catholics must learn that salvation comes by grace alone. However, that grace is received by faith, which is defined, as Devin explained, as faith-working-in-love; it’s a lived faith evident through charity, not mere intellectual assent.

    • Chris Castaldo

      Thanks, David. Yes, Catholics in the Augustinian tradition have a natural affinity to Luther. So, for instance, Pope Benedict XVI in his book, ‘Saint Paul’ (Ignatius Press)says, “For this reason Luther’s phrase: “faith alone” is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love” (82).

      • Brandon Vogt

        Yes, that’s spot on. Catholics affirm that we are saved by faith alone, so long as “faith” is properly defined and not divorced from active charity.

        I’d be hesitant to say, though, that Catholics “have a natural affinity to Luther.” Some of what he preached was desperately needed, but much was wildly divergent from the Catholic faith. His rejection of the papacy, embrace of bigamy, and dismissal of many sacraments puts him at clear odds with the Church.

  • Brandon Vogt


    “I would say that love will flow out of a justifying faith, not that it is a requirement for maintaining right-standing before God. You could say, agape is the evidence of saving faith.”

    So are you saying that God doesn’t really care whether or not you love? What is saving faith if it’s empty of love? According to Paul, it’s a resounding gong (1 Cor. 13:1).

    • Brian

      Brandon, when did I ever say or imply that? I’m saying we get a new heart that loves from God, not anything we produce or muster up(2 Cor 5:17, Gal 6:15, Eph 2:8-9) Ezekel even prophesied of this in the old testament, Ezekel 36:26-27, as did Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:33.

      Like I said, I believe salvation is monergistic, I believe it all comes from God from beginning to end, including a new heart to love Him.

      If anything lack of love is evidence a person is not saved, see 1 John 4:7-8

      • Brandon Vogt

        You implied that love is inconsequential to God when you said “love..(is not) a requirement for maintaining right-standing before God.”

        As for the rest, a Catholic would completely agree. Salvation and a “new heart to love Him” are pure gifts from God. And we also agree that “lack of love is evidence that a person is not saved.”

        But I wonder how this can be true, that no love means no salvation, if at the same time you also believe that “love..(is not) a requirement for maintaining right-standing before God.”

        • Brian


          I implied no such thing, I believe love is very important to God,

          Let me try to put it this way.

          Ok a person is dead in sin and hates God. Said dead sinner hears the Gospel, the Holy Spirit makes this person alive(regeneration), show’s them the Gospel is true and how beautiful God is and draws them to God(John 6), they now love God because they’ve been given a new heart that is able to love God. The old person has passed away and the new has come(again 2 Cor 5:7) if the old has passed away they can’t go back to the old because its passed away. Christ has also made it clear that one one can pluck us out of His hands(John 10:25-28). That’s how I would describe salvation by grace through faith.

          Now I do believe some can have an intellectual acknowledgement, maybe even be active in church for a while, but not be saved. How can you tell that is the case? Well if they come out and deny Christ or live in unrepentant sin that’s a pretty clear sign. And this is probably an area where we differ, you’d probably say they were saved but their salvation. I’d say(and what I believe the Bible says 1 John 2:19 among others) is that they were never saved, because if they were they would have never fallen back, they were never one of us really, they were never truly saved to begin with.

          I believe that since our salvation is by God’s grace, that we are also maintained by His grace. Not by any foreseen faith or will of man but by God’s will alone John 1:12-13, Phil 1:6

          • Devin Rose


            You describe “salvation by grace through faith” by explaining that the Spirit makes them alive so that they love God.

            So it does seem that love is an integral part of this event. In Catholic teaching, faith and love (and hope for that matter) are all theological virtues, only receivable as gifts from God and impossible to produce on our own.

            So you seem to agree with Catholics that faith joined with agape (both gifts from God) are justifying or “true” faith. If you don’t agree, how exactly is agape involved (or not involved) in justification?

            • Brian

              Devin, the difference is that I’m saying that Christ is my one and only reason for my right standing before God, I don’t maintain that by love or works, but Christ alone maintains my faith.

              What I’m saying about love is that its produced by God in me, not its not something I muster up and again it does not maintain my right standing before God. In other words, I love because I have right standing before God in Christ and because He gave me a new heart, I love because its His Spirit in me loving. Love is one of the results of saving faith, not the cause or maintenance of.

              The love that is involved in Justification is Christ’s love, He first loved me 1 John 4:19

            • Devin Rose


              We both agree that faith and love are gifts from God. So neither of us think we are manufacturing or maintaining our righteousness before God by our own self-created faith or love.

              The difficult thing is figuring out how we are initially justified (go from unregenerate/unrighteous to regenerate/righteous) in God’s sight, since in the New Testament several passages use the word justify but say different things about it, Gal. 5:6 as we’ve seen talks about it being faith joined with love, Paul says doers of the law will be justified, James says we are not justified by faith alone, Paul says we are justified by faith and not by works of the law, etc.

              Point is that Catholic teaching and Protestant ones on justification are actually much closer than most think.

            • Brian


              I’m sorry but I disagree, what you say is justification. living a life of love by faith, I would say is sanctification and that is what I believe Paul is referring to in Gal 5:6 note he says “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcised counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” counts for what? He does not specifically state he is referring to justification. The Bible refers to salvation in three senses or stages if you will, one is justification, this is someone’s right standing before God, this happens when someone is saved by grace through faith in Jesus or the Bible refers to it sometimes “have been saved” (Ephesians 2:8) from the guilt of sin, next is sanctification or “being saved” 1 Cor 1:18, from the power of sin, this happens for the rest our lives on earth, its an inevitable process for all Christians as says that He would finish the good work He started in us (Philippians 1:6), which leads to glorification “will be saved”(Acts 15:11) from the presence of sin, this happens when we are with Christ in heaven.

              Also what you referred to about Paul saying the doers of the law will be justified(Romans 2:13), you have to take it in context with the rest of the book of Romans, in Romans 3:20 Paul says that no one will be justified in God’s sight by the works of the law(note Paul makes no exception here for works being done “by faith working in love”), but that doesn’t answer the question, what is Paul meaning in Romans 2:13 when he says the doers of the law will be justified? He’s referring to the imputed righteousness we have from Jesus who fulfilled all of the law on our behalf. Going further in chapter 3, Romans 3:21-26 says that we’ve been justified by God’s grace as a gift(a gift isn’t something you maintain, its free) though Jesus who was put forward as a propitiation(it means to appease God’s wraith towards us) by His blood to be received by faith. Paul says that God did this to show that he is not only just, but the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf(Romans 10:4, even Jesus Himself says it in Matthew 5:17, He came not to abolish the law but fulfill it, he goes onto say in verse 20 that unless one has a greater righteousness then the pharisees they can not enter the Kingdom of Heaven, thanks be to God, Christ is that righteousness for us 2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 8:3-5. No where does it say that this righteousness is received from “faith working in love” but from faith, Romans 1:17, Romans 4:5, Phil 3:8-9, if someone says they believe God don’t don’t know love, they are a liar like 1 John says, they don’t have “the proof” being able to love is a proof that someone is saved, not the cause of their justification, but the result of, a fruit of the Spirit growing as one’s sanctification progresses.

              Also James is not saying “justified” in the sense of being justified in the sense of being justified before God, he is saying justified as in showing evidence of having a righteousness that come from God, in other words showing proof that someone has been justified, not gaining justification and right standing before God.

            • Devin Rose


              We have to be careful in our wording. You wrote “what you say is justification. living a life of love by faith.” But I didn’t say that. I spoke specifically of two theological virtues, faith and agape, which are gifts from God, and that we go from unrighteous to righteous through faith-informed-by-agape, two theological virtues that are conjoined to form justifying faith. After that initial point of justification, then we can take more about living a life of love by faith, and I’m fine calling that sanctification.

              Also, you are using salvation and justification interchangeably at times, but it’s not clear that is okay to do. I believe Protestantism (generally) believes that: salvation = justification + sanctification. And Reformed Protestantism affirms that works are a necessary part of sanctification, and so under Reformed Protestantism, works are part of salvation.

              So at the moment of justification, is faith completely alone, or is it conjoined with God’s divine love, agape?

              Regarding Gal. 5:6, justification is in the immediate context, being spoken up in verse 4.

              _You_ say that when James speaks of justification he is talking about something else, but why is your interpretation authoritative? He uses the same word for justify. In truth, James’ use of justification makes no sense for Protestantism because Protestants define justification as being the one time event whereby one goes from unrighteous to righteous. James is speaking here to Christians, who are already initially justified. So in fact he is speaking of what you would call sanctification, which Catholics call the ongoing part of justification.

            • Brian

              I should have been clearer, I apologize, I’m not the most effective communicator. I should have made it clear before my last post that I was referring to the justification “have been saved” aspect of salvation.

              In 5:4 Paul is talking about people who have stopped trusting in Christ alone(which clearly they never truly did) for their justification and were teaching others to do the same, then look at verse 5, though the Spirit by faith we wait for the hope of righteousness, here Paul goes to addressing our sanctification leading to glorification. Sanctification, I know in my case is a much slower process then I’d like, mostly because its not me driving it, its the Spirit, which is why I pray for Him to purify me and make me more like Christ, I am righteous in God’s eyes(justified), but I clearly still have a sin nature, I’m the biggest sinner that I know. Anyways I try to change my behavior on my own is useless because the sin in my heart is the cause of my sinful behavior. But the good news for me is that I know since I’m justified in Christ, the Spirit will sanctify me,so by faith I wait and hope for the Spirit to do His work though love, and produce love in me. Sanctification driven by God’s grace if you will, sanctification is the realization of our justification our right standing before God. We grow in righteousness when we by the Spirit realize that in God’s eyes we are righteous because of Christ. In turn we love others when we realize how much He loves us. I don’t see our sanctification is driven by good works, but as continued repentance and surrender to God, being conformed to the image of Jesus, out of which the fruits of the Spirit flow(Gal 5:22-23). When I do good works, I don’t credit them to myself, because in reality its not me doing them, its God.

              I’m saying that in James because of the context, look at James 2:14-26, specifically verses 18, 20, and 22, he is talking about showing faith by works, a faith that produces no fruit is obviously a false faith and different from a true faith that does produce fruit. And yes he’s using the same greek word, but that word has multiple meanings, one of which is to make righteous, another of which is to show righteousness. Abraham’s works were counted as righteousness because they proceeded from the faith given to him by God that made him righteous, imputed righteousness as I pointed out in my last post.

              Ok then you can see why this is a big deal, and why the protestant(in my case specifically the reformed) doctrine of justification is different from the catholic doctrine of justification. We believe that our justification is done, while yours is on going. We believe that sanctification is on going because justification has already occurred. We believe we are justified by Christ alone, not by anything we do, you believe faith is conjoined with our love(abet given to us by Christ in an ongoing process). Don’t you see the essential difference here? The Gospel that we preach says that Christ on the cross completed and secured the justification for everyone who believes in Him, the catholic church does not.

  • FAM

    “Most of my Catholic students at Boston College have never heard [the Gospel].”
    -Dr. Peter Kreeft

    However, Catholics have been reciting the Nicene Creed, the Gospel in a nutshell, every Lord’s Day for 1,600 years.

    To think that the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t proclaim the Gospel is an old wives’ tale. Most Catholics, even Kreeft’s students who seldom attend Mass, have the Gospel memorized. Like Dorothy who eventually learns of her ruby red slippers’ power, most Catholics, unwittingly, have the power of the Gospel within them.

    Have most conservative Evangelicals also hid the Gospel in their hearts?

    • Andy Wilson


      The Nicene Creed is a wonderful summary of the Christian faith, but it was written to defend the gospel against a specific set of heresies. For this reason, it does not go into specifics about other aspects of the gospel that are just as important (such as justification by faith alone), but were not at that time as much of a subject of debate. Let me try to explain why the Reformed have traditionally said that Rome preaches a different gospel than the gospel that is set forth in the Bible.

      The Church of Rome says this: “If anyone says that the righteousness received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of the increase, let him be anathema.” (Council of Trent, canon 24)

      The Bible says this: “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith” (Gal. 3:2-5)

      The Church of Rome says this: “If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.” (Council of Trent, canon 30)

      The Bible says this: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Rom. 12:1-2)

      The Church of Rome says this: “If anyone says that the good works of the one justified are in such manner the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of him justified; or that the one justified by the good works that he performs by the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit an increase of grace, eternal life, and in case he dies in grace the attainment of eternal life itself and also an increase of glory, let him be anathema.” (Council of Trent, canon 32)

      The Bible says this: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:8-10)

      Reformed Protestants have always affirmed that the Bible teaches the following: (1) Christians are called to live holy lives; (2) genuine saving faith produces the fruit of good works and obedience; and (3) at the final judgment, Christians will give an account of the deeds we have done in this life. However, we also believe that the Scriptures make it clear that justification cannot be based upon anything that we do. In Paul’s words, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” (Gal. 3:10) Human achievement cannot in any sense contribute to our acceptance by God. Not even the righteousness that we exhibit as a result of God’s gracious work in our lives can contribute to our justification.

      The problem with the RCC’s doctrine of justification is that it does not lead to the objection that Paul foresaw in Romans 6:1. In fact, Rome often raises that very same objection in response to the Reformed formulation of the gospel! Paul realized that his teaching that a person is justified apart from his works might lead some to accuse him of leaving Christians with no motivation for living a holy life. He responded to this objection by showing that justification necessitates sanctification. Though the two are distinct aspects of salvation, a person cannot have one without having the other. Because Rome teaches that a person’s justification is in fact dependent upon his good works, its gospel is not subject to the accusation that it undermines the motivation for living a holy life. This shows that the RC doctrine of justification is a different doctrine of justification than that which taught in the Bible. And this is very serious, because according to Paul, those who deny that justification is by faith alone are denying the gospel: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:6-9)

      It may be that some individual Roman Catholics really do trust in Christ alone, as he is offered in the gospel, for their salvation. However, they can only do so by not being derailed by the many distortions of the gospel that are set forth in their church’s official teachings and practices. In the end, the Bible’s evaluation of those whose faith is shaped by what the Church of Rome teaches about the way of salvation is quite sobering: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” (Gal. 5:4)

      • Devin Rose


        You voice some common misunderstandings of Catholic teaching. Allow me to clarify so we can move to a greater mutual understanding.

        Regarding Trent canon 24 about righteousness increasing and works, you attempt to rebut it by quoting a passage where Paul contrasts faith with “works of the law.”

        But this is off-base because Catholics do not believe that one is justified by “works of the law.” And this canon of Trent, when it uses the word “justification,” in Protestant parlance means “sanctification.” Because Trent also says that one’s initial justification (which Protestant simply call “justification”) is not through any works of any kind but by grace alone through faith.

        And Reformed Protestants actually agree that works are necessary for sanctification! Which is what this canon is speaking of. So interestingly, Protestants affirm that works done in God’s grace (not works of the law) do contribute to (increase) one’s sanctification.

        Regarding canon 30 about temporal punishment due to sin, you seek to rebut this by quoting a passage that says “there’s not condemnation.”

        But this is also off-base because temporal punishment does not cause a loss of salvation. The Christian is not condemned when he repents and has his sins forgiven, even if temporal punishment remains for them.

        Temporal punishment can be most easily understood as restitution. You bashed in your neighbor’s window and stabbed him in the leg. Well, you then said you were sorry and asked God to forgive you, truly being repentant in your heart. But you also have to pay the hospital bill and for his window to be replaced. Claiming that you don’t, that you are free from that, because God forgave you, is an error, and Trent points that out.

        Regarding canon 32, your response verses actually support this teaching. These works are done in God’s grace, and the merit of Jesus Christ, during sanctification, which are the works “which God prepared beforehand.”

        So you are misunderstanding the definitions. Catholics say ongoing justification and Protestant say sanctification. Catholics say initial justification and Protestants say only justification. And Protestants do believe that works done in God’s grace increase their sanctification, so this is not a difference, though there are theological differences as to what grace means in Protestantism vs. Catholicism.

        God bless,

        • Brian


          You say “But this is off-base because Catholics do not believe that one is justified by “works of the law.” ”

          But according to catholic doctrine, they are, in part at least.

          CCC 2068, “The Council of Trent teaches that the Ten Commandments are obligatory for Christians and that the justified man is still bound to keep them;28 the Second Vatican Council confirms: “The bishops, successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord . . . the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments.”

          Did that not just say man may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and observance of the Commandments? And yes that is in reference to the law as the ten commandments are mentioned. This teaching would seem to deny imputed righteousness. Remember, you said you view what we view as sanctification to be justification, so by your own words, Catholics believe they are justified in part by observance of the commandments(works of the law).

          • Devin Rose


            In many of my comments, I sought to use justify and sanctify in ways that Protestants use them. Initial justification is not by works of any kind, of the law (whatever is meant by that exactly) or others. Notice that in this passage the catechism notes that “the justified man,” in other words, one who has already been justified, by your terminology. Salvation is justification + sanctification, so works done in God’s grace are part of sanctification. Honoring your father and mother, loving God, etc. are all good works that can be done in God’s grace for the justified man, but they do not merit or cause or contribute in any way to his initial justification.

            The works of the law Paul talks about could potentially refer to two different things: either the works of the law like circumcision and other ceremonial things, or more broadly to encompass things like the ten commandments, the greatest commandment to love God and then neighbor. From my reading of the Church Fathers, there was a divide about which kind of “works of the law” Paul was referring to. In any event, Reformed Protestants believe one should honor father and mother and love God and neighbor etc. etc. and while these would not justify them (in the Protestant sense) they could contribute to one’s sanctification.

            Catholics certainly deny imputed righteousness, which gets to the difference between Catholics and Protestants one what grace is and what it means to be justified. I’ve been focusing on what it takes and does not take to be justified.

            God bless,

        • Andy Wilson


          I don’t think it is accurate to frame this as a matter of “misunderstanding.” The fact that the RCC uses the name justification in a manner that includes what the Reformed understand to belong to sanctification is not merely a matter of interchangeable terminology. It is instead a matter of the RCC merging two aspects of salvation which we believe the Bible sets forth as distinct from one another while not separate from each other. Yes, the Reformed see works as a necessary fruit of justifying faith, but that is exactly what Trent anathamatizes!

          As for “temporal punishment,” the fact that that canon connects this to eternal punishment is the thing that indicates how different the Roman and the Reformed doctrines of justification are. While the former is about an infused righteousness at baptism that can be lost, the latter is about an imputed righteousness at conversion that can never be lost.

          As for canon 32, the problem for the Reformed is that it says that these works are meritorious, which is certainly not supported, but rather refuted, by the passage I quoted from Ephesians.

          • Devin Rose

            Andy, there is still misunderstanding here but I need to move on to other things. If you or others are interested in learning more about the differences between Catholics and Protestants on justification, grace, righteousness, etc., I would recommend the articles and blog posts on called to communion’s site.

            • Andy Wilson

              Thanks, Devin. And just to make matters fair, I would also want to suggest a couple of resources that are not coming from a pro-RC perspective (which is obviously the case with the called to communion site). The “white horse inn” had a recent broadcast interviewing Christian Smith on his conversion to the RCC. And “office hours” at westminster seminary california had a recent broadcast entitled “The Lure of Rome.”

  • Brian

    “Catholics certainly deny imputed righteousness, which gets to the difference between Catholics and Protestants one what grace is and what it means to be justified. I’ve been focusing on what it takes and does not take to be justified.”

    Which is why we say you have a different Gospel, two essential aspects of the Gospel are imputed righteousness and grace being an unmerited gift, you are preaching a different Gospel that does not include those. I know of nothing else to add to the discussion other that that I’m praying that you’ll find see true Gospel and rest in the grace of Christ.

    • FAM

      Until Protestants find a way to convene an Ecumenical Church Council to revise the Nicene Creed incorporating their theological nova (Sola Fide), the Gospel summary stands, as written, circa A.D. 400. But who wants to mess with 1,600 years of salvation and success?

      • lander

        If we did, would you come?

  • thomas

    You could also go to the website,
    and have a Catholic address this common misconception themselves.

    Q: Many Protestants believe we are saved by Faith Alone and they say Catholics believe they can “work” their way into Heaven. How do you answer that?

    “First of all, I ask them to show me where in the Catechism, the official teaching of the Catholic Church, does it teach that we can “work” our way into Heaven? They can’t, because it doesn’t. The Catholic Church does not now, nor has it ever, taught a doctrine of salvation by works…that we can “work” our way into Heaven.

    Second, I ask them to show me where in the Bible does it teach that we are saved by “faith alone.” They can’t, because it doesn’t. The only place in all of Scripture where the phrase “Faith Alone” appears, is in James…James 2:24, where it says that we are not…not…justified (or saved) by faith alone.

    So, one of the two main pillars of Protestantism…the doctrine of salvation by faith alone…not only doesn’t appear in the Bible, but the Bible actually says the exact opposite – that we are not saved by faith alone.

    Third, I ask them that if works have nothing to do with our salvation…then how come every passage in the N.T. that I know of that talks about judgment says we will be judged by our works, not by whether or not we have faith alone? We see this in Rom 2, Matthew 15 and 16, 1 Ptr 1, Rev 20 and 22, 2 Cor 5, and many, many more verses.

    Fourth, I ask them that if we are saved by faith alone, why does 1 Cor 13:13 say that love is greater than faith? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

    As Catholics we believe that we are saved by God’s grace alone. We can do nothing, apart from God’s grace, to receive the free gift of salvation. We also believe, however, that we have to respond to God’s grace. Protestants believe that, too. However, many Protestants believe that the only response necessary is an act of faith; whereas, Catholics believe a response of faith and works is necessary…or, as the Bible puts it in Galatians 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumsion is of any avail, but faith working through love…faith working through love…just as the Church teaches.”

    • Andy Wilson


      1) Reformed Protestants do not accuse the Roman Church of teaching that salvation is by works alone. However, canon 32 of the Council of Trent does say that justification is based upon faith plus works.

      2) As for sola fide, the fact that the exact phrase “justification by faith alone” does not appear in the Bible does not necessarily mean that the Bible doesn’t teach this doctrine. If we were to read the Bible that way, we would have to deny the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. There are, however, numerous passages where sola fide is explicitly taught. For example,

      “But now the righteousnesof God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
      (Romans 3:21–28 ESV)

      “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,”
      (Romans 4:4–5 ESV)

      “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christand be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith”
      (Philippians 3:8–9 ESV)

      3) Reformed Protestants would never say that works have nothing to do with salvation. On the contrary, justifying faith always issues in a life of gospel obedience. The passages that you cite stress the place of works at the final judgment because our works will serve as evidence that the faith that we professed was truly Spirit-worked faith.

      4) 1 Corinthians 13:13 is an eschatological statement about the fact that faith and hope will no longer be necessary when we are in the state of glorification, since the believer’s union with Christ will be perfect and our knowledge of God will be “face to face.”

      As for our response to God’s grace, Reformed Protestants wholeheartedly agree that true justifying faith is a faith that brings forth the fruit of good works. Where we disagree with Rome is that we do not see our works as in any sense meritorious, whereas the Council of Trent (canon 32) explicitly says that they are.

  • thomas


    You still seem to be missing a key distinction made earlier: Catholics speak of initial justification and ongoing justification. Initial justification refers to the very specific salvific moment that God alone does which is entirely absent of our good works, merit, or any participation of the person. Ongoing justification is what Protestant refer to as sanctification. So while we are justified by faith alone – at that very specific first instance (regeneration, is what Catholics call it) – justification does not end there, it keeps pressing on in conjunction with the fruits we produce through that initial and continual mercy and grace. This is sanctification and is pretty in line with Reformed Theology.

    • Andy Wilson


      No, I am not missing the distinction. I am simply saying that Reformed Protestants refuse to see this as merely a matter of semantics. We believe there a significant difference between the doctrine that we refer to as sanctification and the doctrine that you are referring to as ongoing justification. We would not agree that this ongoing justification that you describe is in line with Reformed theology.

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  • MamaKelly from Southern Baptist to Catholic

    So disappointed to find this subject just days before we celebrate the birth of Christ. How is that 2,000+ years later, we are still arguing the validity of the Catholic Church. A church that has been in existence since the death of Christ. Why are Protestants/Evangelicals trying to continue a 16th century fight by ignoring the history of the Catholic Church? What Catholics and Protestants should do is focus on evangelizing NON Christians. Also, how about a blog that provides some history to defend the Christian faith, especially as the secular movement is growing in the US?

    It is hard for me to see your blog as anything but a way to promote your book being released in January (or possibly the conflict you have with leaving the Catholic Church). So sad to see this, Mr. Castaldo. I really wish you would have spent time researching history and providing material to strengthen our evangelization of non-believers. Here is a blog on just that subject…. Peace to you, my brother in Christ.

    • Collin Hansen

      It’s strange that you don’t note that a major purpose of the ad campaign is to encourage Catholics to return from Protestant churches.

      • MamaKelly from Southern Baptist to Catholic

        Collin, you completely missed my point. The idea is to be focused on Christ and provide material at Christmas that brings us closer to Him. Informing Protestants about a Catholic campaign…that intends to bring those that have fallen away from their faith back closer to Christ…does nothing to help prepare us for Christmas. It just continues the battle of Catholics and Evangelicals. What a waste of our time…we should be evangelizing non-believers. We should be uniting, so we can fight secularism.

        • Collin Hansen

          You’re saying that the differences between Catholics and Protestants are no longer important, at least compared to the battle with secularism. I just don’t agree with your point. And neither do the folks bankrolling Catholics Come Home. The campaign aims to lure Protestants back into the Catholic fold. Based on your remarks, you don’t seem to share their view that Protestants need to “come home.” So do you think this campaign suffers from the same lack of priority you’re attributing to Castaldo?

          • MamaKelly from Southern Baptist to Catholic

            The campaign is multi-purpose. It is for fallen Catholics, non-practicing Christians, Protestants, atheists, agnostics, and devout Catholics. The purpose is to get us united in the church Christ established for us 2,000 years ago. I support the campaign and I pray for success of evangelizing those lost or challenged souls.
            In my humble opinion, the countless denominations of the Christian church have watered down the Christian faith. Our moral standards have been grossly reduced in this nation (and world). I believe Catholics and Protestants should be fighting as one. I would much rather stand beside my brothers and sisters in Christ, fighting against evil, false religions (i.e., Mormon, Muslim, Islam), and the secular world. I would rather stand together to convert the men and women that do not believe Christ was born and died for our sins. AND, during the Advent season, I would especially hope that Christian blogs focus on the birth of Christ, salvation, provide history of the Christian faith, etc. That is what disappointed me about this blog entry. It indirectly criticized a Catholic campaign to win souls for Christ.
            Oh Heavenly Father, if only we were One Holy Catholic (Universal) and Apostolic Church…we could be better servants for You!