The Gospel Coalition has been around for some time and we often read their publications. Recently, the group published an article entitled, “Dating across the Protestant/Catholic divide” where Chris Castaldo writes about the difficulties faced by marital unions between protestants and Catholics. Castaldo mostly discourages such unions and for that we commend him.
The problem with the article is that he opened the door for a true believer to dwell comfortably within Roman Catholicism. This point of view is troubling when it originates from a mostly Protestant organization (Gospel Coalition) that claims to be “gospel centered”. In order to bolster support for his view, Castaldo makes use of this quote from the book, My Father’s World by Phillip Ryken:
Sometimes we forget that Luther, Calvin, and the rest of the Reformers were born and bred within the Roman church. When Catholics were catholic, they were Catholic too, and it was within the Roman church that they came to saving faith in Jesus Christ. To be sure, the pope would not tolerate their plain teaching of the gospel, so eventually they were thrown out of the church. But God can and does carry out his saving work to this day, even where his gospel is not preached in all its clarity.
We have observed for some time that the Gospel Coalition has gone wobbly on various aspects of the gospel, but the endorsement of this statement is particularly appalling both in terms of theological history and rudimentary logic.
It is certainly true to say that many of the reformers came to faith while in the Catholic church, but is it accurate to imply that the reformers found their faith in the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church? Is it not the case that as soon as they understood the true Gospel, they quickly left the Catholic church or were excommunicated? When considered in light of the Inquisition, the 30 Year’s War, the 100 Year’s War and the rest of the horrific events that followed in the wake of the Reformation, this statement becomes nearly laughable if it were not so tragic. None of the Protestant reformers would have made allowances for a true believer to stay in the Roman Catholic Church.
Maybe we should consider the quote from another angle: Can we say that if an individual comes to saving faith while engaged in a particular activity or while a member of a particular group, those respective activities or groups are now legitimized? For example, since Zaccheus came to saving faith while a larcenous tax collector, was that an endorsement of that lifestyle? How about the man who comes to true, saving faith while a Mormon? Is the LDS now an “okay” church for the true believer? Or the prostitute who finds Christ while plying her trade? Maybe the Hookers for Jesus should remain literal prostitutes while spreading the gospel and in John 8:11, Jesus should have kept his mouth shut instead of telling the woman taken in adultery to, “Go. From now on sin no more”. The answers to these questions are obvious . . . unless the Reformation itself was much ado about nothing.
Which brings us to our final question: Can a person embrace true saving faith when the gospel is not preached with clarity? What about the RCC version of the gospel where (among other things) Mary is deified, man earns justification and the pope is continuing to relay special revelation? Is that a true gospel or a false gospel? If it is false, what would the Apostle Paul say? Probably something like this:
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing 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 what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! (Galatians 1:6-9)
The one who is preaching another gospel is to be accursed it will send people to hell.
Those who stand firmly with the Gospel “once delivered to the saints” will have no trouble with calling the Roman Catholic Church a false church with a false gospel. Any man who truly seeks the way of salvation must be called out of that system and to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel Coalition would be wise to look to Justin Taylor’s series of articles on 1 John and take care to conform their teaching on the gospel to that epistle.