Does salvation come only through the Roman Catholic Church?

Yes... and no... and yes. Prior to the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (1962-65), salvation came only through the Catholic Church to baptized Catholics. The Roman Catholic Church was the only legitimate Church of Christ and Protestant churches were not part of this body, although the Eastern Orthodox Church was because it had preserved the apostolic succession of bishops. From Vatican II, it was determined that salvation could come to anyone, regardless of their beliefs or non-beliefs. Salvation may now come to those who, although either a believer of a non-Christian religion or not belonging to any church at all, seek God sincerely and follow his commands as best as their conscience directs. The Roman Catholic Church is still the one true Church of Christ, all others being somewhat valid but deficient, however, through some mystical communion with the Catholic Church, those who are indeed saved outside the Catholic Church are actually connected to it and still fall under the infallible authority of the pope. Although early Catholic Church fathers taught that those outside the Catholic Church, as well as those who left the Church or who were excommunicated, could not be saved, the Catholic Church now holds that those who are baptized in Christ are not guilty of separation from the Catholic Church, even though their communion with the Catholic Church is imperfect. This is visibly possible because elements of the Catholic Church can exist outside the boundaries of the Church, such as the Bible, grace, faith, hope, charity, gifts of the Holy Spirit, etc., albeit they all rightfully belong to the Catholic Church. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992-94), section 847, "Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience -- those too may achieve eternal salvation." However, according to section 846 of the Catechism, unless those outside the Church recognize it's supreme authority, then they cannot achieve salvation or attain heaven after death. Therefore, non-Catholic churches are simply ecclesial communities which must still ultimately adhere to the Catholic and Apostolic Universal Church as their head -- that is, the Roman Catholic Church as their mother. In a recent declaration by the Vatican, Declaration Dominus Iesus ("On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church"), non-Catholic churches were referred to as defective. Though salvation may come to individuals who belong to these defective churches, it is still incomplete because the Roman Catholic Church is the chosen instrument for Christ's salvation for all humanity.

        "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, 'Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame' [Isaiah 28:16]. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile -- the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved' [Joel 2:32]." (Romans 10:9-13)

Is salvation dependent upon works or deeds?

On the topic of salvation, it is important to note one of the major points of difference between the Roman Catholic Church and Martin Luther's interpretation of the Scriptures. Martin Luther upheld that faith alone was necessary for salvation, while the Catholic Church maintained that faith was only the beginning and that works and penance were also necessary for one's salvation. In Catholicism, Christ's sacrifice on the cross atoned for man's sins in general, primarily Adam's original sin, which is bestowed through baptism. Once baptized, it is the individual's responsibility to account for all subsequent sins, since there is still punishment to be incurred for sin. It is through works, penance, mass, sacraments, and purgatory that sins may be washed away by the individual efforts of the Catholic believer. The result of the cross may have been salvation, but this was granted to the Catholic Church through grace, which allows salvation only when accomplished through acts of righteousness. Protestants, on the other hand, believed that Christ's death absolved all sins of a believer's entire life. Although faith is dead without deeds, according to James 2:14-26, it is deeds that prove the faith of the believer (Acts 26:20), not deeds that save the believer. Catholics, however, use this passage as proof that faith is dependent upon works for salvation. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, said to "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). This is one of the primary scriptural passages for the Catholic doctrine of acts of righteousness as part of the forgiveness of sins (forgiveness may be forgiven by a priest, however, the wrath of God remains until penance is complete). Philippians 2:13 then goes on to say, "for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." Earlier in the same letter, Paul also writes, "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6). This means that the work of the believer is through the power of God and not of their own effort (John 14:10-14). As he wrote to the Thessalonians, "But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth" (2 Thessalonians 2:13). Hebrews 13:20-21 also attests to this: "May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." It is the work of the believer that is the perfection of the faith, not the salvation of the soul. 1 Peter 1:9 says that the goal of faith is the salvation of the soul. Paul plainly says in Romans 4:1-5 that Abraham was not justified by works, but by faith, and that "to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness." So, too, he sums it up in Romans 9:16 by saying, "It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy." The purpose of works, according to Ephesians 4:12-13, is "so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of fullness of Christ."

        "What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about -- but not before God. What does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness' [Genesis 15:6]. Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness... The words 'it was credited to him' were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness -- for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification." (Romans 4:1-5, 23-25)

Examples of Old testament scripture for supporting works as necessary for salvation come from Nehemiah 13:14, Psalms 11:7, 28:4, Isaiah 3:10, 59:18, Jeremiah 25:14, 50:29, Ezekiel 9:10, 11:21, 36:19, Hosea 4:9, 9:15, and 12:2. The new covenant established by Christ, according to Catholics, still requires works for salvation. Scriptural support for this in the New Testament comes from the following:

Matthew 7:21-27, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven..." Those who hear the Word and put it into practice build for themselves a foundation that will not fall, however, those who hear but do nothing will be sent away.

Matthew 25:31-46, "...Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me...' " The argument here is taken from Christ's description of the sheep and the goats in comparison to those who will go to heaven (those who do good deeds) and those who will go to hell (those who don't).

Mark 10:17-23, "...Jesus looked at him and loved him. 'One thing you lack,' he said, 'Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me...' " The rich young man followed the law and the commandments, but was unable to give of his wealth, to which Jesus replied, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"

Luke 12:42-46, "...It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns..." The parable of the servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet. For those who are not prepared and are not doing what they should, they will be cut down and assigned a place with the unbelievers.

Luke 14:13-14, "But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." During lunch at the home of a prominent Pharisee, Jesus points out that only the prominent were invited. The reward of the host, in turn, will be nothing more than the hospitality of those who invite him to their own party.

Luke 19:11-27, "Then another servant came and said, 'Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man.' ...His master replied, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! ...Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.' " The moral of the parable of the King's Ten Servants is in verse 26: "I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away." Even though he refused to do nothing, since he was a servant of the king he was spared. It is the outright enemies of the king, concluded in verse 27, who are destroyed.

Luke 23:39-43, "One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: 'Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!' But the other criminal rebuked him. 'Don't you fear God,' he said, 'since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.' Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' Jesus answered him, 'I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.' " The good deed of the second criminal was rebuking the first criminal.

John 3:19-21, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." Those who do good come into the light... however, the deeds are not of the individual's efforts alone, but are done through God.

Romans 2:6-10, 13, "God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistance in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew,then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism."

Romans 2:13, "For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous."

Romans 8:13, "For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live..." Of course, verse 12 before it states that this is an obligation. The key point here is not works that lead to salvation, but good works as an obligation to not live according to the sinful nature.

1 Corinthians 3:14-15, "If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames." This is not only an argument for purgatory, but for gradations of salvation.

2 Corinthians 5:10, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." This is less an argument for works leading to salvation than it is for rewards for works in general. The preceding verse says that we make it our goal to please him, the emphasis being on the desire to do what is good while in our earthly bodies, where we groan and are burdened, because "it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come" (verse 5).

2 Corinthians 11:13-15, "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve." This is less an argument for works that lead to salvation than it is for retaining salvation altogether. Well-meaning Christians may be leading others astray with false teachings. If so, are they still saved by faith or is their salvation revoked on grounds of evil deeds?

Colossians 3:23-25, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism." This is less an argument for works that lead to salvation than it is for different levels of reward in heaven or torment in hell.

2 Timothy 2:10, "Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory." In the previous verses, Paul writes that "This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal." His reference to obtaining salvation is most likely to receiving the gospel that he has worked so hard to share with others. This was explained in 1 Timothy 1:8-12, where Paul also says that suffering for the gospel is not only the result of a holy life after being saved, but is by the power of God, "not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace."

Titus 3:8, "This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone." Taken alone, it may seem that this verse is alluding to good works as a necessary means to salvation, however, verses 4-7 reveal that good deeds should be a result of salvation by God's mercy: "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."

James 1:12, "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him." The argument here is that salvation is apparently not guaranteed.

James 2:14-26, "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? ...In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead... You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone... As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." This would seem to be the best argument in favor of faith and works going hand in hand for salvation. In verse 22, however, James says regarding Abraham's example, "You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did." Deeds, therefore, are the outward manifestation, or proof, of inward faith. Faith is not really faith at all if it is not supported by action.

1 Peter 2:2, "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up in your salvation..." This is the NIV translation, which makes it seem as though spiritual milk helps you grow from the time you were saved. The Revised Standard Version translates it as "that by it you may grow up to salvation" and the American Standard Version translates it similarly as "that ye may grow thereby unto salvation." The Douay-Rheims version, used by most English speaking Catholics, renders this passage as "that thereby you may grow unto salvation." Taken from these translations, the argument may seem valid towards works that lead to salvation. However, it may be an argument over which translation is more accurate. (King James Version: "that ye may grow thereby..." New American Standard Version: "that by it you may grow in respect to salvation..." American Standard Version: "that ye may grow thereby unto salvation..." Living Bible: "long to grow up into the fullness of your salvation..." Amplified: "that by it you may be nurtured and grow unto [completed] salvation..." English Standard Version: "that by it you may grow up to salvation..." Young's Literal Translation: "that in it ye may grow..." Darby: "that by it ye may grow up to salvation..." Wycliffe: "that in it ye wax into heal..." The Message: "Then you'll grow up mature and whole in God." New Living Translation: "so that you can grow into the fullness of your salvation." Contemporary English Version: "that will help you grow and be saved." Worldwide English: "It will make you grow up so that you will then be fully saved.") Most of these seem to mean that salvation is granted, but is not mature, or that the believer is not mature.

Revelation 2:4-5, "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place." This may seem as though Jesus were ordering the Ephesians to do good works, however, he first admonishes them for their good works (verses 1-3). In light of this, as well as Paul's letter to the first generation of Ephesian believers praising them for their faith and love (Ephesians 1:15), it would seem rather that Jesus is reprimanding them for doing their good deeds without the right motives.

Revelation 2:26, "To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations..." Although Jesus instructs us to do his will to the very end, it does not imply a means to salvation, but a reward of authority over others.

Revelation 3:15-16, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are luke-warm --neither hot nor cold-- I am about to spit you out of my mouth." This would seem as though salvation were being withdrawn due to the indifferent acts of the Laodiceans. It actually has to do with their self-sufficient attitudes (verses 17-18). He then goes on to tell them that he rebukes them becasue he loves tham and that all they have to do is repent and he will once again be with them (verses 19-20). Verse 21 also alludes to salvation through good works ("To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne."), although it deals more with overcoming temptation, trials, and hardships, as he points out with the other two churches in the same chapter (whose deeds were commended, but incomplete).

Revelation 14:13, 20:12, "Then I heard a voice from heaven say, 'Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' 'Yes,' says the Spirit, ' they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.' " The Catholic perspective of this is that our faith is completed in our works, of which we are ultimately judged, and it is not until after we are judged that our salvation is complete.

Revelation 20:12-13, "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done." Considering that those whose names were found in the book of life were judged according to their deeds along with those who were cast into the lake of fire (verses 14-15), this seems to be one of the stronger arguments for salvation based on works. Verse 15, however, makes the point that being listed in the book of life is the prerequisite for salvation: "If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."

        "You foolish Galations! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing -- if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?" (Galations 3:1-5)

Another issue to be pointed out here is that of the hope of salvation. According to Catholic teaching, Christ's sacrificial death on the cross redeemed us from sin (through the grace that was conferred upon the Catholic Church), but did not assure us of salvation. Scriptural passages about the hope of salvation are just that -- hope -- but not a certainty (such as Romans 5:2, 5:5, 8:24, 12:12, 2 Corinthians 3:12, Galations 5:5, Ephesians 1:18, Ephesians 4:4, Philippians 1:20, 3:11, Colossians 1:5, 1:23, Colossians 1:27, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 2:19, 5:8, 2 Thessalonians 2:16, 1 Timothy 1:1, 4:10, Titus 1:2, 2:13, 3:7, Hebrews 3:6, 6:11, 6:18-19, 7:19, 10:23, 11:1, 1 Peter 1:3, 1:13, 1:21, 3:15, and 1 John 3:3). The believer is disposed for salvation, but not assured. Again, justification comes not merely through the remission of sins, but by prescribed acts of sanctification through the Catholic Church.

        Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (John 6:28-29)
        "So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace." (Romans 11:5-6)

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Reference sources: Catholic Answers - Salvation Outside the Church (; Christian Resources - The Roman Catholic Teaching on Salvation and Justification, by William Webster (; New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia - Salvation (; - Can non-Catholics be saved according to the Roman Catholic Church? (; Scripture Catholic - Salvation (