A recent conversation with cousin Mickie on Catholicism's teaching on baptism in comparison to what her church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) teaches on it - left me thinking about this Misunderstood Series I blogged about and if I completed the series. Turns out I forgot to post Part V!
St. Peter's Basilica
To read my previous posts on this Misunderstood Series including my intro post, please click here.
Misunderstanding Assumption V
"The Catholic Church teaches that unless you're Catholic, you can't be saved and have eternal life in Heaven."
My goodness, if that statement were true, the Catholic Church comes across very arrogant in my opinion. Unfortunately many non-Catholics hold this opinion because they believe this is what the Catholic Church teaches.
"The Early Church Fathers taught that those outside of the Catholic Church had no hope of salvation. That is, if they heard the gospel and knowingly rejected it. However, they made an allowance for those who, through no fault of their own, didn’t know any better. They didn’t see God as being legalistic. Rather they saw a merciful God who judged men by what they did with what they had. Or as Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 4:5, men will be judged by the purposes of their hearts."
So what about the number of times throughout Church history that this doctrine was brought up? For instance in 1302 when Pope Boniface VIII wrote the following in "Unum Sanctum:" "That there is one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church we are compelled by faith to believe and hold, and we firmly believe in her and sincerely confess her, outside of whom there is neither salvation nor remission of sins…. In her there is 'one Lord, one faith, one baptism'" (Ephesians 4:5) (no. 1). It sounds as if what is being taught and said is: only Catholics can go to heaven or that Catholics are better than everyone else. Not true, here is why...
Cousin Mickie made such an awesome point when her and I were discussing our faiths, she said: "To be perfectly honest with you, I believe that my church, as I am sure you believe as well with your church, is the one true church on the earth today. Of course why else would someone attend a church if they didn't believe that!". Finally, I come across a non-Catholic who understands that we all (no matter what faith) believe our church teaches the Truth in fullness - and if so wouldn't that mean then we also know and understand the complete plan of salvation? That is simply what the Church is claiming.
But what does this mean for non-Catholics and being saved, is the Church saying they are doomed for Hell? No. Vatican Council II addressed this point in its "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium)," "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" (no. 16).
Many Bible Christians and Traditionalist believe God makes no exceptions. No allowances are made for people who don't know any better. The Catholic Church rightly portrays God as both just and merciful – as opposed to legalistic. We are not in a debtor/creditor relationship with God. He owes us nothing. Instead, we are in a Father/child covenant relationship with Him. He is just and merciful even to those who are affected by invincible ignorance.
St. Augustine's position is consistent with the Catholic Church,
"When we speak of within and without in relation to the Church, it is the position of the heart that we must consider, not that of the body…. All who are within [the Church] in heart are saved in the unity of the ark (On Baptism, Against the Donatists 5:28  [A.D. 394]).
So my final thoughts for this Misunderstood Series - I urge all those non-Catholics not to judge the Church's teachings on what they think the Church teaches. But really take the time to investigate with unbiased resources. We as Christians need to work at uniting, not dividing. Differences are often stemmed from misunderstanding. Humans are all searching for the Truth. If we believers in Christ unite and become one the world may believe that God sent Christ to save us. John 17:20-21