Up at Men's Katoomba Christian Convention (MKC) we had a very fine session from Baptist speaker Anthony Petterson, who lectures at Morling College (the local Baptist theological college here in Sydney). It was on answering Roman Catholicism, and pointed out how within Roman Catholicism, the basic vocabulary of salvation is distorted. Grace means not so much God's generosity, for example, as a sort of metaphysical infusion of a substance that allows you to choose to do good works. (Anthony used the parallel of a blood transfusion enabling you to get up and get on with life, and it made a lot of sense as an explanation of the Roman Catholic perspective).
As such, even though the claim within Roman Catholicism is that we are saved by grace, in reality this means something quite different from the Bible's teaching that we are rescued by God without any input from ourselves.
For the average Roman Catholic believer, this means that assurance of salvation is impossible and indeed, forbidden by the teaching of the church. Assurance, for Roman Catholics, is the sin of 'presumption'. For how could one be assured of being right with God if good works are necessary to our right-standing with God, as Catholicism teaches? But on the Roman Catholic view, not only is assurance ruled out, but the very idea of salvation is placed under threat, for our good works can never be good enough to gain our entry into heaven.
Roman Catholic doctrine thus undercuts Christ's work on the cross, as his work in dying for sin is no guarantee whatsoever that God will declare us 'not guilty' on the final terrible day of judgement.
Along the way Anthony pointed out that the Roman Catholic church does not believe that non-Roman Catholic churches can lay claim to the title of being genuine Christian churches, and used the current Pope's words to demonstrate that this traditional view hasn't changed at all in recent times:
Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century... do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called "Churches" in the proper sense."
Find the quote in context here.
Anthony Petterson thought that the current Pope was doing something useful for all Christians by clarifying the difference between Protestant and Catholic beliefs. He certainly is! We mustn't pretend that in essence, all the so-called Christian churches are on about the same thing.
Anthony also gave a good plug for Ray Galea's latest book on the subject, Nothing in my hand I bring. Well worth a read, and before World Catholic Youth Day hits town.