The pomp. The circumstance. The formality. Viewing the installation of the new humble pope might tempt an evangelical to swim the Tiber and join the Roman Catholic Church. Especially when one views much of contemporary evangelicalism: the silliness, the shallowness, the Harlem Shake.
Watching that could make any clear thinking evangelical long for something deeper, richer and more mature. But before you start paddling, please consider a few things.
Works, works, works No matter how you slice it, Catholicism teaches salvation by works. The Roman Catholic Catechism states: “Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. (2010)
The Catholic Church also teaches that others have worked for your salvation in addition to Jesus:
This treasury (or merits) includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission in the unity of the Mystical Body.” (1477)
The Roman Catholic Church continues to claim that indulgences can earn forgiveness:
An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. (1478)
Additionally, Rome continues to teach that salvation is available only through sacraments:
The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation. (1129)
If you are not Catholic, you are not going to heaven: …all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body (846).
Before you paddle to the Basilica, don’t forget you might have to spend some time in Purgatory if you are not perfect when you die:
All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. (1030)
Rome loves to boast about the unbroken chain of succession from today’s pope directly to Peter. That is simply not sustainable from any historical perspective. Rome didn’t have a Pope until the 4th century, but they made up for it in the 14th century with multiple Popes at the same time. Unbroken succession? Hardly.
Your Protestant Heritage
You have a heritage. It is a heritage that is purchased with the blood of many martyrs at the hands of Catholic Kings and Queens. Your Protestant heritage is rich and long. Best of all, it is a heritage of grace, grace, grace.
While Rome claims that we are saved by grace, clearly they do not teach that we are saved by grace alone. Our Protestant heritage is strong and clear; we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone for the glory of God alone as revealed in Scripture alone!
Stay on this side of the river!