The Christianity Today headline was tantalizing: Good Works Not Enough-Latest papal document urges Roman Catholics to win souls. Can this be true, that the Pope, historically the champion of works-based salvation, is actually telling Roman Catholics that their works will not merit heaven? Well, no it is not true. The Pope has not changed the old tune that Rome has been playing for centuries. What Christianity Today was reporting was a directive given to Roman Catholic missionaries, telling them that doing humanitarian works is not enough, that it is only part of their job and that they should labor to make new converts..
The Pope's call comes at a time when his church is feeling the heat of competition from Pentecostal and other Protestant churches and also when his Church is under attack from Russia's Orthodox Church for sheep stealing. The directive also comes against the backdrop of the highly politicized theology being pursued by some Jesuits. According to Archbishop Angelo Amato, undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's top doctrinal office, "[T]here has been a cooling of missionary spirit in recent years." He specifically cited the work of three Jesuit theologians-Jacques Dupuis, Roger Haight, and Jon Sobrino-suggesting that their work had undermined missionary spirit by casting doubt on the uniqueness of Christ as the universal Savior of humankind. Under the influence of this theology, many Roman missionary priests have come to believe that "it is enough to build communities which strive for justice, freedom, peace, and solidarity." When the Pope says, Good works are not enough," this is what he means. He wants to see his priests make more Roman Catholics.
As for personal salvation, Rome still stands by her utterly unbiblical and deeply cherished notion that the only merit that can get anyone to heaven is the merit of the "good works" that he does here on earth. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 2008, 2010), Rome teaches that because "God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace," man can obtain merit. "Then follows man's free acting through his collaboration [with God], so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful." The Catechism has just defined "merit" as "the recompense owed," so it is teaching that God owes men something for the works they do in collaboration with Him. But Rome has even more to say: "No one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification [which Rome says occurs in Baptism] at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life." In plain language, once a priest baptizes you, you can begin to do good works and merit heaven.
If the Pope says good works are not enough, be sure he means that in salvation God starts the ball rolling but then it's up to you to do so many good works that God will "owe" you eternal life. Of course, it is all a fabrication. Salvation is on the sole merits of Christ received by faith alone, without works. His righteousness is all the merit a sinner needs to enter heaven. Our works in sanctification and service add nothing to our right to do so, though God graciously promises to reward them for Christ's sake. Rome's dogma comes down to this: The merit of Christ saves you from Hell; the merit of your own works alone can get you to heaven. That is blasphemy.