While Catholics believe it is Christs death and resurrection that puts the believer in a new relationship with God, this is not the whole story of Christian salvation. What some evangelicals consider salvation by works is merely an expression of Catholic belief in spiritual rebirth and regeneration, the on-going blessing of grace in a persons growth toward God. What Catholics properly understand as an effect or fruit of salvation some evangelicals unfortunately interpret as its cause.
These evangelicals also object to the role, the sacramental role, played by parish and priest in the drama of salvation. They argue that Jesus Christ needs no other mediator than himself, that the believer has been provided direct access to his saving love. This, I think, is the more important, more substantive difference between evangelical and Catholic than the issue of faith alone. We can agree with evangelicals that faith in Jesus Christ saves us from our sin but it is much harder to agree on the form, sacramental or otherwise, of that acceptance.
Catholics are rightly confused by the evangelical insistence that Jesus Christ is something other than his Church, his priests, and his sacraments. Isnt this exactly how Christ is concretely present to us? a Catholic would ask in reply. The Church as Christs Body, the priest as Christs representative, the sacraments as visible signs of Christs grace are all inextricably connected in the Catholic mind.
The power of the evangelical Protestant movement is seen in its emphasis on an encounter with Gods word as preached and encountered in the Bible. Catholics in America still have much to learn from this tradition of continually revitalized worship. Some evangelicals claim that their brand of Christianity to be more genuine, more akin to the early Church of the New Testament. They claim to practice a more immediate spirituality, a Christian faith shorn of its unnecessary accoutrements.
Yet evangelical Christians, if they are honest with themselves, are not without a form of religious faith and practice. They exude tremendous confidence in the mediation of the Protestant pastor, the sermon, their worship, and the study of Scripture.
Christ, we can agree, established these means for our conversion. But it is also true that he gave us more the sacramental reality and priesthood of the Catholic Church. Thus, Protestants continue to find a home in the Catholic Church not because Catholics are Christian and Protestants are not, but because of the fullness of Gods revelation which they find there.