Friday, October 31, 2014

Are Catholics Christians?

A dear friend read something I wrote, in which I mentioned evangelizing a Catholic. He wrote back:
Are you saying that Catholics are not Christians? The word catholic means universal as explained in the Nicene Creed.
I realized my reply to him might be of interest to others too.  Here it is.
Howdy ______,

Sorry for the delay getting back to you. Thanks for asking for clarification about this. You’re absolutely right that catholic is a great word and every Christian should consider himself a catholic in the sense of being part of the one universal church (all Christians from all places and all times of history).

I was referring to the Roman Catholic Church. Based on my understanding of Scripture and of the teachings of the RCC, the RCC still (even post-Vatican II) teaches a gospel that is, at its core, contrary to the Biblical gospel. The core issues still remain that caused them to excommunicate Martin Luther and led to the Protestant Reformation. (Interestingly, today is the anniversary of the day in 1517 when he nailed the 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg.) So while I’m sure there are individual RCC members who are Christians, I would say that the RCC as an institution is not Christian in the Biblical sense. Thus, when I have opportunity to talk about Jesus with people from an RCC background, I try to find out their understanding of the gospel. (A book that I found very helpful is The Gospel According to Rome by James G McCarthy. It is written by a former RCC member himself, he avoids exaggerating the RCC positions and writes with compassion, not anger or pride.)

But I should have said in my note that many Baptists I run into are not truly Christian either. Many Baptist churches proclaim an emasculated gospel that basically tells people to pray a prayer and then assures them they are now Christians. (And I say that as someone who has spent the last ~10 years as a member of Baptist churches.) No matter what our particular “stripe”, we seem to all naturally gravitate away from the teachings of the Bible to the teachings of men. We want a formula, and God refuses to be reduced to a formula!
 I would also add that we seem to all naturally gravitate toward forms of religion that flatter our pride.


  1. When Protestants reject the first 15 centuries of Christian tradition in favor of their own version of Christianity, how do you square that with St. Paul's clear admonition to "stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle."?

  2. Hi TSMLink, when the Roman Catholic Church rejects the teachings of Scripture in favor of their own version of Christianity, how do you square that with St. Paul's clear warning that "even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed"? If even the teachings of the apostles were to be measured against Scripture, how much more those who came after the apostles?