Are Catholics Christians?

Are Catholics Christians?
Vol: 19 Issue: 10 Wednesday, February 10, 2016

One of our members posted the intriguing question, “Are Catholics Christians?” in our member’s discussion forums.  It is a hugely difficult topic to address – even the very question is difficult.  I was reading through the various responses and I was gratified that so many mentioned that they were reluctant to offend.

Allow me to express the same sentiment.  I have absolutely no wish to offend anyone, either, but the question deserves a carefully thought out reply.

Let me begin by saying that I am a former Catholic.  I was educated by nuns in Catholic schools, was an altar boy, learned the entire Mass in Latin and fantasized about one day becoming a priest.

I loved the sense of privilege that came along with being a Catholic.  When a Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon missionary came knocking, one could devastate them by simply saying, “No, thank you. I’m a Catholic.”

Who would dare to argue with the only people on earth that were going to Heaven? 

For years, I was careful to check my religious reading material for the all important “imprimatur” and “nihil obstat” endorsements that certified the material contained therein was approved by the Church.  

I had my “Martin Luther Moment” in the eighth grade religion class at Our Lady of Grace school when I asked about what seemed to be a conflict between Church teachings and the Bible. 

I’d like to say it was a profoundly deep theological question, but wasn’t.   Our parish priest’s name was Father Noonan — his nephew was our principal.  I wondered if Mr. Noonan called him ‘Uncle’ or ‘Father’?  

The teacher, a Sisters of Loretto nun named Mother St. Brendan,  said that as a priest, he was always to be addressed as ‘Father’ — even by his family members. 

I had done a little research on my own before asking and her answer raised another question.  In Matthew 23:9 Jesus said to His disciples, “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.”

So I asked her about that, and her answer totally devastated me.  “In matters of conflict between the Bible and Church dogma, Church dogma is to be given the greater authority.”    I had to ask her to clarify it for me; “You mean when the Bible doesn’t agree with Church teaching,  it is the Bible that’s wrong?” 

My brain was spinning — this made no sense to me.  Where did we first learn about God?  Obviously, from the Bible. It was the Old Testament prophets who told us of the coming Messiah.  It was by those prophecies that His credentials were established.  

So if the Bible could be wrong on certain matters of Church dogma,  then the whole “chicken and the egg” question comes into play.  Did God create the Church?  Or did the Church create God?  

It was a question I had been wrestling with ever since Vatican II lifted the prohibition on eating meat on Friday.

Eating meat on Friday was a mortal sin which, if unconfessed and unforgiven, meant eternal damnation.  I always thought that Friday was chosen to be meatless because the next day was Saturday, the day that everybody went to confession before Mass on Sunday.

That way, I reasoned in my eleven-year old brain, even if you did violate the meat ban, you only had to make it til the next day without getting hit by a bus or something before you could go to confession — at least you had a fighting chance.

Then Pope John XXIII lifted the ban and you could eat a burger on Friday without going to hell.  My eleven-year old mind couldn’t reconcile what happened to all the guys who ate meat on Friday before Vatican II? 

Did they have to stay in hell?   What happened to them?  Did God stick His head down there and say, “Sorry, guys, My mistake.  You can come in, now.  The Pope said so.”  

If the Church couldn’t keep its own doctrine straight, and it was the final authority over the Bible, then the Bible couldn’t be true.   I was a Catholic, but I wasn’t a Christian.  

Assessment:

Before accusing me of Catholic-bashing, let me remind you that I am answering a direct question to the best of my understanding of both Catholicism and the Bible.   It boils down to a single question.   Is one saved by membership in a Church? 

Or by faith that one’s salvation was obtained by the grace of God through faith in the finished work of the Cross?  The Vatican, until recently, declared all non-Catholic Christian denominations ‘heretics’ and to this day declares, “There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church.”

We’ll get back to that concept shortly.   But for now, let’s consider the question before us, but we’ll try some name substitution.    “Are Presbyterians Christians?”  

According to the PCUSA’s catechism, “The Book of Order” the “church’s pastors, elders and deacons are to live lives of “fidelity within the covenant of marriage” and “chastity in singleness.”

But the PCUSA voted last year to include openly gay clergy and to drop the chastity requirement. Biblical prohibitions were deemed unsuited to modern culture — essentially deciding that certain parts of the Bible are wrong.

What if one is a member of the Lutheran Church?  Does that mean that one is a Christian?  The Lutherans practice infant baptism, despite Acts 8:28‘s clear teaching that one must first confess faith in Christ before one can be baptized. 

I was once a member of a Convention Baptist Church here in my town.  Among our membership was a family in which everybody was saved except the Dad.  Dad showed up every Sunday for both morning and evening services.  He helped out with Vacation Bible School.  He went to adult Sunday school classes.  And he would be the first to admit that he wasn’t saved. 

The guy lived like a Christian.  He didn’t smoke, drink, swear or run around at night.  He was an excellent Dad and a really nice guy.   The pastor encouraged him to get involved, hoping that he would eventually ‘get it’. 

Are Convention Baptists Christians?  He was a Convention Baptist.  But if one defines ‘Christian’ as eternally saved by grace through faith, then the Dad I’m thinking of definitely was not a Christian.

The question, “Are Catholics Christian?” is profound in it’s simplicity.  It cuts right to the essence of what Christianity is all about.  To the world, Christianity is a religion.  It is often referred to as one of the world’s three great montheistic religions, and that description is upheld by the Vatican. 

Speaking from Temple Mount during his visit in May, Pope Benedict told the world, ““Here the paths of the world’s three great monotheistic religions meet, reminding us what they share in common.” 

“It is paramount that those who adore the One God should show themselves to be both grounded in and directed toward the unity of the entire human family,” he said.  

Here is what the three great monotheistic religions share in common. 

“Religion” is a man-made system of worship whereby man makes himself acceptable to God.  The problem with this approach is two-fold.  The first is that it assumes that man knows what is acceptable to God.   That is what Satan told Eve: “Your eyes will be opened, knowing good from evil.  Ye shall be as gods.”

Good and evil are outcomes, not actions. One can do something with the very best of intentions and it still cause great evil.   Witness the banning of DDT to protect the environment. One can hardly find fault with the intentions. But the result was more than a million malaria-related deaths per year that would have been prevented by the use of the pesticide. 

One can intend to do someone great evil, as did Joseph’s brothers when they sold him into slavery in Egypt, which ultimately resulted in the salvation of the entire family from starvation.  

Satan certainly had evil intentions when he conspired with the rulers of this world to crucify Jesus Christ. But it was through that evil that our salvation was purchased. The action was evil, but the outcome was the salvation of mankind.

“Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1st Corinthians 2:8)

Christianity is not a religion. Christianity does not have “rules”.

“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Galatians 5:14)

Genuine, Biblical Christianity is a philosophy that recognizes that it is God that made manacceptable unto Himself — because man is powerless to so so on his own.   A Christian is one that trusts Jesus Christ and His promise of salvation, rather than substituting membership in a Church for faith.

Are Catholics Christians?  Some are. Some are not. Simply being a Catholic doesn’t make one a Christian.  The same can be said for Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians or any other denomination within organized Christian religion.   

Judging by the Vatican’s own statement that “there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church,” one can conclude that the Vatican’s position is that salvation is determined by Church membership.  Further, the Vatican says that Catholic Church dogma must be given greater weight than the Bible.

Since the Bible says salvation is by grace through faith in Christ and claims itself to be the final authoritative Word of God,  the Vatican disqualifies itself as a follower of Biblical Christianity. 

One way of expressing it is like this — “membership in a particular church making one a Christian is about as logical as membership in a parking co-op makes one a car.” 

(Don’t remember where I first heard that — but I don’t think I made it up. It’s far too profound.)

Every Saturday, I would hurry to confession to have my sins forgiven by a priest, so that I could attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass whereby the wafer is transubstantiated into the Body of Christ, which is sacrificed anew on the altar for the forgiveness of sins. 

“And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God.For by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.”  (Hebrews 10:11-12,14)

Organized religion cannot save anybody — no matter who organized it or when.   Nobody is saved by the rituals of religion. 

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Originally Published: October 26, 2009

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