Are Catholics Christians?

Who is a Christian?

In our western, post-truth culture we tend to let people self-identify without calling into question the truth of their distinct personhood. So according to Saving Truth by Abdu Murray, “At the University of Washington students affirmed a white man’s self-identification as a young Chinese girl.” (p 53)

I mention this because the media, and consequently the public at large, thinks nothing of lumping anyone who self-identifies as a Christian all into one gigantic group.

The problem, of course, is that some identify as Christian because they live in a country that has been known as a Christian nation and where more Christians live than do Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus. But are they actually Christian?

Some people think being a Christian is holding to a certain list of do-this-and-not-thats. Others think that if they go to church once in a while, then they are Christians. Still others think that doing what their church leader says to do qualifies them as Christian. For Catholics that person might be their parish priest or a bishop or the pope.

None of those things define who is a Christian, however. Instead, a Christian is simply a follower of Jesus Christ. A disciple, if you will.

In the early years when the Church was just beginning, the disciples were known as those who followed The Way. Then in Antioch someone started calling them Christians.

They were Christians during those years of persecution, when Paul traveled from one city to another and declared, to the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles, that Jesus was God’s Son, crucified for the sins of the world, resurrected and ascended on high.

Tradition has it that Mark traveled to Egypt in the middle of the first century and began the group of believers that has come to be known as Coptic Christians, while Thomas traveled to India and brought the gospel to the southernmost part of the country.

During those years, there was no “catholic” church or protestant denomination. There were no “approved” list of doctrines. What defined a Christian? Simply one who believed what Jesus said and did. They were still nothing more than disciples, learning from the teaching of the Master.

But the Master had ascended into heaven. So how could they follow Him? By following what those who had been with Him said and wrote. By believing the testimony of the Holy Spirit within their hearts.

The problem was, almost at once people who claimed to be followers of Jesus started teaching things that Jesus had never said, things like, you have to be circumcised, and things like, since we have grace, we can commit whatever sin we want and it is forgiven.

To correct those errors, leaders like James and Peter and John and Paul wrote letters to individuals or churches to change their thinking and teach them what Jesus actually said and what He actually meant.

Some of these letters were at once recognized as God-breathed and were considered to be of equal value with the law of Moses, the psalms and proverbs, the prophetic writings, Eventually a Council of believers was held and Church leaders determined the canon or list of works that would be considered Scripture.

For about 250 years Christians endured persecution in the Roman Empire, sometimes severely so. In 64 the Emperor Nero scapedgoated Christians for the fire in Rome. The Emperor Domitian outlawed Christianity, making it a capital offense. In 303 the co-emperors Diocletian and Galerius instigated what came to be known as the Great Persecution.

Finally, in 313 Emperor Constantine lifted the ban on Christianity.

Nearly 70 years later Emperor Theodosius I declared Catholicism the state religion of the Roman Empire, and thus began the Roman Catholic Church, which soon spread and dominated Europe, most often by force. Were those converts actually Christians? Some undoubtedly were, but some were not, as literature shows.

The Catholic Church itself became entwined in politics and the economics of the day. The priests could be Godly spiritual counselors but they could just as easily be selfish and corrupt. In other words, they were just like every other person—some believing in God and some living for self.

In 1517 the first of the reformers started a movement to bring the Roman Catholic Church back into line with what the Bible taught, and the Protestant Reformation was born.

Not much has changed over these five hundred years. People still either believe God or they live for themselves. That includes Protestants and Catholics.

So the short answer: Are Catholics Christians? Some are, some are not.

Of course there are groups of Christians who point at Catholics and decry them as heretics. But I personally know Catholics who believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins. Their faith is in His shed blood.

But they worship Mary, some say, and the saints. They deify the Pope and believe they have certain things they must do in order to be saved.

Maybe.

Some do not “worship” Mary or the saints but they revere them. Some see the things they do as evidence of faith, not acts to earn salvation.

The actual doctrine of the Catholic Church contains things I don’t believe and I don’t think the Bible teaches, but not everyone who says they’re a Catholic even knows what their own doctrine is. Some believe what they themselves read in the Bible and some believe what they want to believe. So who among the Catholics is a Christian?

Well, the answer is the same as to the question, Who among the Lutherans is a Christian? Or, Who among the Presbyterians is a Christian? Or, Who among the Baptists is a Christian?

Only the person who puts his faith, hope, trust, belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a means of salvation that brings him into the family of God.

Yes, family. We are one family, some worshiping with Catholics, some with Lutherans, some with Methodists, some with Evangelical Free. Some worshiping in Brazil, some in South Africa, some in Korea, some in France, some in Mexico, some in Nigeria.

Are Catholics Christians? Maybe. They can be Christians if they respond to the good news that Christ died for their sins, that He rose the third day, that He is now seated on high working as their Advocate with the Father.

It really is not a yes or no question because some self-identify as Christian when they aren’t. They want the approval of their community, perhaps, or of their family. They, in fact, don’t know enough about Christianity to say they don’t believe it, so they go along with everyone else they know.

Nowhere is “Christian” the default position. A person doesn’t get born a Christian. It’s actually an informed, thought-out, consciously chosen position. And it’s a life-changing decision because it marks the beginning of a life of discipleship, of following Jesus by paying attention to what He taught and what He explained to the very first disciples.

I guess the real question is not, are Catholics Christians, but am I a Christian.

11 Comments

  1. Well done, Becky. Over the years I’ve really grown into a “nothing but the blood of Jesus” Christian. What makes you a Christian? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

    I used to say, do you proclaim Him as your Savior? Except I remember the Apostle Peter denying Christ 3 times while the rooster crowed and it really taught me that our faith is in His hands, and not really in our own. Unfortunately there are also some like Judas, who can give a kiss in public but really aren’t playing on the same team at all. That kind of stuff will mess with your head. The good news is, we can just surrender it all to the Lord. In theory we should just be treating everyone as a Christian anyway, either as one soon to be, or one already.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like the “nothing but the blood of Jesus,” approach, IB. My greatest concern for those who profess to be Christians is for those who don’t really know who Jesus is but who think they know Him. I want them to know who He says He is and trust His very own words. He is the Son of God, the prophesied Messiah, the I am, the One who came to save. He’s not someone who simply spoke platitudes that we can use to be better people. He didn’t come to make dead people a little more comfortable. He came to make dead people alive.

      Thanks for adding your thoughts, especially about Peter.

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with everything you say. As a Filipino, many Catholics here in the Philippines do not even practice their religion. So, we always go back to whoever claimed and professed that they made Jesus as the Savior and Lord of their lives and only God knows.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amen! Only God knows. Our job is to proclaim the truth that all may hear the good news. Thanks for your comment, Matthew.

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve found it more helpful to consider the theology of the visible and invisible church which goes beyond denominational criteria. The visible church being what we can see – the established church and otherwise, and the invisible church being those who are united to Christ.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good post–great history lesson, but it also gets to the most important point: “Only the person who puts his faith, hope, trust, belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a means of salvation that brings him into the family of God.” A great many people worship God and learn about him from others who are teaching false doctrine, and yet by the power of the Word of God those people have saving faith in Christ.
    By the way, “catholic” means “united and existing everywhere.” God sees a catholic church that is not Roman Catholic but that exists in every nation, tribe, and language–not to mention the saints in Paradise. In that sense of the word, you and I are catholic Christians. J.

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  5. Churches are evil.if you belive in Jesus you don’t need stones and bricks

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    • First, the Church does not refer to buildings. The Church is what Peter refers to in his first letter as a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. Second, Paul specifies that the Church is the bride of Christ. We’re also told that the gates of hell will not prevail over the Church. One last point: Scripture tells believers not to forsake the “assembling together,” or coming together for corporate worship and for edification and instruction. So in truth, if you think “churches are evil” you either have bought into some false teaching or you don’t know Jesus. It is we, the Church, that He was thinking of when He was on the cross. It is we He died for, we He will come back to take home. Nothing evil about the people Christ sacrificed to save.

      Becky

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      • I’ve seen some lousy Catholics, and good Protestants.

        I’ve seen lousy Protestants, and good Catholics.

        God is not so small that His eyes are bad to see what ‘letter’ is written on the business card. God knows all about our business, and He surely knows if it’s His business, denominations aside.

        So then why are we so small because people choose another campsite as opposed to roasting marshmellows with us…. the thought never occurs to us that their fire may have more heat.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You don’t need church to belive in Jesus

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  6. Yes, the individuals relationship with God, not so much their denomination, is key. You might be interested to read my first hand experince working through this problem as my husband is a Catholic. https://theconversator.com/2018/10/12/catholic-vs-christian/
    Thanks for the article.
    With Hope, The Conversator.

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