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.

It’s NOT The Holiday You Think


Happy anniversary, Christianity. Today commemorates the beginning of the Reformation. Some might think only Protestants can celebrate this anniversary, but as the name Reformation suggests, the idea Martin Luther had was to bring needed change to the Church, not to divide it.

What resulted was eventually what he hoped: the Catholic Church has reformed. But other denominations have also developed, each emphasizing something a little different from the others. As a result, I say, Happy anniversary, Christianity, because the Reformation called believers, Catholics and Protestants alike, back to things the Church in the first century emphasized.

In recognition of this special day, I’m re-posting an article (with some editorial changes) from 2011 that discusses Reformation Day.

– – – – –

October 31—what holiday is the first that comes to your mind?

In all likelihood, it’s Halloween, with it’s spooky traditions and candy goodness. That is completely understandable because it’s the holiday that gets all the press. Who hasn’t seen scary commercials and trailers for the latest horror movie or store displays luring customers to buy this goody or that accessory?

But in truth, October 31 marks something vastly more important.

Nearly 500 years ago, God moved across Europe through courageous men and women to restore to the church the truth of the Gospel, the primacy of the Word of God, the importance of expressing faith in great songs and music as well as a renewal of the personal walk of a believer with his Lord. This is the REFORMATION! (First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, Newsbreak, 2011)

And the holiday has become known as Reformation Day, most often celebrated as Reformation Sunday on the Sunday prior to October 31.

In part here’s what Wikipedia says:

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According to Philipp Melanchthon, writing in 1546, [Martin] Luther “wrote theses on indulgences and posted them on the church of All Saints on 31 October 1517”, an event now seen as sparking the Protestant Reformation.

According to an article at the web site Sunday School Lessons, Luther’s concerns emphasized two key points: justification by faith and the priesthood of all believers.

I have to admit, I take for granted those tenets of the faith. After all, Scripture makes them so clear … except, the common ordinary people of Luther’s day didn’t have Bibles. They depended on their church leaders to tell them what was in God’s word.

A corrupt church and priests interested in lining their own pockets weren’t concerned with trivialities such as what the Bible actually said, so salvation by faith alone was not a concept widely known. The idea of “no distinction [between believers] … but Christ is all and in all” was for all practical purposes unheard of.

Chaplain R. Kevin Johnson explains it this way in his article “Reformation Day”:

Lucas_Cranach_d.Ä._(Werkst.)_-_Porträt_des_Martin_Luther_(Lutherhaus_Wittenberg)

[Martin Luther’s] aim was to protest the assertion by the Church that God’s favor could be gained by the purchase of indulgences. Luther taught that salvation and the remission of sin are available by grace through faith in Christ alone and that no monetary offering or good deed would or could achieve the same result. With this bold act of conviction, Luther set in motion a full revolt against the Church known as the Protestant Reformation.

Luther challenged church doctrine by teaching that all Christian believers have both the right and responsibility to carry forth the gospel (a principle we call “the priesthood of the believer”). To prove his point, Luther looked to the scriptures and cited 1 Corinthians 4:1, “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries;” Revelation 5:10, “you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth;” and 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Luther also taught that no extra-biblical means was necessary to obtain divine truth.

in 2011 Justin Taylor wrote a great post chock full of resources for those who wish to learn more about Martin Luther and his part in the Reformation, but most powerful I felt was his closing paragraph:

Luther—like all of us—was a flawed man with feet of clay. He didn’t see or say everything right. But God used him to recover the gospel and to reform the church, and it is fitting to thank God for this remarkable man and God’s grace to him and through him.

Perhaps Reformation Day is the most pivotal holiday ever that few remember or celebrate. Not that churches don’t acknowledge it or perhaps even do something special on Sunday to commemorate it. But it doesn’t quite crowd out Halloween, now, does it?

Not that I’m suggesting Christians should have “our holiday” and non-Christians, “theirs.” But it seems pretty clear, if Christians don’t celebrate the Reformation, no one else will.

Reformation Day


Lucas_Cranach_d.Ä._(Werkst.)_-_Porträt_des_Martin_Luther_(Lutherhaus_Wittenberg)Reformation Day, the commemoration of Martin Luther’s bold challenge to the Church, is 497 years old today. While Luther contributed a great deal to Christendom, specifically regarding the value of Scripture over tradition, his greatest gift to theology came that afternoon 497 years ago.

Luther did not intend to split the Church or start his own denomination. Rather, he wanted discussion about practices in the Church that conflicted with his understanding of Scripture—specifically the selling of indulgences or the release from purgatory for and salvation of a loved one for a price.

The corrupt practice was lucrative and enriched the papacy at the expense of the clear teaching of Scripture. Luther boldly confronted the practice.

Luther taught that every human being at every moment of life stands absolutely coram deo, before God, confronted face-to-face by God. This led him to confront the major misunderstanding in the Church of his day that grace and forgiveness of sins could be bought and sold like wares in the market. (“Reformation Day,” First Things web site)

Within months, Luther’s views went viral. The papacy reacted and Luther sought protection from a powerful landed aristocrat.

But through the centuries Luther’s views have spread and today are influencing the church he confronted.

The great celebration of Reformation Day, then, is not that Protestantism was born. Rather it is the reforming truth that a person is not dependent upon his own finite efforts to reconcile with God but that God, because of His lavish love, gifted us with grace through faith, resulting in the removal of our offenses which created a barrier between us and God.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

In preparation for the 500th celebration of Reformation Day coming in three years, German Protestant and Catholic scholars are once again studying the 95 theses and finding some common ground.

“The focus on Christ, the Bible and the authentic Word are things that we as the Catholic Church today can only underline,” [Bishop Franz-Josef Hermann] Bode said. The bishop’s views reflect the ideas of many other Catholic theologians since the Second Vatican Council as Luther’s teachings, especially his esteem for the Word of God, have come to be appreciated in a way that would have been unthinkable just a century ago. (“Reformation Day,” First Things web site)

Fifteen years ago there was movement of this nature, too. A Joint Declaration of Justification between the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church was issued.

The Joint Declaration represents a measure of convergence between Catholic and Reformational understandings of that article of faith by which the Church either stands or falls, to cite a favorite Lutheran saying. For example, the Joint Declaration asserts, “We confess together: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.” (“Reformation Day,” First Things web site)

What a celebration, to see believers of various persuasions united by a return to faith and not works, to trust in Scripture and not tradition. Certainly there are differences that remain between Catholics and Protestant, but Reformation Day seems as if it may at last be a celebration of widespread Church reform, pointing people to the truth of the Bible, not the corrupt ideas of men.

Now, about the reform that’s needed among Protestants . . . 😉

Published in: on October 31, 2014 at 6:17 pm  Comments Off on Reformation Day  
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