Growing up in Pentecostal church, I picked up on this idea: Catholics aren’t Christians. The typical charges against them were things like praying to Mary, worshiping the Pope, praying to the saints, and elevating the teachings of saints and church leaders to the same level as Scripture. They also had cool necklaces – and I wanted to wear one.
And then there were the wild accusations from the end-times obsessed folks, claiming the current Pope is most definitely, 100% for sure, obviously THE Antichrist (these guys are still doing this too).
I was smart enough to detect the crazy on the doomsday prophets, but the underlying message “Catholics aren’t Christians” stuck with me. When you hear something enough times, you just begin to believe it.
So I believed Catholics aren’t Christians.
In fact, I was pretty sure the churches that acted all catholicy (Episcopal, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox) were also NOT Christian. And there were a few who seemed to have one foot on the Catholic side and the other on the Christian side (Lutherans and Methodists) who were probably what Jesus was talking about in Revelation chapter 3 – you know, the whole “lukewarm, gonna spit you out” passage.
For years, I have faithfully stayed inside the safe boundaries of what I was told fit the Christian label. Also, during those years my belief that Catholics aren’t Christians began to fade.
I would read a great book and discover the author was Catholic. Hmmm. What to do? Was I dancing with the devil or was I learning something valuable?
Then there was the issue of my mother-in-law. She’s basically a Catholic who tries hard to be a protestant charismatic. She does a good job of blending in – but I know about her secret stash of daily “The Word Among Us” Catholic devotions. If my undercover Catholic mother-in-law is NOT a Christian, I don’t know if anyone is gonna make it to heaven. The lady is a saint. Wait, is that too catholicy? OK, she is probably the holiest person I know.
In recent years, I’ve grown to value Catholic writers like Henri Nouwen, Jean Vanier, René Girard, Thomas Merton, and Flannery O’Connor.
This summer, my family spent a month in Italy. We attended both a protestant church and a Catholic church. We had a deeply enriching conversation with Sister Angela, a Catholic nun working at the small retreat where Saint Francis had lived.
My beliefs have shifted. I used to believe Catholics aren’t Christian, but I don’t believe that stuff anymore.
I believe we’re all part of the same big family. Historically, this is true. We (protestants) come from the Catholic church. They’re basically our parents. Protestant Christians didn’t exist until the time of Martin Luther (1517).
When I was a kid living in my parent’s home, our way of life was determined by them. They have always been very careful with their money – they did the Dave Ramsey thing before Dave Ramsey was doing it. They are extremely frugal.
Leaving home, I wanted to go my way. I longed for MORE. I wanted MORE money and MORE stuff and definitely MORE name brands and bling. So that’s what I did. I spent lavishly. I did extravagant things. I rocked my Tommy Hilfiger jacket (hey, it was 1993). I was establishing my way of life as unique and different from my parent’s way of life.
As time has gone on, I’ve become more and more like my parents. Not 100%, but I’m a lot more like them today than when I was 21 years old. They’re my family, my parents. They provided for me, educated me, loved me, shaped and influenced me. I am who I am today because of them—and I’m looking more and more like them as I grow older.
I think we (protestants) need to acknowledge that the Catholic church is our family, our parents. We didn’t arrive where we are today all on our own. We’ve been provided for, loved, influenced…
And sure, we left home wanting to go our own way. We think our way is better. That’s often how it is when we’re young and full of new ideas. It’s not bad, it’s just the way it is.
I tend to think as we (the protestant church) grow older, there will be some areas where we will start looking more like our parents (the Catholic church). I hope so. I think we would benefit from a little more mystery and tradition and beauty. And I think we should do more to celebrate baptisms. Maybe we will grow to value some of the same things our parents do.
Here’s what the big family looks like:
There are 2.18 billion Christians world-wide.
3 major denominations within Christianity: Catholic, protestant, and Orthodox.
1.2 billion are Catholic
800 million are protestant (and there are 30,000+ protestant denominations)
300 million are Orthodox
The claim “Catholics aren’t Christians” is most often made in ignorance. I’m sure there are a few Catholics who don’t know that protestants are Christians too. Maybe we should hang out once in a while and get to know each other. We need a big family reunion.
A mistake we often make is “comparing our best to your worst” when attempting to prove we’re right and you’re wrong. We do this in politics and we do it in religion. And we really should stop doing it.
Are there confused, misguided Catholics? Duh. Of course there are.
Are there protestants who aren’t Christians. Absolutely.
I’m pretty sure there are a lot of self-professing Christians who aren’t Christian.
I’m also incredibly thankful for the Catholic church.
They are my family.
And I have the cool necklace now (brought it home from Italy).
YOUR TURN: Am I crazy? Too generous with the Christian label? Do you appreciate our BIG family?