Catholics Aren’t Christian
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.
In fact my favorite book this year is by Father Gregory Boyle, Tattoos On The Heart. I loved it so much, I had my “Christian” staff of pastors read it with me.
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?
One last thing: This post “So, A Catholic Walks Into A LifeWay Store…” by Elizabeth Esther is absolutely incredible. Serious. Please read it!
This is the conclusion of a 3-part series. Check out part 1 “Richer Is Always Better” and part 2 “Success Will Make My Insecurities Go Away.”
45 Comments to Catholics Aren’t Christian
Ramming home this point you made:
“I think we (protestants) need to acknowledge that the Catholic church is our family, our parents.”
St. Stephens (Catholic Church across the street from NWLife) paid our church’s mortgage for an entire year early on as it got established.
Also, I’m quite certain I’ll see my Catholic Grandmother and Grandfather when I get to heaven. They are amazing. They love God, people & life.
Who is on your necklace?
Thank you Pastor Brian for standing up for Catholic Christians. I also used to have those beliefs about Catholics. Studying the history of the church and the reformation made me realize how wrong I was. I have been a protestant Christian for 39 years, belonging to many different denominations, and I can’t believe how prejudiced I was against Catholics. You are so right about the sacrament of confession/reconciliation. It is the sacrament of love and healing like no other. I started attending St. Stephens to see what Catholics are really about, and realize that I belong here. I am a better Christian as a Catholic than I was as a protestant. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ and should stand in solidarity with each other. I enjoyed my time in your church. You and pastor Sherri truly love Christ and show that love by your service to this community. May God bless you both and your ministry.
Our Lord is so wonderful, this was an amazing story you wrote, it is about a subject Dwane and I have wanted to talk to you about,this just cleared up a huge issue for us,thanks would love to visit about this sometime! Louise Lind
OK, you can like the “necklaces”, but I have memories of having to pray through that form monotonously every day during Lent while fighting to stay awake. I became a Christian in my teens while Catholic, as did a number of my family (incidentally at St Luke’s Episcopal, Fr. D. Bennett’s church). As I read and studied Scripture, I began to see differences between what I was taught as true and what I read in the Bible, and eventually “left the church” (as seen by the majority of my family). I am very grateful for my upbringing, since we heard the Scriptures read every time we went to Mass, and there’s a reverence planted deep in me for the mystery and sovereignty of God that is irreplaceable. It is the foundation my faith and worship is built on. I’m also grateful for where God has led me since. Yes, there’s a couple things about it I miss, but they serve to enrich what I have now.
I’m Catholic and never realized until I moved south that some people don’t consider us Christian. At first I thought it was kind of funny,but then it kind of hurt and now I’m okay with it. Anyway, this was a great read. I was waiting for the part where you said, BUT – as in you were going to drop the bomb about how to convert us Sorry, I’ve had a few protestant friends befriend me just for that purpose and it felt kind of lousy. Also, I just read you post about richer being better and really loved it. There were some fantastic points in that one, especially about the spiritual middle class being indifferent to poor people. I’ve never thought of classes of spirituality. Made me think.
If you follow the history of Christianity, there is a definite family tree feel to it. The many branches of religion that we have now are result of people interpreting the bible differently. On that note, if you look at other religions next to Christianity, you may notice that most of the base teachings, i.e. how to treat others, how to act when you are mistreated, are in fact very similar. Knowing that God is beyond our comprehension, and that he strives for us to be closer to him, why wouldn’t it be feasible to think he might present himself differently to the different races so that they might have a better understanding/relationship with him? I am just grateful that he never gave up on me and found a way to lead me back.
We definitely tend to view the extremists, often most visible representatives, as the standard for whatever denom and condemn the heretical stuff (see Fire, Strange) they do.
Is Marian worship a detestable misrepresentation and misunderstanding of the faith our Christian sister and mother of our Lord Jesus? Of course. But so is every so called revival where demonic activity is credited to the Holy Spirit.
There is stuff I don’t like about Catholicism. There’s stuff I don’t like about charismania. Shoot, as a credential AG minister there’s stuff I don’t like about our denomination. I’m sure my faith has aspects that each of the aforementioned denoms won’t be adding into their respective statements of faith, but each servant is accountable to their master, not the other servants.
In fact I’m often flummoxed by how quickly we’ll defend those who clearly are outside the realm of Christianity on core doctrinal issues, but then jump all over our Christian brothers because they hold to different viewpoints on secondary issues.
Oh, and everybody already knows that president Bill Clinton, errrr George Bush, errrrr Barack Obama is the antichrist.
I love this series, for the last 3 years or so I have been on this journey of really examining what I believe and why. What’s really important to hold as my unwavering beliefs and what am I just believing because that’s what I’ve always been told. A few days ago my husband got my daughter dressed for the day and put a new shirt on her. She asked him what was on it and he told her it was a bear. She came running in to see me and I told her I liked her new shirt, that was a cute hedgehog on there. She said “that’s a bear” I told her again it was a hedgehog but she said “no it’s not, it’s a bear” if you asked her today what was on there she would tell you it’s a bear. She firmly believes its a bear because that’s what she was told first. How many things do we believe and defend and even fight for just because that’s what we were told first? It was such a clear and comical picture of how I tend to act, but am constantly working to change.
like your thoughts and story!
meant for Leslie
Wow, so many amazing comments and perspectives on this weeks blog series! I love it. I love everyone’s willingness to share their views and keep their beliefs, and also listen to other people’s insights.
PB, It’s really cool that you’re writing about topics which many of us have contemplated. I’ve had complaints about many of the same issues you’ve brought up. And I’m feeling very refreshed by the faith I can hear in everyone’s voices as we seem to be sorting through these issues. It gives me hope, for all of Us, as The Church..
I’m really noticing us rising to a new level of willingness to be defined by the fruits of the Spirit rather than being defined by the Old ideals. I hope I am not speaking only for myself here. I hope other readers are overjoyed the way I am. I hope we can all see the obvious merits in encouraging each other to live authentically in our faith. Seems we are all getting tired of the ‘faith’ which defines itself by the fruits of the Ego, “I’m right. Your wrong. Now shut UP and-get-right-with-god.”
Thank you for writing every week Pastor Brian. It’s excellent food for thought!
Go right ahead!! I haven’t done the paperwork to get intellectual property rights on that phrase yet. For now, anything I contribute is public property haha.
I enjoyed your writing and the responses. I read it all because I saw on Facebook that my daughter had ‘liked’ your message.
My husband and I were both raised Baptist (not those Methodists and other churches that ‘sprinkled’) and after we married we were caught up in the charismatic movement and spent the next many years in the A/G denomination. My husband was so sincere and zealous that he (being on his board of directors) accompanied Nicky Cruz on missionary outreaches to Mexico and South America in the hopes of getting those Catholics ‘saved’.
Having seen many uncomfortable displays of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit when you just knew in your heart that the person was serving their own interest, we started to question. Another friend of my husband’s was on a similar journey and they read, shared, and studied together with the end result being the friend went Greek Orthodox and we became Roman Catholics. A very good book on becoming Catholic is Scott Hahn’s Rome Sweet Home. At first our family thought we had drank some ‘funny Kool Aid’ when we became Catholic but most of them think we are better balanced people now and our son followed us into the church.
I love the traditions, the reverence, the music and most of all the worship. Protestants are very critical of having the crucifix front and center but I look at it with such love and thankfulness and think we need to remember what Christ did for us because the victory over death has little meaning if we only think about the Passion on Easter.
Thank you for your blog and I’m sure you know that Catholics do NOT worship the Pope or Mary.
My first time to your blog Brian, enjoyed the read. Critical thinking and probing questions is a bit of a lost art and unfortunately deemphasized within most Protestant circles. Thanks for encouraging both.
The reality of the situation is that the Roman Catholic Church is the the Christian Church Christ established on earth. There is no way around this it is historical and religious fact. You all who are part of the Reform churches (protestants) have left the one true faith. Please come home! We are the only Church with the fullness of truth and therefore the fullness of salvation. Protestants are like the prodigal sons of the Christian world. We seek reuniting, we need to become one whole Christian faith again…this is why there are 30,000 Reform churches and only one true apostolic faith which is Catholicism. Please read “Rome Sweet Home” by Scott Hahn or one of the many other books by converts. Come home to the fullness of the Christian faith. The door is always open and we are waiting for you. http://www.catholicscomehome.org
I believe what it is telling you is while your church is not a valid church because it does not contain the Eucharist which is the source and summit of the Christian faith, we do however recognize your baptism so long as it is “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” which is what makes a Christian a Christian. We are saved through our baptism not just through the acceptance of Christ into our lives through the Jesus prayer.
I am not sure where you read that we do not profess ourselves as the One, True, Faith but I would like to refer you to Lumen Gentium http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html
And here: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_commento-responsa_en.html
Also, if you have not picked up the Catechism of the Catholic Church it tells you about all that we believe in one happy book! This former Southern Baptist now Catholic thinks this is the coolest part of our faith.
Also, of I could put a few more books on your reading list: Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic and Catholic for a Reason (there are 2 parts to this I believe) are also excellent resources but I would still start with Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn.
I really enjoyed reading Brian McLaren’s book which is called, “A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am A Missional, Evangelical, Post/protestant, Liberal/conservative, Mystical/poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-Yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished Christian.”
I found that book around the time when I didn’t think I fit the definition of a “Pentecostal Christian” and definitely didn’t want to be a “Baptist.” I wanted to be “Danielle, with a heart for loving and following God with wreckless abandon.” So I liked Brain McLaren’s book because he showed me a picture of a man who was actively seeking Christ’s truth in his life, and was ok with not signing his life away to a certain denomination. Personally, I can applaud that. Some people think that is being wishy-washy in faith, or serving 2 masters, chasing demons etc. But I don’t worry about it like that. Because every believer is at a unique place in their life’s journey & their faith, and the scriptures tell us that God is well aware of our individual path. So, somehow I just trust God to bring each of us the lessons we need to learn, at the exact time we need to learn them. I just trust God. I just Do.
And I believe Our True God is magnificently capable of teaching powerful spiritual truths through any form, and is UNlimited in absolutely Every way. I think the important thing is to keep “Knocking on God’s Door,” because even if we ARE errant in our dogmatic beliefs, even if we are walking in confusion, God is everywhere and capable of speaking to anyone who listens.
I enjoyed your essay and appreciate someone non-Catholic helping us out a little bit. I’m a Catholic priest and am frequently telling my parishioners that no matter how many times we try to explain that we don’t worship Mary people still say we do. And a bunch of other stuff. I’m also a in favor of cool necklaces. One problem, why did poor Godzilla have to get implicated in the whole debate?
Greetings, my friend Chris shared this article with me and I’m glad he did! I am a Catholic and have heard many judgments of my faith all of my life and I have to say this is the best article I’ve read/heard from a protestant brother. Indeed it is time for us to quit treating each other like we’re the enemy. I have friends who are protestants and have discussed that it’s better to respect each other and unite. After all, we both believe in the same God and have the same enemy. I as well was kind of waiting to hear a ‘but’ bomb drop towards the end as I am used to hearing, but certainly wasn’t the case. I think we can both learn a lot from each other and hope to meet more protestant brothers that share the same thoughts that you do. God Bless!
Ernie! It’s a pleasure working with you and I love the fact that you are passionate about God and partnering with other Christians, Protestant and Catholic.
I always enjoy our discussions about faith and the cool differences in the way our churches function.
Pastor Brian, thank you for handling such an explosive church issue with tact, grace and understanding.
Love the blog Brian. I truly cherish my Catholic roots. In fact, I make it a point to share this unique aspect of my upbringing with each wave of newcomers to our church. Two reasons, 1) perspective on my own journey of faith, 2) don’t pick on Catholics.
Seriously, I’ll never forget receiving my First Communion. After months and months of teaching and preparation I felt so honored and humbled to receive the Eucharist.
I’ve made more than a dozen poor pastoral decisions. One of the best has been introducing First Communion for our children. I taught the class last spring, what an honor! We’ve done this for about five years now. The first year you’d thought I pulled our church out of the A/G and renamed us St. Thomas (in honor of the many doubters who couldn’t believe what we were doing). By the next year our church was excited. It has now become second only to Easter as our most well-attended gathering of the year.
Your article obviously struck a chord with me and many others.
May the Lord be with you…
I am not sure how I stumbled upon your blog but found it to be an interesting read. I attended Catholic school through the eighth grade and was very involved in church groups through high school. During my college years, church attendance took a back seat to a busy life.
As an adult, my faith becomes stronger and my gratitude for God’s protection increases daily. Several years ago, after listening to my daughter complain about going to Mass, I decided to find another church. We attended different denominations, each for three months. The plan was to find something that appealed to my daughter and would give her a desire to become an active parishioner. At the end of a year she told me she wanted to return to the Catholic Church. I was relieved. I missed the solemn service, the ceremony and traditions that I knew so well. I missed the formality. The life, death, and resurrection of Christ is an awe-inspiring event and I appreciate how the Catholic Church chooses to honor Him.
To address the question of Catholics being Christians. I am surprised to learn that anyone would consider that we are not. Doesn’t being Christian mean that we strive to be “Christ Like”? Literally, it means “Little Christ” and was first applied to the original apostles.
As you stated in your blog, Catholicism is the parent of all other Christian religions. The earliest known written use of the term “Catholic Church” was in 107 AD by Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who studied under John the Apostle. In 325 AD, Constantine summoned the Council of Nicaea, the first Ecumenical Council. This council issued the Nicene Creed, which professed, in part, the belief in “One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church.” While the divide between the Orthodox and Western Church began early on, the other Christian churches did not appear until much later and began over the question of baptism. Should a person be baptized at birth or as an adult?
The split between the Lutherans and the Roman Catholics began in 1521.
Church of England began in 1534
Mennonites/Amish – 1536
Baptist Church founded by John Smyth -1609
Methodists – 1739
Joseph Smith produced Book of Mormon – 1830
Assemblies of God founded – 1914
Regarding Mary, the mother of Jesus: We do not worship Mary but we do pray to her, asking that she intervene on our behalf. The words in the Hail Mary prayer come directly from the bible: Luke 1:28; Luke 1:41-42; Luke 1:48.
Catholics do not pray “to” Mary as an equal to God. We pray “through” Mary as an intercessor who prays to God on behalf of mankind. If Catholics were to pray to Mary, this would imply that we are worshipping her as a god. Catholics do not perceive Mary as a god. We honor the Blessed Virgin Mary and view her as the holiest of all the Saints, asking for her divine intercession.
In this busy life, I have never taken the time to follow a blog; it is a pleasure to have found yours. Thank you for allowing me to “chime in”. I hope you and your family have a happy, blessed Thanksgiving.
This was a great article! One nit-pick I have is the lines that read “many Protestants (or Catholics) aren’t really Christians.” C.S. Lewis writes about the use of the word Christian in such instances. First off, I COMPLETELY agree with what you mean, but Lewis argues in his most popular book, Mere Christianity, that the term you should really use is “good Christian.” The reason behind that is because to really be a “Christian,” one must accept Christ as their savior and accept the teachings and guidance on morals and virtue that He presents to us in the Gospel. When you change the meaning of the word “Christian” in your argument to mean “good Christian,” you start playing with the meaning of the word, which in the end can be bad.
The comparison that Lewis gives is the word “gentleman.” It’s real, original meaning was simply a man who had a coat of arms. It has over time come to mean a man who is polite, honorable, and chivalrous, among other things. While it is better to be the latter, it is still not the meaning of the original word, and the word has therefore lost its subjective meaning. As Lewis claims, a “gentleman” is now nothing more than a person whom the speaker likes or admires.
I guess what it all boils down to is perfecting our way of articulating our arguments so that they carry the most possible weight and credibility.
Again, NOT trying to be a punk here! Just trying to share a little wisdom. Seriously though, AWESOME article! I especially enjoyed the layout, and the quotations from St. Francis (being Catholic and all). Thanks for sharing, keep on!!
As I get older I am seeing more and more the significance of denominations and the people who adhere to them. I used to think this was a bad and many people in the world feel that it is a bad thing that Christianity has so many denominations. However, I was enlightened to the perspective of unity in diversity through the apologist Ravi Zacharias.
Ravi talks about the Trinity and that even it, there is a diversity of roles but a unity of purpose. He went on to suggest that our individual expressions of faith, found in different denominations, function in a similar manner. Although we may all express our faith differently in each denomination, to the extent that we agree on the fundamentals of the gospel, we are united even in our diverse expressions of faith. To me this makes sense and is really a rebuttal of the argument that different denominations are a diss against the Christian faith. Human societies and cultures are different but we are all human beings, and at a fundamental level, we are all the same. For we all came from one blood, as Paul puts it.
Wow. I realize this was posted years ago. But in searching for something on the interwebs, I landed on this and got sucked in by the title, fully expecting to get all riled up. I’m a life long Catholic living in the evangelic capital of the world. It’s been a hard place for me to live out my faith the extent I want to for ten years now. For years I’ve been painfully aware of how I would refrain from crossing myself when praying with protestant friends and family. I would alter my conversations with them to avoid sounding too “catholicy.” I wanted to hang my “cool necklace” on my rear view mirror to have close by when anxiety struck on long trips but would worry about judgment from others. I’ve had people befriend me for the sole purpose of saving my soul. I’ve hit it off with a fellow mom only to see the curtain close as soon as they found out I was Catholic. I ended up marrying a PK. We were in love and sure our spiritual differences would not be a problem. But they were. For years I have prayed for spiritual unity. But he was admittedly raised up to be anti-catholic. He’s always attended mass with us and has supported raising our two boys Catholic but had zero interest in learning more for himself – his dad had taught him all he needed to know. Earlier this year, something cracked open in his heart. He asked me for books on Catholicism. He was desperate to learn and absorb all he could about my faith. He read book after book after book. He started writing his own book. He came to me and apologized for his misconceptions. He apologized for his ignorance. Then we went to Italy for our ten year anniversary. And his eyes were opened even more. He realized that here in America, we live in a protestant bubble, a place built on anti-catholicism that is still perfectly acceptable. We came home from Italy and he said he wanted to do RCIA to become Catholic and is in the process now. As I’ve read the comments on this post I see so many misconceptions that he held on to expressed by others and I pray that through your courageous openness for unity, we can one day see that we are in fact brothers and sisters in Christ. Isn’t that what Jesus wanted us to be, anyway?
I thank you so much for this. It was refreshing to read. I can honestly say I’ve never once felt unity with a protestant and today, reading this, I did. What a beautiful feeling. Thank you.
Thank you, Pastor.
I so appreciate your point of view Brian. There is far too much negativity and absolute rejection of one Denomination over and against the other. The idea that Roman Catholics consider themselves Christians though may be a purely American convenience. The Catholics I meet in Austria reject Christianity often on the grounds that they are Catholic. (Maybe a linguistic issue) Why? Because Catholicism and to perhaps a lesser extent Protestantism have fostered an attitude of inherited religious identity without actually impacting subsequent generations with the life changing truth of the gospel. There are many great Catholics I know who love God and have a faith in Christ. I am so thankful for the believers of each tradition willing to put aside differences for a common good. I still believe we have a great responsibility to examine our faith and live an authentic life which may in some ways look like the “parental” denomination. My hope is that it would look like God’s love and our response in authentic, life giving expressions of faith. A little “c” catholic church.