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.

pope tweets

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.”

I am a husband, father, pastor, leader & reader. I love God, love people & love life.

45 Comments to Catholics Aren’t Christian

  1. Alan Ambrose

    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.

    • Brian Dolleman

      I appreciate hearing from a missionary bringing a perspective that isn’t purely American. Thanks for sharing your perspective Alan.

      It’s interesting that Catholics in Austria reject the Christian label. I wonder if it has to do with the brand identity becoming more “powerful” than the product (like Kleenex, Jello, Band Aid, Chapstick, Cuisinart, etc.)? It’s certainly more clear… Catholic provides a specific image, where Christian can mean all kinds of things that look very different.

  2. 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.

      • Debbie Zito

        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.

  3. 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