Are Catholics Christians? This was a great source of confusion for me after I converted. As I have said previously, I had never given Christianity much thought. I had always assumed that Catholic and Christianity were the same thing. As I found out with many of my assumptions about Christianity, I was wrong on this point.
Is There A Difference?
Catholicism WAS Christianity for the first 1000 years of the faith. There was no distinction. The church first split into East and West after the Great Schism of 1054 A.D. And finally the reformations of the 15th and 16th century created a deeper divide in Christianity.
As we’ve talked about before, it’s important in any discussion about religion to distinguish between what an individual believes and what an organization holds to be true. You can do a lot of reading and research on a particular religion or belief system. This is helpful. But we shouldn’t assume that just because someone identifies as a member of a religion that they hold to or agree with all of the teachings of that organization.
It’s always better to ask what an individual believes and take the conversation from there rather than assuming the person holds to the teaching of their own church. Many may simply not know what their churches official stance on a subject is. Others may know, but disagree with their church. Get clarity up front.
What Do Catholics Believe?
But how do we answer the question, are Catholics Christians? I think that there are several doctrines taught by the Catholic Church that are not compatible with classical Christian teaching. Here are just a few of them:
Scripture- While Christians hold to “Scripture Alone” as their authority, Catholics rely on Scripture plus tradition. Only the Pope and Priesthood can interpret the scriptures in Catholicism. This is known as the Magisterium.
Papal Supremacy- The idea that the Pope has the final say on Church teaching and is considered infallible. A Pope may change the teachings of a previous Pope at will. This differs from classical Christianity which states that the scripture is the final authority.
Purgatory- The idea that when we die, we still need to atone for our sins before we get to heaven. This is done in purgatory. The amount of time one spends in purgatory depends on the number of sins to be atoned for.
Mary- Intercedes for the church, “continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation,” and is “a mother to us in the order of grace.” The Catholic Church believes that we cannot access Jesus directly, and we must access Him through His mother Mary.
Do They Fall Outside The Pale?
This is just a short list of differences. It is not exhaustive. But the ideas above are significant enough to make the teaching distinctive from what Christians adhere to.
As I said, I would never disqualify Catholics from Christianity et all. There are many scholars that I respect that are members of the Catholic Church. I find it hard to believe based on their written work that they are not regenerate. But what makes them regenerate is a proper understanding of what Jesus did on the cross for the attornment of sin. It’s not their membership in the Church that saves them.
If a person were to affirm some of the doctrines listed above, then I would have to say they fall outside of the pale of classical Christianity. Any time two positions vary on the nature of God, someone is right, and someone is wrong. This is not cherry picking or bigotry. It’s a difference in how we think about God. And those differences are what puts Catholicism outside the pale of Classical Christianity.
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