Andy Hynes is a PhD candidate at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Follow him @ABHYNES on Twitter.
While my family and I were standing in line for the Jack Sparrow ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a couple of teenagers in front of us turned around and asked me that question. I responded with the typical, “Well Catholics can be Christians, but they are not synonymous.” Later as I was pondering my response, I became concerned about what I said. Linking the possibility of being a Christian to the Catholic Church may not have been the best idea. Maybe I am the only one who has said something like that.
Have you ever heard someone say something like, “I am sure some Catholics are Christians.” Or that they think there are certainly some in the Catholic Church that have espoused salvation by grace alone. BUT is that true? Is that possible?
As I thought more about the doctrines and teachings of the Catholic Church, I pondered if my response was accurate; if all the times a similar response was a correct response. If you think of some of the base line teachings of the Catholic Church, could we call them “Christian?”
- Grace through the church and sacraments
- Tradition over Scripture (different canon)
- Division of sin into “mortal and venial” sins
- Extreme veneration of Mary (worship of Mary)
- Confession must be to a priest
- Baptism of the dead
- Purgatory as a place of waiting and hoping and paying for sins
- Last rites (Extreme Unction)
- Hierarchy church structure
These are just a few of the doctrines and teachings of the Catholic Church. Without going into great detail, if we described these teachings, and then placed them against the Scripture, what would we come up with?
I wonder, if we described the teachings of the Catholic Church in comparison to a Bible believing Evangelical church to someone who believed the Bible, but was unfamiliar with Catholicism, what he would say? I wonder if he would say something contrary to what you and I have said in the past? I wonder if I would have responded differently to this young man in line in front of me?
Could Catholics be a “false religion, cult, or something else?” I think they preach and teach a false Gospel. I think they are leading people further from the Gospel. We spend so much time on the mission field trying to evangelize “Catholics” in Central and South America, why not in NORTH AMERICA? If they are teaching a false Gospel, then it is a false Gospel everywhere!
I recently returned from a trip to Guatemala, which is a highly Catholic area, and the main focus was on reaching them with the GOSPEL! While I am well aware of variations amongst Catholics, to a degree, I do know that they ALL teach the main doctrines the same. They are all teaching salvation by works and through the Church. After all, it was this teaching, in principle, that caused the great revival of the Reformation!
So, as I have continued to think about my response to the young man in line, I think I need to change my response. Can there be Catholics that are Christians? Well let me ask this question; can there be Jehovah’s Witness Christians or Mormon Christians? These too teach a false Gospel “centered” around “Jesus,” just not the Jesus of the Scripture. So then, the Gospel of the Catholics doesn’t match up with the Gospel of the Scripture, so can there be Catholic Christians?
Are Catholics and Christians the same?