Are Catholics Christians?

This past weekend, I visited a small conservative Catholic university, which is basically the opposite of Ohio State in every single way. I really enjoyed my visit, and felt right at home, which is perhaps why just about everyone I interacted with thought I already attended. At the same time, I also witnessed quite a few things which were very alien to me, having had very little exposure to Catholic culture. Overall, it was a very good experience, and I think it would be fascinating to attend a Christian college.
“Not so fast,” some Protestants might be saying. “Catholics are not Christians. They believe in salvation through works (sacraments), and that’s not what Jesus taught.”

If someone actually believes salvation comes through works (which not all Catholics believe) then I would agree they are incorrect. It does not mean, however, that they are not a Christian, and the reason why is pretty simple.

The reason why Catholics can still be Christians and have salvation is precisely because salvation comes through faith. We are incapable of saving ourselves through works or sacraments. We gain eternal life by faith alone (John 3:16).

Therefore, if a Catholic believes Jesus was who He said he was, has been born again, and the work of the Spirit is evident in their life, we can be pretty darn certain they are a Christian. A bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit, and I know many Catholics who produce very good fruit.  If they love God by keeping His commandments (John 14) then they are living the eternal life in the kingdom of God.
Even if Catholics have some incorrect beliefs, as Protestants supposedly believe, you don’t need all your ducks in a row to obtain a life in Christ. If we really need to believe all the right things and have no faults in our doctrine, then I would be very fearful of my own salvation.
Catholics can be “saved” because we are not saved by works. To say a Catholic is not saved just because of some incorrect belief surrounding works IS to actually say that Catholics ARE saved by works. Catholics are saved by works (or rather not saved) because there is something they are not doing or believing.
“Because Protestants are right, Catholics can be saved,” Doug Wilson explains very well in this short video.
Yes, many Catholics have incorrect beliefs, but so do many Protestants. I may have some incorrect beliefs. We’d all be doomed if we held all Christians to the same standards some Protestants hold Catholics.
What is more, those who believe Catholics can’t be Christians or “saved” is to say that there were no Christians from about the 5thcentury on up to the Reformation. I think this is an indefensible position to take.
There is only one church. This catholic (universal) church is not made up of a building or denomination. It’s the body of Christ, comprised of all true disciples of Christ, and these disciples can be found across all denominations. Are there some Catholics who are not Christians? Sure, but this is also true for Protestants.
All the divisions in Christendom over doctrine is really pretty silly. Yes, there will be disagreement, and it’s fine and even beneficial to discuss different beliefs, but what is not acceptable is allowing these differences to divide the church. My soul will not be in danger if I decide to transfer to a Catholic university.
What is more, my University Unmasked series would be able to restart with a school on the complete opposite side of the higher education spectrum.
Do you often observe divisions within the church over doctrine? How can we eliminate these divisions? 
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  1. Right on. I debate Catholics almost every chance I get, but I aways wince when people say that Catholics aren't Christians. Catholics are wrong on a lot of major points, but the core doctines of “mere” Christianity are still there (Jesus is the son of God, He died for our sins and rose again, etc.).

    Mormons, on the other hand… that's a different story. 😉

  2. I agree with you that some Catholics are saved…just like there are some Protestant church-goers who are saved and some who aren't, there are some Catholics who are and some who aren't. Belonging to one certain denomination doesn't increase merit with God; believing in the work of Jesus Christ is what counts.

    Yes, there are lots of divisions within the church over doctrine because man's carnal mind cannot “figure out” God. God is much greater than we can imagine. The devil causes division and confusion, and I believe divisions will not be eliminated until he is.

  3. As a Christian who was saved from Catholicism, I totally disagree with this post. It doesn’t have any Scriptural support.
    Catholics are not Christians. They are idolaters. All Catholics worship Mary and many other saints.
    1 Corinthians 6:9-10 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”
    2 Corinthians 6:16 “Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God;”
    All Catholics are self-righteous. Anyone who is trusting in their works, even if they “believe” in Christ, is lost and cursed (Gal. 1:8, 3:10). A person has to give up all self-righteousness and put their trust in Christ alone to be saved. You cannot add works to the Gospel.
    God bless.

  4. Some Catholics worship Mary, yes, but many don't, and I'm pretty sure that worshiping Mary isn't the official position of the Catholic church. Regardless, it is incorrect that all Catholics worship Mary.

    Also, many Protestants have idols of their own, be it wealth, status, or their precious protestant doctrine or church. We are all sinful people and we are all guilty of idolatry and being self-righteous. But the beauty of the gospel is that it's not up to us to save ourselves.

    Certainly, we shouldn't continue to sin so that grace may abound. We should continue to strive for truth and goodness and to become like Christ. I hope that Catholics, as they grow in Christ, begin to see what I believe is truth. If they don't, while I think there will be some negative consequences as a result of misunderstanding reality, I don't think St. Peter will bar the celestial gates for Catholics.

  5. I grew up in a catholic culture. Almost all my family and friends are catholic. I know Catholics of all types, liberal and conservative, devoted or not, they’re all the same. I have never met a catholic who did not worship Mary nor gone to a catholic church that did not have an image of Mary. You are incorrect in saying that “many don’t” worship Mary. All Catholics worship Mary, and maybe a very small handful doesn’t.
    Yes many Protestants have idols, such as the ones you mention, but we have those idols because of our depraved nature (and not because someone taught us to have them) and with the Grace of God we turn from such things that we may worship Christ alone. However, Catholics are taught to idolize Mary and many other saints. They are never taught to “flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14).
    Catholics do not love Christ nor seek to honor Him by keeping His Word. They are not Christians. They are lost and God will judge them if they do not repent and turn to Christ.
    I know of many other sinful and unbiblical practices of the Catholic Church, but it would take forever to write about all of them.
    I wish you would give more Biblical support for your belief. Take care what you say.
    Isaiah 5:20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
    I encourage you to watch this:

  6. Rather than summarize what you believe the Catholic stance to be, it would be more fair to directly quote, or link to their actual stance on the issue.

    Based upon your “editorial policy” towards publishing comments so far, I don't have a lot of confidence that you'll do it, but a biblical perspective, rather than one based upon recent tradition and summarization seems pretty clear that something beyond “mental agreement” is required. -Even the demons “believe”; they are not saved..

    Note: I'm not catholic and I don't agree with many of their theological points but I do value unity within the church and a fair and open discussion.

    The Catholic Church does not now, nor has it ever, taught a doctrine of salvation by works…that we can “work” our way into Heaven. Additionally, nowhere in the Bible does it teach that we are saved by “faith alone.” The only place in all of Scripture where the phrase “faith alone” appears is in James 2:24, where it says that we are not justified (or saved) by faith alone.
    The Bible says very clearly that we are not saved by faith alone.
    Works do have something to do with our salvation. Numerous passages in the New Testament that I know of about judgment says we will be judged by our works, not by whether or not we have faith alone. We see this in Romans 2, Matthew 15 and 16, 1 Peter 1, Revelation 20 and 22, 2 Corinthians 5, and many, many more verses.

    If we are saved by faith alone, why does 1 Corinthians 13:13 say that love is greater than faith? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

    As Catholics we believe that we are saved by God’s grace alone. We can do nothing, apart from God’s grace, to receive the free gift of salvation. We also believe, however, that we have to respond to God’s grace. Protestants believe that, too. However, many Protestants believe that the only response necessary is an act of faith; whereas, Catholics believe a response of faith and works is necessary…or, as the Bible puts it in Galatians 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumsion is of any avail, but faith working through love…” Faith working through love…just as the Church teaches.”

  7. The official position of the Catholic church is that we receive grace through no deed or work of our own. It sees works as being synonymous with salvation through faith. If you have faith, then you will have works. So in that sense, you have salvation through works.

    It gets a little complicated, and as Janice pointed out, there are a lot of Catholics who misunderstand this concept. Regardless, I think it is still possible for them to be Christians.

    Just as Catholics have a tendency to rely too heavily on works for salvation, I think Protestants are often guilty of the opposite, believing “faith alone” merely means head-knowledge or agreement, but nothing in their life has to change. Both are incorrect.

    I'm much more sympathetic toward Catholicism than I find most Protestants are. I'm sorry if this post came off as hostile in anyway toward Catholicism. It was meant to critique the views that many Protestants have. It wasn't meant to be an in-depth defense of Catholicism, though I am thinking of writing some kind of post to that effect in response to some of the feedback I've received on this post.

  8. I'm afraid it's very difficult to claim all Catholics worship Mary, since I know many who don't. I guess it depends on your definition of “worship.”

    And I also know that it is the official position of the Catholic church that salvation does not come from works of our own doing. If there are Catholics who believe such (which there are) then they are diverging from Catholic teaching.

    And Mormonism is a completely different entity, unbiblical, and unrelated to Catholicism.

  9. By worship I mean bowing and kneeling before her image, praying to her, lighting a candle for her, reciting the hail Mary prayer, and attributing to her God-like characteristics. Many Catholics who do these things will deny that they worship Mary. They like to call it honor, which is still sinful because it is undue honor. Even if there is a Catholic who doesn’t do any of these things, I’m pretty sure they do not rebuke, but are very accepting of their fellow Catholics who do, which makes them just as guilty. 1 Corinthians 5:11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

    Even if there is a Catholic who does not worship Mary and professes to be a born-again Christian, his profession does not mean anything because he does not keep His commandments. All Catholics call their priests father (Matt. 23:9), pray repetitious prayers (Matt 6:7), and forbid their priests, nuns, and monks from marrying (1 Tim. 4:3). Matthew 7:21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.

    The type of Catholicism (idol-less, God-honoring, “works-less” gospel) that you describe does not exist, if you visit any Catholic church you will not find it. Well maybe you know more about Catholicism than I do, although I was born into a Catholic family, baptized with holy water as an infant, taken to Mass often, crossed myself countless times, recited the hail Mary prayer and took first communion classes. I thank God there are Christians who preach against Catholicism and point people to Christ, because God used them to lead me to Himself. I hope one day you will do the same.

    For someone who has very strict views on minor subjects, you have very lenient views on major subjects. God be with you.

  10. So true! Within any denomination there are people who are following religious rules thinking that obeying rules will gain them Heaven. Almost not matter the denomination's beliefs on matters of orthopraxy, there are true grace-saved, faith-living Christians to be found. (The exceptions being those religions which are often lumped in with “Christianity” but whose core doctrine and beliefs are heretical – such as Mormonism)

  11. Very nice article (not to say that I agree on every point, but I like the spirit in which you discuss the matter)

    One inaccuracy: “What is more, those who believe Catholics can’t be Christians or “saved” is to say that there were no Christians from about the 5th century on up to the Reformation. I think this is an indefensible position to take.”

    I strongly agree that dismissing everything before 1517 is not only inaccurate thinking, but can be sinful. After all, the Bible says that the Spirit would guide the Church into all Truth. And – the Gates of Hell would not prevail. To dismiss those years dismisses the Biblical text.

    But, From 33 AD to 1054 – there was ONE Church (tho there were a couple of smaller Schisms before 1054 – namely when the Coptics split at Chalcedon). Then, in 1054, the Catholics & the Orthodox split in the “Great Schism.” From 1054- 1517, there were *two* large groups – Catholic & Orthodox. Then in 1517 was the Reformation, which started a splintering that to date has resulted in roughly 30,000 Protestant groups, One Catholic Church, and One (the same since 33AD) Orthodox Church. I'm afraid that most American Protestants are completely unaware of Orthodoxy – except to have heard the name, as I was at one time. I am Greek Orthodox now.

    All of which is to say, if you read up on the history of the Church from 33 to 1054, I think you'll find it incredibly fascinating. I'd recommend “The Orthodox Church” by Kallistos Ware – available at most libraries. The first half is Church History.

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