Are Catholics Christians? Denominational Differences

A person is identified as a Christian based on one’s approach towards, or embrace, of the gospel. Romans 10:13 “For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

A question that has been placed upon my heart is: Are Catholics Christian and therefore saved by the Lord? The very short answer is yes…..but there are some huge caveats and concerns. A person is identified as a Christian based on one’s approach towards, or embrace, of the gospel. Romans 10:13 “For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.”

1 John 4:1-3.

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:4-7.

That is, God has sent his Son to redeem us through His death and resurrection. Any institution that ignores, diminishes, distorts or denies our redemption, justification and sanctification by Christ cannot be called Christian.

My Personal Experience with Catholicism

Although I have been a confirmed adherent to reformed and evangelical churches for more than 30 years, I attended and participated in religious practices within a Roman Catholic boarding school. In hindsight, I did not understand all of the traditions and rituals of the Roman church, but was impressed by the genuine devotion displayed by most of my peers. Some of the teachers in religious orders displayed faith and compassion, and strove to imitate Christ. One Christian Brother, it was retold by the boarding students, had fired a rifle shot at a statue of Mary in the garden because it was seen to be moving, in a demonic manner, in the courtyard. This same Brother was often heard saying that “Mickey Mouse has large, round ears to hide the devil’s horns”. Perhaps this religious brother was well aware of the future trends of the Church and our society. The influence and contact with people in Catholic religious orders was largely positive, and at times, made me seriously consider taking religious vows as a Dominican, Franciscan or Cistercian monk. I had previously told my Catholic associates and friends to remain in the Roman church, in spite of the scandals, but now I am loathe to say this again. It is possible for Catholics to be good Christians and reform the church from within, but this will become increasingly difficult.

Denominational Differences

In the spirit of goodwill for my brothers and sisters in Christ, I will explore areas of contention between the Catholic Church and Protestantism in general terms, providing both perspectives on the issue.

1. Authority

Catholic Perspective: Catholicism bases its authority on apostolic succession, indicated by the statement in Matthew 16:18, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The Bible, church fathers, popes, bishops; Seven Ecumenical Councils; Trent, Vatican, and other Catholic councils also form the basis of Catholic authority.
“The best argument for the Catholic doctrine of Church authority comes from the New Testament itself: the Acts of the Apostles reveals the Church’s self-image as a body at the service of Christ’s saving Gospel, acting in the ways and structures taught to them by Christ himself. The Apostles are keenly aware of the authority that has been given to them by Christ, and of their own need to remain ever faithful to Christ as they exercise that authority. ” http://www.beginningcatholic.com/church-authority

Most Catholics believe that the Bible needs to interpreted by the Church in order to lead followers to Heaven. This in turn leads to the rulings of the Pope and the church as specific teachings, or majesterium.

Vatican 2:
https://www.aggiecatholicblog.org/2013/10/what-every-catholic-needs-to-know-about-vatican-ii/

First Seven Ecumenical Councils: https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/media/articles/the-first-seven-ecumenical-councils/


Council of Trent:

https://www.britannica.com/event/Council-of-Trent

Protestant Perspective: Unlike Catholicism, the Protestant tradition is based on Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone. Scripture is seen as infallible and most denominations strive to follow the principles of the apostles and the early church. Catholics tend to disregard this and state that Protestants are a new, heretical church that started after Martin Luther published his 95 Theses in 1517. However, this was due to the moral corruption and unbiblical practices that had become “traditional” within Catholicism, particularly the sale of “indulgences”, or reprieve from temporal punishment from forgiven sins. The reformers tried to reform the Catholic Church from within, but were unsuccessful and consequently excommunicated. Protestantism is essentially a branch from the historic “tree trunk” of Roman Catholicism; yet it regards human traditions as wretched and flawed if they separate humanity from God’s Word. Anything infallible is without error and unable to deceive.

Jesus indicated that he was not going to change the Law and the Word of God: ‘“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20)

The formulation of the dogma of papal infallibility was introduced during the First Vatican Council in 1870 and rejected by Protestants universally. Some issues arise because of the fallen, sinful nature of man. An example of evil popes are Benedict IX and Urban II
Pope Benedict IX: A remarkably cynical pope, Benedict held the position on three separate occasions in the 11th century; in one instance, he actually resigned and sold the papacy to another priest. Known for his supposedly licentious behavior, Benedict was described by a later 11th century pope as having a life “so vile, so foul, so execrable, that I shudder to think of it.” ‘ Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/24/7-wicked-popes-and-the-terrible-things-they-did/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.e4053e61035e

pope-Urban-II
Urban II

“Pope Urban II was the benchmark for where the crimes against humanity and God became genocidal. Between the years 1096-1099 Pope Urban II ordered the slaughter of roughly ten million people where there were men and women but mostly children in efforts to procure Belgrade, the Orthodox Church of Constantinople in Yugoslavia as well as Turkey, Syria, Antioch and Palestine. Just for reference, Hitler killed in or around six million Jews during the Holocaust. Wow.” Source: http://www.thelistcafe.com/top-10-most-evil-popes/2

Some modern Popes have also shown how wretched and flawed man is…..such as: Pius XII.

“Taking a note from Pavelic (a Croatian military leader), Pius XII established his own mini form of the Ustashi known as the Catholic Ustashi (guess he liked Pavelic’s work?) and the Catholic organization was responsible for the murder of more than 600,000 people. Not only were the murders enacted but they were done in such hideous ways that it’s probably a sin just to think about how they may have looked. Killings ranged anywhere from excessive torture to another visitation of crucifixion (it’s not just Christ this time), cannibalism (mmm, mmm. Finger-lickin’ good), live dismemberment (remember the saying ‘I’ll cut off your arm and beat you with it?’”) and burning alive (oh so they gave the Jews a few friends to dance on the hot coals with). If all of this is true, this man was not only truly insane, he was quite possible the epitome of evil in the 20th century. ” Source: http://www.thelistcafe.com/top-10-most-evil-popes/2

By stating that the Pope and the church teachings are infallible, a mass of contradictions occur, and Catholicism loses credibility when the church leaders are worse sinners than pagans and non-Christians. The obvious question that Protestants ask is, “How can the church lead sinners to Heaven if the actions of the religious are contrary to the Word of God?” Historically, the Catholic Church has been responsible for the death and torture of countless people during the Inquisition. “Estimates of the number killed by the Spanish Inquisition, which Sixtus IV authorised in a papal bull in 1478, have ranged from 30,000 to 300,000. Some historians are convinced that millions died.” Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/jun/16/artsandhumanities.internationaleducationnews

” In reply, it must be noted that Protestants (including Luther, Calvin, the early English Protestants, Zwingli, Melanchthon et al.) have a very long and troubling list of “scandals” and “inquisitions” as well. As just one example among many, Martin Luther and John Calvin both sanctioned the execution of Anabaptists due to their belief in adult baptism, which they considered to be “sedition.” Thousands of Catholics in England and Ireland were executed (often in very hideous ways) simply for being Catholics and worshiping as their ancestors had done for 1500 years.” Source: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/darmstrong/were-50-million-people-really-killed-in-the-inquisition

In Romans 3:21-26, Paul expounds how all fall short of righteousness: “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

The expectation is that those who share the Gospel, to teach, preach and prophesy, should imitate Christ in their personal life so that people may give thanks to God and encourage others in their faith. Any church stained with sin, deceit and controversy will harm the faith of many. In 2 Peter 2:1, Peter states: “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.” Those who teach the Gospel but deny it in their lives will be judged harshly.

For more details on Papal Infallibility, please see: https://www.equip.org/article/papal-infallibility-the-catholic-protestant-debate-over-papal-infallibility/

2. The Church

From a Catholic perspective, the Church is the vehicle of faith and is the source from which grace is dispensed through the institution.
“The sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him.” (Catech 870). Grace is preserved and distributed by the Church. All Catholics, even priests, are in constant concern of their state of grace – if they are not in a state of grace, they will not be able to enter Heaven. Grace is dispensed through works and participation in Mass, confession, penance and other sacraments according to the teaching of the church. Priests and those in religious orders are required to undertake vows of obedience and follow the direct commandments of church superiors – bishops, cardinals and the Pope.

At present, scandals have rocked the foundations of the Roman Catholic Church. Over 1000 priests have been accused of abuse against children in the USA and a number of bishops are accused of hiding these crimes.

More than 130 U.S. bishops – or nearly one-third of those still living — have been accused during their careers of failing to adequately respond to sexual misconduct in their dioceses, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer and Boston Globe examination of court records, media reports, and interviews with church officials, victims, and attorneys.

At least 15, including Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington who resigned in July, have themselves been accused of committing such abuse or harassment. (Source: http://www.philly.com/news/pennsylvania/catholic-church-bishops-sex-abuse-coverup-pennsylvania-west-virginia-wyoming-20181103.html )

Dr Taylor Marshall and Catholic media have aired their concerns that Pope Francis is promoting confusion in the church (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJZ-NTid9bA) .

Michael Voris, renowned journalist at Church Militant, has repeatedly indicated that, in the US, ‘half of priests and bishops are homosexual’ – see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8-E_lbdslM. 

This has in turn led to high levels of predatory behaviour by priests and scandalous cover-ups which have resulted in criminal investigation and charges.

Another factor causing division is Pope Francis’ focus on social justice – as well as developing and assisting the poor and oppressed, Francis has entered into the discussion of environmentalism and human sexuality rights. At present, it seems that the Catholic Church is less concerned with traditional morals than with contemporary concepts of mercy. Some priests have been actively campaigning for same sex marriage and even a ‘gay rosary’ (https://www.churchmilitant.com/news/article/maker-of-pro-gay-prayer-beads-donates-to-planned-parenthood). These statements and teachings on social justice, against the the teaching of the Bible, have caused great consternation to Catholics – see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3AnX_GBWJw.

Traditional Catholics tend to blame the current woes on the introduction of the New Mass during the Vatican II Council:

The long-term effect of the council has been a complete revolution of Catholicism, one that has been most visible in the changes in Catholic worship, specifically in the Catholic Mass, which went from being a solemn, dignified, and otherworldly rite of Sacrifice being offered to the Most Holy Trinity in the sacred Latin tongue by a priest facing God and therefore having his back to the congregation, to being a pedestrian service in which the priest is reduced to the status of a mere presider over a meal, often acting even as an entertainer, reading dull prayers in English while facing the people. Lots of lay participation in the sanctuary contributes to an already-desacralized service. The results have been catastrophic: exceptionally low Mass attendance, an unprecedented crisis in vocations to the priesthood, and a “Catholic” populace ignorant of some of the most basic tenets of Catholicism.

But the “New Mass” or Novus Ordo Missae, as it is called, is merely one visible symptom of the fundamental problem, which is that the religion you see today as “Roman Catholicism” is not the Catholic religion of ages past but is basically the religion of the Second Vatican Council, usually abbreviated as “Vatican II” (the First Vatican Council, or Vatican I, had taken place from 1869-70 under Pope Pius IX). A great many ideas today promoted as Roman Catholicism, are actually rooted only in Vatican II and were not known or accepted before — and that’s a pretty long “before” — around 1,900 years. Things like ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, interfaith prayer services, opposition to the death penalty, religious freedom as an ideal for every society, the notion of “human rights”, declaring all war to be evil (even the just kind) — all these are examples of Vatican II ideas, not Catholic ideas. Source: https://novusordowatch.org/start-here/

Protestant Perspective:
Unlike Catholicism, there is a distinction between the visible and invisible church. God saves anyone he chooses, or anyone with proper faith, regardless of church membership. One may attend a visible church, even as a priest or minister, but remain unsaved, whereas an invisible church member may be a Catholic or Protestant, who may not always attend church due to external factors, and yet be called, justified and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. A person may be saved and yet outside of the church – but is best to be in fellowship with believers.

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary states that the priesthood of believers is a “Christian belief that every believer has direct access to God through Jesus Christ and that the church is a fellowship of priests serving together under the lordship of Christ.
The concept of priesthood is integral to both the OT and the NT and is fulfilled in Christ as Mediator and great high priest. The foundation of the priestly ministry is found in the OT where the priestly ministry is assigned to the Aaronic line of descent and the tribe of Levi (Exod. 40:13, Num. 1:47–54). According to the OT model, the priest fulfilled a representative function—entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement and making a sacrificial offering on behalf of the people.
This representational role was fulfilled by Christ, whose offices as Prophet, Priest, and King describe His accomplished and continuing work. As mediator, Christ fulfilled the representational role to which the Aaronic priesthood pointed. The letter to the Hebrews explains this fulfillment by describing Jesus Christ as the “great high priest” who, having accomplished His mediatorial work of substitutionary atonement, has now passed through the heavens (Heb. 4:14).
Christ’s death on the cross is described as a priestly act that once for all paid the penalty for our sin. As priest, Christ did not take the blood of a representative animal into the Holy of Holies but instead entered “the greater and more perfect tabernacle” and shed His own blood to obtain “eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:11–12 HCSB).
Now that Christ has fulfilled the representational role of the priesthood, and since He is the one mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5), there is no continuing need or role for a human priest. No longer does a human priest stand to represent other humans before God.
As the people of God, the church is now a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9), ministering together in the name of Christ. Though we do not represent one another before the Father, believers are called to pray for one another, to encourage each other to good works, and to call one another to holiness.
Central to the doctrine of the priesthood of believers is the concept of the gathered church, or congregationalism. Each church is comprised of believers who have been redeemed by Jesus Christ and now serve as priests together. In its purest sense this doctrine refers to believers gathered together under the lordship of Christ, not to individual believers standing alone. The doctrine does, however, rightly affirm that we need no human priest to stand between the individual believer and God. As mediator, Jesus Christ alone fulfills that role.” 
R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

Catholicism insists on intermediaries between God and lay people – countless saints, Mary (mother of Jesus), and priests are called on for grace and intercession. Catholicism aims at working to mortify the flesh and focus on the unworthiness of human nature, yet still insists on one having to “pull oneself out of the mud by one’s boots”. Yet, this can go horribly wrong – as indicated by the testimony of former nuns and priests.

Most Protestants are unaware of the extent of confusion and decay with the Catholic Church. Though every denomination is imperfect, Protestantism trusts that every stage of their God-given spiritual growth is perfect, whilst the work of man will always be incomplete and imperfect. When the institutionalised church distorts the gospel, engages in carnal behaviour and hypocrisy, true believers should abandon false teachings that rely on human tradition and works. Instead, one should find a Bible-based church that teaches that grace alone can save sinners.

Enter the narrow gate…

Luke 13:24-30: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ 26 then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ 27 But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ 28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. 29 They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. 30 And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.”

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