+JMJ

IS THE CATHOLIC CHURCH CHRISTIAN?


On 28 February 2000, Richard (email: aljolson64@webtv.net) left the following message in my guestbook:

How can you call yourselves Catholic Christians when a person can ONLY BE CATHOLIC OR CHRISTIAN. HELL OR HEAVEN.
The following is a response to that message


Richard's charge is typical of many anti-Catholic Evangelicals; he is obviously repeating what he has been told.  My aim in this article is to expose the fallacy behind this charge, not to put down Richard or anyone else deceived by this lie.

Are Catholics Christians?

The word "Christian" means "follower of Christ".  Are Catholics followers of Christ?  Yes, of course!  Therefore we are certainly Christians!

Some anti-Catholics may dispute that, claiming that Catholics are not true followers of Christ.  They may even say that Catholics worship "another Jesus", not the true Jesus of the Bible.  Well, an article on this site called Do Catholics Worship "Another Jesus"? addresses this argument, proving that Catholics do believe in and worship the true, biblical Jesus Christ.  I encourage all readers to check out that article, since it supplements this one perfectly.

Anti-Catholics may also think that we don't believe in Christian doctrines.  This is not so.  We believe in one God, the Blessed Trinity, the Deity of Christ, His Virginal Birth, substitutionary Death, literal Resurrection, His Second Coming to preside over the Last Judgment and in the inspiration of the Bible.  This covers all of the so-called "five points of Fundamentalism", which Evangelicals consider to be central Christian doctrines.

Evangelicals tend to disagree with each other on other issues, which they consider "non-essential".  Yet many are willing to accept each other as true Christians as long as they agree on these core doctrines.  Surely, they should at least extend the same attitude toward Catholics as well!  Thankfully, some do, but not the virulently anti-Catholic ones.

The Early Christians were Catholic

Historically speaking, the Catholic Church is the original Christian Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself two millenia ago.  Every Protestant church, including whichever one Richard belongs to, ultimately broke away from us at some point over the past five hundred years.  They got their Christian Faith and their Bible from us, so if Catholics are not Christian than neither are the Protestants!

Anti-Catholics think that the Catholic Church is not continuous with early Christianity, but began with Constantine in the fourth century, or at some other point in Church history.  This view is historically untenable; the writings of early Christians before Constantine show that they held Catholic doctrines, not Protestant ones!  Check out the Corunum Catholic Apologetic Web Page, which contains quotes from early Christian writers which show their beliefs on the following issues:

The citations clearly show that early Christians essentially believed what the Catholic Church teaches today.  They were not proto-Protestants, but Catholics!  In fact, they even use the word Catholic to refer to themselves!  Here are some quotes from Christian writings of the second century AD:
"Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop or by one whom he ordains [i.e., a presbyter]. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church" -Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Smyrneans 8:2 (A.D. 107).

"And of the elect, he was one indeed, the wonderful martyr Polycarp, who in our days was an apostolic and prophetic teacher, bishop of the Catholic Church in Smyrna. For every word which came forth from his mouth was fulfilled and will be fulfilled" -Martyrdom of Polycarp 16:2 (A.D. 155).

"The Catholic Church possesses one and the same faith throughout the whole world, as we have already said." -Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, 1:10,3 (A.D. 180) (Ante-Nicene Fathers,I:331-332)

"Besides these [letters of Paul] there is one to Philemon, and one to Titus, and two to Timothy, in affection and love, but nevertheless regarded as holy in the Catholic Church, in the ordering of churchly discipline. There is also one [letter] to the Laodiceans and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, in regard to the heresy of Marcion, and there are several others which cannot be received by the Church, for it is not suitable that gall be mixed with honey. The epistle of Jude, indeed, and the two ascribed to John are received by the Catholic Church." -Muratorian fragment [A.D. 177]).

Anti-Catholic Evangelicals may object that these quotes don't come from the Bible.  But I'm not quoting the Bible at the moment; I'm showing from Church history that Christians have called themselves Catholic since at least the beginning of the second century A.D..  It does no good to ignore the voices of our early brothers and sisters in the Faith; they can give valuable insights into what the early Church believed.  And the early Church believed itself to be "Catholic".

It is true that the term Catholic does not appear in the Bible.  However, neither does Trinity, or Incarnation, or Ascension, or Second Coming, or many other words which Christians commonly use (including the word Bible itself!).  Just because a term is not found in Scripture does not make it illegitimate.

Evangelicals might counter that terms such as Trinity and Incarnation describe something taught in the Bible, and so have a biblical basis.  Well, the same goes for the term Catholic!  It comes from two Greek words: kata ("according to") and holos ("the whole").  So Catholic means "according to the whole", or "universal"!  The Catholic Church is the universal Church.

Does the Bible present the Church as universal?  Yes!  It was Jesus' will that His disciples spread the Gospel all over the world.  Consider some of His final words to them before ascending into heaven:

"Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15).

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19).

"Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things" (Luke 24:46-48)

"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Sama'ria and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

This is exactly what they did.  And in the Book of Revelation we see the glorious result:
"And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation" (Rev 5:9).

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!" (Rev 7:9-10).

So the early Church was certainly universal, or Catholic.

What About the term "Christian"?

Now let's look at the word "Christian".  It does appear in Scripture, but only three times:

"And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch" (Acts 11:26).

"Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" (Acts 26:28).

`"Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf" (1 Peter 4:16).

Acts 11:26 says that the early believers in Antioch "were called" Christians, that is, by others.  The term Christian was first used by non-believers in Antioch to describe Jesus' followers.  In the second quote another pagan uses the term.  This is interesting; it shows that the term Christian originated among the pagans, it was not coined by the believers themselves!

1 Peter 4:16, which was written much later, shows that the early believers ultimately embraced the term coined by their enemies.  After all, it meant "follower of Christ"; and they rejoiced to be persecuted for following Our Lord.  Yet the fact remains that the term Christian was coined by outsiders, unbelievers.  Though it described them accurately, it was still not the "self-description" of the early Church; it did not perfectly reflect how the Church perceived herself.

And how did she perceive herself?  What word did Mother Church finally settle upon as her own self-description?

CATHOLIC!

Is Catholicism Pagan?

Anti-Catholics sometimes claim that the Catholic Church derived her teachings from paganism, and so is not truly Christian.  Such charges are invalid and strongly resemble arguments which atheists and other non-Christians use in an attempt to "discredit" Christianity.  The following articles on this website show that Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, are not plagiarized from paganism:

No, Catholicism is not pagan; Catholics believe in Christian doctrines, and all Catholic teachings are authentically Christian.

Are Catholics Saved?

"Christianity" is the name of a major world religion, nearly two billion strong, which is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.  In common usage, the term Christian refers to any member of this religion.  By this definition, Catholics most certainly are Christians; in fact we comprise well over one half of all the members of this world religion!

Evangelicals, however, have a very different definition of the term Christian.  To them, only the "saved" - those who have "accepted Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior" - are true Christians.  Anti-Catholic Evangelicals usually assume that Catholics have not gone through this Evangelical rite of passage, so from their point of view, Catholics are not Christians.

Catholics believe, as the Bible says, that Baptism is what saves us (Mark 16:16; I Peter 3:21).  So the Sacrament of Baptism makes people Christians, not answering an "altar call" and reciting a "sinner's prayer".  Yet, even by Evangelical standards, devout Catholics are "saved"!  The typical "sinner's prayer", which Evangelicals consider necessary for ones salvation, consists of a confession that one is a sinner, an expression of sorrow for ones sins and an invitation to Jesus to come into ones heart.  Evangelicals might be surprised to find out that the Catholic Church encourages her children to pray the same way, though in two distinct prayers:  the Act of Contrition and the Act of Spiritual Communion.

The following are some traditional texts of those prayers:

Act of Contrition

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You,
and I detest all my sins because I fear Your just punishments,
but most of all because they offend You, my God,
Who are all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace,
To sin no more, and to avoid the near occasion of sins.  Amen

Act of Spiritual Communion

My Jesus,
I believe that You are in the Blessed Sacrament.
I love You above all things,
and I long for You in my soul.
Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
As though You have already come,
I embrace You and unite myself entirely to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You.  Amen

Another Act of Spiritual Communion

O Jesus,
I turn toward the holy tabernacle
where You live hidden for love of me.
I love You, O my God.
I cannot receive You in Holy Communion.
Come nevertheless and visit me with Your grace.
Come spiritually into my heart. Purify it. Sanctify it.
Render it like unto Your own.  Amen.

Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof,
but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

These prayers bear strong similarities with the various versions of the "sinner's prayer".  Devout Catholics pray such prayers often, meaning every word.  They express sincere sorrow for their sins and lovingly invite Jesus into their hearts.  By Evangelical standards, therefore, devout Catholics are "saved", and are therefore Christians!

(Some Evangelicals may object to our belief that Jesus is in the Blessed Sacrament, saying that this proves Catholics believe in "another Jesus".  The article Do Catholics Worship "Another Jesus"? addresses this objection in depth.)

Conclusion

Yes, Catholics are definitely Christians.  We are followers of the true Jesus, born again in Baptism; we accept all the teachings of the Bible and the early Church.  And we joyfully look forward to heaven, our true homeland, by the saving grace of God.  It is incorrect to state that one "can only be Catholic or Christian".  It's not either/or, it's both/and!

For further discussion, see:  Double Standards: The Anti-Catholic Definition of "Christian" and Is the Roman Catholic Church Christian?.

A.M.D.G


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