Catholic or Christian?

By April 26, 2017 6 Comments

180px StJohnsAshfield StainedGlass GoodShepherd Face Catholic or Christian?  Some years ago while I ordered lunch at a restaurant in the food court at the University Centre, at the university where I work, I asked the young man serving me if he and his family celebrated the Day of the Dead. I had gotten to know him a little in snippets of conversation we had during times he served me and I learned he was from Mexico.

He replied that they did not as this was a Catholic custom, adding, in referring to himself and his family, “we’re Christian.” I was startled by the remark, though it was not the first time I was confronted with this point of view.

The first time I remember being confronted by someone with this attitude toward Roman Catholicism was when I was in my first year at university. I was introduced to people from different Christian denominations on campus and at a meet and greet I was speaking to a man who asked to which church I was a member.

When I told him I was Roman Catholic, he retorted “I used to be Catholic, but now I am a Christian.” Later during my years at university I was given a book by an acquaintance who was forever trying to get me to join his Church, the title escapes me, but it was the account of a Pentecostal Christian and the subtitle was a young Catholic encounters Christ.

While I am no longer practicing Roman Catholicism, or the “catholic religion” as some people call it, it continues to puzzle me that people hold these attitudes toward Catholicism: Roman Catholic and Orthodox. I understand there are profound doctrinal differences between Catholicism and Protestantism, but observe that relations between the Catholic Church and the varied Protestant denominations are much improved in the present, as opposed to the not so distant past. Mika’s mother is a devout Lutheran married to a Roman Catholic.

Their marriage ceremony was celebrated in a Roman Catholic Church with both the parish priest and the Lutheran pastor from the Church Mika’s mother attends presiding. I remember my mother telling me of a family whose Roman Catholic daughter married a Jewish man. This marriage was not discussed in front of an elderly relative, a nun, for fear she might not have understood or approved of the marriage, but when someone let the cat out of the bag, the elderly sister smiled and said “they are just like Bridget loves Bernie.”

To be Christian, as I understand it, means at the most basic level you have faith in the Risen Christ. Surely this applies to both Catholics and Protestants for whom faith in the Risen Christ is essential. For the years I was practicing Roman Catholicism what I believed is summed up in the Nicene Creed.

The major difference between Catholicism and Protestantism remains, of course, the disagreement over Sacred Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition. Christianity started as a sectarian movement in Judaism and inherited the belief in the authority of sacred scripture (Torah) and an oral tradition (Talmud) in which the sacred scripture is interpreted. The Christian Sacred Scriptures, the Bible, were edited together under the direction of the First Council of Nicea in 325. The Apostolic Tradition is described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) as follows:

(CCC 96) What Christ entrusted to the apostles, they in turn handed on by their preaching and writing, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to all generations, until Christ returns in glory. (CCC 98) “The Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes. ( as cited in Spirit and Life)

Sola scriptura is a prominent doctrinal statement in Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, that is, the belief that “authentication of Scripture is governed by the discernible excellence of the text as well as the personal witness of the Holy Spirit to the heart of each man.” (Wikipedia) This doctrinal statement is defined in greater detail in the Westminster Confession of Faith:

Chapter 1, Section VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (as cited in Wikipedia)

This difference of opinion concerning the place of Sacred Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition caused a deep rift in Christendom and unfortunately led to centuries of internecine conflict between Christians, Catholic and Protestant. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) was perhaps the nastiest manifestation of this conflict which resulted in widespread carnage, destruction of property and witch hunts.

While this kind of conflict between Catholics and Protestants is happily a thing of the past, the kind of thinking, that somehow you are not Christian if you are Catholic persists in some Protestant sects. To be fair, I will add that this attitude was once commonplace among Catholics: you were not really Christian unless you were Catholic.

I remember a joke which alludes to this belief. A Protestant lives out his life, dies and is welcomed to heaven. He notices on the horizon a wall that extends as far as the eye can see. He is curious and scales the wall to see what is on the other side. He finds more people milling about. He finds and asks St. Peter who are these people on the other side of the wall and St. Peter replies, “oh them, they’re the Catholics; we keep them there, because they like to think they are the only ones up here.”

344489c3d11f309a656c56cf7ed4e90b Catholic or Christian?

Finally, I remember when I enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), to prepare for my Confirmation in the Roman Catholic Church, another man in the class had come to Christianity through the Jesus Movement, then through membership in a Baptist Church where anti-Catholicism was pronounced.

He told us this anti-Catholic attitude sparked an interest to find out what was so bad about the Roman Catholic Church and upon learning the truth, he chose to convert. In commenting on the anti-Catholic attitude he encountered among the Baptists, he likened it to the story of Robinson Crusoe: “the ship may be wrecked, but they keep coming back to it.”

Despite differences in doctrine, Catholics and Protestants are all Christians and to be true to their faith should love one another and those who are not Christian, unconditionally. Though I am no longer practicing Christianity, I can find it in my heart to forgive those who cling to these petty attitudes that would presume to decide who is and is not Christian.

From my understanding of Christian theology, there is Grace enough for everyone who is true to his conscience, strives to do good and avoid doing evil, but then, in the end who but God only knows?

Geoffrey Wale

Geoffrey Wale

I am a blogger and librarian living in Ottawa, Ontario. I have a B.A. in sociology from Queen's University and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from Western University.


  • Fire Dog says:

    I disagree with your theology and personally believe the Catholic Church is a cult in comparison with followers of the teachings of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Bible. Here is good summarization of the many differences.

  • Lapochka says:

    Believing in the risen Christ is alone is not superlative proof of being a Christian, since “the devils believe also, and tremble” (James 2:19). They are utterly aware of the truth on all points of what it is to be a Christian.

    The New Testament definition of Christian is one who is reliant on Christ alone as Mediator between God and man, Christ’s atonement alone for the removal of God’s wrath against the sinner, and Christ’s human righteousness imputed as the only payment for everlasting life. The Apostle Paul in particular wrote much about these issues.

    Catholicism denies each of those fundamental doctrines: it refers to Mary as “Co-Redemptrix”, it denies the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement (for example,saying the sinner must additionally suffer in Purgatory) and it rejects the doctrine of imputed righteousness, saying the sinner must perform rites, etc. Those articles of faith – along with the use of idols / religious imagery, and “holy water”, etc. – are all essentially Babylonian, found in the Chaldean Mystery Religion of old. Hence true Protestants regard Catholicism (and Orthodoxy) as Paganism with Christian nomenclature for its deities, rites, holy days (e.g. the Saturnalia renamed as “Christmas”), etc.

    • TMLutas says:

      Catholicism assembled and excluded all the works of the time to create the New Testament as an expression of the teaching power of the apostles carried down to their successors. Prior to archeological work establishing this, it was up for argument. It is no longer up for argument without engaging in more and more extended and fanciful denials of the archeological record.

      Every time a Protestant doesn’t include the Didache in a bible they print, they deny Sola Scriptura because the only reason not to include that book in Holy Scripture but to include other works that contain less substance, less meat, is to de facto recognize that there was an authority fit to pronounce on it and fit to make it stick.

      Every time a Protestant sees fit to segregate or exclude what they see fit to call the deuterocanonical books, they are choosing to honor jewish authorities who struck those books after Christ’s time over the successors of the apostles who maintain that they are part of the true Bible as they have done for approximately 1700 years now.

      The gates of Hell shall not prevail against the Church said Christ, but supposedly the apostolic succession has failed due to the lesser ill of human fallibility?

      Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.

  • Jeremy Bullen says:

    To answer the rhetorical final question, we can know whether or not we’re covered by grace and saved. 1 John 5:13 says “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son
    of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may
    believe on the name of the Son of God.”

    You also do not receive grace by being true to conscience, striving to do good and avoiding doing evil, you receive grace by asking for it Rev 3:20 “Behold, I stand at the door and am knocking; if any one hear my voice
    and open the door, I will come in unto him and sup with him, and he with

    Further, a conscience is an individual value system, but the bible makes it clear that we’re to strive after God’s objective moral law.

    In love, an anti-Catholic baptist

  • Dominion_Lad says:

    Why do Evangelicals so focus their hate solely against the Catholic Church, and ignore Catholicism’s equally ancient sister church in the East, the Orthodox Church. Both these churches share much core dogma that Evangelicals so despise, and predate the Reformed movement by over 1,000 years. Reformed Christianity did not appear suddenly in the 16th century. It has its roots in both the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

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