Why We Don’t Consider Catholics to Be Christians (in as polite and simple terms possible)

Scalia is in Heaven.

Rubio is saved.

At least, evangelical leaders have asserted both of those things and ostensibly for the same reason. Both men have held to conservative principles and have promoted Christian values. Both men have professed Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

And yet, we (that is, Protestants) have consistently groaned in annoyance each time a fellow evangelical pronounces a recently departed or politically engaged or virtuous Roman Catholic a Christian. When evangelicals cite Mother Teresa as an example of Christian virtue, we inwardly – or outwardly, if we’re brave enough – groan in agony. It hurts our conscience to sit there quietly as more and more evangelicals speak of Romans Catholics as though they are, indeed, fellow Christians.

When Pulpit & Pen writes about evangelical leaders citing Roman Catholics as Christians as though it is scandalous, as we’ve recently done, we want you to know why it is scandalous. So many fellow Protestant evangelicals look with bewilderment at such a fuss, thinking, “Well, just because someone isn’t exactly like us doesn’t mean they’re not in Heaven/saved/a Christian.”

We (that is, Protestants) agree. In one sense, the Door is not as narrow as how some may characterize our perceived religious bigotry. That Door is hinged upon the doctrine of justification, and it swings open for those with any number of schismatic beliefs on secondary or tertiary issues. Essentially, we (that is, Protestants) confess that those who believe in justification by faith alone in the death, burial and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ (who is the second person of a Triune God) is a fellow Christian, is born again, and will be in Heaven. That sounds terribly narrow, as that excludes a great many people who hold to conservative principles, promote Christian values, and profess Christ as Savior. And yet, it is wider than what some might give us credit for or how they might characterize us, as refusing to acknowledge the salvation of anyone who’s not a Reformed 1689 Confessional, ESV-reading Baptist who like the color green and vote Libertarian.

I realize the cultural and ideological disconnect from those of us who read of the Lewes Bonfires with a nodding approval, or at least a sympathetic understanding, and those who would denounce a burning of a Pope effigy as wildly unchristian.  There’s a cultural and ideological disconnect from those of us who’ve pumped our fist watching Ian Paisley interrupt the Pope in the 1988 session of British Parliament with accusations of “antichrist!” and those who find such displays terribly un-Jesuslike. I get it. There are few real Protestants left in the world. Many of us have simply become non-Catholics.

For our non-Catholic, stopped-protesting friends, here are a few reasons we seem so darn militant when it comes to our dislike of evangelicals pronouncing Catholics saved, whether living or posthumously.

1. The doctrine of Sola Fide is necessary for salvation. There is no salvation that can be had in hope that is either completely or partially hinged upon our own works-righteousness, good behavior, political affiliation, altruism, philanthropy, or verbal assent of other Christian doctrines. Our hope must be in an unmerited grace that comes by faith alone in Jesus Christ. One cannot be saved by the blood of Jesus without trusting in the blood of Jesus and his resurrected body alone. Faith is a combination of belief and trust, and there are a great many in this world who believe whole-heartedly in the death and resurrection of Jesus (Roman Catholics are perhaps the most prominent example, but can also include Mormons and others) who do not trust in that accomplished work alone for their salvation. Our Confessions hold that they are lost and dead in their trespasses and sins, should they not trust in Christ’s atonement alone to save. Trusting partially in your own meritorious works is to remain completely condemned.

To clarify, we do not hold that one must know “faith alone” or “sola fide” as a doctrine, or even be able to articulate the meaning of “doctrine” or fully grasp the significance of faith-alone salvation. However, we absolutely do hold that salvation requires a complete reliance upon Christ’s merit and none of our own for salvation. It need not be understood, but it must be believed. To trust, even partially, in one’s own righteousness is to be damned by one’s lack of it.

2. Roman Catholicism officially and explicitly denies Sola Fide. The Council of Trent (aka the 19th Ecumenical Council) was held from 1545 through 1563 and is even today held to be one of the most important councils in the history of the Roman Catholic church. The reason the council is so important is because it very clearly defines how salvation can be found within their doctrinal belief system, and it is – to this day – the authoritative teaching of the Roman Catholic church. One of a number of definitive statements anathematizing us (that is, Protestants), include the following…

  • Canon 12. “If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.”
  • Canon 24. “If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.”
  • Canon 30. “If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.”
  • Canon 32. “If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life, …and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema.”

Anathema, in case you didn’t know, is bad. Essentially, the Roman Catholic church ascribes to us (that is, Christians) eternal perdition because we believe in a salvation that is due in no part to our own righteousness. Which means that Roman Catholics, by their own confession ironically enough, are the ones who are anathema.

Whereas we reject the notion that we have exclusive esoteric knowledge into the the salvation of any man (because we are not, after all, God), we joyfully affirm that God has explicitly told us how and by what means he saves. It is often said that we cannot know the heart of man, but the Scripture tells us that we can know the heart by what proceeds out of it (Luke 6:45). Should one profess a confession that includes salvation by self-merit, we can reasonably judge their heart as lost.

3. It is only rightful, logical and prudent to assume that one holds to their Confession and/or the teachings of their church. It is rightful, logical and prudent to assume that professing Mormons believe the Book of Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Watchtower teaching, and Muslims believe the Koran. It is wrong-headed, illogical and imprudent to assume that Mormons believe the Koran, Muslims believe the Watchtower magazine and Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the testimony of Joseph Smith. It is wrong-headed, illogical and imprudent to assume that a Roman Catholic believes in what their church’s official teaching anathematizes, just as it’s wrong to assume a Baptist prays to Mary.

Albert Mohler once stated that he believes there are millions of born-again believers in the Roman Catholic church (click here for audio). The only way this claim could be true is if there are millions of Roman Catholics who are not, in any meaningful way, Roman Catholic. We (that is, Protestants), believe that to be a wrong-headed, illogical and imprudent judgment. If doctrine means anything (and it does), a born-again Roman Catholic is as illogical as a born-again Muslim, born-again Mormon or born-again atheist. The only way one could be any of those things ( a born-again Catholic, Muslim or Atheist) is they rejected the belief system of the title (which represents a belief system) that they embrace. Read that last sentence twice or three times if you have to. 

Pro-life abortionist. Meat-eating vegetarian. Small-government Democrat. Born-again Roman Catholic.

Not only is embracing such an oxymoronic fantasy counterintuitive and nonsensical, but it effectively denies the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in relation to his work in a believer’s life. The Holy Spirit has come to lead us to the knowledge of truth (John 16:13). Although we (that is, Protestants) would hold that God certainly saves Roman Catholics, they cannot remain one for long, as the Holy Spirit reveals to them His truth and they break free of doctrinal paganism and idolatry. Whereas we recognize that God might have saved a Roman Catholic a short time ago and they’ve not yet found their way out of Rome, that someone – for example, Scalia, Rubio or Teresa – could be a long time Roman Catholic, and comfortably so, is an even greater testimony that God’s Spirit does not dwell within them.

4. Christian values do not save souls. Evangelicals like Russell Moore, Eric Teetsel, and others have tried to convince us in this election cycle that Marco Rubio is an evangelical because he holds to evangelical values, even though he rejects evangelical doctrine. In a similar vein, we are being told that those who belong to churches that are counter-Christ are Christian because they hold similar values. And this is particularly why we (that is, Protestants) care enough to be jerks on the issue. A conservative Roman Catholic, a liberal atheist and a moderate Jew all perish unless they repent of their theological convictions. There are no cosmic brownie points for being pro-family. And even the greatest Supreme Court justice in America, who was the greatest defender of conservative values in the history of our nation, shall find himself naked and bare before the throne of Christ the Judge of the quick and dead, and he will have none of his own righteousness in which to dress himself. Even the black robe of an American justice is as filthy rags before a God that requires perfected imputed holiness. We recognize that there is an unspoken “justification by death” motif in evangelicalism as we canonize into sainthood people after they passed who we wouldn’t dare presume to be Christians before. We want to make running for President a means of conversion for Roman Catholics, should they be on our party’s ticket. But when we do that, we compromise the very gospel itself.

So, if you read these posts and think, “Those guys [that is, Protestants] are a bunch of jerks,” you at least know why. We are still protesting.

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[Contributed by JD Hall]

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