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Do I Have to Stop Being Catholic to be a Christian?

Do I have to stop being Catholic to be a Christian?
No, not necessarily. I don’t agree with everything the Catholic Church teaches. But I have small and large theological disagreements with all Christian denominations – my own included. It is very possible to be a Christian within the Catholic Church. The problem is that it is also possible to NOT be a Christian within the Catholic Church. Along with all the denominations which were once state-religions (Lutheranism, Greek/Russian/Ukrainian/etc. Orthodoxy, Reformed, Anglican/Episcopalian) there is a tendency to equate church membership with salvation, even though the church may officially teach against it. And that is the big danger.
What do you mean?
According to Jesus, salvation is a matter of one’s heart. Jesus says unless you are born again, you will not enter the kingdom of God. Jesus was speaking to Jews who thought they were going to heaven just because they were Jews, and because they went to synagogue meetings and the temple. But they were wrong. They needed a personal relationship with God. That is why Jesus said they needed to be born again.
What does that have to do with the Catholic Church?
Many Catholics believe they are saved just because they are Catholic and go to church. However, this does not save you.
But my priest says that being baptized save me.
In 1 Peter 3:21-22 it says “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” So the point is not just getting wet – but making an appeal to God for a clean conscience. A child can be baptized, but only an adult can make a heart-felt request of God for a new conscience. Have you ever asked God to give you a new heart and mind?
Well, I thought the priest did that for me when he baptized me.
In Scriptures, salvation always begins with a conscious decision. I am not saying your infant baptism was Illegitimate. But standing alone, it is insufficient for salvation. Romans 10:10 says, “for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” God wants a personal relationship with us. And that requires a conscious choice to believe in God and confess Him as your saviour. That’s something YOU must do – nobody can do it for you. Jesus also said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” John 14:23. God will come to you and make His abode within you if you love Him and keep His word. These are your decisions to make – and today is as good of a day as any!
If I wanted to do this, how would I do it?
Romans 10:13 says, “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” As a Catholic, you already know of the true God. You already know you are a sinner. And you already know that salvation is won through the death of God’s only Son Jesus. So all that is lacking is for you to call out to Him in prayer, asking Him to forgive you of your sins, to give you a new heart, and committing all your life to Him.
Should I write this down?
It’s not a formula. It’s a real personal request from your heart to the heart of God. But if it would help, you can pray the prayer on the back of this tract. (See bottom of page)
But I must ask again – if I asked Jesus into my heart, will I still be a Catholic? All my family is a Catholic, and they would be very angry if I became a Protestant.
What if I am right?
What do you mean?
If I am right, and being Catholic is not enough, then many in your family may be going to Hell right now. How will they feel towards you in eternity if they find out you knew the way to heaven, but you did not tell them?
But I still believe you can be a Catholic and a Christian. I do not doubt that there are some among your family who will know exactly what you have done, and approve because they are Christians too. There is a whole movement within the Catholic Church of evangelical Catholic Christians. You could seek them out and join that movement. My own belief is that as you read the Bible more, and grow in your faith more and more you will tend to see some of the errors which Protestant Christians have pointed out in Catholicism for centuries. However, perhaps you will not. Perhaps someday you will become a very passionate and informed Evangelical Catholic who may challenge me in my beliefs. But we must remember – many of these on secondary issues. The main issue is salvation. And theologically, Catholics agree that a personal relationship with Jesus is necessary for salvation.
And so you think it is possible to be a Catholic and a Christian?
Yes, I do. But remember – Jew, Greek, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran or Reformed or Mennonite: it is necessary for EACH ONE OF US to individually obey Jesus’ command. We must all be born again. Are you ready to take that step?
A SINNER’S PRAYER
Dear Father God:
I know that you are the creator of Heaven and earth. You are the only God. You are all powerful, wise and just.
And I know that in your eyes, I am a sinner. I do not deserve to be in your presence. I do not deserve to live. I deserve to be punished for my sins.
But I also know you are merciful. You have sent your son Jesus to die for my sins. You took all my punishment, and put it on Him. Thank you, God!
Today, I pray that you would save me from my sins by the blood of Jesus.
Please conquer the evil in my heart and life, please forgive my sins, please give me a new heart, please adopt me into your family, and please remove me from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of your beloved Son Jesus. I commit to live all of my life, from here on out, for you only.
In the name of Jesus Christ,
Amen.
/\ If you have prayed this prayer for the first time, from the heart, you have become a Christian. Please get in touch with me by commenting or sending me an e-mail form. I’d love to talk more with you about how to grow in your faith!

11 Comments »

  1. Respectfully, this is dangerous and incorrect. I respect that it seems you were addressing a real person and not just the doctrines of Catholic and Christian. While I do respect that, you erroneously call the differences between Protestant and Catholic secondary. The differences are most certainly primary. If you claim to be a Protestant this claim is a shame to all those who’ve gone before you. You mentioned that we both believe a “personal relationship” is required. So what? Mormons say that too. Catholicism does not believe in Christ rightly. Sure some can be saved in it. That’s not the point. We should be warning Catholics that yes, they must leave their religion if they wish to follow Christ. We’ll do that best by proclaiming the truth, and letting the errors take care of themselves, yes. They must leave it because God hates it. God hates idolatry in all of its forms. Romanism is idolatry. Just because a person in its lower ranks might be unaware of the extent of their religious system’s idolatry, it is no ground for us to play games with them. Thanks for listening. Two resources for your further consideration:

    1) http://biblecia.com/audio.aid-1126.html

    2) http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/90-291/the-pope-and-the-papacy

    • Thank you for your comments and resources. I do certainly disagree with Catholicism on many very important points. However, unlike Mormons Catholics rightly believe in Trinity, sin, and salvation through the death of Jesus. They are Christians, even if they are wrong in some areas.

      The great danger which I see is that in most churches, salvation by good works, attendance and tithing is implied. One is lead to believe that so long as they follow the rules, they are saved. But I would point out that many other churches (especially state-churches, and former state-churches) imply this as well.

      I am not a Catholic, and strongly discourage the trend of Evangelicals to join the Catholic church. As you mention, this is to shame all those who have suffered great loss in order to create a Protestant faith for us.

      However, I believe it is going too far to call Catholics non-Christians. I have seen no evidence that they officially teach a false gospel, even if unofficially they may often imply a salvation of works.

      • Wow, talk about a break in a conversation, eh?! It’s now 2015! I just read your reply. I wonder if you still feel the same today? Do you recall, did you ever go and check on the linked resources I provided you here?
        You said, “I have seen no evidence that they officially teach a false gospel…” Where are you looking, sir? You surely cannot be looking to their treatment of it, or to history, or to the Bible (without working to exonerate them).
        You claim to be a Protestant. Me too. That places us in line with a body of doctrine. Justification by faith alone (JBFA) is THE relevant one to highlight. Here’s an indication for you of where precisely, Rome teaches a false gospel. “CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.” -C.O. Trent. (http://www.thecounciloftrent.com/ch6.htm). We as Protestants (the reason this council came together) are condemned to hell for our doctrine of (JBFA). This should at least show you that there is this big of a difference between “their” view and “our” view on this most crucial matter.

        This is why they are most certainly not Christian at all. They have ruined the truth with their systems, other books in the Bible, etc.
        They do NOT believe on forgiveness of sins like a Protestant (anyone of the truth inside it) does. You are incorrect in this statement above. Trinity, yes (if you remove Mary from most of them), sin (if you excuse their ridiculous doctrine of indulgences), but not forgiveness. There’s is a sacramental system of synergistic progression; Christianity is a SDG kind of thing.

        Ok, talk to you in five years…or not. 🙂

  2. This is gonna be long fyi

    Are the protestant Reformers right when they said Rome’s gospel is so far removed from the truth of God that they are not to be called “Christians” and it is impossible to be saved by their gospel which is no gospel at all but a system of man-made sacraments that amounts to pelagianism and that only those who do not truly understand Rome’s teachings can be saved inside of that system. The first poster seems to take this position. His link to MacArthur is good and i would recommend it to you also Josiah, because he deals thoroughly with this issue from this position.

    Or are many modern evangelicals right and Rome’ gospel (although having major problems) is
    not too far gone, and because of agreements on things like the trinity, christology, and last things, we can say they are “Christians” and many geniune Roman Catholics are saved? Josiah you seem to take this position. I would recommend the blog of C Michael Patton for support for this position because he articulates it very well.

    Ultimately this matter is centered around the question, “What is the gospel?”
    And guess what, not everyone agrees on that. If you look up Gospel Definitions on Trevin
    Wax’s blog at TGC you’ll see a wide range of answers of what is included in the gospel and what isn’t.

    But lets turn to the scripture to see how the define it.
    1 Corinthians 15:1-4 and Romans 1:2-4 come to mind as clear gospel summaries.
    They include as essentials
    -Humanity of Jesus and his role as the Messiah
    -Divinity of Jesus and his Lordship
    -Death on the Cross for Sins
    -Resurrection from the Dead

    Ultimately i come down more towards the Reformers. While I understand that Rome believes in that list of things i mentioned as being the core of the gospel, their doctrines of justification, the church, the papacy and magestirium, mariology, veneration of saints, purgatory, and indulgences all cloud that to the degree it is impossible to see the biblical gospel in its system. I would readily say that Roman Catholics are heretics. However i wouldn’t go as far as to not call them Christians in a general sense because they do hold to the essentials of the christian faith. I guess I’m saying although they believe in the fundamentals of the gospel (agreeing with Josiah) their other doctrines essentially make them heretics and deny that gospel (agreeing with the other poster).

    I agree with with the first poster as well that we should call people out of Rome’s church and not encourage them to stay. allowing people to remain in heretical environment is not loving, it is bowing the knee to the misguided tolerance God.

    Also you said I would recommend this CARM article about the Cannons of Trent to see if you still would hold by that statement .http://carm.org/council-trent-canons-justification

    I have a second post coming as well.

    • at the end there its supposed to say – also you said,”I have seen no evidence that they officially teach a false gospel, even if unofficially they may often imply a salvation of works.” then the comment about the CARM article.

    • Thank you, Andrew, for your long post. I started reading the other two, but since I see they touch on different points, I will respond to this before moving on.

      (I should warn you that I dictated this post into my iPhone. It’s fairly accurate, and I edited it, but sometimes it makes quirky little mistakes, like substituting “were” for “we’re” So just be aware of that.)

      I believe the Catholic Church is a very difficult question, which defies simple answers.

      The problem is the tremendous diversity within that huge denomination, despite the attempt to create uniformity from the top down.

      I have met both extremes in the Catholic Church. Dedicated Christians, with a genuine relationship to God who feel their faith sustained and enriched by the church. And on the other hand, a great overwhelming number of people who live their lives completely devoid of God, but show up for mass now and then and are given some false security of salvation through the rituals.

      I think you have accurately summarized the belief of the reformers. And when I meet true Catholics who truly believe what the opponents of the Reformation believe, I would say exactly the same thing. People who believe in salvation by works are deceived. Even if they do hold to the correct tenants of the faith, namely the Trinity, etc. and so to that extent, I would agree with you that many Catholics are heretics, because they do not preach salvation by grace, but by works.

      You will also see that I am preaching against this form of salvation by calling for repentance, and a relationship with God through faith and grace in Jesus Christ. I see that you have a problem with how I describe salvation in this post. But Maybe we will leave that for your second comment.

      However, the question is, once one has found true faith in Christ, Must they leave the Catholic Church? If their particular church reinforces the gospel of salvation by works, then absolutely! But I am not convinced that all churches – especially in other countries – do so.

      My reading in church history – especially the early church – has colored my own understanding of theology.

      I have become more convinced than ever that the simple truth we often read on Gospel tracts: one) God is loving and just, two) you are a sinner three) Jesus died for you four) you must be born again! Is The true gospel.

      However, for most of church history they did not see it this way. And the heroes of the faith in the early church – the direct descendants of the apostles, some of them with personal access to the real disciples of Jesus – did not usually expresses strong reliance on Grace. Grace was still there, but it was significantly deemphasize, below the tremendous emphasis on works – especially following the sermon on the mount, and solidarity with the suffering church.

      And then there is the Coptic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and yes – the Catholic Church. Am I prepared to say that no person in church history was saved until the reformers – in the 1600s – enunciated what I believe to be the clearest and most precise explanation of the Gospel?

      I could express it in another way. I believe in basically the four points I stated above as the essential Gospel: one, learn of the true God. Two, learn of sin. Three, learn of Jesus. Four, except Jesus as your Savior.

      But in actuality, I have seen almost nobody converted in this way. I have seen almost no altar-conversions in my life, and usually profession of faith is not the first step in a relationship to God.

      Peoples lives, minds and journeys are just far too complicated to systematize. Usually, people begin attending a church, begin living for Christ, begin following the commands of Jesus, and somewhere along the way – either consciously or subconsciously – they make the decision. Yes, I’m going to do this. This is going to be my life. Repentance of sin and reliance on the Holy Spirit comes gradually. First they ask for forgiveness for this or that, then for more, and for all their sins. And they pray for more and more of God’s peace, etc., and Calve prayed forgot to all of their heart.

      And for those raised in Christian homes, they probably cannot even remember a time when they accepted Christ. Churches that encourage them to “accept Christ” may have it right, but I sense they are calling into question, in many times, genuine faith. In some cases, churches which devalue the childhood faith, and demand that people make a radical, adult conversion push genuine converts to “so their wild oats” for a season, in order to have a “Genuine Conversion experience.

      But in my opinion, they should feel more secure in their childhood faith, but we dedicate their lives to God when they feel they have reached a new level of maturity. This is how it was with Timothy. And second Timothy, Paul does not remind Timothy of any salvation experience, but reminds him of the faith of his parents, and the commissioning service, in which Paul laid his hands on him and commissioned him for service, as the formative times in Timothy’s life.

      And so, to summarize, I would say that I believe salvation comes when we believe right doctrine, understanding God and sin, and the redemption of Jesus Christ, and we make a conscious decision to accept that sacrifice, and ask it to be applied to us.

      However, in the liturgical and ancient churches throughout history and around the world, and in our own evangelical homes, I believe salvation works much differently than this in actual practice. And I would not be prepared to say that all Catholics are non-Christian, or that all Catholic churches are heretical.

      I would had this discussion back to you with two questions: first of all, does what I said make sense to you? I could clarify myself if that is necessary, before you respond to me.

      Secondly, I would ask you, do you believe that all Catholics are non-Christians,, and all Catholic churches are heretical? Or would you allow that some are worse or better than others? If so, how would you make the division?

      Thank you for your response and your time. I will respond to your other comments as I have time. God bless you!

      • Yes Josiah, i have looked over your post. Sorry i haven’t had time to respond till now.

        I agree with you that the issue is difficult to nail down, and in many ways defies explanation.

        I would say that it depends on how we define terms in this discussion.

        When i say Roman Catholics are heretics I am saying that their doctrine clouds the gospel and the once for all faith to the point it is nearly impossible to see the truth through it. In that sense i would say that all Roman Catholics are heretics and not biblical Christians. I would stop short of not calling them “Christian” though. In my mind the word Christian in our culture conveys a historical-sociological meaning not a biblical definition.
        However i would not consider someone a Roman Catholic if they don’t adhere to the doctrines of Rome and the Bishop of Rome. So these people you know who you say don’t believe in Trent but are “Roman Catholic Evangelicals” i would say aren’t actually Roman Catholics. They are really just being dishonest with themselves and the Magesterium.. It is clear in Trent that if you believe in Sola Fide in any form that you are anethma( Accursed by God). I am not denying that such people exist that are “Evangelical” within the Roman Catholic Church ( i know people like that myself). I am saying that those people are not Roman Catholics by Rome’s Definition of what it means to be a Roman Catholic. To be a Roman Catholic you must believe as Dogma everything laid down by the Church Councils and the Pope (which includes Trent) I frankly think its extremely dishonest to try and be an “Evangelical” within their system and is caused by things like not wanting to offend family members or leave certain traditions.
        I believe people CAN be heretics and still be saved in the Roman Catholic Church. I believe God always works despite us, and as I have said earlier I do believe God saves people within the Roman System. The thing I don’t believe however is that one can remain within a heretical environment for the rest of their lives. Remaining in Rome is sin because the bible calls us to believe in sound doctrine (1 Timothy 6). I believe that sanctification is not optional, but will occur if we are truly sons (Hebrews 12). Therefore I would say that justification can occur within Rome, but that sanctification will necessarily force people to leave Rome. Now in saying that I would not be legalistic about “how long” it would take people to leave. There is grace and it could take years and years- but I believe God will do it (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
        Hope all that clarifies my position.
        Also I will wait till your response to my second post to respond to your comments on salvation that are found in this post.

      • Hello, Andrew!

        It is good to hear from you again. I hope that you never feel bad about taking time to answer. I well know what it is like to go through weeks of business before having a few hours free to blog & discuss. Let’s just agree – for future reference – that neither of us will take it personally if the other takes a long time to respond. That’s just how our lives are.

        That being said, I had some extra time and I already responded to your other comments. Can you see my words? If not, there may be a problem in the software between us.

        I am glad that you took time to define your vocabulary – something we rarely take sufficient time to do!

        It seems that our debate lies in a different use of terms. I would reserve “heretic” to refer to teachers who are absolutely NON-Christian on essential doctrine (see post: “Essential and Unessential Doctrines: Who decides which is which?”) but claim to be Christian. (I follow J. Gresham Machen in defining Liberalism as a Heretical doctrine) I would not call a teaching which “clouds the gospel….to the point that it is nearly impossible to see the truth through it” a heretical teaching. I would use words like “dangerous” or even “false teaching” before pulling out the “H” word.

        But I’m not inviting you to begin a quarrel about words – I’m just glad that we now understand where that component of our disagreement lies. We agree, we just say it differently.

        I understand where you are coming from to adopt the sociological definition of the word “Christian.” In a few settings I will use this, but I have backed off from it because I find ultimately people find it too confusing. (For example, I used to say “I’m not a Christian, I’m just a Christ-follower,” but this never seemed as helpful as I thought it would be) I think it is better to fight to preserve “true Christianity” and to use words like “heretics” and “false teachers” to describe people who do not accurately portray the faith (even if they ARE sociologically Christian), rather than abandoning the word and trying to adopt some other descriptor for the faithful.

        But again…we are discussing words here. I hear what you’re saying, even if we choose our vocal a bit differently.

        As I read I remember something I said when I preached through the doctrines of the Catholic church. (I did a four-part evaluation/critique of Catholicism several years ago.) At that time, I said, “It is possible to be saved as a Catholic. But one needs to more or less be saved IN SPITE of their doctrines, not THROUGH them.” That might be a good way to put it. Would you agree with me here?

        Concerning the interpretations of Trent…I am becoming woefully aware of my own inadequacies in regards to Catholic theology at this point. When I studied the Catholic church, I focused my attention (as most Protestants do) on the Reformation and Trent. However, one must consider that the church has evolved since then. And importantly, Vatican II has enacted a new sort of intellectual reformation within Catholicism. It has opened it up to changes and a broad spectrum of diversity which I do not even begin to comprehend, but which I know is very very broad. It includes also Rahner – an author which I have read but not understood – and many shades of Catholicism varying from New-Aged Catholics to Liberal/humanist Catholics to Charasmatics to Evangelicals, and the list goes on and on!

        It is all fine and well for us to say “if they deviate from Trent they are not true Catholics.” However, perhaps I can appeal to your own sociological analogy? If a broad range of people are sociologically Christian, what right do we have to call them non-Christian? In the same way….if all these people (and more besides) call themselves Catholic (and they all have a way of saying they are in accord with the doctrines passed down, including, but not limited to Trent) then who are we to say they are not “real” Catholics?

        At the least, what I can say is that I in no way feel qualified to make the judgment as to whether someone is a “real” Catholic or not. Catholicism is a whole world to which I have only a pencil-sketch map, drawn by cartoonists and polemicists.

        I understand your distinction between justification and sanctification, and I hear your desire to give people grace to take all the time they need to find the truth. However, I still feel that you are being too rigid in your condemnation of Catholicism. Is it really the case that over 1.2 billion Catholics in almost all countries on earth, comprising thousands of communities and hundreds of thousands of churches, there is not one in which a passionate, seeking believer could grow to maturity in Christ? Are you sure you are qualified to make that judgement?

        Let me give you the examples that are on my mind. I am preparing to go to Africa to serve. In many places/cases, the Catholics have been there first. And the third-world component of Catholicism (as most branches of the church) is the most vibrant and strong! Now must I believe that all of these energetic, on-fire Catholics in Africa are unsaved? Must I fight against them (doctrinally) like I would oppose the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Or can I *carefully* link arms with them, appreciating that many are “true” Christians, even if they are doctrinally deficient on some essential points.

    • Hello Andrew. Did you receive my response to this comment? If you need more time to respond that is fine – but I just want to make sure you received it before moving onto the second and third comment. Please let me know.

    • That is a very good article on Trent. Thank you for sharing. I actually hadn’t read it fully yet.

      This certainly provides a doctrinal basis for salvation by works. But whether all Catholics interpret it that way is another thing.

      I actually think Evangelicalism is bleeding into the Catholic Church in many areas, and many also just find traditions within the huge history of Cstholicism that have more life and truth than Trent.

      And so yes – there is definitely danger in the Catholic Church. But I still would stop short of saying all Catholics and all Catholic churches are heretical.

  3. Josiah this second post is more important than my first though.

    I have been following your blog for a while now, and have been encouraged by a lot of what you posted. Particularly with your journey through Barth, the Emergent Church, and Pacifism. So i want this post to be taken as an encouragement towards Christ. I do not know you, but i as a brother in Christ, want to push you towards him out of love.

    I think the bigger problem with this post is actually not the confusion about Rome, but the alternative to Rome that is presented at the end.

    You present the person with a sinners prayer and finish by saying ,” If you have prayed this prayer for the first time, from the heart, you have become a Christian.”

    The bigger problem is not that Rome’s gospel is no gospel at all, but that the gospel you have
    presented is no gospel at all.

    The sinners prayer makes no mention of key aspects of the gospel including the Resurrection or the Lordship of Christ. Paul clearly states in 1 Corinthians 15 without the resurrection there is no faith. Josiah if someone believed and prayed every word of that prayer it would do nothing because in that prayer, Jesus is still dead. We preach a living Christ who has rose and is Lord of the Universe.

    Josiah the gospel is not simply repentence of sins and faith in the cross. It includes belief that Jesus is Lord and that he Rose from the dead. Romans 10:9-10 states this very clearly.

    Further more the sinners prayer is just as dangerous as any infant baptism or state church membership is, and equally as heretical and damning. ( I know thats bold).

    Honestly they are the same thing. Paedobaptism, Church Membership, and the Sinners prayer are all man made rituals that people use to create a system for people to get saved. Salvation is not a decision, salvation is a miracle and cannot be manipulated by men. we cannot ever tell someone “if they do this (pray the prayer) with a genuine heart then they are saved.” Because you can replace praying the prayer with baptism or church membership and it works the same.

    I’d recommend this Paul Washer sermon on the topic. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shxQcczYuAA&list=FLGt0YOqBdfAMa_ta4EuNAIQ&index=40

    Josiah i pray that you take this moment as Peter took Paul’s rebuke in Galatians. For the sake of the gospel i cannot allow this post to go uncontested. The full gospel needs preached and it needs to be unhindered by human devices such as the sinners prayer. I pray that you would accept this rebuke, and repent and know that grace abounding is waiting for you, and for me as we are both sinners in need of constant grace. I prayer that i would even be rebuked in the way or tone i said anything in these posts.

    I would love to email and even talk on the phone if you’d like. i take it you can see my email on this post since your the admin.

    In Christ,

    Andrew

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