Skip to comments.Can Catholics Be Christians?
Posted on 12/08/2009 11:41:52 AM PST by Gamecock
I just came from a funeral service for an aunt of mine who was a staunch Catholic. I came out of that religion about 25 years ago after reading for myself what the Bible had to say. My question surrounds the actuality of salvation for all the millions who still practice Mary worship and so forth. Knowing that one cannot serve two masters, I wonder at how it is possible that the aforementioned can really experience Christ in a saving way, while they continue to believe that the church of Rome is solely responsible for their eternal welfare.
Greetings in Christ Jesus our Lord and only Savior. Thank you for your question.
Unless a person is clearly outside the pale of the Christian faith, I do not believe that you can judge the "actuality" or "reality" of someone's salvation. You may judge the "credibility" of their faith; or you may question the "probability" of someone's salvation. You may also ask, as you have done, "how it is possible that the aforementioned can really experience Christ in a saving way."
None of us, however, can truly say that we are perfect in knowledge or practice. We are always growing both in wisdom and in the grace of God. Is it possible for someone who prays to Mary to be a true Christian? In other words, can someone who is truly saved be in error on such an issue?
Conscious compromise of God's truth can be serious and deadly, but we also see from Scripture that in his mercy God may (and does) choose to accept less than perfect understanding and obedience, even of his own people. (Indeed, isn't the salvation and the perseverance of the saints dependent upon that fact?) There will be growth in understanding and holiness, but perfection must await our going to be with Jesus or His return to take us unto himself (see 1 John 3:2).
In the Old Testament, consider Asa in 1 Kings 15. He removed the idols from the land, but he allowed the high places to remain. The high places were clearly unacceptable. But the text states that Asa was loyal to the Lord his entire life. How could this be? Had he not seriously compromised?
What about the New Testament? Consider the Corinthians. Was the church at Corinth an exemplary church? Did they not have many doctrinal problems, e.g., concerning the Lord's Supper and the doctrine of the resurrection? (See 1 Cor. 11 and 1 Cor. 15.) Did even the apostles fully understand? Even though what they wrote was protected from error, did they not grow and mature in their own understanding and obedience? Wasn't it necessary at one point, for instance, for Paul to rebuke Peter for his inconsistency? (See Gal. 2.)
My point is not to defend the doctrinal aberrations of Rome. I do not believe such is possible. I think, however, that people generally follow their leaders. They learn from them; they consider their arguments rational and coherent.
For example, consider devotion to Mary. I read Jarislov Pellikan's Mary Through the Centuries and I cannot get past page 10 before I am wondering why the author is so blind to the fallacies of his arguments. However, if I were not being so critical and I were already predisposed to the position, then his arguments would perhaps seem irrefutable. So then, we should boldly, patiently, and compassionately discuss these matters with our loved ones, praying that the Holy Spirit will grant them more understanding.
Whatever we may judge in terms of the "actuality" or "probability" or "possibility" of a person's salvation at the end of life is, in the end, academic, for God is the one who can look at the heart and only he can truly judge. (He is the One, in fact, who has chosen his elect.) "It is appointed to man once to die, and after that comes judgment" (Heb. 9:27), but "Today is the day of salvation" (Heb. 3:13). We should work, therefore, the works of him who sent us while it is light and point our neighbors and loved ones to Christ.
For myself, I too was a Roman Catholic. In the past six months, I have attended the funeral of two uncles and one aunt whom I loved very much. I had opportunity at each funeral to speak a word of testimony regarding the Savior. I stood in the pulpit of the church in which I had served mass as a young boy and in my eulogies spoke of my faith in Christ.
Was it as detailed as I wish it could have been? No, but I am thankful for the opportunity God gave. Do I believe that my family members went to heaven? For one I have hope; for the others, I have little hope. Upon what is my hope based? It is always and only grounded in Christ and the Gospel.
We may define Christianity broadly by including as Christians all who confess the Apostles' Creed. We may define Christianity narrowly by including as Christians only those who confess our particular denominational creed. We need to exercise care, because, if we are too narrow, we may find ourselves excluding someone like Augustine. On the other hand, if we are too broad, we may find ourselves including many who should be excluded.
Personally, therefore, I do not judge. I have either greater or lesser hope. For example, I have greater hope for my Roman Catholic family members who ignorantly follow their leaders without thinking. Many times I find these to be at least open to discussion regarding the Gospel. However, I have lesser hope for people who are self-consciously Roman Catholic; that is, they understand the issues yet continue in the way of the Papacy.
I recommend that you read the book Come out from among Them by John Calvin. I found it very helpful and it addresses somewhat the question that you have raised.
I hope that my answer helps. You are free to write for clarification. May our Lord bless you.
That's an interesting perspective of someone who was once a part of that church. He didn't say he left that church. He said he left that religion.
But that's not it...You bow to a statue of Mary...You don't bow to a statue or picture of your uncle Willard...
You don't plant a bathtub in your front yard and decorate it all up with an icon of your aunt Harriet inside as a temple or altar...In fact, I have yet to see one of these tubs with a statue of Jesus in it...Not a single one...
You guys pray to Mary and ask her to provide you with grace, because she is the dispenser of all graces...
You ask your saints to supernaturally find your car keys, to protect you while you drive down the road and to keep an eye on your cat so he doesn't have an accident in your house...
Protestants don't blindly make these accusations that you worship Mary and your saints...Of course you deny it but you provide the visible evidence...
We see and hear you guys worshipping these things...You just like to call it what is isn't...
“The Immaculate Conception is DOGMA.”
Yes, but salvation isn’t just for Catholics.
“Today is the Holy Day of Obligation....did you go to Mass today?”
You want the truth? It’s -30 up here. So no.
Catholics distinguish between three forms of honor - "Latria", the honor and worship given to God alone, "Hyperdulia", the honor given to the Virgin Mary, and "Dulia", the honor given to the rest of the heavenly host. Generally speaking, Protestants see these distinctions as unnecessary to the Christian faith. While Catholics and Orthodox Christians believe that, while still on earth, men still possess good within them and are able to cooperate with the Grace of God to do good, many Protestants believe that men are utterly sinful and that all good works come purely from God's grace. All the good that we do comes from God alone, and thus all praise, glory, and honor should go directly to God alone.
Catholics make an excellent point with the argument that the Saints are alive in Christ, that God grants them the power to hear our prayers, and that prayers to the saints are just a matter of asking them for their intercession, much the way as one might ask their mother here on earth to pray for them. This view holds that God finds joy in having his followers pray for each other, whether on earth or from Heaven. From certain Protestant standpoints, however, the difference is that when we ask a fellow Christian here on earth to pray for us, it is a simple matter of saying, "Pray for me." It does not involve lengthy and drawn out devotions full of lofty praise and honor for the person involved. The request does not need to be repeated 150 times. These views hold that anything beyond a simple, "Pray for me," really should be prayer aimed directly to God through that most perfect of intercessors, Jesus Christ, and anything more appears to border on worship.
Add to that doctrines like the Immaculate Conception and theological concepts like Mary as Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix of Graces and it is easy to see how, from some Protestant points of view, the Catholic approach is considered "Mary worship."
This all really comes down to a difference in paradigms. From a Catholic point of view, that which constitutes hyperdulia is distinct from that which constitutes latria and thus "Mary worship" is a ridiculous concept. From the Protestant points of view in question, starting from very different premises where that which constitutes hyperdulia IS considered to overlap into the realm of the adoration due to God alone and it really is "Mary worship" despite protestations to the contrary. I am not defending that view; I am simply stating how one can hold it in good faith despite constant correction from Catholics.
As a Protestant, while I personally do not see prayers to saints as an essential part of the Christian faith to the degree that Catholics do, I do not think it boils down to unlawful worship. The fact of the matter is that when Catholics pay high honor to the saints, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary, what they are truly focused upon honoring is the Lord God who worked through those saints and made them as they are in Heaven. It is impossible to praise the masterpiece without also praising the Master who made it. I think that is the essence of Catholic attitudes towards the saints.
My overall point, however, is that it is not entirely fair to blame Protestants who don't quite accept these ideas as simply being Catholic-bashers. Their point of view on the matter is firmly rooted in their world view (as opposed to a desire to simply say rotten things about Catholics) and little good is achieved by going after them without taking the time to acknowledge where they are coming from.
What PRECISELY do you mean? Are suggesting that I intended to be equivocal? If so my fears for trying once again to deal with you with courtesy are once again justified.
If you do not mean to characterize my intention, then you MUST be able to show PRECISELY where a word or a phrase was used in a dual sense, which is what "equivocal" implies
If every good work is grace, does that mean that when Hindu feeds the poor he is acting out of grace or that it is not a good work?
If there were a dishonest man at your church who claimed to be saved but was notoriously dishonest in his dealings would you buy a used car from him rather than from an atheist with a reputation for square dealing?
That's not meant as a trap.
For the rest, every good gift comes from God. The only thing any human can contribute without God's involvement is sin. That is Catholic teaching.
“But that’s not it...You bow to a statue of Mary...You don’t bow to a statue or picture of your uncle Willard.”
You have a crucifix in your church?
Your problem is with Statues, not whether they are of the BVM or Christ.
“You guys pray to Mary and ask her to provide you with grace, because she is the dispenser of all graces.”
1. We don’t pray to Mary. At least in the Rosary, we ask her to pray for us sinners.
2. You ask your saints to supernaturally find your car keys, to protect you while you drive down the road and to keep an eye on your cat so he doesn’t have an accident in your house.
And you don’t ask Christ to keep you safe? Seems to me you don’t like prayer in general.
If we are all Brothers/Sisters in Christ, so then are the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses and anyone else who names the name of Jesus...
Not only is the road a narrow one, we are all on different roads...And they don't all lead to Heaven...
I've read enough propaganda where I can figure it out. Probably started off with Smalcald and went downhill from there. I can imagine, though, that the Tudors might have felt somewhat threatened by them, as well (thus causing a lot of the English anti-Catholicism...from whence ours originated, I'm sure).
(Please to note, this is not to say that Catholics were all wonderful and without sin during those years either...but that wasn't the question)
Please don't take anything I say here as intended to be insulting. I am only anzswering your questions.
I would not presume to judge the eternal destiny of anyone at all. That's God's job alone. However, it seems there are some objective norms that should be followed, even if those norms can admit to "exceptions."
If Jesus established auricular confession as the ordinary means of seculring God's forgiveness of sin, then it is to be followed, certainly as a norm. As it is, the Church has taught that "perfect contrition" for sin, even outside of confession, can suffice, particularly when the circumstances allow for no alternative at the present time for the person (e.g.: imminent chance of death, no priest available). In other words, there is an "exception" to the standard. But the standard remains, nevertheless, and, should one find himself out of danger, he should avail himself of recourse to that standard means. Issues regarding other Catholic practices and Sacraments, such as the Eucharist, have similar considerations regarding objective "norms" and the subjective "good intentions" of non-Catholic/Orthodox Christians.
This sort of approach applies in full vigor to Catholics (and Orthodox, of cousre), since these things are available to them. Objectively, it applies to every Christian, but there is a subjective component of complete lack of availability - through invincible ignorance, sheer denial of the requirement based on insufficient understanding, etc. - that we believe God takes into account.
But, at this point the question becomes: "well, if there's this subjective component involved, I don't really need these Catholic trappings, right?" I would say that is an entirely incorrect stance to take, from a Catholic POV.
First of all, we Catholics believe that Sacraments are vehicles for God's grace. In fact, they are the primary means through which He dispenses His sanctifying grace, without which no one can be saved. If He dispenses sanctifying grace through other means, He is certainly free to do so. He is God, and, as the old saying goes, "God is the Author of the Sacraments, but He is not bound by them." Fair enough. But He has not been all that explicit about how He does this outside of the Sacraments, too. It is therefore a much more vague and tentative proposition for a Christian to be in receipt of snctifying grace outside of the Sacraments, even while the possibility is acknowledged.
Second, without the "assurance" of forgiveness of sin through sacramental confession of sins, or the relative assurance that, in the present here-and-now one is objectively in a state of sanctifying grace, and that one is capable of receiving further grace through the worthy reception of the Eucharist, or, as circumstances allow, another Sacrament, one can presume very much regarding how his soul stacks up from God's POV. We reject the notion that one attains salvation in some discrete moment and cannot possibly lose it afterward. This applies to every Christian, not just Catholics, from our POV. So, it is something of a dangerous proposition to go through life - especially in these times fraught with unprecedented temptations to sin - without the assurances of grace through the vehicles that God has appointed for dispensing that grace. It would be very difficult indeed for a Christian to pull himself all the way through a lifetime in any part of the Christian Era without the assured dispensing of His sanctifying grace; it is doubly hard today, no doubt. Therefore, while we don't deny that God "can find a way" to save non-Catholics who do not and cannot receive sacramental grace, we clearly believe is it far more advantageous, and far less speculative, if one can go through life with the "ordinary means" at his disposal.
Which brings me to a third point. As I said earlier, everyone must die in a state of grace (put simply, without mortal sin - or "deadly" sin, as described in 1John 5:16-17 - in order to enter Heaven. The "mortal" designation refers to the "spiritual death" of damnation for those who die their physical death while in that state of sin. None of us who has lived past the age of reason (generally understood to be around 7 years of age) goes through life free of sin. All of us need forgiveness. If we don't secure it by the normative means that Christ established in confession and/or the anointing James speaks of in James 5:14-15 (or even baptism itself, should we subsequently not sin again, and die in its grace, though this would be a rare occurence unless one old enough to be responsible for his actions is baptized immediately before death), then there is nothing left except to try to make what we Catholics call a "perfect act of contrition." But, that is a very hard thing to do. The contrition is based entirely on sorrow for offending God because of Who He is, and not in any part out of fear of Hell and punishment. Most people approach confession with "imperfect contrition," with perhaps an admixture of sorrow based on repentance for offending God per se, and also fear of punishment. The normative nature of the Sacrament obtains forgiveness anyway. But, in its absence, one must meet a stricter standard, if you will. It is not God's fault that one finds himself at death's door and has not availed himself of the means that God Himself has established.
As I said, this type of contrition is very difficult. It must be based on sorrow for offending God alone, and even all attachment to sin must be abandoned. That, too, is very hard. So, from a Catholic POV, it is a far riskier and more speculative proposition to suppose that non-Catholics, who have never received the normative means of sanctifying grace outside of baptism, should presume to be in a state of grace at death. If they are not, they cannot be saved by definition, per 1 John 5, as above.
So, to summarize an answer to your question, based on considerations I've just stated, I would say that, while it is possible for non-Catholic Christians to be saved - because nothing is impossible with God - the normative means of forgiveness and grace He established are still vitally important, for they provide a moral assurance that we have been forgiven, are receiving His grace through worthy reception of His Sacraments, and have a much better "shot" at a favorable judgment if we die availing ourselves of those means, or recently availing ourselves of them and committing no subsequent, serious sin.
Our bottom-line is: yes, maybe you will die in a state of grace, but, unless God delivers sanctifying grace to your soul and you die truly and perfectly contrite, you will not. And, outside His own established "norms," how will you know?
Finally, I would just say that your question: "Is there anything we lose in eternity because of our choice of denomination, from a Catholic perspective" is simply too speculative. If anyone gets to Heaven at all, it is because of the mercy and grace of God. Their reward will be based on their relative love of God in this life, and how that motivated them, through His grace, to serve Him faithfully. I don't doubt for a second that some non-Catholic Christians are in Heaven, and that some of them are in a higher state of blessedness and happiness than some Catholics. But, again, it's so much harder to get there in the first place for non-Catholics deprived of the Sacraments, from a Catholic POV. Therefore, to answer what you ask next: "Does the choice matter," I would say: yes, it certainly does.
Again, I apologize if this seems offensive somehow. I suppose that it could easily be misconstrued that way, but that is sincerely not my intention. I am only answering your question regarding how we Catholics still allow for the possibility of salvation for non-Catholics, in spite of what we say regarding the Sacraments and their necessity.
>> To accept that the Bible, as written and reproduced is a Divine work one must accept that the hand of the Holy Spirit guided a group of learned and pious men in determining which books to include and which to exclude.
>> To then deny that the Holy Spirit retired and no longer guided similar groups of learned and pious men in the selection of St. Peter’s successors and their continued interpretation of doctrine and writings before them doesn’t compute.
I do not deny that groups of pious men are guided in many ways. I simply deny that such guidance is limited to the Catholic heirarchy, or is necessarily present in the Catholic heirarchy at all times. I deny that the Catholic heirarchy is the sole source of doctrinal guidance, and that all edicts of the heirarchy are necessarily divinely inspired.
People in Heaven can’t hear us, they are worshiping God, praising the Lamb, they’re not taking correspondence from people still alive and relaying those prayers to God.
I would no more pray to Mary than I would to Paul, James, Peter or Silas...we are all subjects of God, some are asleep in Him, some are still on Earth in physical body form, but those who are in Christ don’t hear us praying to them, and even if they did, I’m sure Paul would say, upon my praying to him, “Hey, Ed...okay, I wrote half the Bible, but don’t pray to me, pray to our Father!”
Mary, I’m sure, would say the same thing.
Again, Jesus replied “Our Father, who art in Heaven” when asked how we should pray, not “Our Paul, our Mary, our Peter,” etc., etc.
Don’t pray to people gone on, pray to the One who made us, saved us and guides our lives, God...
Interestingly enough, I believe the Protestant reformation was itself guided by the Holy Spirit in an effort to reform His church from excessive religiosity.
>>If we are all Brothers/Sisters in Christ, so then are the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses and anyone else who names the name of Jesus...<<
Anyone who has a relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ has the same chance to make it to heaven as you or I.
To say otherwise is to presume the mind of God.
I’m not going to be that presumptuous. You can if you want.
>> All of this presupposes that there is a yardstick upon which determinations can be made regarding the “turth” or its “interpretation.” In other words, who gets to be “right,” and upon what does that authority rest?
That authority rests in God alone. Thus, we will not definitively know the answers until we meet Him.
>> A document of any type is only as valuable as its comprehensibility, its ability to be understood and interpreted. We both believe the Bible to be the inspired, infallible Word of God. I would submit that a document that purports to be infallible needs an infallible interpreter. Otherwise, its very infallibility is rendered useless.
The infallibility of the Bible is not rendered useless by the fallibility of its interpreters any more than the Bible’s moral code is rendered useless by the fallibility of its practicioners. Fallibility is inherent in humanity. Anyone claiming his own infallible interpretation of the Word of God is himself claiming to speak with the authority of the Almighty. That authority does not rest in one man, or one heirarchy.
Mary wasn’t born without sin. The Bible says we are all born in sin, “all have fallen short.”
If God could have chosen one born and made them sinless He wouldn’t have needed Jesus’ sacrifice, He could have made us all sinless if He made Mary sinless.
And if you say Mary had to be born sinless (which the Bible says is not true for anyone except Jesus) because she carried Jesus, then why wouldn’t God have made Anne also sinless, as she carried a sinless Mary?
And on and on...
I had not known this until recently that the sign of the cross that the Catholics adopted had dated back so far.
Why do you think that Mary will question me upon my death as to whether I believe in her?
She’s not the Godhead, she’s not part of the Trinity, she’s just another human born into sin and saved by grace.
Do you think Paul will also ask me if I believe in him? How about Silas, or Mary Magdalena? Will there be a long line of Christian-era saints all asking me if I believed in them?
Of course not not. In fact Jesus says the question He will ask is “Did you feed my sheep, did you give water to the thirsty” not “Did you believe in my Mother?”
And the answer of course, that they have no authority. Jesus did not give any authority to the disciples who walked away when He told them to eat His Body and drink His Blood. Why would He give authority to those who walked away from Him in the 1500s?