I am a catholic Christian

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Let me preface this by stating that I like Hayton and the others of his circle who are blogging on more fundamental things; however, during a recent review of a book, Bob posted something which I found rather offensive and lacking of genuine Christian reflection:

I have but one small reservation with this book. Hill details both a Roman Catholic’s and Greek Orthodox’s struggle on this issue with no caution about the deficient theology of those churches. There may be genuine Christians who are RC or Orthodox, but they are the exception not the rule. Perhaps those faiths are more open to the struggle for faithful celibacy and so have something he can identify with. As a Protestant, I fear the Gospel can be at stake in so easily recommending Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy with their denial of justification by faith alone.

So many things…

First, how is it that Bob cannot say that Catholics and the Orthodox communions aren’t Christian? Fast forward to his last line – do we define the Christian faith, the sum total of the Gospel message as justification by faith alone? Is that the single doctrine to which one must hold in order to be counted as a Christian? If so, where then are the Apostles who didn’t have it, nor most of Church history for that matter? While Justification by faith alone is a valid attempt at explaining the Gospel’s message, it is not the only one, and regardless, nothing in Sacred Text forces one to hold to such an opinion in order to be counted among the Body of Christ.

…unless I’m wrong… and if I am, please show me.

A different understanding of doctrine doesn’t mean deficient.

Further, to classify billions of people who claim to be followers of Christ as not, and suggest that the few – if indeed, such exist – are the exception to the rest burning in hell is beyond me. We may disagree on several things, doctrinal wise, but to regard the whole of the oldest Communions as nonChristian is beyond me, and in doing so while pointing to a recent invention of doctrinal understanding chaps my Christian hide. If you are dead-set that anti-Catholic is pro-Christ, then stop here.

What else bothers me is that he accuses Catholics and the Orthodox of having a ritual and church-reliance, versus the Christ-alone reliance of the Protestants. Except, when it comes to Christ-alone, the very fact that unless one seemingly subscribes to the Reformation-era doctrine of Justification by Faith along, one is not a Christian, then that actually removes the fact that truly in Christ alone we have our only hope, light and cornerstone (cf N.G.) and replaces it with mandated creedal statements. Note that the ‘ritual-reliance’ is an age-old jab at the liturgical masterpiece which is a Catholic service, a service rich in artist preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in their understanding. Further, I fully believe that the biblical notion of the Church is one which Catholics and the Orthodox, more so than many Protestants, more fully express. Do I agree that Rome is the Church? No, so don’t get me wrong or put words in my mouth. I believe that the Church is the Church, but Roman doctrine, as far as I understand it, gives more of the rightful place to the Community of the Body of Christ which I believe the New Testament calls for. Furthermore and however, to call this church-reliance is to dismiss the whole of the Book of Ephesians and early Church history, Cyprian and the like, in seeing the Church as the new elected Body of Christ, the New (realized, unrealized) Creation which will be the light – together, not the individual – of Jesus Christ to a dying world of individual gods, lords, nations, kings, and bodies.

I am reminded of a situation in which the disciples were complaining about others who didn’t match up to their understanding of following Christ (Mark 9.37-40) or the Epistle to the Ephesians in Revelation, you know, written before orthodoxy was a semi-settled matter. Or a host of other times wherein Christ showed us that while we may say what is wrong or right, at the very least in our own opinion, it is a different matter to cast their souls away from God, especially when they are attempting to do work in the name of Christ. I’m not a Catholic, nor a big-O Orthodox either, but I cannot and will not so easily cast off my Christian brothers and sisters because we differ on some understanding of what Christ did for us. I respect the majesty of the Liturgy of both the East and the West, as well as their Tradition which gave birth to Luther, Calvin and that Zwingli guy and of course, John Wesley. I respect Theresa, Day and Benedict and a whole host of other Catholic luminaries who at the end of the day, the only thing that we would be able to agree on was and is and will forever be Christ. I hope that Bob can see beyond what is in the end petty disagreements – although I might maintain that salvation is by God’s Grace Alone, but that we have to have works to maintain it – to the richness of Christian fellowship.

And you too – you know who you are….

Again, I can recommend Bob’s blog, and others in his circle, for good Christian theology, but in this, Bob is clearly wrong.

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23 Replies to “I am a catholic Christian”

  1. From my reply on my blog post:
    First off, I am not alone in this assessment. Consider Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones: “There are, of course, individuals who are both Roman Catholics and Christians. You can be a Christian and yet be a Roman Catholic. My whole object is to try to show that such people are Christians in spite of the system to which they belong, and not because of it.” (source)

    Secondly, let me be clear. I respect liturgy, and am intrigued to learn more of it. I value a sacramental approach to an extent, “means of grace” terminology is helpful I believe (even though that distances me from my Baptist roots). Third, I am very keen on unity. The unity of the faith is important to me, having come from a quite sectarian, legalistic background. I don’t want to misrepresent people either.

    But, you knew there was a but, I cannot extend Christian recognition to Roman Catholics quite yet.

    Now, I admit, I haven’t read Catholic theologians. Recommend a good intro on the topic and I will make an attempt to do so. But I don’t think the Reformers and subsequent evangelical leaders are all totally off-base here.

    The trappings of the religious system which is Catholicism conspire to cloud out the simplicity of the gospel. Veneration of the saints, prayers to Mary, purgatory, the role of priests, the place the Eucharist holds, penance, beads, icons, holy objects — all of these easily vie for central place. The Pope as Father and Vicar of Christ. I can go on and on.

    Galatians comes to mind, and not flippantly either. The Galatian heresy added to the Gospel. Circumcision (whether as a religious ritual marker or a religious observance or good deed) was added to the requirements. This was no light matter and called forth Paul’s sharpest rebukes. See 5:2-6 and 1:6-9.

    I’m not afraid to follow Paul in this regard. If you think Paul was mistaken, then so am I. I hold the 66 books of the Bible to be my guide, not the rule of popes. I revere church tradition, and even the Reformers did. But the fathers differed on things and obscured this point over time.

    This isn’t an attempt to stab people and score points. I’m trying to be careful and mark out divisions where they exist and should exist for the preservation of the gospel (Jude 3 comes to mind).

    I don’t mind a dialogue on this topic.
    I really don’t mind discussing this. I just am not at this point convinced that it is wise to openly recommend those churches without some cautions.

    Blessings in Christ,

    Bob Hayton

    1. Bob,

      Thanks for taking this like we should disagreements!

      Here is my take to this response – I am thankful that neither you nor are give Christian recognition. While I note your verses supplied on your blog (a great blog and I recommend it – I will continue to say that because I don’t want readers and other commentators to think otherwise) deal with members of local congregations who are causing divisions, not about extending Christian recognition. What did Christ say? Did Christ separate out those with different doctrine? As a matter of fact, it may be best said that during the writing of the New Testament, doctrines abounded, and even for centuries later, there was a generous orthodoxy. I’m not talking about Gnosticism v Christianity here, but allowing those who hold to Jesus is Lord and Humility and claim to be Christian to be recognized as standing and falling on their own merits, and not only our issues with their doctrine.

      Someone is saved, whether or not they can accurately define how it happened.

      I note that many of the things you mentioned, (and for most if not all, I’d agree) Rome and the East allows for Tradition. The Trinity is developed by Tradition as was the Canon. As was many things even within Protestantism. How then, even if we disagree, deny to others their, pardon the pun here, rites and because of that, say that they are not Christian? I don’t supposed that we biblically can, to be honest.

      The Galatian heresy was undoing the Gospel by making Gentiles become Jews. The Catholics aren’t do that. Adding to the Gospel is requiring someone believe a certain way about a doctrine in order to be saved. There is nothing that I’ve done which saved me – it was Christ – so adding that I have to be either circumcised or believe in justification by faith alone is adding to that Gospel.

      No, you are correct – the Scriptures are to be the rule and guide of faith – and even in Rome, they are. In the East they are, but they do allow Tradition to sometimes overrule that, and the such. Doesn’t mean that they have undermined the work of Christ on the cross, does it?

      I agree about not recommending churches without precautions, but Bob, you went further than that an insinuated that the whole of the Communions weren’t Christian.

  2. If you “believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church”, then yes.

    Pope Pius IX wrote, “The foundation of all Our confidence, as you know well, Venerable Brethren, is found in the Blessed Virgin Mary. For, God has committed to Mary the treasury of all good things, in order that everyone may know that through her are obtained every hope, every grace, and all salvation. For this is His will, that we obtain everything through Mary.” http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius09/p9ubipr2.htm This Encyclical is quoted today as a belief. What is says is not Christ alone. (I accept that not all Catholics would believe this).

    1. Very true, Gerard – not all Catholics believe that and to those who do, not all interpret it the way we do.

      Look at it this way – we did received everything through Mary – because she bore Christ and from her womb came forth Christ!

    1. But, tell me, Jason, how does believing the wrong doctrines counteract the work of Christ on the Cross. I also note that many protestants do not believe Sola Scriptura (which is a funny little thing since we had Tradition before we had the Canon), justification (again, Wright wouldn’t actually agree with the more fundamentalists on this issue, and neither with the Catholics fully, I think), and many protestants feel that the Eucharist has been denigrated by recent doctrinal insistences that it is nothing more than a good show.

      While it may be difficult to see certain doctrines as Christian, does that mean that those who believe them aren’t? No.

  3. It appears that the Roman Catholic Church says the same of me:

    From the Council of Trent:

    On Justification
    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.

    On Baptism
    CANON V.-If any one saith, that baptism is free, that is, not necessary unto salvation; let him be anathema.

    On the Eucharist
    CANON I.-If any one denieth, that, in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ; but saith that He is only therein as in a sign, or in figure, or virtue; let him be anathema.

    On Penance
    CANON VI.–If any one denieth, either that sacramental confession was instituted, or is necessary to salvation, of divine right; or saith, that the manner of confessing secretly to a priest alone, which the Church hath ever observed from the beginning, and doth observe, is alien from the institution and command of Christ, and is a human invention; let him be anathema.

    On the Mass
    CANON III.–If any one saith, that the sacrifice of the mass is only a sacrifice of praise and of thanksgiving; or, that it is a bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross, but not a propitiatory sacrifice; or, that it profits him only who receives; and that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead for sins, pains, satisfactions, and other necessities; let him be anathema.

    Where is the angst about their declarations about what I believe and my standing before God? The RCC has not reversed Trent yet.

      1. But Joel. Rome’s Councils are perfect and can’t be changed, right? And I looked through Vatican 2, it doesn’t take any of this stuff back, does it?

        It may allow Catholics to think differently of me, somewhat, but it doesn’t take these additions to the Gospel out.

        I agree that faith in Christ is the issue not necessarily doctrines. But doctrines can confuse people about whether to depend on Mary or Christ, for instance. Or whether a thousand Masses need to be said for them after they die and they can trust that.

        I’m serious about book recommendations, however. But it’s not really up to individualist-me. The evangelical church at large still has not crossed the Rubicon back to Rome. I’m trusting of the teachers that went before me on this issue. The Reformation wasn’t a tempest in a tea pot, after all. There was something majorly wrong, and Rome never admitted there was something wrong. They have yet to, as far as I know. So…

        Anyway, we’ve said our bit here. I’ve officially lost the popularity contest I was secretly after. Jim West made sure of that.

        Appreciate the interaction.


        1. Bob, again, you are not separating the espoused corporate doctrine and the individual. You looked through all of Vatican II? I note Jeremy’s response here.

          So, in other words because an ancient council said that you weren’t a Christian you can say the same about them? Hardly.

          Further, and again, they are doing the exact same thing you are doing, requiring an act to be read the same way or else. If they are adding to the Gospel, then you are adding to the Gospel.

          No one is talking about going to back to Rome en masse, just that it is not right to believe that so few Christians exist in those communions because of doctrine that you can so easily consign the rest to hell. Haven’t admitted wrong? Actually, they attempted to correct a lot of those abuses.

          Again, I’m not saying that we should accept their doctrine as ‘right’ but to deny our brothers and sisters in the East and West the hand of fellowship is, in my opinion, wrong.

          Who cares about popularity? I don’t like your opinion here, but I don’t like you any less.

          1. I tried to distinguish between the Church and it’s system and the individuals. I’m not denying individuals can be Christ-following Christians. But to affirm them all as Christians in an indiscriminate way, I think is unwise. I cannot recommend the Catholic church and blanket statements of approval for all Catholics as brothers and sisters in Christ is a tacit approval I think again, is not in accordance with Scripture.

          2. But, as Erik said, we can do neither for all of our certain denominations either, Bob. Not even Augustine or Tertullian would say issue blanket statements.

    1. In what way, Rich? Are you saying religion is dying? If so, then you are wrong. Christianity is on fire in the Global South and even here among the tombs of the Christian north, there is a spiritual awaking.

  4. Christian traditions generally arose out of particular historical and cultural contexts. The faith was translated into those settings in order to be comprehensible, but then became fossilised, and instead the credal formulae becoming banners around which God’s people united in witness, they became weapons with which to beat off other believers. The tragedy is a legacy of divisive sectarianism. Nobody can say whether ‘true believers’ in any given Christian tradition are ‘the exception rather than the rule’ without revealing their own pharisaic sectarianism.

    To illustrate:
    Fred was walking across a high bridge and saw a man about to jump. So he said, “Don’t jump!”
    He said, “Nobody loves me.”
    Fred said, “God loves you.”
    He said, “I do believe in God.”
    Fred said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.”
    Fred said, “Me too. Protestant or Catholic?”
    He said, “Protestant.”
    Fred said, “Me too! What denomination?” He says, “Baptist.”
    Fred said, “Me too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”
    He says, “Northern Baptist.”
    Fred said, “Me too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
    He says, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” Fred said, “Me too! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist or Northern Conservative Reform Baptist?”
    He says, “Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist.”
    Fred said, “Me too! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Eastern Region?”
    He says, “Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region.”
    Fred say, “Me too! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879 or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”
    He says, “Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”
    Fred said, “Die, heretic!” and pushed him off!

    Heaven help us if that’s as far as we’ve got after 2,000 years of following Jesus.

  5. I have a very good friend who is Greek Orthodox. He and I used to commute to work together and talk religion. He was born in Greece and emigrated to the USA as a kid. He serves as a trustee for the large Orthodox congregation in the small city near us. In conversation, I am convinced that he is a follower of Christ.

    There is some kind of exclusionary thinking that pervades Protestant thinking that demands that any group that is not Protestant must, by default, not be Christian.

    I would contend that there are as many non-believers among the Protestants (even the Reformed ones) as there are among the Catholics and Orthodox. Unbelief is transdenominational!

    The question of salvation is not decided by which group is right and which is wrong. It is determined by who is following Christ and who is not. Those who are following Christ are the church. Those who are not, regardless of their label, are not the church.

  6. Joel,
    For some reason the “reply” button didn’t show up for me on your comment #6.
    It’s not that someone’s doctrinal belief undoes the work of Christ on the cross. It is whether or not that belief allows room in one’s heart for the work of Christ on the cross.
    I’m not doubting that there are people outside of Protestantism that have come to the faith. Neither do I doubt, as Erik stated, the sad and unbelieving state of many in Protestantism. My late brother spoke of working out at the gym and speaking with a priest who was evangelical. The priest added that he did not believe the majority of Catholic teaching, however. One will have to disregard much dogma to trust in Christ alone, it seems.
    Now, off to smoke those delicious, bbqed baby back ribs. Six racks!!!!!

    1. I hate you. But mainly about the ribs part 🙂

      Jason, by your standards then, how many were saved before Protestantism? Not too many.

      If we depend upon doctrine for salvation, it is the same as ritual dependence, in my humble opinion. Christ has saved us, not because of the doctrines we believe – and if we err in doctrines, it doesn’t undermine that salvation.

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