Last week I was reading an article about relations between Roman Catholics and Protestants on Facebook, and a woman commented that “Catholics aren’t Christians.” I always inwardly cringe whenever I hear someone refer to Christians and Roman Catholics as if they are two different things. Oddly enough, I hear this at times both from evangelical Christians as well as Catholics themselves. When said by an evangelical Christian, it is usually said out of a judgmental attitude which assumes that Roman Catholics are not saved and are not true Christians. When said by Roman Catholics, I think they just say it to differentiate themselves from Protestants and identify as Catholics. In either case, it is wrong.
It is wrong, because I believe the invisible church (all those Christians who have been saved by Grace through faith in Christ) can be found in both the Roman Catholic Church as well as protestant churches. The very fact that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ means that we are not saved by our theological correctness, which can be seen as a work, nor are we condemned by our theological mistakes, which are sins for which we are forgiven out of God’s grace.
Despite my feelings on this, I have found myself still being labeled at times as anti-Catholic. I remember once after preaching a sermon on Reformation Sunday a woman approached me and said rather forcefully, “I believe Jesus loves Catholics too!” I replied that I did as well, after which she said, “Well, it would have been nice if you said that” and then walked off. I remember thinking that I had not said anything otherwise! Yet, this woman had been offended, apparently, by my message on the Reformation that Sunday. Why is that?
I think that at least one reason is because I find and admit that there are real, substantive, and important theological disagreements between Protestants and Catholics. The reformation happened for a reason, and while the Catholic Church has moderated some of those beliefs, such as the use of indulgences, to a large extent they still hold to the same doctrines today that divided us during the time of Martin Luther. Things like the power and infallibility of the pope, veneration of the saints, and the addition of good works and obedience to the church as requirements for salvation are still a part of Roman Catholic teachings.
While I condemn the judgment of the faith and salvation of individual Catholics by other Christians, I am still held captive by the Word of God, and cannot accept, support, or agree with many of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. And you know what? That’s OK! We can hold to our beliefs, and accept the importance of these theological disagreements, while at the same time loving our Catholic neighbors and working with them towards common goals that we both share. We also know that all who believe and are saved will one day sit together at the marriage feast of the Lamb as we celebrate his great victory over sin and death, Catholics and Protestants side by side.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)