Are Roman Catholics Christians?
There is a tendency within so-called 'evangelicalism' to be ecumenical, promoting unity between all congregations that regard themselves as Christian churches, in other words a unity based on a lowest common denominator. Within this ecumenicalism it is often asserted that Roman Catholicism is truly Christian, that the Roman Catholic Church is merely another denomination within the Christian church.
On this page I would like to present evidence from the official Catechism of the Catholic Church to show that Roman Catholicism is most definitely not in agreement with the orthodox, historic and apostolic Christian faith.
In fact, the Roman Catholic Church denies the gospel. It preaches another 'gospel', which is no gospel at all, and which cannot save.
Some may protest that it is not 'loving' or 'Christlike' to be divisive like this. But in the New Testament we clearly see the apostles exposing and refuting false teaching and false gospels, and instructing Christians to earnestly contend for the true faith. There is too much at stake not to, for false gospels cannot save. The loving way to respond to people who follow a false gospel is to pray for them and to show them their error.
Rome from the Council of Trent to Vatican II
On this page I am not going to attempt to go back 500 years into a detailed examination of the disputes between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformers such as Luther and Calvin. But to summarise the 16th century dispute, the Reformers challenged the Church to go back to the clear teaching of the Bible alone, that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone. They also asserted the glory of God alone. The Roman Catholic response was summed up by the Council of Trent. Rome heretically denied the Reformers' claims, most significantly denying that justification is by faith alone.
Calvin, Luther, and others, were correct in challenging the Church over these issues. But the Roman Catholic Church has moved on since the Council of Trent. The recent major shift in it's theology was marked by the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65, referred to as Vatican II.
This doesn't mean that the Roman Catholic Church has ever renounced the stance it took at the Council of Trent, because it has not. But if we consider the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church of today, it can be clearly seen that they are heretical, without even needing to go back into the old Reformation conflicts to establish this. I am not saying that those old conflicts are no longer relevant, as they most certainly are. The truth is still now what it was in the 1500s, and what it will always be: that we are saved by grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, and justification is by faith alone. Rome still denies these truths. But the point is that the heretical nature of Rome's teaching can be clearly seen in their post-Vatican II beliefs, before we have even mentioned anything asserted at the Council of Trent.
Roman Catholicism post-Vatican II
The official position of the Roman Catholic Church of today is stated in their 'Catechism of the Catholic Church', first published in English in 1994. This Catechism reflects the thinking of Vatican II.
To sum up the theology of the Roman Catholic Church today, on salvation it is inclusivist, that is, it teaches that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour, but that people can be saved by him without explicit faith in him. The Roman Catholic view is that it will be sufficient for people to be sincere in following whatever 'light' they have. This is not the gospel as presented in the New Testament, in fact it contradicts the gospel message of the Bible. The supreme irony is that this inclusivist 'gospel' would have been rejected by the Council of Trent itself as heretical.
Extract 841 from the 'Catechism of the Catholic Church':
841 The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day"
So Muslims are all saved, as they are of the faith of Abraham! This is a contradiction of the gospel, which asserts the exclusivity of Christ. It also shows a failure to grasp exactly what the faith of Abraham was.
About 841 and the faith of Abraham
I have met and had conversations with some Muslims who are lovely and gracious people, but I have to say are sincerely and gravely wrong. Their religion is a works-based religion. They have told me they believe that if their good outweighs their bad, then Allah will accept them. This is nothing like the faith of Abraham! Abraham was not accepted by God on the basis of his 'good' outweighing his 'bad'. Abraham was saved by faith alone: his true saving faith was evidenced by his works, but the works were not what made Abraham right with God. Hear the words of the apostle Paul from Romans:
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about - but not before God. What does Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."
Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
"Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring - not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham.
About 841 and the exclusivity of Christ
The other serious problem with 841 is that to state that the plan of salvation includes those who deny Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, as the Word of God incarnate, is to contradict scripture on the exclusivity of Christ:
No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
There are lots of religions which mention Jesus. But, crucially, they all deny various aspects of who he is, or of what he did, or both. The Bible is very clear that Jesus is fully God, and fully man, he is the eternal Son of God who took upon himself human flesh, he lived a perfect and sinless life, he died on the cross bearing the sin of his people in their place, and rose again. He will one day return as judge of all. Anyone who denies any of these truths shows that they do not know God. Deny the Son and you reveal that you do not know the Father.
Islam mentions Jesus, but asserts that he did not die on the cross, that he did not even go to the cross. In the Islamic version, Judas Iscariot was crucified in the place of Jesus, due to a case of mistaken identity. This is a denial of the Son, and therefore of the Father also. But according to the Roman Catholic Church, it does not matter that Muslims deny that Jesus died on the cross - they are saved anyway because they 'profess to hold to the faith of Abraham'!
Extract 842 from the 'Catechism of the Catholic Church':
842 The Church's bond with non-Christian religions is in the first place the common origin and end of the human race: All nations form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock which God created to people the entire earth, and also because all share a common destiny, namely God.
The Roman Catholic Church is asserting here that the Christian Church shares a common destiny and a common end together with all peoples of all other religions.
This is a gross distortion of scripture, which makes clear that whilst the destiny of God's true people is indeed God himself, the destiny of all those who have not turned to Christ in true repentance and faith is very different:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
"But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters* and all liars - they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."
* An 'idolater' is someone who worships an idol, a false god. In other words, the follower of a false religion.
Extract 847 from the 'Catechism of the Catholic Church':
847 ...Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.
Rome is asserting here that people can be saved merely by sincerely following the 'light' they have - even if they do not know and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. This strongly leans towards universalism, which is the heretical idea that all will be saved. The Bible is very clear that the only way to be saved is to turn to Christ in repentance and faith in him alone. The Bible does not suggest anywhere that anyone will be saved without conscious faith in Christ:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.
Jesus is "the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone."
Righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?
The notion that people can be saved without having explicit faith in Christ is totally foreign to the Bible, yet this is the current view of the Roman Catholic Church, post-Vatican II.
In view of this, anyone who says that the Roman Catholic Church is a Christian church either does not understand what Rome teaches, or does not understand the gospel, or both.
It is irresponsible for us to suggest that Roman Catholics are Christians too, because given what their 'church' officially teaches, we are then endorsing a false gospel, and giving false reassurance to people within the RCC who may never have turned to Christ in repentance and faith.