Are Catholics Christian by Evangelical Standards?

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Pope St. John Paul II with Evangelist Billy Graham

Are Catholics considered Christian by Evangelical standards? You’ve probably heard different things from different people. The best way to determine this is to take a good look at the most commonly-agreed Evangelical Statement of Faith and see where Catholics stand in relation to that. The following is from the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). This organization has been endorsed by multiple Evangelical organizations across the United States, including the the Reverend Billy Graham and his Evangelistic Association, the Assemblies of God, and the Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is their Statement of Faith, and what many Evangelicals use as a standard for their churches and associations…

We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.

We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.

We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.

We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.

We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.

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You will find similar statements of faith, virtually identical, in the Sunday bulletins of most Evangelical churches, as well as in their rules and bylaws. This represents the basic beliefs of the “average” or “common” Evangelical church (Baptist, Pentecostal and Nondenominational). So how does the Catholic Church compare to this? What are Catholic beliefs in relation to Evangelical beliefs? Let’s take it line by line…

We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.

Check, Catholics believe this too, except we would add that God can speak infallibly through his Holy Spirit to the bishops of the Church when they all agree in ecumenical council, or when the Pope speaks ex cathedra (which is extremely rare). We would also add that infallible statements given by ecumenical councils or papal ex cathedra decrees can never contradict the Bible. This is because God does not contradict himself. So if you strike the word “only” from the above statement, Catholics and Evangelicals are in full agreement. Nowhere in the Bible does the Bible limit infallibility strictly to itself. There is not a single passage of Scripture that says the Bible is the ONLY infallible Word of God. Sorry, it’s just not in there. So Catholics would strike the word “only” from this statement simply because it’s not Biblical to say that. Other than that, the above statement is great. This is how Catholics might rephrase it to make it more Biblical: “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, infallible, authoritative Word of God.

We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Check, Catholics believe this. The doctrine is called the Trinity, and while it comes from the Bible, it was the Catholic Church that gave it this name. So Catholics and Evangelicals are in 100% agreement on this.

We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.

Check, Catholics are fully on board with this statement — 100%.

We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.

Check, Catholics fully believe this, and we would add that we actually have systematic ways by which Christians can seek this regeneration, namely the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, Eucharist and confession.

We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

Check, again Catholics agree fully. We even have a sacrament that helps Christians seek this indwelling, which is called the Sacrament of Confirmation.

We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.

Check, Catholics are fully on board with this — 100%,

We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Check, Catholics believe that too, and Catholics would add that this spiritual unity is visible as well among those Christians who are in communion with the Pope of Rome. That being said, Catholics do consider Evangelicals to be Christians and brethren in the Lord.

So, would a Catholic qualify as a Christian based on this Evangelical Statement of Faith? The answer is yes. There are a couple of technical issues here and there, but some would say that’s just splitting hairs. Yes, Catholics are Christians, even by commonly-agreed Evangelical standards. So it’s hypocritical for some Evangelicals to claim Catholics are not Christians, when Catholics would agree with what Evangelicals believe in their most-agreed upon Statement of Faith. Anyone, walking in from the street, could profess the above Statement of Faith and be declared a Christian by the average Evangelical. To apply a different standard to Catholics is hypocritical and prejudiced. Mormons cannot agree to this Statement of Faith, neither could Jehovah’s Witnesses, but Catholics can and we do.

This isn’t the first time anyone has publicly stated this. Catholics and Evangelicals came to an agreement long ago to recognize the Christian faith in each other, while at the same time recognizing differences. The agreement was called Evangelicals and Catholics Together, and it was designed to put aside some unnecessary theological conflicts so that the two groups could work together on political and social issues.

Catholics not only accept Evangelicals as Christian brethren, but the Catholic Church officially recognizes the Trinitarian baptisms used in Evangelicals communities. When Evangelicals join the Catholic Church, the Church refuses to “re-baptize” them because they’ve already been baptized. Evangelical (Trinitarian) baptisms are just as good as Catholic (Trinitarian) baptisms. The Catholic Church also teaches that the Holy Spirit does work in other Christian communities, including Evangelical associations. Basically, Catholics are taught to accept Evangelicals as Christians, even if some Evangelicals don’t return the favor.

8 thoughts on “Are Catholics Christian by Evangelical Standards?

  1. Aside from corporal works of mercy and occasionally praying together, what we have in common with most Evangelicals in the bible belt where I live is essentially nothing.

    Their “once saved, always saved” nonsense, their foolish and ignorant “sola scriptura” and their version of how we are saved and the atonement makes relations with them difficult.

    On an individual basis people get along and I count some Evangelical pastors as friends but common worship or sharing Vacation Bible Schools leads to indifferentism.

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    1. Agreed. We have to know where we can work together and where we can’t. Common worship is impossible, though informal prayer is just fine. Scripture study and Catechesis is impossible, through corporal works of mercy are just fine.

      In addition to that, Catholics and Evangelicals can find common ground on basic political issues, like Pro-Life and Pro-Family causes. These days, that’s the primary thing that matters anyway. Things like economics and foreign policy play second fiddle when the government is endorsing wholesale infanticide and laws that undermine the traditional family in almost every way imaginable.

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  2. Doesn’t the Catholic Church also believe that the Bible to be is the only infallible, authoritative Word of God when the Church says in V2’s-Dei Verbum 21 that “Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture.”? It doesn’t say that there is anything else besides Scripture that regulates. There seems to be enough agreement even on the place of Scripture.
    When the Church accepts Protestant baptism, it implies that there is a unity in the Body of Christ that supersedes organizational unity. Protestants are also attached to the Head of the Body which is Christ.

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    1. The Church holds Scripture in the highest place of divine revelation, but it doesn’t do so to the exclusion of other sources (like Tradition for example). Strike the word “only” from the first sentence of your reply, and you have an accurate statement.

      It’s not either/or, but rather with/and.

      Apostolic Tradition holds equal authority with Sacred Scripture, but it can never contradict it.

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      1. If Tradition cannot contradict Scripture, then Scripture is the only regulator. Tradition is also Divine Revelation when it doesn’t contradict Scripture which has the highest place in Divine Revelation. Later Catholic writings cannot invent new doctrine. There have been many attempts during the past 2000 years to do so. This is why we need to be vigilant.
        All of these attempts invariably try to replace simple faith directly in Christ with something else. Faith does not include only intellectual belief but also a dependence on Christ which brings us His peace. This only comes from unconditional trust in Him. Everything in Christianity revolves around this. When other things are given a greater emphasis, it is no longer Christianity.

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    2. Actually, let’s go back to the beginning of the Church. What existed first, the Church or the Bible? VCII argues as do other sources that the Bible and Tradition are the two sources of Revelation. But Tradition existed before the Bible was compiled, not all the Churches had all the books of the Bible.

      Some would argue as would the Orthodox that there is one source of Revelation…Tradition, since it was by Tradition that the Bible came to be. Are the Bible (written Tradition) and oral Tradition equal, yes. But this is because the bible is the book of the Church, not the Church is a creation of the Bible.

      St. John said that if everything our Lord taught were written down there would not be enough room in the whole world for all the books. Jn 21:25. This allows for Tradition to be a great part of the life of the Church.

      The Bible is not the sole rule of Faith, the Bible is the Book of the Church and the Bible belongs in the Church. Who interprets what the written Tradition (the Bible) says and means? The Church. She was founded by the Lord on His teaching to the Apostles and disciples and from them to all the Churches. Before the earliest writings found in the Bible came to be there was the Church, worshiping, serving and being in union with God.

      While Scripture regulates the teaching of the Faith, without the Church, the Bible becomes only a book for a “God and me” religion which is not the true Faith established by the Lord for the salvation of the world. One cannot have the Bible without the Church or the Church without the Bible.

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      1. The Church did compile the Bible for its own use in the fourth century; but things spun out of control when the printing press came into being.
        Those who have the Spirit of Truth do have an advantage in interpreting the Bible; and it is now personally available to them as well as to others. This includes lay people who have the Spirit of Truth
        It wasn’t always this way even for Catholics. The earliest Jewish Christians could only hear the Old Testament at the synagogue or temple. Immediately after Pentecost, there was no New Testament except for the oral preaching of the apostles and disciples who were closest to Christ, and the preaching of others who had received the Holy Spirit after Pentecost. Their teaching was eventually written down, and became what is now the New Testament.
        The Church had to decide which writings were orthodox and which were not. The Bible is now considered to be the basis for all Catholic teaching including Tradition.
        God determines who has the Spirit of Truth and who receives it. It may not be only for those who have allegiance to the pope; and not all those who have allegiance to the pope may have the Spirit of Truth.

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