Are Catholics Christians?
I grew up Protestant. Missionary Baptist, to be specific. From what I’ve experienced in my 3+ years attending mass and my recent education in Catholicism through the RCIA program, Catholics are Christians. (Some of you will read that and say, “No duh, dummy,” but there are a lot of us who grew up believing Catholicism was an entirely different religion.) They believe that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man, that His death and resurrection was the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, that He will come again in glory, that we are to be baptized in the name of the Trinity, that the Bible is God-breathed and that we are called to give freely and generously to the poor, love our neighbor and care for the sick.
Sounds like Christianity to me.
What Are The Discrepancies Between Catholicism and Protestantism?
Great question. I am by no means an expert, and probably not the one who should be answering these questions. But when I began wondering about joining the Catholic church, I wished I could understand from someone’s perspective, who had grown up like I had, what I needed to watch out for. There were a few non-negotiables in my faith of which I was unwilling to compromise. If I had found that Catholicism contradicted these in any way, I would’ve not made the decision to continue my journey. They were/are:
- The universe was created by God. (Genesis 1:1)
- Jesus was fully God, and is a part of the Trinity. (John 1:1)
- His sacrifice was an act of love by God to the world and is the only reason we can expect to have life after death. (see: the whole New Testament lol)
- We have access to God the Father through Christ, alone. (1 Timothy 2:5)
- The Word of God is living and active. (Hebrews 4:12)
- True religion is this: to look after widows and orphans, and to keep yourself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)
Every Protestant knows that there are a jillion sects or denominations in Protestantism who are divided by small belief systems or practices of worship. I’ve attended and belonged to a myriad of Protestant churches and denominations, but I have always held the above list as my core belief system. Although I was skeptical, I have only found that Catholicism supports these tenants in every way. So what are the differences? If Catholicism supports what I have always believed, by make the switch? Great question, friend. Here are some differences/discrepancies I’ve found in the Catholic faith.
- The Universality of worship and prayer
- One beautiful thing about Catholicism is that you can go to any Catholic parish on any Sunday and you will be hearing (for the most part) the same scripture, the same call and response, the same word. There is a universality of mass that lends itself to complete openness. I have always found it very powerful to worship God in a congregation, (Matthew 18:20), and the knowledge that when I attend mass, I am worshipping God with countless other Christians in the same way at the same time is even more powerful.
- An emphasis on corporal worship as a means to lead spiritual worship
- Before my journey to become Catholic began, this was a big misconception on my part. Catholics were “works based,” I was told my whole life. They believed if you said enough prayers, or did enough things, your sins would be absolved and you would be granted entrance into Heaven. It’s a simple point of confusion. There are a lot of things to be done in Catholicism. But the “works” are an outward expression of our hearts, and as we all know, sometimes doing something even though you don’t want to (Hebrews 13:15) or feel it in your soul, leads to that change of heart. Catholics are rigid about attending mass every week because the Bible commands us to keep the Sabbath holy. They are adamant about confessing our sins because the Bible call us to. “For faith without works is dead…” (James 2:14-26)
- The Saints
- I’ll be honest, this was a really big and weird thing for me. When I first started dating my fiancé, he taught me “Hail Mary” and, even though I prayed it with him, it felt so so weird. My belief system is that I pray to God through his son, Jesus (who is also God) and no one else. (This is why we say, “In Jesus name, Amen.” at the end of prayers.) Saints, in my mind, do not carry any power to be prayed to. And although they may have lived amazing lives, they were not God and cannot carry my message to God. Only Jesus can do that. Only the sacrifice of Jesus’ death and resurrection allows me access to God the Father. So… after some digging and questioning I’ve found that Catholics believe this as well. When we pray to/through the Saints, we are asking them to pray to God on our behalf. (Which was also a foreign/weird concept to me.) But the Bible says that the prayers of the righteous availeth much. (James 5:16) And a core Catholic belief is that just because one has died, does not mean that we stop praying for them or asking them to pray for us. Their souls are eternal.
- I still have a lot to learn about the Saints and their role. There is a Hierarchy that is still pretty foreign/new to me, but the above is my understanding thus far.
- This was another biggie for me. What happens when we die? This was a question I’ve had my entire life, even deep into my Protestant faith. There are discrepancies in the Protestant world about what happens to us when we die, believe it or not. Some believe we fall asleep (1 Thessalonians 4:16) until Jesus’ second coming. Some believe we get an express ticket to Heaven (Luke 23:43) like immediately. I have never sat firmly on one side or the other. This is one area of my faith that I’ve always carried doubt, Lord, forgive me. Catholicism teaches that should the baptized die before they have a chance to be absolved of their sins they will go through a purification for an undisclosed amount of time before joining God for eternity. This purification is called Purgatory. It is clear that this time period will be painful and full of suffering, but that it is not eternal. We even pray for those who are in Purgatory during our time on Earth.
- This belief is one I (candidly) continue to have troubles with, partly due to a lifelong belief of the contrary. Purgatory is a brand new concept to me and I’m just… new to it. Theologically, it makes sense that we must be purified before seeing God as he is Holy and cannot be around unholiness. However, I have always held the belief that the cross covers my sin (1 Peter 4:8) and is why I can join God in heaven for eternity.
- The Eucharist
- Catholics believe that when they take communion during mass, the bread is truly the Body of Christ and the wine is truly his blood. It is not a symbol, but the “Real Presence” of Jesus. This is a rite that you must be baptized to partake in. You should be absolved of your sin before you partake in it, as well. It is very important, very serious, and one of the highest forms of worship.
- I grew up very rarely taking communion, but learning in school that the Early Church considered it the highest form of worship. In fact, breaking bread with anyone was saying a lot about what you thought of them, in general, back then. I longed to experience what true communion felt like and to personally understand why it was so highly regarded. This is a part of Catholicism that I am very excited to dive deeper into.
- The Controversy surrounding the Catholic church and its leaders
- When you think Catholicism, you may think of the wrongdoings of a lot of Catholic leaders, including:
- Extreme sexual violence and abuse
- Intolerance of women and homosexuals
- Celibacy and contraception
- Tolerance of slavery
- To all of these charges, my heart breaks. I know they are true and painful and wrong. I denounce them with every ounce of my soul, but I also know that they are because of the presence of Satan and of sin, and not because of the fundamental teachings of Catholicism or the Bible
- When you think Catholicism, you may think of the wrongdoings of a lot of Catholic leaders, including:
- The Hierarchy
- I am not going to even attempt to poke this one with a stick because I am not far along enough in my understanding of Catholicism or its teachings to know this order. However I do know that there IS an order, a hierarchy, of the church and of mankind. You can learn more about it here: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p123a9p4.htm. Here is the important piece of this Hierarchy conversations. Catholics believe that certain, higher ranking, arms of the church have been given power (THROUGH CHRIST, mind you) to act on His behalf. (Absolve of sins, for example.) Check out this quote from the Catechism: 935To proclaim the faith and to plant his reign, Christ sends his apostles and their successors. He gives them a share in his own mission. From him they receive the power to act in his person.
- Candidly, this is another hard tenant of the faith for me to grasp with. In my mind, and through the upbringing and knowledge I’ve obtained thus far in my life, mere mortal man cannot act on behalf of God, regardless of what “level” they’ve achieved in their faith. In all these areas that I find doubt or question, I ask God to help my unbelief.
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church
- This is a cool part of Catholicism. There is a reference book that lays out, in gritty detail and in digestible summary, what it is Catholics believe to be true. This book is called the CCC or the Catechism of the Catholic Church. You may be thinking, “Cool, Protestants have something like this, too, it’s called the Bible.” You are not wrong. However, the Bible is left up to interpretation on a lot of fronts and it can be hard to know, for sure, what your specific church believes/teaches on a specific topic. I can’t tell you how many times my friends have left churches after years of attending because they discovered that the church teaches something contrary to their specific belief system. The CCC references the Bible, so please do not misinterpret it for a Bible replacement. It is not. It is a confirmation of what the Catholic church holds to be true, and not true, according to Scripture. And it’s very helpful for those considering joining the Catholic church.
What is the process to become Catholic like?
For us Protestant, joining the church typically consisted of responding to an altar call or whispering a prayer in the stillness of our hearts. To the Catholic, it is quite a process and, I might say, a journey.
I decided to investigate Catholicism last year (early 2019) and joined the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) program at our local parish. The Catholic church operates on a liturgical calendar (more on that here) and so the RCIA process (at least at my parish) has been almost a year long. I started my RCIA journey in August of 2019 and will have completed it in April of 2020. I started by interviewing with the Director of the RCIA program. There we talked about my faith throughout my life. Because I had been previously baptized in the name of the Trinity, I did not need to recreate that act. Also, because I had never been married or divorced, I did not need to go through any extra hoops therein. (Not sure what those hoops are but, FYI.) I did need to find someone to “Sponsor” my Catholic journey. (Were I unable to find someone to sponsor me, the church would’ve assisted in that.) A sponsor is essentially someone who walks through the RCIA process with you and supports you in your journey to become Catholic. They are a baptized Catholic as well. Think of them as an Accountability Partner, in the Protestant world. The RCIA process itself is a weekly class, (Tuesday nights for about 2 hours) with a curriculum and helpers from the parish.
While this has been a long and time consuming process, I do feel closer to my specific parish, the people in it, and my sponsor. The passage of time and closeness of the weekly meeting has been helpful. In the Protestant church, sometimes just responding to an altar call still leaves you feeling pretty disconnected to the church itself, so this has been a welcome change.
Why did I choose to become Catholic?
The short answer is my son.
The long answer is that I feel like God was calling me to it.
As I mentioned previously, my fiancé is a Cradle Catholic (born into the Catholic church, raised Catholic, etc.) and I was born and raised Protestant. When we got together, one of our first dates was to a mass near Downtown Columbus, OH. I had not belonged to a church for a while, and I appreciated, so much, not only that Derek had a faith and belief system but that he practiced it. I wanted to share in that with him, and as he and I have gone along this relationship journey, I truly believe our mutual faith in God and inviting Him into our life has been what has kept us together. In November of 2018, I learned I was pregnant with our first (and only) child. I told the Director of RCIA during my interview that having a kid is like being told that someone is on their way to inspect your house. You launch into a scramble to get it in complete order. With the weight of becoming a mother on my mind, I knew I wanted to align with my fiancé as much as possible on what we teach our son. I had been raised in the church and I knew the foundation of Christianity in my life was one of the things I was more grateful to my parents for. I didn’t want him to know Dad as being Catholic and Mom as being something else. I wanted to be a resource for him and an example. I decided to dive into Catholicism and see if I aligned with its teachings enough to pass it along to my son.
But as any Christian will tell you—I do not believe in coincidences or accidents. God gave me my son at the time in my life that he did for a specific purpose. He placed Derek in my life for a purpose. As I wade through the waters of defining my faith, I realize that Derek and Gunner were my lighthouses to bring me to this decision. That God has been with me, guiding me all along, nudging me toward Him. And I am so grateful.