IS THE CATHOLIC CHURCH CHRISTIAN?


On 28 February 2000, Richard (email: aljolson64@webtv.net) left the following message in my guestbook:

How can you call yourselves Catholic Christians when a person can ONLY BE CATHOLIC OR CHRISTIAN. HELL OR HEAVEN.

The following is a response to that message


Dear Richard;

First of all, I would like to thank you for leaving your name and address. Many who have left angry messages in the past have done so anonymously, which IMHO is rather cowardly. At least you have not done so.

Now to answer your charge that the Catholic Church is not Christian.  What does the word "Christian" mean?  As you certainly know, it means "follower of Christ".  Are Catholics followers of Christ?  Yes!  Therefore we are certainly Christian!

You will probably dispute that we are followers of Christ; you may even believe that Catholics have "another Jesus", not the true Biblical Jesus.  Well, I just wrote an article proving that Catholics believe in and worship the true Jesus Christ, the Biblical Jesus Christ.  It's called Do Catholics Worship "Another Jesus"?.  I encourage you to check it out, for it proves that we are true Christians.

In fact, historically speaking, the Catholic Church is the original Christian Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself.  Every other one, including whichever one you belong to, has broken away from us at one point or another.  So if we are not Christian than neither are the Protestants; in fact, neither are you!

You may hold the common Protestant belief that the Catholic Church is not continuous with early Christianity, but began with Constantine in the fourth century, or at some other point in Church history.  This view is historically untenable.  If you read the writings of early Christians before Constantine, you will find that they held Catholic doctrines, not Protestant ones!

You or anyone else can see this for yourself at the Corunum Catholic Apologetic Web Page.  It contains numerous quotes from early Christian writers on subjects such as the Sacraments, Mary, Eucharist, the Pope and Church heirarchy.  The citations clearly show that early Christians essentially believed what the Catholic Church teaches today.  They were not proto-Protestants, but Catholics!

In fact, they even use the word Catholic to refer to themselves!  Here are some examples:

"Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop or by one whom he ordains [i.e., a presbyter]. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church" -Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Smyrneans 8:2 (A.D. 107).

"And of the elect, he was one indeed, the wonderful martyr Polycarp, who in our days was an apostolic and prophetic teacher, bishop of the Catholic Church in Smyrna. For every word which came forth from his mouth was fulfilled and will be fulfilled" -Martyrdom of Polycarp 16:2 (A.D. 155).

"The Catholic Church possesses one and the same faith throughout the whole world, as we have already said." -Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, 1:10,3 (A.D. 180) (Ante-Nicene Fathers,I:331-332)

"Besides these [letters of Paul] there is one to Philemon, and one to Titus, and two to Timothy, in affection and love, but nevertheless regarded as holy in the Catholic Church, in the ordering of churchly discipline. There is also one [letter] to the Laodiceans and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, in regard to the heresy of Marcion, and there are several others which cannot be received by the Church, for it is not suitable that gall be mixed with honey. The epistle of Jude, indeed, and the two ascribed to John are received by the Catholic Church." -Muratorian fragment [A.D. 177]).

Now, it's possible you might object that these quotes don't come from the Bible.  But I'm not quoting the Bible at the moment; I'm showing from Church history that Christians have called themselves Catholic since at least the beginning of the second century A.D..  It does no good to ignore the voices of your early brothers and sisters in the Faith; they can give valuable insights into what the early Church believed.  And the early Church believed itself to be "Catholic".

It's true that the term "Catholic" does not appear in the Bible.  But neither does "Trinity", or "Incarnation", or "Ascension", or "Second Coming", or many other words which Christians commonly use.  Just because a term is not found in the Bible does not make it illegitimate!

You may argue that terms such as "Trinity" and "Incarnation" describe something taught in the Bible, and so have a biblical basis.  Well, the same goes for the term "Catholic"!  It comes from two Greek words: kata- ("according to") and holos ("the whole").  So "Catholic" means "according to the whole", or "universal"!  The Catholic Church is the universal Church.

Does the Bible present the Church as universal?  Yes!  It was Jesus' will that His disciples spread the Gospel all over the world.  Consider some of His final words to them before ascending into heaven:

"Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15).

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19).

"Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things" (Luke 24:46-48)

"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Sama'ria and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

This is exactly what they did.  And in the Book of Revelation we see the glorious result:
"And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation" (Rev 5:9).

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!" (Rev 7:9-10).

So the early Church was certainly universal.

What about "Christian"?

Now let's look at the term "Christian".  It does appear in Scripture, but only three times:

"And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch" (Acts 11:26).

"Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" (Acts 26:28).

"Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf" (1 Peter 4:16).

Acts 11:26 makes it clear that this term was first used by non-believers in Antioch to describe Jesus' followers.  The second quote has another pagan using the term.  This is very interesting; for it shows that the term Christian originated among the pagans, not among Jesus's followers themselves!

1 Peter 4:16 shows that early "Christians" ultimately embraced the term for them coined by their enemies.  After all, it meant "follower of Christ", so it wasn't an untrue designation.  They even rejoiced to be persecuted as "followers of Christ".

Yet the fact remains that this term was coined by outsiders.  It described them well, but was still not the "self-description" of the early Church.  It did not perfectly reflect how the early Church perceived herself. And how did she perceive herself?  What word did the Church finally settle upon as her own self-description?

Catholic!

See:  Double Standards: The Anti-Catholic Definition of "Christian" and Is the Roman Catholic Church Christian? for further discussion.


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