IS ROMAN CATHOLICISM CHRISTIAN?
Is Roman Catholicism Christian? In response, we must first come to some common understanding of what is meant by a “Christian.” There are many churches, sects, and cults which claim to be Christian but are not. They may recognize Jesus and the Bible as somehow significant to their belief system, but is that enough? It perhaps makes them a part of Christendom (the professing church) in the broadest sense, but that is all. As Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 7:21-23). Profession of God’s saving grace is not the same as possession of it!
The good news of the gospel of grace is that “Christ died for our sins” (I Cor. 15:1, 3). A Christian (a “Christ-one”) is a person who is rightly related to Christ (II Cor. 13:5), through faith alone in His saving work on the cross of Calvary (Rom. 1:16). (Note the emphasis on salvation by faith in Romans 3:21-28.) Through faith, the individual is born again by the Spirit of God and becomes a part of the family of God (Jn. 1:12-13; Gal. 3:26). He is said to have eternal life as a present possession (Jn. 3:16; 5:24). This life is a “gift” of God (Rom. 6:23), and cannot be earned or acquired by any human works or effort (Eph. 2:8-9).
What church the person attends is irrelevant to this. Not that it is unimportant, but it is not what saves us. We are not saved by a church, but by a gracious work of God. In the Bible, sinners were not invited to join a church for salvation, but simply to trust in Christ Acts 16:30-31; cf. 4:12).
With that background, what of the question above? The article on my website entitled Critique of the Passion (Mel Gibson’s film about the sufferings of Christ) deals with some basic errors of the Roman Catholic Church. I will review them here, because they indicate where the Church of Rome stands in relation to biblical Christianity.
1) Rome gives human tradition the authority of Holy Scripture. In some cases even overruling the revealed Word of God with the opinions of men. Christ’s charge against the Pharisees fits: “You reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition....making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down” (Mk. 7:9, 13). One example of this is the Catholic Church’s insistence on the celibacy of her priests. This became law by the decree of Pope Gregory VII in 1079, but nowhere is it taught in the Scriptures. It has opened individuals to unnecessary temptation and led to terrible abuse. In stark contrast, the Christian faith is based upon the revealed Word of God (Rom. 10:17; I Pet. 1:23--2:2; II Pet. 3:15-16), and on that alone (Jude 1:3; cf. Isa. 8:20; Gal. 1:6-9). “Beware lest anyone cheat you through...the tradition of men...and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).
2) Rome attempts to keep on crucifying Christ over and over in the Mass. In his book The Faith of Millions, Catholic priest John O’brien says, “When the priest announces the tremendous words of consecration, he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the Victim for the sins of man.” But the Bible teaches that Christ was offered once for all to pay the price of our sins (I Pet. 3:18; Heb. 9:28; 10:10, 14), and that, having risen from the dead, He dies no more (Rom. 6:9-10; Heb. 7:25). “This Man [Christ], after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God...there is no longer an offering for sin” (Heb. 10:12, 18). The Lord’s Table is a place where Calvary is to be remembered, not repeated.
3) Rome has a false view of justification–our judicial right-standing with God. The Catholic Church says justification is received "by the sacrament of baptism...without which no one was ever justified" (the Council of Trent)-- and by which they mean a baptism sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church, normally infant baptism. Rome teaches that each Catholic must be justified repeatedly by the sacraments and by works, because he loses his justification by sinning. But according to the Scriptures God’s justification is permanent. “Whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified [no exceptions]” (Rom. 8:30). And the Bible says a sinner is justified (pronounced righteous by a holy God) by grace, through simple faith in Christ, apart from any works. “By Him [Christ] everyone who believes is justified from all things...” (Acts 13:39; cf. Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5; cf. II Cor. 5:21).
4) Rome has a weak and inadequate view of grace. The Bible says salvation is not by works, but by grace (a gift) alone (Eph. 2:8-9; cf. Isa. 64:6). It is not by a “do” but by believing in an “already done.” Christ’s Calvary work on our behalf is abundantly sufficient to save the worst of sinners. And God's Word emphasizes that grace mixed with any works ceases to be grace (Rom. 4:4-5). Rome claims to believe that Christ died for our sins. But for them that is not enough. The church, and the priest, and various human works are needed. Romanism often substitutes word "graces" for the glorious Bible word grace, suggesting that salvation is not received entirely and forever at once, but is meted out in little installments earned through participation in the sacraments. This is a different and perverted gospel, a salvation by works (Gal. 1: 6-8). By this heresy the principle of grace is destroyed.
5) Rome exalts Mary to a level with Christ (or above Him). Some teach that she is a "co-redemptrix" with Christ. According to the Catholic Catechism “Mary...by her manifold intercession continues to bring us gifts of eternal salvation.” Much space could be given to this error, as it is a dominant one. That the elevation of Mary amounts to blasphemy and outright idolatry cannot be denied when one reads the vast volume of literature Rome has churned out on the subject. One example: In Soul Magazine, the official organ of the adherents of Our Lady of Fatima, we read (in the Dec. 1984 issue), “Mary is so perfectly united with the Holy Spirit that He acts through [her] His spouse....all our life, every thought, word, and deed is in Her hands...at every moment, She Herself must instruct, guide and transform each one of us into Herself, so that not we but She lives in us...”
But the Bible never tells us the Spirit of God works through Mary to transform our lives. And it is not Mary who lives in us, and into whose likeness we are transformed, it is always and only Christ’s (Rom. 8:29; Gal. 2:20; 4:19; Col. 2:6-10). In contrast to Romanism, the Bible honours Mary for her faith in God (Lk. 1:45), but Mary herself recognizes she is a sinner in need of a Saviour (Lk. 1:46-47). Twice the Lord diverts attention away from Mary (Lk. 8:19-21; 11:27-28). Further, believers have the right and liberty to approach the throne of God directly in prayer through our heavenly Intercessor, the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:18; Heb. 4:15-16; 7:25). The Bible declares Christ to be the one and only Mediator between God and man (I Tim. 2:5; cf. Jn. 14:6).
Is Roman Catholicism Christian? It is my belief, based on the consistent teaching of God’s Word regarding these fundamental truths, that the answer must be “No.” In spite of many claims to the contrary, it has drifted too far from God’s inspired Word to merit that designation. But what if we were to ask: Are there Roman Catholics who are Christians? In that case the answer could well be “Yes.” It is possible there are individuals who have been able to cut through the heretical doctrines and unbiblical traditions promoted to by Rome to trust in Christ alone for salvation.
Yes, there may be born again Christians who continue to worship in a Catholic Church. However, these individuals will not be able to fully accept Catholic doctrine, since it is so often incompatible with Scripture. And as the Spirit of God continues to work in their hearts through the Word I believe they will become increasingly dissatisfied with where they are. That is what happened to the reformers. They tried to bring changes to the Church of Rome, to rid it of erroneous doctrines and practices. But when they could not, they were compelled to leave by their own Bible-based convictions. They no longer felt at home there.
Is Roman Catholicism Christian? This brief response to the initial query may leave you with many more questions. If you would like to do further research on this subject I encourage you to check out the website of Mike Gendron, Proclaiming the Gospel Ministries. Mike was a Roman Catholic for 37 years, before coming to Christ. He can speak with authority on many of these issues. See his site at