How often have we heard people say, “I used to be Catholic, but now I’m Christian”? What rings true about such a statement? What’s false? Absurd? Annoying? Other than rolling our eyes, running for the proverbial hills, or remaining begrudgingly tight-lipped (albeit perhaps gritting our teeth), how do Catholics respond?
Well, firstly, what makes sense about the expression? Why do people say such things? “I used to be Catholic, but now I’m Christian.”
In a way, it makes perfect sense and one can easily recognize why some people say it. OK, then, why? Well, because in most cases Catholics rightly label themselves as being Catholic. When asked about their religious affiliation, most Catholics don’t respond by saying, “I am Christian.” Most often, but not always, we say, “I am Catholic.” This is merely convenient shorthand to distinguish us from Protestants. That is, our faith didn’t emerge from the era of the Protestant Reformation. Thus, we’re Catholic, not Protestant.
But aren’t Catholics Christian? Yes, we are!
Then why do people imply that Catholics aren’t Christian? Some do, and some don’t. In most cases, many people recognize quite obviously that Catholics are Christians. Just like all dogs and cats are mammals. Or like most menu items at McDonald’s and Burger King are hamburgers. Perhaps that doesn’t seem to explain much.
Imagine that your best friend George asks you for a hamburger and you take him to McDonald’s. Of course, McDonald’s serves hamburgers (more or less, among other things). But it’s very possible that when you offer George a Big Mac, he responds with, “I said I wanted a hamburger, not a Big Mac.” Of course, a Big Mac is a hamburger, but it’s a specific kind of hamburger made with two patties, special sauce, and several sesame buns. It has little pickles and those machine-chopped onions. In a way, it makes perfect sense for George to say that the Big Mac isn’t a (standard) hamburger (two buns, hamburger meat, dressings, etc).
Are Catholics Christians? Again, yes. Just like a dog and a cat is a mammal. And a Big Mac, for better or worse, is actually a hamburger.
Most people who make distinctions between “Catholics” and “Christians” won’t read the Catholic Catechism. Sadly, even some who are Catholics won’t do it. And most people won’t pick up a Western Civ. textbook to check out the historical truth–that Catholicism is the original Christian faith–it is called “Catholic” precisely because it is historically original, universal, and mysteriously unified with the Body of Christ. The Catholic Church holds “apostolic authority,” which means that Jesus Christ, the Messiah, assigned his apostles to continue His work and fulfill a mission to spread the “good news” throughout the world.
When people say that “I used to be Catholic, but now I’m Christian” they often mean that they are a specific kind of Protestant–a fundamentalist Christian or an Evangelical Christian. Some fundamentalists are Evangelicals, but not all Evangelicals are fundamentalists (some are non-denominational “Bible” or “New Testament” church believers). But notice how odd it is to say “Catholic Christian.” Well, that’s because Catholics are Christians, and “Catholic Christian” is clunky and redundant. But many right-leaning fundamentalist Christians claim otherwise. They might say that “Catholic Christian” is an oxymoron like “military intelligence.” (Joking, obviously). OK, why?
Because Catholics are not “Born Again.” What does that mean? I’m sure there’s a better way of expressing the idea, but basically the notion is that many Catholics are baptized into the faith when they are infants. Then later on they are “confirmed” in the faith when they are mature and can make intelligent decisions on their own. A “Born Again” Christian is a mature adult who accepts Jesus Christ as his or her Savior, and acknowledges God the Father as the only Creator God, and accepts the Holy Spirit, and thus becomes “Born Again” through the immersive waters of baptism.
All it takes to be “Born Again” is faith, prayer (one must declare one’s faith and petition God), and repentance (ditto + ask forgiveness for sins). Nothing else is required. One doesn’t need to speak with a priest, attend catechism, or participate in weekly Mass. Certainly, one doesn’t need Jesus’ mother Mary or the Saints to be “Born Again.” Weekly Sunday School may help, but it’s certainly not required. A “Born Again” Christian needn’t even read the Bible. He or she only needs to hear the Word of God and believe it. That’s it. No works, just faith. No church buildings, saint icons, statues, crucifixes, or special communion meals are required.
Here’s how one Baptist website stated the case:
We believe that in order to be saved, sinners must be regenerated, or born again; that regeneration consists in giving a holy disposition to the mind; that it is effected in a manner above our comprehension by the power of the Holy Spirit, in connection with divine truth, so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the gospel; and that its proper evidence appears in the holy fruits of repentance, and faith, and newness of life.
Why aren’t Catholics “Born Again”? The short answer is this: we don’t need to be. There is no “again” for us in the same sense that people claim to be “Born Again,” because we are born and renewed in Jesus Christ through the mysterious graces of the sacraments. In brief, we have the “real presence” of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, what we receive in the Mass, and Christ’s body joins us together in Him, in each other as we are part of a mystical body, and we’re thereby spiritually renewed in body and soul.
We don’t need to claim that we’re “Born Again,” because we reenact the death and birth of our spiritual selves each time we make the sign of the Cross, and each time we partake the real body of Christ–we die and are born again in the Eucharist. If anything, Catholics are in fact “Born Again” … and again, and again, and again, and again … until our eternal reward. How can we claim this? Because all Catholic sacraments symbolize and enact the genuine life and true birth in, of, and through the Son of Man, Jesus Christ. There is no single isolated moment that Catholics are “saved” or “redeemed” in the grace of God. There are numerous, countless, and nearly endless recurring moments of our being “Born Again”–and again and again. We have the sacraments. We have the authority of Jesus Christ, the keys of the Kingdom of God that were passed through ordination to the Apostle Peter.
So why do people say, “I Used to be Catholic, but now I’m Christian?” Likely for diverse reasons, but here are a few of them:
- Catholics believe in infant baptism.
- Catholics pray to the saints, Mary, and even the Pope.
- Catholics believe that Mary was Immaculate and sinless.
- Catholics follow the Pope (the Bishop of Rome), and the Pope believes that he’s infallible (Papal infallibility).
- Catholics believe in a universal church and apostolic (succession) or hierarchy and that’s not based in Biblical scriptures.
- Catholics don’t believe in sola scriptura–“scripture alone” is the revealed word of God. The Bible is literally the Word of God.
- Catholics don’t believe that salvation comes through faith alone, but also requires works.
- Catholics believe that the bread and wine of the holy communion, the Lord’s Supper, is actually transformed into the real body of Jesus Christ (transubstantiation).
- Catholic prayer is formal, rote, and “repeat after me.”
- Catholics don’t believe in original sin.
- Catholics have a “corrupt” patriarchal hierarchy of celibate priests, bishops, and so forth…
Just a few reasons, I suspect…
In my next blog post, I’ll try to discuss how we can respond to these things that supposedly distinguish Catholics from Christians…