Is Catholic-Christian an Oxymoron?

The Question

Isn’t the term Catholic-Christian an oxymoron since Catholics believe in works, worship idols and pray to saints and do not understand Christianity which believes in being born-again and saved by grace—not by human effort?

- TJ from Van Buren, Arkansas


The Answer
Part 1: Determining heart changes
Part 2: Catholic doctrine, right and wrong
Part 3: Idol Worship and praying to saints

Determining heart changes (Part 1)

I’ll start this off with a story that may not seem to have relevance at first but hang with me. Years ago I attended a service at the Brownsville revival in which they were baptizing individuals who had been saved in the meetings. I was shocked by the testimony of one man who went down in the waters.

He had been raised in a Christian home and had attended an evangelical church (actually Baptist) all his life. He taught Sunday school and a few years previously he had been asked to become an elder in his church and he accepted. When his church decided to visit the revival as a group to see what was up he happily went right along.

During the preaching he surprisingly came under deep conviction of sin. He realized that his whole church life was pretty much a sham and that truthfully, he was not saved. He came forward to the altar to rectify that even as his flabbergasted fellow church members watched.

Who can tell what is in a man’s heart? I didn’t make as many assumptions about the condition of others’ hearts after that. Even Catholics? That’s right—even them. Being a Catholic and a Christian is not necessarily mutually exclusive. Yes, there are many Catholics who have not gotten it yet but so hadn’t the Baptist man I mentioned. I just don’t know for sure who is who.

Personally, I was one who didn’t “get” it all the years I was raised Catholic. No one told me that you must be born-again or that you are saved by grace and not by works. From my own experience I can admit the fact that the Catholic Church does a pretty poor job of presenting the genuine message of the gospel.

Yet, after I was saved in August of 1977 I spoke many times with my own mother who was Catholic all her life. I was worried about her and my dad. My mother always fully embraced the Catholic Church including the practices despised and rejected by most branches of the Christian faith—and now by me too. Still, she convincingly told me her own story and the incident and moment in time when she totally surrendered her life to the Lord. She didn’t use the same catch phrases as me (never liked to call it “born-again”) but I was left with no doubt she was.


Catholic doctrine, right and wrong (Part 2)

Catholic doctrine should be credited for getting some essentials right. Admittedly, we learned a lot of extra junk when I was a child in Catholic grade school but I still appreciate the things I was taught that were right on the money and have always been core doctrine.

Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and is in fact both fully God and fully man. He died on the cross for our sins; he rose from the dead and ascended back into heaven. He is coming again to judge the living and the dead. The Godhead consists of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—we call that the Trinity--and yet there is only one God. Up until the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church was the main defender of the faith and protector of core truth.

What about the emphasis on works instead of grace? That’s something the Catholic Church got wrong in my view and it’s the main reason a major reformation was needed. Believing you can work your way to heaven is regretfully hindering many from enjoying true freedom in Christ. Yet even with that misbelief there have always been those who (by the grace of God) saw the truth and embraced it even if they never left the Catholic tradition.

But how could they know the truth and still accept the “junk” too? That’s hard to understand, more so when it’s other people’s junk. We can live with the junk in our own church traditions much easier. By that I mean that no denomination gets all of it right all of the time. There are always pet doctrines and traditions that do not truly match the Word of God. Many times we don’t notice because we don’t have good teaching or we never question certain things or we simply have blind spots.

Please don’t misunderstand. I am in no way conceding accepting heresy of any kind. I don’t believe in compromising the gospel and I don’t believe in changing truth for changing times. What I am suggesting is that we go deeper before we write off branches of Christianity not our own. In my opinion there is Catholic error that needs to be corrected but God is not done with the Catholic Church. He still seeks followers from among their midst just like from every denomination that proclaims Jesus as Lord.


Idol Worship and praying to saints (Part 3)

I want to handle the issues of idol worship and praying to saints on their own. This is one of the biggest bones of contention between Catholics and Protestant and/or Evangelical Christianity. Idol worship is a grave matter indeed. The first commandment says: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3) C’mon, how much clearer could God make it?

Do Catholics participate in idol worship? Though officially they would say no, the truth is that there is plenty of idol worship going on. The Church says that they respect and honor saints but do not worship them. Actual practice is another story—that’s probably one of those severe blind spots I was talking about earlier.

Ascribing miraculous power to statues, being afraid to take off a scapular even during a bath, trusting a St. Christopher medal on the dashboard of the car, clinging to rosary beads for protection—all of these things are clearly idol worship in my mind. I speak as a former insider here so I feel I can be honest and not just critical. I saw it all as I grew up and I bought into much of it because I didn’t know any better.

SO, to the extent that a Catholic—or anyone, puts trust in any created thing rather than God himself, I call it idol worship and I call it sin. Not all Catholics subscribe to these practices. For those who do, the church does not correct it as far as I can see and that’s probably because they don’t recognize it themselves. That’s how systemic it is.

Isn’t praying to saints another form of the same thing? Maybe. If the person is actually praying TO someone other than God with the expectation that they have the power to provide the answer; that also is idol worship.

I have a dear friend, however, who is a sincere believer from the Coptic Christian tradition (similar to Orthodox Christianity) practiced in Egypt since the first century. She gave me a different perspective.

She said in their tradition they do not pray TO saints but they do seek additional prayer support FROM saints. She said that just as she might ask me to pray for her about something, she often asks a particular saint to do the same—join with her seeking an answer from God. She feels they have already made it to heaven and have easy access to plead her cause before the throne of grace.

Only God knows the motives of each heart so I’ll have to leave the judgment up to him. As a child, I would certainly admit that I had wrong motives and was in error. As an adult who finally found the truth I wouldn’t want to be found too near that line again.

Finally then, for all the issues that divide Christians we would do well to give each other grace and stay far from any form of self-righteousness. Jesus said that people down through the ages would know his own by how much they loved one another (my paraphrase). If true, how many of us are really his disciples?

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