Are Roman Catholics Christians? They are if they have trusted in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of their sins. However, if they believe they are saved by God's grace and their works, then they are not saved--even if they believe their works are done by God's grace--since they then deny the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice.
Being a Christian does not mean being a member of the Roman Catholic Church. It means being a member of the body of Christ, which is accomplished by faith and trust in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of your sins. It means you do not add your works to His work. Sincerity doesn't forgive sins. Membership in a church doesn't forgive sins. Doing works of penance doesn't forgive sins. Praying to Mary doesn't forgive sins. Forgiveness is received in the faithful trust and acceptance of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. You must trust Jesus, God in flesh, for the forgiveness of sins--not a man-made ritual and certainly not the catholic saints. Even though the Roman Catholic Church affirms the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and His physical resurrection, it greatly errors in its doctrine of salvation by adding works to salvation.
The official Roman Catholic doctrine of salvation is that the grace of God is infused into a baby at baptism--making him/her justified before God.1 This justification can be lost through sin and must be regained by repeated participation in the many sacraments found in the Roman Catholic Church. These sacraments increase the measure of grace in the person by which he or she is enabled to do good works, which are in turn rewarded with the joy of heaven:
- "We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere 'to the end' and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God's eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ," (CCC, par. 1821).
- "Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification," (CCC, par. 2010).
No one can say whether a Roman Catholic is truly a Christian or not since we cannot know people's hearts. However, if anyone, Catholic included, openly denies essential doctrines2, then he is not saved; and this is the problem. It appears that the Roman Catholic Church is denying the essential doctrine of justification by faith. It says . . .
- "If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema," (Canon 9, Council of Trent).
- "If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema," (Canon 14, Council of Trent).
- For more on this, please see Council of Trent. Canons on Justification.
Notice that justification by faith alone is denied, and heaven is the reward for doing good works. This is the problem. The RCC does not teach the biblical doctrine of justification by faith. It teaches justification by faith and works. If you want to see more on this, go to The Roman Catholic view on justification.
What is the CARM position on Roman Catholics?
CARM's position is simple. If a Roman Catholic believes in the official Roman Catholic teaching on salvation, then he is not a Christian since the official RCC position is contrary to Scripture. Therefore, as a whole, Roman Catholics need to be evangelized. They need to hear the true Gospel. They need to hear that they are not made right before God by being in a church or by being baptized but by receiving Christ (John 1:12), believing that Jesus has risen from the dead (Rom. 10:9); and that justification is by faith (Rom. 5:1) and not by our deeds (Rom. 4:5). It is only true faith that results in true works (James 2)--not the other way around. Roman Catholics, like anyone else, need to trust in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of their sins and not the Catholic sacraments, not the words of the priest, not the Pope, not Mary, not the saints, not penance, not indulgences, not the rosary, etc. Jesus alone is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).
Finally, I believe there are truly regenerate Christians in the Roman Catholic Church--truly Christians in spite of official RCC theology and in spite of the ritualistic offerings of this ancient church which has had too many hands meddling in it through the centuries--gradually moving it away from orthodoxy and into apostasy. Yes, apostasy. The Roman Catholic Church is no longer representing true Christianity.
Jesus alone saves. Jesus alone is Lord. Only Jesus' sacrifice can cleanse us. Only by faith are we made right before God. Justification is by faith--not by anything we do.
- 1. "Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us. It has for its goal the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. It is the most excellent work of God's mercy," (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2020).
- 2. In short, the essentials are the deity of Christ, His physical resurrection, and justification by grace through faith. Related to these are the Trinity, the virgin birth, and, of course, the gospel itself. For more information on essentials, please see the Doctrine Grid.