At first glance, that might seem like a silly question. Those who claim to be Catholic also claim that Jesus is their Lord and Savior! Obviously, they must be Christians. Right? Well, not exactly.
Let us look at what it means to be a Catholic first. Being a Catholic means that you are accustomed to attending a Catholic church or that you believe in the teaching of the Catholic church. There are many people who attend a Catholic church because that is what their family has always, even though they might not agree with everything the Catholic church teaches. There are others who understand fully what the Catholic church teaches and yet don’t go to Mass (Catholic church service) very often. There are also those who fully agree with the doctrine(teaching) of the church and attend Mass faithfully. The disagreeing attender and person who agrees but rarely attends Mass are not very good Catholics. Every priest wants his people to believe the teachings of the church and attend Mass regularly. That, with actions throughout the week which are morally upright, makes a person a good Catholic!
The same could be said about any denomination of church. Every leader of in every church denomination wants its adherents to agree doctrinally, participate faithfully, and behave morally. Baptists, Presbyterians, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and Methodists are all alike in their definition of a good church member.
Unfortunately (or fortunately for those who are bad church members), being a good church member is completely different than being a Christian. That is because being a Christian is not based upon what you do, but upon a relationship with Jesus Christ. There are members of every church denomination which do not have this relationship with Jesus.
So how does one begin a relationship with God. The Bible says that there is only one way to have a relationship with God (John 14:6). A person becomes a Christian and begins their relationship with God when they place their faith in who Jesus is and what He has done for them (Acts 16:31).
A person must realize that Jesus is more than just a man but that He is also the Eternal God. Jesus died on the cross to pay for the sins of every person. He then rose from the grave 3 days later to prove His victory over sin and death. A person needs to come to the point where they believe these truths. Furthermore, a person must be convinced that his only chance for forgiveness and eternal life is confessing his sinfulness and then call upon Jesus to save Him. When a person trusts in Jesus in this way, he receives saving grace. Grace is what God gives us because we can’t do anything to earn it. Salvation is a gift of grace, because we can’t earn it.
So, back to the original question. Are Catholics Christians? As we have seen, being a member of any church doesn’t save you. Only by putting faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ alone, may a person receive salvation. My favorite passage in the Bible to prove this is Ephesians 2:8-9. Those verses state, “For by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. Not of works lest any man should boast.” These verses prove that salvation (or being a Christian) is not based upon anything which we do, but it is a gift received from God by faith. The troubling thing is that many churches do not teach that salvation is completely free. They add a list of good works which a person must do in order to earn, or keep, God’s gift of salvation.
The Catholic church is one of those churches which add good works. The problem with this, is that a person cannot be a true Christian if they are trusting in both Jesus and their best efforts. To trust partially in yourself is to not trust completely in Jesus, and without trusting him solely, a person isn’t a Christian.
A true Christian cannot be a good Catholic. That is because he cannot be in agreement with the teaching of the Catholic church. The Catholic church adds works to grace as necessary for salvation. Anyone who truly believes that is not depending completely upon Jesus and is therefore not a true Christian. Catholics may claim that Jesus is their Lord and Savior, but if they believe the teaching of the Catholic church, they are not Christians according to the Bible.
“…a person cannot be a true Christian if they are trusting in both Jesus and their best efforts.”
It is possible that there are some true Christians which attend Catholic churches and have placed their faith in Jesus alone. Those Christians need to leave the Catholic church. Why would a true Christian want to remain part of an organization that teaches falsely about how to become or remain a Christian?