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Protestants and Their View of Catholics

In the various Protestant-Catholic rumbles that happen on this and other blogs I often find myself wondering what view most Protestants today actually have of Roman Catholics.  When I was growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota all of my friends were Catholic except for the people I knew from the Baptist church my family was part of.  I was never raised to think that Catholics are not Christians, but just that you could never be sure.  I remember one time talking about Pope John Paul II with my Mom and her making that comment that she definitely thought he was born again.  The implication being that the born again status of a pope is certainly not something we should assume.  I also remember, at the height of the Left Behind craze, a number of evangelicals speaking out in outrage about the fact that in the book the Pope is raptured, thereby confirming his true Christian status.

My point in all of this is simply that for the most part, I think that Protestants assume that Catholics are a remnant of the church that has persisted in apostasy since the Reformation, while the real church is constituted by the various Protestant churches (they generally haven’t even heard of Eastern Orthodoxy).  My real wondering, especially for the more vocal Protestant interlocutors is what they make of Catholicism today.  I wonder, do we really just see Catholics in a way that isn’t really any different from my childhood memories of them as maybe, possibly saved, but their church as whole as some lumbering falsehood?  For myself, I cannot do other than think that Protestant, Anabaptist, Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox churches alike are all a corpus mixtum, none of them bearing any inherent lesser degrees of Christian-ness.  But I feel that for most Protestants, at least in America the same sort of basic anti-Catholic suspicion persists: maybe some are “saved”, but if you are you should get out of that apostate church!  I genuinely hope that isn’t really the case, but I fear that among the Protestant churches in America such a mindset is pretty deeply ingrained and would take a long time to unlearn.


  1. Sam C wrote:

    Personally, as one young-in-the-faith and tentatively Protestant, I try to avoid judging individuals who wear the badge Roman Catholic, but cannot avoid judging what I understand of said body’s teaching. That is, whilst all denominations will have nominal unsaved peoples no matter how true their teaching, the RC suffers from fundamentally flawed teaching (assuming my understanding is correct) regarding Christ & salvation, make it far more likely that adherents to the RC teaching will not have a saving faith.

    Thursday, April 3, 2008 at 6:32 pm | Permalink
  2. Kevin Davis wrote:

    Most (educated) Protestants of evangelical conviction would question the use of church (Catholic) as an indicator of ones standing before God (i.e., saved-ness). “Are Catholics Christians?” is no more a legitimate question than “Are Methodists Christians?,” i.e., their being Catholic or Methodist (or Presbyterian, etc.) is only important to the extent that the church’s theology promotes or negates the gospel of salvation by faith in Christ’s blood. Most Protestants believe the “extra” works of Catholic soteriology to be merely superfluous thus (unless the person is a straight-up Pelagian) not negating of their salvation by Christ in faith. Other Protestants (namely, fundamentalists) believe any trust in works to be negating of a saving faith in Christ — but this goes for any Christian.[Catholics can rightly counter that they do not "trust" in works but do see certain actions as negating of a salvific relationship with God, which is, nonetheless, restored by the same grace that is required of ones first repentance.] Regardless, ecclesiology is not of decisive regard from a genuine Protestant perspective.

    Thursday, April 3, 2008 at 8:06 pm | Permalink
  3. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    And don’t forget that Dale Gilmore was cool shit!

    Thursday, April 3, 2008 at 9:01 pm | Permalink
  4. Sadly, Halden, I’ve run into quite a few people of late who still understand Protestantism as the true faith and Catholics as a small, sect-like apostate branch. Charmers they are and clearly lacking an adequate grasp of reality about Catholicism. I’d hoped that as I’d moved from that position, so had larger Protestantism as well. Apparently not. For proof? Walk into a trinket Christian “bookstore.” Ugh.

    Thursday, April 3, 2008 at 9:43 pm | Permalink
  5. Ben wrote:

    As a Catholic, I’m sometimes disturbed by the ignorance of our beliefs among most Protestants (though not half as disturbed as I am of Catholic ignorance among Catholics!!)

    But speaking only of educated disagreement, by and large it’s all fair play, no? Catholics (myself included) officially believe that Protestants are Christian, yet lacking or errant, and that they should leave their errant communities and be united with the Catholic Church.

    When Protestants express similar contrary viewpoints, are they not simply being intellectually honest? As long as it is expressed charitably, I find it a much better stance than simply pretending that I’m-OK-you’re-OK.

    Thursday, April 3, 2008 at 10:27 pm | Permalink
  6. xristocharis wrote:

    My general perception when very young was that there were “Christians” what “we” were and then you had all of these other religions which included Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians etc. That understanding persisted in large part until I was in high school when I became more interested in my own faith. I struggled through a fairly uber-Pentecostal phase with a strange obsession with Messianic Judaism until finally the day when I realized the Left Behind books weren’t gospel.

    I’m pretty sure you and I see a lot eye-to-eye Halden, so it probably doesn’t come as too big a surprise that I basically see things as you do in this case.

    Truth be told I’m probably more suspicious of the orthodoxy of some ["non-denominational"] Evangelicals than I am of Rome. I certainly could quibble with Catholic theology, about the same as I could quibble with Baptist theology, but there’s certainly nothing that would stop me from sitting at the same Table with a Catholic (Catholic Eucharistic praxis aside).

    Friday, April 4, 2008 at 12:09 am | Permalink
  7. Bobby Grow wrote:

    So either we agree with your approach, Halden, or we are just child-like immature babes who need to get a clue?

    If things are actually as relative as you seem to think, Halden, what keeps you Protestant?

    Btw, I agree with Ben’s statement.

    Friday, April 4, 2008 at 2:07 am | Permalink
  8. Hill wrote:

    The intellectual honesty of an authentic disagreement is certainly something to be commended, but as a Catholic who has interacted predominantly with Protestants for most of my life, it is rare indeed to even be in a position to have an authentic disagreement with many Protestants (and as Ben said, many Catholics as well) due to the widespread and deep information gap. That’s one of the reasons I’m such a fan of this blog. Even if there is sometimes a failure to meet each other perfectly, that space is very often traversed here.

    Friday, April 4, 2008 at 7:50 am | Permalink
  9. WTM wrote:

    The force and energy of my disagreements with Catholicism are born out of the assumption that they are as likely to be Christian as I am. It is only because we are in the same family, as far as I’m concerned, that I feel free to disagree so rigorously.

    Friday, April 4, 2008 at 9:03 am | Permalink
  10. Halden wrote:

    I’m all for authentic, and fervent disagreement and discussion. I just want it to be an informed, civil, and indeed, fraternal form of argument. My experience is that most evangelicals have a staggering ignorance of Catholic teaching informed more by Chick tracts than anythin else. Though of course this often cuts both ways. I agree with both Ben and Travis on this.

    Friday, April 4, 2008 at 9:29 am | Permalink
  11. Hill wrote:

    That someone like John Hagee is considered in the mainstream of American Protestantism (enough to be a significant and surprisingly uncontroversial endorsement for the Republican nominee) is perhaps an indicator of the current state of affairs.

    Friday, April 4, 2008 at 9:30 am | Permalink
  12. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Yes if Hagee truly represented what it means to be Evangelical, I would become Catholic ;-) .

    Friday, April 4, 2008 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

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