I have noticed that many folks in my part of the country will ask things like “are you Christian or Catholic”? *Faithpalm*. This is a false dichotomy. Catholics ARE Christian. For many of them, I think it is because in their theology, they believe that someone is a Christian when they got saved. Oddly, I don’t hear them ask Methodists and Lutherans whether or not they are “Methodist/Lutheran or Christian”. First, let’s define terms.
Strictly speaking, a Christian is someone that believes and follows the teachings and dictates of the Christian religion, as founded by Jesus Christ. Of course, not all Christians are the same, their theologies differ widely, and they often attack each other for not being “true Christians. So this is a bit of a vague argument. Okay, fine. Then who is Christian? Well…
From a Catholic perspective, I think it would depend on whether or not they are validly baptized. Mormons use the Trinitarian formula and water, but have a misunderstanding (from a traditional Christian perspective) of the Trinity. Baptists insist on full bodily immersion, but don’t believe it actually does anything, however, from a Catholic perspective, those baptisms are valid.
So, to put it bluntly, a Christian is someone who has been validly baptized. So why do many folks not consider Catholics to be Christian? I think it goes back to the reformation, ultimately, though getting “saved” as we know it did not exist at the time. This idea (as I understand it) came to America with John Wesley. Wesley was an Anglican clergyman that believed (to some extent) that you could be saved and knows you’re saved. Oddly, he also believed you could lose your salvation. This is not dissimilar to the Catholic view on salvation (what we might refer to as “relative assurance”).
Anyway, Wesley made a big impact in this part of the country. Methodists and Methodism can be found in almost every town, only outnumbered by Baptists here. The “Once saved, always saved” actually came later. It is true that Calvinists believed your destiny was sealed when you were created, and I think that’s where this idea of “he was never really saved to begin with” came from.
Though, the “once saved, always saved” didn’t come from Wesley (He’d probably be horrified by the idea), I think many took Wesley’s message to the logical extreme. “You’re saved, you can’t be unsaved”. The problem with this, (besides contradicting common sense) is of course, that it contradicts both the Bible, (Matthew 7:21-23, Matthew 24:13) and historical Christianity.
Now that I’ve defined terms, I hope when someone asks you (if you are a Catholic) “Are you a Catholic or a Christian”, do what I do and answer “I am a Catholic Christian”. If you are an Evangelical Protestant, great, I love doing pro-life work with y’all, but please understand, Catholics see themselves as having more fullness of Christianity than you do. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’re not Christian, and most Catholics would never say you aren’t, but asking someone if they’re “Catholic or Christian” is like asking someone if they’re “Black or American”, one does not negate the other.
-Adam Charles Hovey