“Can a Catholic be a born-again Christian?” It’s a bad question. It’s not my question. The wording stinks. It’s like asking if a man can be a woman. Despite the current confusion in our culture, the answer is always “No.” Sane people, Biblical people, all understand that you can be one or the other, but you can’t be both simultaneously.
The question is also a theological trap. No matter how you answer, somebody’s going to misunderstand you, or understand you rightly, and be mad. Both the wording and ecumenical agenda that usually lurks behind this question make it problematic. Although 90% of Protestant pastors answered “Yes” to the question, it’s hard telling what they meant by their “Yes.” They might have only meant that Catholics can get saved and become Christians. That’s wonderfully true. They may mean that there are millions of Catholics who are genuinely saved even though they continue to be Catholics and continue to participate in idolatrous rituals and sacraments (SEE Millions of Catholics in Heaven, a tragic statement from Dr. Albert Mohler). That’s a dangerous error and it’s growing ever more popular as influential men propagate it. As a rule, I’ve found that those who claim to personally know Catholics who are “born-again Christian[s]” have not asked their Catholic friends or family members the essential questions that must be answered in order to justify their claim (SEE Rome’s Heresy & Gospel Clarity -notes for evangelizing Catholics). I would gently challenge those who have now left the Catholic Church, evidencing that they are indeed “born-again Christian[s]” by having repented of Catholicism’s many heresies and believed the Gospel, to fully consider and interpret their experience in the light of God’s Word. We can’t be confident that the miracle of regeneration has taken place, even our own, until we manifest the sure evidences of regeneration — repentance of sin (including the sin of participating in Catholicism’s idolatrous, antichrist rituals & sacraments) and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished redemptive work alone for salvation. Jesus said, “unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5). More on that later.
Due to the way the question is framed, every “Yes” unleashes a host of terrible ramifications. If you answer “Yes” you can be certain that it will help harden the unrepentant Catholic idolater’s heart and deafen his ears to the true Gospel being fully and faithfully delivered by others. If you answer “Yes” it blurs the essential theological lines and demolishes the clear battle line of the Reformation. If you answer “Yes” it stifles evangelistic zeal to reach Roman Catholics with the essential call to repent of the false gospel of Rome and to believe Gospel of Jesus Christ, because the nice Catholics you know, who say nice things about God and Jesus, are undoubtedly those “born-again Christian” Catholics who are already saved and just a bit confused about the whole ordinance vs. sacrament thing — and who want’s to have an unnecessary and offensive argument over secondary matters. If you answer “Yes” it opens the door for a world of ecumenical Gospel compromise. The frustrating thing about the wording of the question is that your “Yes” may have only meant that you think a Catholic can repent, believe, and come out of Catholicism, but that isn’t how your “Yes” will be understood and used. It’s a bad question.
THE SAFE ANSWER IS NO
The safe answer is “No.” By safe I mean we won’t harden the hearts and deafen the ears of unrepentant Catholic idolaters. By safe I mean we keep our theological and Reformation battle lines distinct. By safe I mean we keep our evangelistic zeal hot by holding fast to our evangelistic clarity, and thus actively labor to see Roman Catholics come out of Rome and to repentance and saving faith in Christ. By safe I mean that we can’t say with any Biblical foundation or confidence that someone who is at peace with and participating in the idolatrous Roman Catholic system of abominable antichrist doctrines, ceremonies, practices, and sacraments is a “born-again Christian.” By safe I mean we reject ecumenical union that leads to theological and Gospel compromise. Stick with what’s safe, stick with “No!”
DO NOT BE DECEIVED
We really don’t have to wonder what the right answer to the question is. God knew men would endeavor to declare unregenerate, unrepentant sinners to be “born-again Christian[s]” long before we started to do it. 1 Cor. 6:9-11 is our answer and it must be our gracious, loving, and unbudging position toward those who remain in the idolatrous Roman Catholic Church:
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”
Let us not declare anyone a justified “born-again Christian” until they evidence being born again by repenting of Catholicism’s gross idolatry. That is what the Word of God and true love for Catholic souls requires.
IDOLATERS HATE GOD
The Roman Catholic Church is so brazenly committed to their idolatry that they have actually removed the command against idolatry from the Ten Commandments in their doctrinal statements and teachings. How serious does God take idolatry? We tend to treat sins like adultery found in the second table of the Law as more serious than those like idolatry found in the first. God does not:
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image — any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them (including statues of dead saints, statues of Mary, statues of Jesus, crucifixes, & above all the transubstantiated wafer) nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6)
Our Lord is quite clear that idolatry is hatred toward God. Think about it. When God says idolatry is hatred toward Him, we cannot say millions of Catholics actually love God and have a simple saving faith in Jesus while they continue to participate in Roman Catholic ritual and sacraments that are full of idolatry. You cannot worship both God and idols (2 Cor. 6:11-18). You cannot both love God and hate Him. God has made clear that those who love Him keep His commandments. Not participating in idolatry is a basic, essential, non-negotiable commandment. All idolaters must repent of their idolatry to be saved. All idolaters must repent of their hatred of the one true God to be saved: Mormon idolaters, Jehovah’s Witness idolaters, Muslim idolaters, and Catholic idolaters. I fear much of modern Protestantism and Evangelicalism would call Paul uncharitable and needlessly divisive for writing to the church of Corinth to rebuke their union with those engaged in idolatry:
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness (Catholicism is lawlessness)? And what communion has light with darkness (Catholicism is darkness)? And what accord has Christ with Belial (Catholicism is Satanic)? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever (Catholics are unbelievers)? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols (Christ’s Church has no agreement with Satan’s antichrist idolatrous Roman Catholic Church)?…Therefore ‘Come out from among them And be separate,’ says the Lord.” (2 Cor. 6:14-18)
IDOLATERS GO TO HELL
Let’s just break it down to the basics. Who does the Bible say is going to Hell? Rev. 21:8 provides a list of those who are not “born-again Christian[s]” that includes “unbelieving, abominable…idolaters,” and then goes on to explain that they “shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire.” Catholics are unbelievers who participate in abominable rituals and sacraments infused with idolatry. Regardless of whatever else they may say, the idolatrous system they are glad participants of reveals their lack of saving belief in the Gospel. Until our Catholic friends come out of Catholicism’s idolatrous system, the charitable thing to do, the Biblical thing to do, and the Gospel thing to do, is to call them to repent and be saved — not to call them “born-again Christian[s]” when they’ve yet to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8).
“REPENT & BELIEVE THE GOSPEL” IS STILL OUR MESSAGE
Jesus said, “Repent and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). We must hold that line. Our Roman Catholic friends and family must repent of their sin, including their abominable sacraments (baptismal regeneration, priestly absolution, etc.), abominable Mariology, and a great many forms of idolatry — most notably, the idolatry intrinsic in the adoration and worship of the transubstantiated antichrist wafer that takes place daily in the Mass celebrated in every Roman Catholic Church.
Would we call a man involved in an ongoing adulterous affair a “born again Christian?” No. Would we call a man involved in an ongoing homosexual relationship a “born-again Christian?” No. Would we call a man who is yet a drunkard a “born-again Christian?” No. Would we call a man who still makes his living as a thief steeling cars a “born-again Christian?” No. Why not? Because 1 Cor. 6:9-10 tells all of those men that they have no reason to believe they are “born-again Christian[s].” Why do we find men who know better, men who cannot claim ignorance, pronouncing men who participate in idolatrous Catholic ceremony and sacraments “born-again Christian[s]?” It is dangerous, Gospel undermining error.
IGNORANCE IS NO EXCUSE
The claim is often made that many Catholics have no clue what they are actually doing as they participate in Catholicism’s idolatrous rituals and sacraments. Antichrist heresies abound in the Catholic Church. You don’t have to laboriously search history or scour ancient and rare documents to find Rome’s rampant heresies and many forms of idolatry. They are everywhere found in the services, sacraments, and regular workings of the Roman Catholic Church. If you doubt the veracity of that statement, please read Rome’s Heresy & Gospel Clarity -notes for evangelizing Catholics. We can’t claim a person is a “born-again Christian” while they’re at peace with and participating in that which blasphemes both Christ and His Gospel. Like everyone else, Roman Catholics must come to adhere to the Gospel in a way that if far more significant than the “simple saving faith” that many ecumenical hearts want to lend to unregenerate, unrepentant, unbelieving Roman Catholics. If the Gospel is not obeyed, if one’s life does not adhered to the truth of the Gospel, then the Gospel has not been believed. 2 Thes. 1:8-9 says the Lord Jesus Christ is going to return with righteous judgment “with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction.” Ignorance is not a good or safe excuse. Having no theological clue, not knowing God, and not obeying the Gospel are not safe places to be.
WHAT IS TRUE LOVE
Is it charitable, loving, gracious, or kind to call men listed in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 “born-again Christians?” No! Why not? Because God doesn’t call them that! Instead, He warns them of their false confidence of inheriting the kingdom of God. Instead, He warns them that they’re deceived and that they’re going to perish in their sins. He doesn’t stop there! Our truly gracious God goes on to give them hope that they can yet become “born-again Christians,” they can be forgiven, they can be made new creatures, they can be set free, they can have confidence of salvation — when, and only when, through genuine regeneration and the grace of repentance their lifestyle sins are placed in the past tense; “such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).
WHAT IS TRUE GRACE
The power of God’s saving grace is such that it not only defeats the penalty of sin, it defeats the power of sin. Let us not sell cheap grace, weak grace, worldly grace, and worthless inclusive grace that wraps arms around men that do not yet evidence the power of God’s glorious sovereign grace coming upon them through the Holy Spirit’s regeneration of their dead soul and insist on pronouncing them “born-again Christian[s].” God doesn’t do that. Neither can we. Let us not defile the Biblical term and theological truth of what it means to be “born-again” by such a despairing usage. Let us not defile the Biblical term and theological truth of God’s sovereign “grace” by claiming the omnipotent power of God’s grace has fallen on sinners, regenerated them from the dead, opened their blind eyes, unstopped their deaf ears, and yet left them enslaved to adultery, sodomy, alcohol, covetousness, or enslaved to Roman Catholicism, the most abominable, soul damning, antichrist, thoroughly IDOLATROUS cult in the history of the world.
Paul did not labor to graciously write to the church in Galatia to tell them that a little works righteousness is just fine, a little faith in Jesus and a little ritual is no big deal, after all we’ve got to leave room for sanctification. No, Paul graciously pronounced a double anathema and he graciously rebuked Peter to his face before all, because he was “not straightforward about the truth of the Gospel” (Gal. 2:14). A good argument could be made that the historic error of Peter and the church in Galatia was hardly worth mentioning in comparison to the mountain of heresy and idolatry present in Rome’s rituals and sacraments today. Read the Apostle’s passionate words to Galatia below and consider how thoroughly they condemn the Roman Catholic Church and show Dr. Mohler’s millions of “saved” Catholics who participate in ritual and sacrament to actually be “estranged from Christ” (Gal. 5:4).
“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ. (Gal. 1:6-10)
“Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” (Gal. 2:11-16)
“My little children, for whom I labor in birth againuntil Christ is formed in you, I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you.” (Gal. 4:19-20)
“Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised,Christ will profit you nothing (the same is true for those who participate in Catholicism’s rituals & sacraments). And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” (Gal. 5:2-6)
This is worthy of clarifying again. Dr. Mohler’s “millions” of saved Catholics who are “Christians,” who are “true believers…who just have a simple faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ” who also “find themselves involved in rituals and sacraments and all kinds of other things” are actually just as “estranged from Christ” and “fallen from from grace” as the Judaizers that the Apostle Paul was writing about 2,000 years ago, and unless they repent, “Christ will profit them nothing.”
THE RIGHT ANSWER TO A BAD QUESTION
How then should we answer the question, “Can a Catholic be a born-again Christian?” With one eye fixed firmly on the Gospel and the other eye fixed on seeing our Roman Catholic friends and family genuinely under the eternal grace of God, let us be truly gracious and dogmatically answer, “No, but praise God, a former Catholic can, for if a Catholic is ‘born-again’ he is a Catholic no more and he is a Christian forevermore, for God has regenerated him and given him the gift of repentance, including repentance from the idolatry and heresy intrinsic to Catholicism.” Anything else will make us theologically cross-eyed, and result in confused convictions and a confusing message.
A CALL TO EVANGELISTIC ACTION
Since you cannot simultaneously be Catholic and a “born-again Christian” our evangelistic responsibility is clear. We must labor as if we have 1.2 billion Catholic men, women, and children to rescue out of the Roman Catholic Church and its doctrines of demons (1 Tim. 4:1) — because we do (Get equipped: Rome’s Heresy & Gospel Clarity -notes for evangelizing Catholics). For His own glory, may our gracious God be pleased to save a great number from Catholicism’s idolatrous system of works righteousness through His Church faithfully and lovingly calling for Catholics everywhere to “repent and believe the Gospel.” When they do, and not before, we can all rejoice that former Catholics are now “born-again Christian[s]!”
In Matt. 9:13 Jesus declared His mission statement; “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Calling sinners to repentance is our mission too.
In Luke 24:47, Jesus command that, “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations.” That’s the standing command of our Lord. We can’t make peace when and where men have not repented of their idolatrous war against our King. The call is for them to repent and believe. We dare not declare them repentant “born-again Christian[s]” while they remain unrepentant of and continue to participate in Roman Catholic idolatry.
Throughout the book of Acts we see the early church busy about Christ’s mission under the Great Commission command. Let’s follow in their faithful footsteps, carry on in their ministry, and proclaim their message:
“Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19)
“They glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.’” (Acts 11:18)
When Paul stood before the Elders of Ephesus he described his life and ministry with these words, “I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:20-22)
When Paul stood before King Agrippa he described his ministry as one of traveling the earth calling all men everywhere to “repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.” (Acts 26:20-21)
That’s our calling. That’s our legacy. That’s our ministry. Go therefore! Preach repentance! To God be the glory!