A statue of Jesus Christ with right hand raised to heaven in authority

Hello Rosary lovers! In today’s post we will be asking: What’s the difference between Catholic and Christian?

I have more recently written a post on a surprising difference between Protestantism and Catholicism. Feel free to check it out! I’m sure it will give you a new perspective on these two forms of Christianity.

There are over 2.6 billion Christians in the world today. Half of these belong to the Catholic Church (1.3 billion). The rest belong to the Orthodox Churches and the many Protestant denominations.

As Catholics, we get asked a lot things like, ‘Why be Catholic and not just Christian?’ This question in itself is insightful on its own, since the idea of being ‘just Christian’ surely implies that to be Catholic is to be something MORE than just the basic mere Christian.

It suggests being Christian is something like drinking diet Cola, whereas being Catholic means drinking something more substantial.

In any case, whatever people mean by this question, what they’re wanting to know is: Why are you a Catholic as opposed to being a Christian? What’s the difference between the two?

The answer is, surprisingly, both not all that much and A LOT.

The ‘Both And’ of Catholicism

In Catholicism, we believe in the principle of ‘both and’. Catholicism doesn’t often say, ‘That is entirely wrong,’ or, ‘No, only this opinion is 100% right.’

The beliefs of Catholics are usually of a ‘both and’ kind of nature. For instance:

  • Faith AND works
  • Jesus AND Mary
  • God the Father AND the Son AND the Spirit
  • Jesus fully man AND fully God, AND yet only one Person
  • Scripure AND the Church
  • The Eucharist as a symbolic reminder of what Jesus did AND also the real Body and Blood of Jesus
  • Priesthood of all believers AND ordained Priesthood
  • Bishops in General Councils having supreme authority AND the Pope alone having supreme authority
  • God alone worshipped AND yet the saints and their images are venerated
  • And so on.

So what’s the difference between a Catholic and a Christian?

  • Not all that much
  • A lot

Both of these are true at the same time.

What is a Christian?

Well, this all comes down to how any given Christian describes what is necessary to be a Christian. This is part of the problem with this question.

Many Christians today believe that the only thing that makes someone a Christian is at one time praying the Sinner’s Prayer, or asking Jesus to come into their heart/life.

However, from the perspective of many other Christians, this is far from good enough.

Many other Christians believe that you need to only have faith in Jesus, and this is enough to be a Christian. But many other Christians would say this alone isn’t good enough.

Still many other Christians believe that you need to be baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be a Christian.

So what actually makes someone a Christian?

I find that having the Catholic Church speak on this (or any) issue a helpful standard to follow.

The Catholic Church’s position here is that someone is a Christian if they:

  • Have been water baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
  • Baptism presumes or implies that the baptised person has faith in Jesus Christ for salvation
  • In the case of small children or other individuals who cannot exercise personal faith, baptism in their case is sufficient, and hopefully they will later develop personal faith on their own

That’s it. That’s all that makes someone a Christian. You don’t need to pray a Sinner’s Prayer. You don’t need to try and work out whether you have really believed in Jesus or not (how do I know I’ve had faith? how do I know I’ve really, truly believed in Jesus?)

You simply get baptised with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Done deal, you’re a Christian, regardless of whatever happens in your life, and even if you choose one day to leave Christianity.

That is a BIG DEAL! It means you are a child of God, loved by God specially, and marked out for heaven, so long as you stay faithful to the faith.

What if a baptised person leaves Christianity?

They are still a Christian. You cannot cease ever to be a Christian. Baptism is of such a nature that it leaves a permanent mark on the soul which is impossible to remove in this life.

This doesn’t mean a baptised person cannot go to hell or be lost, however. But it does mean they cannot ever cease in this life to be rightly called a Christian brother or sister.

A strayed Christian should be encouraged to return to the faith as if they are a wayward child of God, not as if they are hopelessly lost. God is still in their life in a significant way.

Yet we must make clear that such a person is in a very bad condition. Their baptism won’t help them on Judgment Day if they do not return to the faith before they die. The fact they’ve been baptised and should have known better may even increase their condemnation and culpability before God.

What if someone wants to be baptised but cannot get baptised?

In this rare case, simply the desire to be baptised counts as a sort of baptism. If the opportunity ever arises for them to get baptised, they should do so, but until they are able, their desire alone suffices.

You might be tempted to think that this is purely theoretical, but the recent Covid pandemic reminds us that it isn’t. It’s a reality.

During the pandemic, there have been MANY individuals all over the world who became convinced that they must get baptised. But the restrictions prevented many from getting baptised for a long time.

Those individuals truly became Christians just by wanting to get baptised, even though they couldn’t get baptised. As the restrictions begin to cease, they find opportunity to get baptised and thus complete their longing to be baptised.

What is a Catholic?

The interior of a Catholic Church, beautiful stained glass windows

Right. Being a Catholic is much more substantial than being a mere Christian. To be Christian you need only one sacrament: baptism.

To be a Catholic, you need two extra sacraments: Confirmation and the Eucharist.

Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist are the three sacraments of initiation into the Catholic and true Christian Church. Any baptised Christian who has not been confirmed by a Catholic priest/bishop is only partially Catholic or partially Christian.

To be fully Christian is to be fully Catholic. To be fully Christian/Catholic, one needs all three sacraments: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist.

What about Confession?

Confession isn’t necessary to make someone a Catholic because it isn’t a sacrament of initiation into the Church.

Therefore, if someone approaches the Church and has never been baptised, the Catholic Church will not hear their confession. She will simply baptise the person, confirm them and offer them the Eucharist.

If a person has been baptised a long time ago and wants to now get confirmed into the Church, they will need to go ton Confession. This acts as a ‘second baptism’, washing away all their sins, so they can be fit to be confirmed and receive the body of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Confession is for people who are already Catholic/Christian to some degree, not for those who aren’t. It is a sacrament for the baptised, not for the unbaptised.

The Million Dollar Question: Does it matter if I am Christian but not Catholic?

Yes, it does matter. It matters A LOT.

A Christian has baptised, and so they have the basic sacrament of salvation, but if they have been Christian for a long time, there is absolutely no guarantee that they have kept their baptismal robe spotless.

There is no guarantee that they are in fact in a proper or healthy relationship with God.

The only Church that can declare that someone is in a right relationship with God is the Catholic Church.

So, if someone is not Catholic, they risk not knowing whether they are saved, and they might even risk being saved.

No-one can know for sure if they are saved. Such knowledge only God knows. But we can be fairly sure, or assured, that we are saved, to some degree, as far as we humans are capable.

The Church offers this kind of assurance when we keep in step with her.

If we are not Catholic, we cannot have this assurance. We can think or assume we are saved, but how do we really know? Because preacher told us? Because our interpretation of the Bible tells us? Because it’s what we have always been told?

We need to think in line with absolute Truth, and only the Catholic Church can provide this, not our own opinions. This is especially true when it comes to the issue of our soul’s salvation.

So it is not enough to just be a Christian. We are missing out on a great deal if this is the case. We miss out on:

  • The Eucharist, the very flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, which gives us eternal life
  • Confession, the ongoing forgiveness of our sins
  • Confirmation, the fullness of the Holy Spirit in our lives to witness boldly for Jesus
  • Knowing Mary as our Mother and dearest companion next to Jesus
  • The fullness of Christian Truth, which is only found in the Catholic Church
  • The unity of the Church, which is only found in the Catholic Church – huge divisions exist everywhere else
  • The Church’s guidance in how to pray
  • The Church’s guidance in how to fast
  • The communion of the saints
  • Extra Scriptures penned by the Holy Spirit, such as Tobit, Wisdom of Sirach and Baruch
  • A Priest in our local Church to guide us and be a father to us in the person of Christ
  • The Pope, to be our Supreme Teacher and Pastor and to hold the Church together, Jesus’ true representative on earth
  • And more.

Every Christian owes it to their own soul to become a Catholic.

But the most important reason to become Catholic if you are a Christian is because it completes your faith in Jesus. If you are Christian, you are already partially Catholic. You have faith in part, but that faith needs to be filled out. Catholicism does this.

The Ark of Salvation

Noah's ark

The Catholic Church is the Ark of salvation given to the world by Jesus. It is his Body, the Church and Temple of the living God, the Pillar and Ground of the Truth.

By being Christian, this is wonderful, we are already partially in the Ark and in the Temple. We have some knowledge of saving truth.

But we are not fully in the Ark. We have one foot in the Ark, and another outside of it. We might be swept away by the flood. We might be lost, or we might not ever know the fulness of truth.

It is therefore imperative that every Christian seeks to find out about the Catholic Church and enters her. By doing so, a Christian is completing the work God has begun in them, and they will fully enter the Ark of salvation that is heading for heaven.

8 Replies to “The Difference between Catholic and Christian”

  1. Hi, that was an exciting read for sure. I knew growing up that there were differences within the Christian faith – just what we learned at school. I have Catholic members in my family, however never really took the time to understand it. 

    The emphasis on the fact that the differences are small, yet big is evident. The nuances in the fundamentally similar belief are quite outstanding from what one person would consider what it entails to be a Christian, as opposed to another. 

    1. Hello there 🙂

      It certainly seems like I succeeded in making some sense in writing this post! Thank you for taking the time to read and understand it.

      God bless you

  2. Very good article. My wife is Catholic, and I am Protestant. We were married in a Catholic Church, but now we’re more active as Protestants. I never realized the additional two sacraments for being Catholic. I just did my morning prayer, and your article was a perfect fit to my morning start! 

    1. Thank you very much, I’m really glad to hear you benefited from it! 

      Let us all continue to ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ’.

  3. There are lots who believe they are Christians just by attending Sunday church, and during the week they compete sins. These people believe that by attending Sunday church they will be forgiven of all their sins when in fact this is not good Christian behavior. I found your article about the difference between Catholics and Christians very helpful and I know several social followers that can learn from this well.

    1. Many thanks 🙂 yes, it’s important we aren’t ‘Sunday Christians’, but everyday Christians.

      As the Lord said: ‘Take up your cross daily and follow me,’ Luke 9:23.

  4. Hmmmm.  A very interesting question and discussion.  Having been raised in a Protestant church and practiced my faith all my life I have been confronted constantly with the question this article raises.  Having lost my wife years ago to a disease I have now been married for a quarter century to a lovely faithful Catholic woman.  Over the years I have developed a close relationship to three Catholic Priests.  Two in Guatemala and one in the US.  I have had this discussion with all three.  The case for Catholicism is well presented here.  I struggle with the concept that a Priest or the Pope is a final authority.    

    1. I massively appreciate your thoughts and honesty here, brother. That is a wonderful contribution to this post, thank you so much.

      It sounds to me like you are on a journey with God. Who knows where it may end up?

      At the end of the day, we all need to be faithful to our conscience. Let’s just always do what we know deep down is right/true, and try to avoid what we know deep down to be wrong/false.

      I pray that God would continue to guide you always, and your wife. God bless you 🙂

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