I've been rolling this idea around in my head for quite some time, and I think it's time to get some outside perspective on it. It is a touchy subject, as it regards the division of Catholics and Protestants. I know we have a mixed crowd here, so I hope that I don't offend anyone; that is certainly not my intent. So here it is:
As Catholics, do we consider Protestants a part of the Body of Christ? Here's my reasoning, and why I'm confused:
The Body of Christ is the Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Protestants, either by ignorance, choice, birth, or a combination thereof, have seperated themselves from the only Church that has all four of those markers. Yet, Protestants tend to refer to the "Body of Christ" or the "Church" as a mystical entity that transcends beyond denomination lines, and they consider themselves a part of that.
I understand where they are coming from, and agree to an extent, because the Church is more than the buildings, people, priests, worship rituals, etc. At the same time, Protestants have rejected the Church. I understand that ignorance is a big part of the problem and therefore, even though they are at once rejecting the Church and considering themselves a part of it, they don't understand what they're doing.
How do we respond to that? When I hear a Protestant referring to himself as a part of the Body, it makes me sad, and calls to my mind an image of Christ on the cross: beaten, broken, bloody, and suffering. Is that the truth of it? All who consider themselves Christian are a part of the Body, but because of our human blindness and hubris we have again crucified our Lord?
I welcome any thoughts or insights you might have, as well as any theological or apologetic references that speak to this subject.