Converting to Catholicism
What would you say to a Christian who is thinking of converting to Roman Catholicism?
First…don’t. After that my approach would likely adjust for the particular person, and what I knew about what was motivating them to make that move. Any approach, however, would look at both personal issues and theological issues. Too often we unwisely focus on one to the exclusion of the other. In my own circles we tend to jump to the theological.
The problem is, precious few, if any people I’ve ever known to be tempted in this direction went Roman Catholic, from their own perspective, because they had done a serious study of the important theological issues and found Rome to be more faithful to the Scriptures. Their motives tend to be more about practice than dogma. That is, they are active in the pro-life movement, and like what they see in Rome on this issue. Or, they are frustrated with the aesthetic and even intellectual barrenness of the evangelical world. Or, more often than anything else, after living through church splits and denominational squabbles, they long to be a part of the one true church. All of which is at the end of the day wishful thinking about greener grass.
Rome is not a united body as they would have us believe. They are no more likely to be pro-life in conviction or in terms of activism than evangelicals. Their worship may have pleasing smells and bells, but it culminates in an abomination, the immolation of the Lord Jesus Christ in the mass. The desires for these things, beauty and intellect, unity and activism in the cause of life, these are all good. They are just not any better in Rome than they are in the evangelical church. Their strengths are just as much ours, and our weaknesses just as much theirs. Which brings us to the theological.
I typically direct these folks to the sixth session of the Council of Trent. Trent was convened to deal with issues arising out of the Reformation. It is, as even Vatican II and the current Roman Catechism affirm, unchangeable dogma not just for the church, but for all within its pale. And it, the sixth session, says that those who affirm that a man is justified apart from the works of the law should be damned. I have yet to meet a potential or actual convert to Rome who is willing to agree with this bald damning of the Biblical doctrine of how we have peace with God. And yet, by joining Rome they formally confess the truth of this damnable doctrine. In short, even if Rome beats the evangelical church hands down in principled activism, in intellectual and aesthetic fruitfulness, in unity of mind and purpose, so do the Shriners. The evangelical church is that place where the good news of Jesus Christ is not damned, but preached. With Rome it is exactly the opposite.
Finally, with my friends who have made the jump I seek to make sure they live with the consequences. That is, though they don’t believe the sixth session of the Council of Trent, I make them live with it. That means that if they are right, they must not treat me as a brother, for I hold to damnable doctrine. If they are wrong, I must not treat them as a brother, for they hold to damnable doctrine. There is no option where we can both be right. My friends know that if they should repent, if they should return to the one true church, the evangelical church, if they should publicly and formally affirm their dependence on the finished work of Christ alone, I will rejoice with them. Until they do, however, we are not united in Him.