Here is an email question from Abby in Millersville, Maryland: “Pastor John, in the past few years I have heard from several former Protestant friends — twentysomethings — from a variety of evangelical denominations that they are joining the Catholic Church. Some of these friends are saying that they place a higher value on tradition than on Scripture. They are people with whom I spent time ministering and studying Scripture. What is going on here? Are these just nonbelievers who are being weeded from the fold?” What do you say, Pastor John?
The Road to Rome is not a new phenomenon. It was happening when I was in college. It has always been happening ever since there was a church. People have left and people have returned to the Roman Catholic Church. And I suspect it will always be, as long as both kinds of churches exist.
It would be way too rash to say that everyone who makes the trek from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism is an unbeliever who is being weeded out of the fold. There are just too many different kinds of reasons, and the stories are never over in this life. So if a person goes this way or that way, you don’t know where they are going to end up. Don’t write them off in either case.
Four Roads to Rome
There are a lot of reasons — and it might be helpful for me to give you my take — why people sometimes gravitate towards Roman Catholicism out of Evangelicalism. Here are four reasons:
“It would be rash to say that everyone who makes the trek from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism is an unbeliever.”
1. Many of those who return to Rome are hungry for seriousness and are tired of the slapstick worship services that are normative in many evangelical churches.
2. Many are hungry for roots, a sense of history that they don’t feel in the new church plant down the street that seems to mainly want to hide its connectedness to any tradition.
3. Many are hungry for intellectual and artistic richness that worship services with jeans and movie clips and bouncing beach balls and the shrines of the drum set just don’t satisfy.
4. Many are hungry for authority and clarity and stability, and sometimes it is just easier to let the church tell you what to believe and to be unburdened by the need to work it all out.
So those would be at least four things that I think grip some people who think the Roman Catholic Church is more satisfying in all those regards.
But for me, even though I sympathize with every one of those — my heart longs for seriousness, longs for roots, longs for intellectual and artistic richness and loves true authority — nevertheless, questions remain, don’t they?
Are the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church biblical? And my answer is, too many of them are not:
“I can’t let my desire for certain forms or styles or richness or traditions trump the doctrinal issues.”
- I think the Roman Church gets it wrong on justification.
- I think they get it wrong on the mass and the dispensing of grace.
- I think they get it wrong on the role of tradition alongside Scripture.
- I think they get it wrong on the authority of the pope.
- I think they get it wrong in the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, which I think is very destructive.
- I think they get it wrong on the veneration of Mary and the prayers to the saints.
And there are others, so I can’t let my desire for certain forms or styles or richness or traditions trump the doctrinal issues for me.
What I would like to say to those who are listening to this clip is, let’s pour our lives into the true evangelical doctrines and grow churches that are strong and rich and serious and relevant and powerful and biblical and that overcome the weaknesses that have pushed some people away.