I was a Protestant for twenty years before I became a Catholic. I led many people out of the Catholic Church. My formula for getting Catholics to leave the Church usually consisted of three steps.
Step 1: Get Catholics to have a conversion experience in a Protestant setting.
Most Fundamentalist, Evangelical, and charismatic Protestant churches have dynamic youth programs, vibrant Wednesday and Sunday evening services, and friendly small-group bible studies. In addition, they host special crusades, seminars and concerts. At the invitation of a Protestant friend, a Catholic may begin attending one or more of these events while still going to Sunday Mass at his local parish.
Most Protestant services proclaim a simple gospel: repent from sin and follow Christ in faith. They stress the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus and the reward of eternal life. Most of the Catholics who attend these services are not accustomed to hearing such direct challenges to abandon sin and follow Christ.
As a result, many Catholics experience a genuine conversion.
Protestants should be commended for their zeal in promoting conversions. Catholic leaders need to multiply the opportunities for their people to have such conversions in Catholic settings. The reason is simple. About five out of ten people adopt the beliefs of the denomination where they have their conversion. This percentage is even higher for those who had profound conversions or charismatic experiences that were provided by Protestants. (Believe me, I know; I was a graduate of an Assembly of God college and a youth minister in two charismatic churches.)
Protestant pastors, evangelists, youth leaders, and lay ministers are acutely aware that conversion experiences in Protestant settings often lead to a Protestant faith and church membership. Why do so many Catholic leaders fail to see this? Why are they so nonchalant about a process that has pulled hundreds of thousands of Catholics out of the Church?
Step 2: Give their conversion a Protestant interpretation.
A genuine conversion is one of life's most precious experiences, comparable to marriage or the birth of a child. Conversion awakens a deep hunger for God. Effective Protestant ministries train workers to follow up on this spiritual longing.
Before a stadium crusade, I would give follow-up workers a six-week training course.
I showed them how to present a Protestant interpretation of the conversion experience with a selective use of bible verses. The scripture of choice was of course John 3: 3, the "born-again" verse: "Jesus declared, 'I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.'
I used the "touch and go" scripture technique, similar to that used by pilots training for landings and takeoffs. We would briefly touch down on John 3: 3 to show that being born again was necessary for eternal life. Then I would describe conversion in terms of being born again. We would make a hasty takeoff before reading John 3: 5 which stresses the necessity of being "born of water and spirit." I never mentioned that for 20 centuries the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, echoing the unanimous teaching of the Church fathers, understood this passage as referring to the Sacrament of Baptism! And I certainly never brought up Titus 3: 5 ("He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit") as a parallel reference to John 3: 5.
In my experience as a Protestant, all the Catholics who had a conversion in a Protestant setting lacked a firm grasp of their Catholic faith.
In twenty years of Protestant ministry, I never met a Catholic who knew that John 3: 3-8 describes the sacrament of Baptism. It wasn't hard to convince them to disregard the sacraments along with the Church that emphasized the sacraments.
Proverbs says: "He who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him" (18: 17). Catholics without a scriptural foundation for their Catholic beliefs never hear "the rest of the story." My selective use of scripture made the Protestant perspective seem so absolutely sure. Over time, this one-sided approach to scripture caused Catholics to reject their Catholic faith.
3: Accuse the Catholic church of denying salvation by grace.
Catholics often consider Protestants who proselytize to be bigoted, narrow-minded, or prejudiced.
This is unfair and inaccurate; a profound charity energizes their misguided zeal.
There was only one reason I led Catholics out of the Church: I thought they were on their way to hell. I mistakenly thought the Catholic Church denied that salvation was by grace; I knew that anyone who believed this wasn't going to heaven. Out of love for their immortal souls, I worked tirelessly to convert them.
I used Ephesians 2: 8-9 to convince Catholics that it was imperative for them to leave the Church:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.
First I would say, "The Bible says that salvation is by grace and not by works. Right?" Their answer was always yes. Then I would say, "The Catholic Church teaches that salvation is by works. Right?" (I never met a Catholic who did not say yes. Every Catholic I met during my twenty years of ministry confirmed my misconception that Catholicism taught salvation is by works instead of grace.) Finally, I would declare, "The Catholic Church is leading people to hell by denying salvation is by grace. You'd better join a church that teaches the true way to heaven."
Because I would also do a "touch and go" in Ephesians, I rarely quoted verse 10 which says, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Listen carefully to stadium evangelists, televangelists, and radio preachers. Nine times out of ten they will quote Ephesians 2: 8-9 with great emphasis and never mention verse 10.
We are not slaves futilely trying to earn salvation by doing "works of the law" (Eph.
2: 8-9). Yet as sons of God we are inspired and energized by the Holy Spirit to do "good works" as we cooperate with our heavenly father in extending the Kingdom of God (Eph. 2: 10). Catholicism believes and teaches the full message of Ephesians 2: 8-10, without equivocating or abbreviating the truth.
For twenty centuries the Catholic Church has faithfully taught that salvation is by grace.
For twenty centuries the Catholic Church has faithfully taught that salvation is by grace. Peter the first pope said, "We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved" (Acts 15: 11). The Catechism of the Catholic Church, fully endorsed by Pope John Paul II, says, "Our justification comes from the grace of God" (section 1996).
Protestantism started when Martin Luther declared that we are justified (made righteous) by faith alone. At the time I was leading Catholics out of the Church, I wasn't aware that Martin Luther had added the word alone to his translation of Romans 3: 28 in order to prove his doctrine. (The word alone is not found in any contemporary Protestant English translation of Romans 3: 28.) I didn't realize that the only place the bible mentions "faith alone" in the context of salvation is in James 2: 24, where the idea of faith alone is explicitly refuted: "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone." This verse was troubling, but I either ignored it, or twisted it to mean something other that what the verse and its context clearly taught.
Should Catholics participate in Protestant events?
I have no objection to Catholics participating in Protestant-oriented events and worthwhile ecumenical activities provided that:
- they have a firm grasp of their Catholic faith.
- they know their faith well enough to articulate it to a non-Catholic, using scripture and the Church fathers.
- they have the maturity to realize that the most profound presence of Christ isn't necessarily found in the midst of loud noise and high emotion, but in quiet moments like Eucharistic adoration (see 1 Kings 19: 11-12).
Unfortunately, the majority of Catholic men born after WWII don't meet the above conditions.
For them, attending Protestant functions may be opening a door that will lead them right out of the Catholic Church.
There are now thousands of Catholic men on the brink of leaving the one Church Christ died to establish. I recently heard of a group of Catholic men who decided not to consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church in their small-group bible study. They believed that all they needed was scripture alone.
Three of these men claimed that they no longer believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I can tell you from experience where this group is headed: straight out of the Catholic Church.
Over the past three decades, thousands of Catholics have left the Church for Protestant pastures. The largest church in America is the Catholic Church; the second largest group of Christians in America is former-Catholics. The Catholic men's movement has a solemn obligation to help men discover the biblical and historical roots of their Catholic faith. Then, rather than leaving, they will become instruments to help others discover the treasures of Catholicism.
Remember that a man who leaves the Church will often take his family with him — for generations.
Remember that a man who leaves the Church will often take his family with him — for generations. It took my family four hundred years — 10 generations to come back to the Church after a generation of my ancestors in Norway, England, Germany and Scotland decided to leave the Catholic Church.
As one whose family has made the round-trip back to Catholicism, let me extend a personal plea to Catholic men, especially the leaders of various Catholic men's groups: don't put untrained Catholics in a Protestant setting. They might gain a short-term religious experience, but they take the long-term risk of losing their faith. It would be highly irresponsible to expose them to Protestantism before they are fully exposed to Catholicism.
At my dad's funeral twenty-nine years ago, I tearfully sang his favorite hymn, Faith of Our Fathers. Little did my dad, a minister's son, or I realize that the true faith of our forefathers was Roman Catholicism. Every day I thank God for bringing me back to the ancient Church of my ancestors. Every year God gives me breath on this earth I will keep proclaiming to both my Protestant brethren and to cradle Catholics the glorious faith of our fathers.
Wood, Steve. "How I led Catholics Out of the Church." St. Joseph's Covenant Newsletter 4 no. 2 (March/April 1998).
Reprinted with permission of St. Joseph's Covenant Newsletter.
St. Joseph's Covenant Keepers (i.e. SJCK) is an informal international network of Christian men, under the patronage of St. Joseph, dedicated to strengthening the family.
Steve Wood is the founder of St. Joseph's Covenant Keepers (SJCK), a dynamic apostolate for Catholic men. For more information on SJCK, or to find out about men's conferences in your area, please call 1-800-705-6131 or (941) 764-7725.Copyright © 1998 dads.org
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