Why I'm Not Catholic [Excerpts]
Ulf Ekman, the influential founder of the 3,300-member Word of Life church in Sweden stunned the evangelical movement earlier this month by announcing he is leaving his charismatic congregation to join the Roman Catholic Church.
The high-profile conversion of Ekman is just the latest in a string of evangelicals “crossing the Tiber” and becoming Catholics. In 2007, Francis Beckwith, a Baylor University philosophy professor, resigned as president of the Evangelical Theological Society after rejoining the Roman Catholic Church. Beckwith, who was raised as a Catholic, was “born again” as an evangelical during the height of the countercultural "Jesus movement" in the 1970s.
Other prominent evangelicals who have crossed the Tiber include Sam Brownback, Scott Hahn, and Richard John Neuhaus. Many have fled what they (sometimes rightly) see as the ahistorical, unrooted shallowness of evangelicalism. According to Adam Omelianchuk, a Protestant writing in the Catholic thought journal First Things, “This lack of formal theological identity is perhaps the most influential reason why evangelicals find themselves attracted to the Roman Catholic Church.”
As impressive as these conversion stories are, this evangelical is not crossing the Tiber.
First, Catholics do not believe in justification by grace through faith. Though some Protestants and Catholics have worked to close this theological gap, the fact remains that Catholics assert that works are necessary in order to be saved. Beckwith says, “The Catholic Church frames the Christian life as one in which you must exercise virtue—not because virtue saves you, but because that's the way God's grace gets manifested.”
The New Testament, however, insists that grace comes first, that salvation is purely by God’s grace through faith alone. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” Paul says in Ephesians:2:8-9, “not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
To ensure that this truth is not missed, Paul insists, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Rom:3:21-25a) We contribute nothing to our salvation. Christ did it all.
Roman Catholic theology tragically blurs this vital point. Many Christians have died for this truth, and evangelicals should not abandon it.
Further, if my works are required for my salvation, then Christ’s death was somehow insufficient. This contradicts the repeated witness of the New Testament. And if my works are required to get saved, then they are required to stay saved. In other words, my salvation can be lost. In Roman Catholicism, there can be no true assurance of salvation. We never know if we have “done enough.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. We can lose this priceless gift…. To live, grow, and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the Word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be ‘working through charity,’ abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church.”
That’s not what Scripture promises. As Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John:5:24)
Then there is the question of authority. Protestants broke away from Rome also because of the doctrine of sola scriptura, which says that our final authority as believers rests not in popes or councils but in God’s Word (cf. Deut. 4:2; Rev:22:18–19). Catholics add church tradition and certain statements of the pope. As the Catechism insists, the Church “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”
Critics are right that Protestants and evangelicals are too fragmented, and that this is a poor witness to a watching world (see John:17:20)....But at least Protestant disunity allows people to search the Bible for themselves (1 Tim:2:15) and to blessedly expect access to God without mediators, because Jesus is our only Mediator (1 Tim:2:5). Unfortunately, the Roman Catholic Church is full of mediators—priests, popes, and saints. It generally does not encourage its people to go to God directly but to access Him through these mediators.