Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why Roman Catholics are Leaving the Church in Mass

 Norman Geisler wrote a post about Catholic becoming protestant a vise-versa.

True, there are a few intellectual evangelicals who are becoming Roman Catholic, but the overall trend is in the other direction. Actually, the Roman Church is hemorrhaging members. A 2007 Pew Foundation survey revealed that Catholics have experienced the greatest net loss of any American religion. Were it not for immigrant Catholics, the percent of Catholics in America would be decreasing. In 1997 a Catholic sociologist reported that one in seven Hispanic Catholics was abandoning the church. According to World Magazine (Jan. 15, 2011), the number is nearly one in five. And it is almost one in four for second-generation Latinos. This is good news and bad news. It is bad news in that most of those who leave Rome are claiming no religion at all. It is good news for evangelicalism since 40 percent of those who leave the Roman Church are becoming evangelical.
It is interesting that the trend is for people to leave Catholicism. It is a minority who of those who leave that actually become  evangelical. The reality is that mainline protestant churches are experiencing an exodus as well. People are leaving Christianity. Some are church hopping but many are just church stopping. They just don't go anymore. 

Why is that? Many will say the church is becoming irrelevant. Has God become irrelevant? No. But people don't see the church as a place to connect with God. A big part of that is because people are more aware than ever about doctrinal differences. They see any church as just one opinion about God rather than God's revelation of Himself. Why devote yourself to that?

Why do a few intellectual evangelicals become Catholics?  Many reasons are given.  It is an older, deeper, richer, more intellectual tradition.  Or, to summarize one recent convert, “My family is Catholic.  They wanted me to return, and the Bible says we should honor our parents!” It is clear that none of these are a test for the truth of a religion, and by the same logic one could argue for becoming a Hindu, Buddhist, or even an atheist.
This is just disappointing.I have read a ton of conversion stories. This summary reminds me of exactly zero of them. The conversions have many themes. Most center on the problems with Sola Scriptura. Truth claims are very seriously considered. Saying converts are not concerned with the truth of their religion is mind-boggling in it's inaccuracy.

We have weighed all of these reasons (in Is Rome the True Church?) and found them wanting.  As for the appeal of the intellectual tradition, I have a Ph.D. in philosophy from a Jesuit institution and have never once been tempted to become a Roman Catholic.  If you want to compare the two, read our book, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences.  My co-author Ralph MacKenzie and I both have Catholicism in our background.  We have studied both sides carefully, and we see no reason to swim the Tiber.
First of all, he claims to have "weighed all of these reasons." But his previous statement shows he is clueless about what those reasons are. This is shocking because he is considered one of the protestant experts on the subject. He think that just because he went to a Jesuit school he understands the faith. What he understands is liberal Catholics. I understand why he does not find that philosophy appealing.

The really misleading thing is his co-author of "Is Rome the True Church?" has become Catholic. So he trumpets the fact that he and one of his co-authors remain solidly protestant. But he ignores Joshua Bellancourt who actually did swim the Tiber and has the same status as Ralph MacKenzie. He seems to be trying to tell his readers they don't have to study the issue. We are smart guys. We studied it. Nothing to see here. Just keep walking. 
On the other hand, why are so many former Catholics becoming evangelical?  In short, they are having a personal experience with God through Christ that they never found in Romanism.  As one of my liturgical friends once put it to me, “The problem with our church is that we tend to confuse lace and grace.”  
It is interesting he describes a person as a "liturgical friend." That means he is not actually Catholic but in one of those churches evangelicals see as pretty much the same thing? If he does not understand the difference then he really does not grasp the Catholic doctrine of the church. That is a central doctrine for many protestants and he seems oblivious to it.
Evangelical converts from Rome like Christ Castaldo (see his, Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic) say they feel a liberation from ritual and a freedom of guilt they never had in Romanism. 
He complained, wrongly, that converts were not engaging in a "test for truth." I don't see any test for truth here. I see an appeal to feelings. There may well be something positive that has happened in these people's spiritual lives. It could also be very bad. The point is nobody is claiming to have found a more reliable source of truth. They claim the doctrine is better from a purely subjective perspective. By the same logic one could argue for becoming a Hindu, Buddhist, or even an atheist.
Tens of thousands of these Catholic converts end up in one of the large Calvary Chapel churches where they are singing God-centered praise music and being taught the Word of God verse-by-verse.  This is something that Rome with all its layers of tradition has lost.  Thomas Aquinas (13th cent.), who was more of a pre-Protestant, taught the Bible verse by verse.  
So Calvary Chapel and St Thomas Aquinas are basically the same thing? I don't know what Jesuit school he studied at but they should give him his money back. The reality is it is Catholics who teach the bible verse by verse. They go through the lectionary just like St Thomas did. Calvary Chapel lets the pastor preach on whatever verses he wants. He can ignore as much as he wants too.

By the way, another word for pre-Protestant is Catholic. St Thomas believed that if you reject one article of faith taught by the church you had no faith at all. You didn't even have a dead faith. You simply believed the other articles of the faith by coincidence and none of your beliefs were really based on faith. Does that sound protestant? 
But what we know of as “Roman” Catholicism today, with its belief in works being necessary for salvation, the veneration of and prayers to Mary, the worship of the consecrated host, buying indulgences, Purgatory, adding apocryphal books (which supports praying for the dead) to the inspired Scripture, and bowing to the infallibility of the Pope, simply cannot compete with the simplicity of the evangelical Gospel: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31). 
This is classic protestant question begging. The contradiction between Catholicism and scripture is obvious. So obvious it does not need to be demonstrated. He seems to imply that this is not the Catholicism that St Thomas Aquinas believed. Of course that is not true. During his day they actually did buy indulgences. That is no longer the case. We can receive them for other acts or penance but not for alms-giving.

The phrase "adding apocryphal books to the inspired Scripture" is quite strange as well. Is he that clueless about the history of the bible? Does he really think Catholics took this pristine protestant bible and messed with it? Maybe he is just counting on his audience to be ignorant.

So, while we are losing a few intellectual egg-heads out the top of evangelicalism to Rome, we are gaining tens of thousands of converts out the bottom from Catholicism.  The trade-off highly favors evangelicalism.  
He seems to have a problem with faith and reason. That evangelicalism can ignore the serious problems in it's intellectual foundations because it is about appealing to the masses. He would love to give a reasoned response. He can't.  Evangelicalism is unreasonable at it's core. So he is arguing that it does not matter. It is about marketing and protestants are better at that than Catholics. I prefer truth.
So, invite a Catholic to your Bible study or church.  There is a good possibility that they will get saved!  They have a least been pre-evangelized by Roman Catholicism to believe in God, miracles, Christ, His death and resurrection.  
Is he saying Catholics are not saved? Is he saying  St Thomas Aquinas is not saved? It is not clear. This is about marketing remember. Don't ask to many questions.
Once they find that works are not a necessary condition for salvation (Rom. 4:5; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:3-6) but that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, they will make great evangelical Christians.  They will realize that we can’t work for grace but that we do work from grace.
Often what this amounts to is telling Catholics that the Catholic church teaches something it does not. The idea of "we can’t work for grace but that we do work from grace" is very Catholic. Again showing an astounding ignorance of Catholicism for a protestant who has written multiple books on the subject. Once you leave the realm of truth and focus on numbers then why stick to the facts? I know few protestants knowingly preach falsehoods. But these lies remain accepted more because they work than any other reason.

The reality is Catholics need to know their faith. Many simply accept what the protestant marketing tells them Catholic believe. How many Catholics can make the distinctions that this last paragraph glosses over? Not many compared to the size of the church. As long as that remains true then protestants will be able to define our faith for us.


  1. Great points. Did you see Eric Sammons' post on Geisler's article?

  2. Thanks for the link Brandon. He focuses on the "intellectual egg-heads" comment. This is actually typical of protestant comments on Catholicism. Lots of passing references to huge subjects. So it is hard to respond in full. Francis Beckwith picks up another line from this short post and writes a ling response. I wrote another post on the last paragraph. Getting these issues right just takes more effort than the dismissive comments he made. It is a tribute to his stature that such a poorly written post gets so much attention. If James White had written this nobody would bother.

  3. Nice fisk, Randy. You're right: Geisler's analysis is a mile wide and an inch deep. He's so fixated on pshaw-ing the Evangelical "eggheads" who swim the Tiber that he can't see the even bigger problems threating both Catholic and Protestant alike.