Why Protestants are Becoming Catholic at my Parish
When evangelicals and fundamentalists and mainline Protestants enter my classroom for Inclusion, they are coming because something about Catholicism is speaking to their soul. They are drawn to it. It used to be "My wife is Catholic and so we want to have one religion in the home." Now it's the liturgy, the moral teachings of the Church, the Eucharist, or the Pope (current, past, or the institution itself). The Catholic Church is historical, they tell me. Their churches change every six months, depending on what book or conference their pastor is currently investing in.
Not a single soul comes into my Inclusion program because they love praise bands, felt banners, or watered-down doctrine. The non-Catholics come because Christ and his Church is preached. We talk about Heaven and Hell, Apostolic Authority, the Church as the Universal Sacrament of Salvation, the death and resurrection of Jesus, grace, justification, and how to have a living faith in Jesus Christ.
Everything I do is place within the concept of authentic Christian discipleship. That is the language that evangelical Christians can understand.
What they do not understand is how millions of evangelicals reading the same New Testament can radically disagree over basic matters of doctrine. The more they study their own faith, or the Bible, the more uncertain they become. The disunity within the Protestant world is a sign that something is fundamentally broken.
They see prayerful, studious, and holy men and women encounter the same Christ in the Gospels, but return with radically different results. For instance, some Sola Scriptura Protestants sound very Catholic when it comes to infant baptism, sacraments, and liturgy. Yet, reading the same New Testament, others Christian preachers and theologians could not be more anti-sacrament, anti-liturgy, or anti-infant-baptism (I once heard Paul Washer, a Reformed Baptist preacher, call infant baptism "the golden calf of the Reformation").
When I teach Inclusion, I show them how the Hierarchical, the Sacramental, the Heraldic, the Mystical, and the Servant models of the Church are found in their fullness in the Catholic Church. Evangelicals are only equipped to see the Church as either Herald or Servant. Many Catholics are often only equipped to see the Church as Hierarchy or Sacrament. These models of the Church tend to have inherent strengths and weaknesses, and have allies and adversaries among the models. The manifestation of certain charisms are embraced or shunned based on what model your parish or diocese or religious order tends towards. No one has opened my eyes more to this than Sherry Weddell, especially Fruitful Discipleship.
Yet, Cardinal Dulles showed us years ago that the notion of "Communion of Disciples" is a kind of super model that unites the 5 other models of Church. When I deliver the Inclusion lectures or build my Community Groups at my parish, this is the goal towards which I'm working. I want evangelical heralds and servants to embrace the institutional, sacramental, and mystical dimensions of the Church. And that is exactly what they want. They see this as something deep that they are missing.
The devastation which Sola Scriptura has wrought to many an evangelical’s heart and mind cannot be overstated. Men and women who are constantly left "on their own" to map out every doctrine and belief for themselves, without extensive studies in ancient literature, history, or languages, are burning out on faith.
One man, a young reformed baptist, questioned his blessed assurance because his friend fell away from faith and his pastor said "He probably never had saving faith to begin with." His response: "Well, do I? How do I know that I'm saved?"
What about the rapture and tribulation? One preacher, speaking on the doctrine of the Incarnation, says he believes nothing has caused more division the Protestant world then pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib eschatology, which is why he lectures on the Incarnation and leaves that whole argument alone.
What about salvation and justification, the central issues of the Reformation? There is a huge division over whether or not one may have Jesus as his or her Savior without having him as Lord over their life. Pastor David Platt rails against the “superstitious notion” that one can pray the Sinner’s prayer once and expect to be saved. Pastor Francis Chan mocked the thought that one can claim the salvation of Christ without following Christ. Yet, other pastors mocked this as “works-righteousness” and contrary to the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
What is the average person supposed to do with all of this? They look for authority in Scripture, rightfully so, and they desire to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, but when they look around they see division and are looking for a way out. They need a solution to a very faith-upsetting problem.
Inclusion is helpful because we start with this desire to be a disciple of Jesus and then ask of Jesus, “How do I follow you faithfully?” Jesus did not start Christianity. He had no intention of being the founder of a world religion. He started the Church, a communion of disciples, a definite and visible body of believers who lived and worshipped together and who received the Apostles’ instructions. As Acts 2:42 illustrates so beautifully and simply, "And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."
This apostolic authority and lineage in the life of the Church becomes for most of the men and women who come to my Inclusion class the very solution to their Sola Scriptura problem. There is an answer and it's the biblical answer, to the problem of conflicting accounts, doctrines, and pathways of following Jesus Christ, and that's the Church's authority. It is from this disciple's vantage point that we begin our ecclesiology.