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An Open Letter to Evangelicals: “We Need You”

Matt Wagers
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Another Catholic reformation is under way. You in?

To my evangelical friends,

I admire you. I really do. And you might be surprised that many other Catholics admire you, too.

We admire your knowledge of Scripture and your Bible studies. We admire your zeal for evangelism and missions. We admire your willingness to publicly stand for your faith even when it means you’ll be made fun of or humiliated.

But most of all, we admire your deep love of Jesus. What can possibly matter more?

These are all things the Catholic Church has, of course, but we Catholics don’t always live out our faith very well.

Yes, everyone has sin, evangelicals included (you’d be the first to admit this), but I know you’re the real deal because I was raised in an evangelical congregation and attended Wheaton College, the so-called “Harvard of evangelical schools.” Some of the most prayerful, loving followers of Christ I’ve ever known are evangelical Christians.

Nonetheless, in 2010, about a month before I graduated from Wheaton, I joined the Catholic Church.

Before I lose you, let me say this isn't just another conversion story – I’m going somewhere with this.

I didn’t join the Catholic Church because I thought Catholics had the best programs or the best preaching. It wasn’t that I was disillusioned by hypocritical evangelicals or thought the Catholic Church was scandal-free (heard of any scandals in the Catholic Church?). Nor did I join the Church because I thought I personally connected better with liturgy or something.

No, I joined the Catholic Church because of something I’m sure you can relate to: I wanted to follow Jesus. And I was convinced the Catholic Church was the place established by Christ where people are supposed to do that.

But that doesn’t mean I look back at my time as an evangelical negatively. On the contrary, I and many other evangelical-to-Catholic converts are immensely grateful for all the great things we received from evangelicalism. I’m sad to say it but I probably wouldn’t know Scripture as well as I do today if I had been raised Catholic. Indeed, my time as an evangelical prepared me to be a better Catholic.

Which brings me to main point of this letter: we need you.

There are many parts of the Body of Christ, St. Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, each with a unique but indispensable role. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (vs. 21) As baptized Christians, evangelicals have gifts the Church needs to effectively carry out her mission of saving souls – gifts we’re sorely missing out on.

I’m referring to a problem many of you are already troubled by: the Body of Christ is suffering in her witness of the Gospel because we aren’t united and working together.

Now, as I’ve explained elsewhere, I don’t think sola scriptura is good enough to establish unity among Christians. We’re several centuries into the Protestant project, and I think it’s clear to everyone it only leads to endless splintering, lowest-common-denominator pluralism, and lonerism. But not the Church.

For that, I think we have to go back to the source: the Church of the ages, the Church of the martyrs and saints, the Church founded by Christ, with bishops in succession back to the Apostles, the Universal (aka Catholic) Church. That’s what I’ve done.

But hold on a second, you say, isn’t the Catholic Church corrupt? Didn’t she need a reformation?

The Catholic Church is always in need of reformation, at least when it comes to the holiness and faithfulness of her members. It was true in the 1st century, it was true in the 16th century, and it’s still true today.

And that’s where you come in. We need your help with another authentic Catholic reformation.

You see, the Protestant reformers weren’t the first people to seek Christian reform. Many of the Church’s greatest saints were reformers during times of terrible corruption and unfaithfulness. You might already look up to some of them: St. Gregory the Great, St. Benedict of Nursia, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis of Assisi, and many others.

But don’t you remember the message St. Francis of Assisi heard from Jesus? If you’re unfamiliar with the story, he was praying in a small, crumbling country chapel when Jesus spoke to him from the crucifix, “Francis, repair my Church, for it is in ruins.” Francis originally took this to be a command to repair the church building, but it became clear as time went on that God had called him to reform the Church spiritually.

Notice Francis was called to repair the Church, not start a new one. We need to build up the Church Jesus founded, not take it on ourselves to start Church v.2.0.

This is the difference between the saints and the Protestant reformers. The saints sought reform from within the Church, whereas the Protestant reformers chose schism – and we’ve been dealing with the disastrous results ever since.

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