Another Catholic reformation is under way. You in?
Of course, they chose that route because the they diagnosed the problems in the Church as not merely moral but doctrinal, though they couldn’t agree on what the correct doctrine was.
Today, it’s not clear to me that most evangelicals really have a problem with most of actual Catholicism. Catholics believe people are saved only by Jesus, who is God incarnate and the only one worthy of our worship; we believe in the absolute necessity of God’s grace and mercy for salvation; we believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and final in all it says; we believe in sin and judgement, heaven and hell, the desperate need for evangelism, for repentance, faith, hope, and love, etc.
Yes, there are areas of significant disagreement: the precise nature of justification, the number of books in the Old Testament, the role of oral Tradition, the Sacraments, etc. But that’s why we have a Church, which Scripture calls “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3.15): to correct us when we’re wrong. Choosing a church because it agrees with one’s theology is the opposite of how the Church is supposed to work.
And while certain evangelical leaders are obviously very committed to their particular permutation of these doctrines, I’m not sure how committed most run-of-the-mill evangelicals really are to these positions. If you’re an evangelical who is more interested in “just following Jesus” than continuing the intractable theological debates of the last few centuries, I’d like to suggest to you that you don’t have a good reason to remain Protestant, since it was those debates that caused the schism in the first place. In fact, the living Magisterium of the Church may be precisely what you are looking for: with its principled authority, grounded in Christ, to set boundaries for interpreting Scripture and settle disagreements, it provides a way for people to move past endless bickering (but without abandoning theology altogether) and better focus on following Jesus.
Of course, as I’ve already said, lived Catholicism has problems. But I’d like to challenge you to view the problems differently. Rather than using the problems as ammo against Christian unity, can you help us improve things?
In other words, can you take the best things of evangelicalism – your zeal for evangelism, your knowledge of Scripture, your creative engagement of the culture, etc – and bring them with you to the Catholic Church to enrich her from the inside?
If you lament that most Catholics don’t know Scripture, for example, then come to the Catholic Church and start Bible studies. If you lament that Catholics aren’t evangelizing, start an evangelization training program for Catholics. Or whatever you feel inspired to do. But try to fix the problems.
And you wouldn’t be totally alone. You may be surprised to learn that many former evangelicals are already doing this. Indeed, in just the last few decades there’s been a stunning turn of history, one that no one in the not-so-distant past could have seen coming: from the rubble of the heretical, scandalous, sacrilegious nonsense that’s been eating away at the Catholic Church the last few decades, God has apparently chosen to bring about part of His reform through a small but significant trickle of conversions to the faith from a group that has historically taken Catholicism to be its worst sworn enemy: evangelical Protestantism.
Really, who saw that coming? But that’s God for you.
Spend some time in Catholic circles, and you quickly find that many (though certainly not all) of the Catholics who are leading new ministries, coming up with new programs, or otherwise trying to reinvigorate authentic Catholic life are converts from evangelicalism.
But there’s a lot of work to do.
Which is why we need you.
The door’s open. I’m inviting you to come back to full communion with the Catholic Church so we can work together to do what the Protestant reformers should have done: reform the Church Christ gave us.
I’ll warn you up front: it’s hard work. Sometimes it’ll seem like we’re not making any progress. We’ll get resistance from Catholics comfortable with the status quo, and might sometimes feel tempted to pull another Luther. But I truly believe that if, like the saints before us, with utter dependence on God’s grace, we persevere in humility, patience, prayer, and daily personal conversion, we can make a difference.
Then, strengthened with all of the gifts of the Body of Christ working together in the way Christ intended, we can more effectively go save some souls.
Brantly Millegan is an Assistant Editor for Aleteia. He is also Co-Editor of Second Nature and Co-Director of the International Institute for the Study of Technology and Christianity. He is finishing up a M.A. in Theology at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity and will begin working on a Ph.D. in theology at the Catholic University of America this fall. He lives with his wife and children in South St. Paul, MN. His personal website is brantlymillegan.com.