Former Catholics

Baptist pastors in my neck of the woods will sometimes preach warning sermons on the errors of “Roman Catholicism.” The pastor will stand up and repeat the silly talk he heard in seminary about how Catholics worship Mary, the saints, statues, and pretty much everybody and everything but God. He will thunder against the nonexistent Catholic belief that a second chance at salvation, called “purgatory,” is extended to people after they die. He will rail against that supposed Catholic doctrine of “works righteousness.” And he will then sometimes point to certain members of the congregation who, by the grace of God, have escaped the “false Roman system” and have been born again. The pastor himself, in some cases, may be one of those people.

This kind of testimony, the “I was a member of the false, perverted cult known as Roman Catholicism” story, is generally given a great deal of credence in Evangelical circles. After all, why should we not believe someone who actually bought into those false doctrines before they got saved?

I know a woman who was raised in a predominantly Methodist family. In her youth she was indifferent to religious issues, but as she reached middle age she experienced a profound conversion. Her devotion to God grew by leaps and bounds when she discovered the charismatic movement. She was fond of telling people that Methodists had no concept of the Holy Spirit. Thank God she had found the truth in the charismatic assemblies she attended! If only Methodists knew about God the Holy Spirit – what a difference this would make to their theology!

That woman was a relative of mine, and she was very sincere in her belief that the Methodist church was completely ignorant when it came to the third Person of the Trinity. Of course, any Methodist with some theological background could have set her straight on that – John Wesley’s “The Witness of the Spirit,” “The First Fruits of the Spirit,” “The More Excellent Way,” and “Scriptural Christianity” come to mind. But by that point she no longer consorted with theologically knowledgeable Methodists. All her friends were now charismatics, most of whom also spoke disdainfully (and generally not too terribly knowledgeably) about the denominations they had left behind. It is not the Methodist denomination that has a deficient theological understanding of the Holy Spirit; it was my relative who had a deficient understanding of the Holy Spirit when she was a Methodist.

This needs to be borne in mind when one considers the number of former Catholics ready to swear on a stack of Bibles that they never heard the Gospel in the Catholic Church. I would be willing to grant them that – they never HEARD the Gospel in the Catholic Church. But I guarantee you, the Gospel was being preached. It is impossible for a Catholic parish not to preach the Gospel, as long as that parish sticks to the liturgy, for the liturgy contains all the elements of the Gospel. A youth minister at a Baptist church my daughter was visiting made the remark that, as a former Catholic, he had never been exposed to Bible stories when he was growing up. The loud snort issuing forth from my daughter’s nose caused several worshippers around her to nearly drop their King James Bibles. She had just come from Mass and had sat through several rather longish readings including the story of Moses striking the rock, a Psalm, a reading from St. Paul, and then the Gospel story of the woman at the well – pretty typical readings for a normal Catholic Mass. When she got home, she asked me, “What exactly was that guy doing when he attended Mass???” Not listening, that’s for sure.

Liturgy of the hours in a monastery of Carthusian nuns

The Internet appears to be full of stories by former priests and nuns who would have us believe that they were never exposed to a word of Holy Scripture till they became “Bible-believing Christians.” This, despite the fact that Catholics priests as well as members of male and female religious orders are required to pray the Liturgy of the Hours (click on the tabs at the top of the page which say “Invitatory Prayer,” Office of Readings,” “Morning Prayer,” “Daytime Prayer,” “Evening Prayer” and “Night Prayer” to see how much Scripture is involved). One would assume that these folks might attend Mass with some regularity as well. Between the two, it’s pretty obvious that they would be exposed to a considerable chunk of Scripture on a daily basis. What accounts for the discrepancy? I don’t care to speculate, but as they say, you do the math. There’s simply no way that they were never exposed to the Bible….

So, take these “I escaped the horrors of the false Romanist system” stories with a grain of salt. If you really want to know what the Catholic Church teaches, get a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – it’s all right there in black-and-white. If you want to know how much Scripture is actually read at Mass, visit the nearest Catholic parish some Sunday morning. It never hurts to check things out for yourself!

On the memorial of St. Peter Claver

Deo omnis gloria!

  1. Went through this with a ‘fine tooth comb’, and concluded what would make very good companion reading, would be Richard Bennett’s compilation of 50 Roman Catholic Priest’s personal testimony’s of how and why they left the Roman Catholic Church, and became, Born Again Christians. The book is called, ” FAR FROM ROME, NEAR TO GOD “.
    If you can’t get a copy locally, contact Johan Lubbe of Judah Christian Bookshop in Alberton ( your old town ) tel. (0)11 867-3747

  2. ABSOLUTELY, and thank you for bringing that up, Hope. As I wrote in my conversion story:

    “It took months before I was brave enough to cross the threshold of a Catholic church, and months more before I got up the courage to enroll in RCIA. All the while I was studying, dissecting Catholic doctrine, comparing Protestant explanations of the “errors of Romanism” to the actual beliefs of the Catholic Church. I had done this before with Mormon beliefs and Jehovah’s Witness beliefs, and I had found the Protestant apologetic materials to be reliable guides. However, this time a disturbing trend emerged. The Protestant argument against a particular Catholic teaching would seem rock-solid at first glance. But when I persevered in my investigation, the Catholic answer to the argument would make a great deal of sense, and many times the Protestant argument would fall apart completely.”

    I absolutely endorse the thorough investigation of BOTH sides of the story, Protestant and Catholic. How can you have an informed opinion on this subject if you only read what Catholic authors have written? How can you stand before Jesus to give an account and say,” But, Lord, I read Far From Rome, Near to God and that was as far as I investigated the subject of which church You established…”? You must investigate both sides of the issue THOROUGHLY!

    At the local Baptist university there is a 400-level class for seminary students entitled “Roman Catholicism.” The textbook for that class is James McCarthy’s The Gospel According to Rome. McCarthy was raised Catholic, and his arguments sound very convincing. Of course, the seminary students SHOULD also be assigned Gary Michuta’s excellent response, The Gospel According to James McCarthy. They would be able to see for themselves that many of McCarthy’s arguments which seem rock-solid at first glance actually fall apart when compared with authentic Catholic teaching (as opposed to McCarthy’s understanding of Catholic teaching) on a given subject. Sadly, that book is not assigned (or even suggested) reading.

    So, yes, I wholeheartedly advocate thoroughly informing yourself on the subject of Catholicism. Far From Rome, Near To God is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

    Thank you, Hope, for bringing that up so charitably.

  3. Scott W said:

    Hi Renee,
    Many of us who came of age in 70s & 80s Catholicism were not handed on the basic Gospel, much less the full faith. Yes, Bible readings were said at mass, but then every other part of the service (particularly the homily), parish education and the whole Catholic milieu rendered the Gospel “safe” and unchallenging to modern American sensibilities. So many of those former Catholics are correct when they say they were cheated of the Christian faith as Catholics. Things were so bad, that when I came back to the faith from practical atheism six years ago, I wanted nothing to do with a regular parish–I would only go to traditional latin mass parishes (where I knew they passed on the faith). It took three years as a Catholic before I was willing to go to regular parishes and hear the regular mass again. Peace, Scott

  4. Scott,
    I was born and raised Protestant, with my last Catholic ancestor passing away nearly 100 years ago – and she gave up her “Catholicism” to marry my Protestant great-grandfather. You can say that my background was 100% undiluted Protestantism. When I became convinced of the truth of Catholic teachings, I was UPSET. Why had I never heard this before??? Your charitable comments have thrown a great deal of light on that issue. Catholics can’t transmit a Faith that they don’t understand. When I attend Mass, I hear the Gospel loudly proclaimed. But no matter how incredibly uplifting the Mass may be – if you don’t get it, you can’t pass it on.

    Have you considered sharing your reversion story with Why I’m Catholic? Many cradle Catholics read those stories, and you really have something to say to them! A “safe” Gospel will never, never convert the world!

    Please comment often! 🙂



  5. H. Hobbit said:

    Just found your blog today via Pulpit. I’m looking forward to more of your posts. I am not a member of the Catholic Church at this time, but I have been studying the faith for years, and I know there is no where else I want to be. I am surrounded by protestants– most of whom are horrified by my ever-increasing interest in Catholicism. I love articles that help me sort out so many of the misunderstandings. It helps me be able to defend the Church– which I find I must often do within my social circle. You have a gentle tone, and the entries I have seen here are such that I could pass onto protestant friends. Thank you for the time and effort it takes to write. 🙂

    • H. Hobbit,
      I too am “surrounded by Protestants” – central Virginia may not be the buckle of the Bible Belt, but we certainly are doing more than our fair share to hold up the pants of Protestantism! 🙂 I know how you must feel. I have a friend who attended Moody Bible Institute, and my family members are all fervent Protestants (including clergy) of one stripe or another. If I had a dime for every time I’ve had to explain that Catholics DO NOT worship Mary, I would be blogging from the Bahamas rather than from central VA.

      When I became a Catholic, I was really angry. I felt that the truth about the Catholic Church had been kept from me. I gradually realized that most of the “deception” was actually inadvertent, just a matter of clueless people spreading misinformation to other clueless people who then also passed that misinformation on. When I realized that I had been one of those clueless people, I decided that anger was an inappropriate response. I am eager to share the TRUTH that I discovered concerning the Catholic Church, so that people can be better informed and make up their own minds!

      Thank you so much. I will endeavor to remember you and keep my comments “gentle.” Please keep us updated on your journey and how it’s going. There are some lovely people here in our “blog family”, and we will all be praying for you!


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