Why Roman Catholics are Leaving the Roman Catholic Church in Mass
Norman L. Geisler
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.
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. 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.
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.” 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. 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. 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).
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. 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. 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.
Dr. Geisler is the author of Should Old Aquinas Be Forgotten? Many Say Yes but the Author Says No. (Bastion Books:2013), What Augustine Says (Bastion Books:2013), Is the Pope Infallible: A Look at the Evidence (Bastion Books:2012), Is Rome the True Church? A Consideration of the Roman Catholic Claim (Crossway Books:2008), and Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Baker Academic:1995). For additional resources by Dr. Geisler on Roman Catholicism, please visit http://normangeisler.com/rcc/.
Yes, the “in Mass” is a play on en masse. 😉