This post is by Jesus Florez, a Proven Catholic apologist.
In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus declared He would draw all men to Himself. He also affirmed that there would be one flock and one shepherd.
This is a clear indication that our Lord Jesus intended unity to characterize the new people He would gather around Himself. The early Christians were clearly aware of this. St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in the early second century to St. Polycarp “let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation”.
Ut Unum Sint
According to Scripture and Tradition, the Catholic Church believes that the unity Christ willed for the new people of God is one of a common faith, worship, and government: doctrine, liturgy, Magisterium.
Throughout the centuries there have been many heresies and schisms that have threatened to sever these bonds. In our present time, we experience the great divisions among Christians precisely over matters of faith, worship and government. The rampant fragmentation among Protestant Christian communities is only one example of how deep these divisions run and how serious they are.
Be Reconciled to Your Brother
We seek the reconciliation of all Christians in accordance with the will of our Lord and the means He provided for the continual transmission of the Christian faith. Among other things this means communion with the successor of St. Peter, the bishop of Rome, whom Jesus Christ our Lord established as His vicar on earth and the principium unitatis, the principle of unity, among believers.
In 2016 Pope Francis met with several Protestant pastors from different denominations and traditions in an effort to promote ecumenical dialogue and foster collaboration among fellow Christians. One of them was Kris Vallotton, Senior Associate Leader of Bethel Church in Redding, CA.
After meeting with Pope Francis, he proceeded to write an article and preach a sermon (iTunes podcast link) to his congregation in which he talked about unity among believers. I’ll comment briefly on three points I believe to be praiseworthy and then I’ll complement with additional reflections and considerations.
A Path to Reconciliation
When Pastor Kris met with Pope Francis he was very pleasantly surprised by his gentle demeanor and remarked during his sermon that he was convinced the Pope was filled with the Holy Spirit.
He also led a prayer for the Pope as part of his preaching. As a Catholic, it’s very encouraging to see this from a Protestant pastor who influences many people. It’s a clear sign that he has the right disposition of heart in order to make ecumenical dialogue possible. I applaud this as a Catholic and see it as an exhortation for all of us to do the same.
Towards the beginning of his sermon, Pastor Kris made the interesting observation that the first Christians didn’t have a New Testament, let alone the whole Bible. He also commented on how important it was to have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. We wholeheartedly agree with Pastor Kris on the importance of a personal relationship with Christ. The Church enjoins us to approach Jesus in constant and fervent prayer and to hear His voice by frequent and prayerful reading of the Holy Scriptures.
Having said all this, realizing that the New Testament Scriptures didn’t exist as a unified canon for centuries and mentioning this during a sermon calls into question the Sola Scriptura paradigm whereby the Scriptures function as the formal principle of theology and the formally sufficient rule of faith without the need of a divinely appointed teaching authority.
We would encourage anyone that has become aware of this fact to continue to explore how in light of this millions of people, most of whom were illiterate, came to faith in Jesus and flourished in their relationship with Him.
Come, Holy Spirit
During the last portion of his sermon, Pastor Kris talked at length about the role of the Holy Spirit and how through it we can become part of the mind of Christ and achieve unity even if disagreement remains concerning doctrine and church government.
We readily agree with Pastor Kris in acknowledging the crucial role the Holy Spirit plays in the economy of salvation and God’s designs. One needs to look no further than St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Dominum et vivificantem“. However, we would balk at the idea of achieving unity while jettisoning unity of faith and government.
We would encourage people to explore the possibility that the gifts and operations of the Holy Spirit are not only personal and experiential but also hierarchical and communal.
For example, we believe that by a special gift (or charism) of the Holy Spirit the Roman pontiff is protected from error in declaring a point of faith or morals to be definitively held by all the faithful. We also believe that this gift is passed on by means of material succession within the context of the family of God.
Looking to Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of Our Faith
Before His Passion, our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for the Church. Since it is Him doing so, we believe that His prayer is infallibly effective, and therefore there will always be only one true Church of Jesus Christ.
We confess, in the words of Blessed Paul VI, that “the Church founded by Jesus Christ and for which he prayed is indefectibly one in faith, in worship and in the bond of hierarchical communion” (Paul VI, Creed of the People of God, 21).
We earnestly pray so that all who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior work together to overcome division and return to the one household of God, the Church of the living God, so that the world may believe that the Father has sent His Son to unite all things in Him.
Lord Jesus, hear our prayer!
About the Author
This post is by Jesus Florez. Here’s Jesus in his own words:
I’m a Proven Catholic apologist thanks to the efforts and expertise of our friend and mentor, Devin Rose.
I now share his mission to equip Catholics to defend their faith and help Protestants consider the claims of the Catholic Church.
I’m originally from Colombia in South America and grew up Catholic but lukewarm at best. At age 18, I joined a Catholic Charismatic community that helped me have a deeper and more personal relationship with our Lord Jesus. Since moving to the United States in 2015, I became very interested in apologetics and in 2016 I participated in Devin Rose’s Proven Catholic apologist course as a beta tester and earned my certificate soon after.
I work full time as a receptionist at a local nursing home and in my free time I enjoy reading about our faith and spending time with my wife.
It’s a great opportunity to evangelize a friend to help demolish obstacles they have to believing in God and specifically becoming Catholic. Most of the converts had a heavy intellectual component to their conversions, so the documentary is more about plausibility, evidence, logic, and arguments over feelings.
You Convinced Me
It includes atheists with Ph.Ds, Protestant pastors who gave up everything to become Catholic (and saw their economic life ruined), and people like me who were cynics and skeptics.
This post is by my friend Chad Miller. Chad is a lay Christian Apologist, part time musician, and avid bibliophile who sells lighting products to provide for his wife and three children. He is a former Protestant Deacon and Worship Leader, currently attending RCIA at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Keller, TX.
“I don’t know how anyone can be a Catholic and be saved.”
“Catholicism is the world’s biggest cult.”
“I put the Protest in Protestant.”
“The Gospel of Rome is not a gospel at all. Gospel means “good news” and sending billions of people to hell is not good news at all.”
All these quotes are from yours truly.
I didn’t say them to be controversial or start an argument but genuinely believed all of them. I’d read countless books, listened to debates, and digested sermon after sermon all proclaiming the Roman Catholic Church to be apostate, on some level (I’m not sure if there is a sliding scale for apostasy, but I digress.)
I didn’t know many Catholics or read Catholic authors, but with scores of reputable Protestant scholars who had already done the research, I was perfectly content to read what they had to say and trust it as truth.
So How Did I Get To That Point?
When I first became a Christian at 19, I spent a short season in the charismatic church of my youth and was exposed to what Jack Chick teaches about Catholics. After listening to Hank Hannagraff’s “Counterfeit Revival,” I quickly gravitated toward the Bible Church, which wasn’t much different in its view of Catholicism.
I believed the Bible Churches and conservative Baptist churches to be the closest representation of what Biblical Christianity should be. If someone isn’t sure what constitutes a Bible Church, think John MacArthur, and that’s where I was. Men like MacArthur, James White, RC Sproul, John Piper, and all the puritans and reformers hit me right in my sweet spot. These men have a deep love for the Bible and go to great lengths to interpret it accurately, which is truly admirable in any Christian; a sentiment I still hold to today.
Flash forward to around 2008, and I had started to soften my stance on the cult of Catholicism, thanks in part to sitting next to a Professor at a Catholic Seminary on a flight. We had an hour and a half to go back and forth, and I came out thinking it might be possible for Catholics to be in heaven after all. (How gracious of me!)
I had also started to read more Protestant apologists who didn’t “major on the minors” but instead focused on defending the big truths of the Christian worldview (God as Creator, the deity of Christ, the atoning death, the resurrection, the Holy Trinity, etc.). These men were much more gracious toward Catholicism and even worked alongside them writing books and inviting them to conferences.
I still had extreme disagreements with Catholic theology but thought there was enough in common on the “big stuff” that I could lighten up a bit. The doctrines of justification, Mary, purgatory, and many others were enough of a deterrent to leave it outside of the realm of possibility for me to even consider, so I was safe.
Then I met Tim Francis…
Tim’s son and my son met in our homeschool group, so they all came over for Christian’s birthday party in September of 2014. Tim noticed my library and started up a conversation about theology and apologetics, which I am always more than happy to discuss with someone who is interested.
He told me he worked for an apologetics ministry full time, and when I asked him what it was, he was pretty insistent I had never heard of it. He clearly knew from my book selection I wasn’t too engaged in apologetics ministries specifically focused on helping Catholics to better defend their faith, which is exactly what he did/does. At that point, I extended the olive branch and let him know what an anti-Catholic I used to be and how we could all sing Kumbaya together now.
Unfortunately, Tim didn’t have much interest in singing with me.
He challenged me, firmly but graciously, on many Protestant doctrines I had never been challenged on, as I had always been around people who agreed on these foundational truths. He went straight for the headshot by asking me to defend my source of authority, which for the Protestant always comes back to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, or “scripture alone.” When he asked, “What is the pillar and foundation of the truth,” I immediately shot back with “Obviously, the Bible.” It turns out that’s not what the Bible actually says:
1 Timothy 3:15: “I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”
I had studied this chapter multiple times, as the doctrine of ecclesiology leans heavily upon the opening verses. Conservative Protestant Churches take this seriously and defend their belief in a plurality of elders in the local Church primarily from this passage. I had never considered within the chapter where Paul is spelling out the qualifications for leaders in the Church he also calls the Church of the living God “the pillar and foundation of the truth.”
That one stung a little bit, but I was confident there was as valid an answer to this as there was to a number of passages which seem to support Catholicism. I had always found a Protestant response, so this wasn’t too big of a deal. My foundation wasn’t even cracked, but he had put a stone in my shoe which I had to get out.
He also challenged me on the doctrine of Sola Fide, which means justification “by faith alone.” In spite of what many Protestants may believe, Protestants and Catholics do indeed agree on the other three Solas (Soli Deo Gloria – to the Glory of God Alone, Sola Gratia – by Grace Alone, Solus Christus – in Christ Alone).
Tim parked on the two Solas we clearly disagreed on and that ended up being where I would park for the next year. In order to be convinced Catholicism was true, I had to be convinced Biblically first and foremost. I didn’t want to focus on the peripheral disagreements over Mary, the Saints, Purgatory, etc. I wanted to focus on the crucial issues of authority and salvation.
The way I see it, if the Church has the valid authority of the apostles and there is merit to the doctrine of Sacred Tradition, then those peripheral issues can be handled under that umbrella.
After Tim left that evening, we decided to stay in touch, and he sent me some resources. I told him I was just interested in pursuing truth, and while I was convinced he was wrong, I had to be intellectually honest enough to read what he was sending me and consider what these Catholic authors had to say.
I had to be open to the possibility I was wrong.
I had done this countless times before when it came to being wrong about Christianity, theism, etc., so I had to be willing to admit I was wrong about Protestantism, even though I was firmly convinced I’d come out a stronger Protestant than before.
I think Tim knew he had drawn a little blood on my Sola Scriptura stance, so he sent me the book “The Protestant’s Dilemma,” and being a sucker for free books (and also wanting to get that stinking stone out of my shoe), I decided to read through it. As a convert from Protestantism to Catholicism himself, Devin does a fantastic job of hitting on multiple Protestant stances in quick, pithy chapters framed as:
Reading through his book did not convince me Catholicism was indeed preferable to Protestantism, but the stone in my shoe remained. Correction; rather than one stone, I felt like I had just left a quarry.
While I was going through the book, I was also reading article after article on Catholic Answers, which are primarily written by former Protestants who have converted to Catholicism. I knew the best way to get through the challenges they were posing was to go to the Church Fathers to see how they interpreted these Biblical passages. I needed to study Church history, look into the epistles and sermons of the Fathers, study the reformers, and study my trusted Protestant theologians.
Well, it was a big mistake if I wanted to remain Protestant. Since I truly did want to believe what was true (and still do), it was a journey I had to make. I realized a number of the gymnastics Protestants have to do around certain passages fit quite nicely when viewed through the lens of Catholicism.
I realized all the early Church fathers were quite unanimous on the key doctrines of Catholicism on which the Protestant Church largely disagrees. Did all the Saints from Polycarp up until Luther’s time somehow get these things wrong? I also realized the passages from St. Paul’s epistles which seem to flat out refute the Catholic doctrine of justification actually support it, as well as many other passages relating to other issues.
Suffice to say I spent countless hours reading books, digesting articles, listening to lectures, talking to people, etc. I discovered a number of things I believed about Catholicism were simply not true at all. As the Venerable Fulton Sheen so eloquently put it:
Fulton Sheen said: “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.”
If only there were some memes out there containing my truth bombs…
So how could I come into a Church with such a messy history, full of sinful men doing sinful things? Where there is a Pope who says and does things that drives people nuts, including many Catholics? What about all the weirdness and baggage that comes with it? How could I throw away the doctrines of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide and embrace Apostolic Succession, the Magisterium, as well as justification by faith and works in relationship to one another?
The difficulty of explaining “why I am a Catholic” is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.
To remain Protestant would have been considerably easier for all of my relationships, with the significant exception of my wife. We both went through this journey together, and I realize how fortunate I am for us to be in complete agreement on this. We both come from families where there is no Catholic ancestry and our closest friends are all Protestant. Hearing stories from other converts who did not have their spouse in agreement can be quite heartbreaking so I understand what a blessing this is.
To become Catholic has been a disruption in our lives and we had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the Church. I did not want to become Catholic. I had no desire to lose friendships or drop the bomb on family members in firm opposition to the Church.
To have some friends accuse me of committing the sin of apostasy, sending my kids on the path to eternal destruction, and now sharing the gospel with me as though I am lost has been a tad discouraging… but I get it. I used to believe the same way they do so I understand where they’re coming from. I appreciate their concern for my soul and I don’t begrudge them for reacting how they have. I also greatly appreciate those friends and family who have respectfully disagreed with us while still remaining close to us.
In spite of the tension it has caused and will likely continue to cause, becoming Catholic has been the best decision I’ve ever made. I now see things in the Bible and in my life with clarity like I never have before. I have always been a searcher, digging for the truth, and I have finally found the pearl of great price.
Catholics frequently tell converts “Welcome home,” and I now know exactly why they say that. I am indeed home. I didn’t realize what I had been missing for so long, and now that I’ve found it, I can’t imagine how I could ever turn away from it. I didn’t come into the Church focusing on the Eucharist, but now I know I could never leave the one Church where Jesus is truly present: body, blood, soul, and divinity… and I haven’t even been able to partake of the Blessed Sacrament yet.
So yes… I am Catholic. The reason I laid this out there is because I have a number of friends and family members who do not understand why I’m doing this, some who don’t know, and hopefully this will help them understand.
I haven’t been able to be as vocal about it as I would like to be, and this seems to be an important enough issue to properly lay out the reasons why I have made such a big change. I know some people are already upset over this and others probably will be when they find out, but I want everyone to know this is not something I took lightly. A LOT of time in prayer and study went into this and it was not easy to cross the Tiber, to put it mildly.
I would encourage anyone who desires truth to be open to the possibility that the Catholic Church is indeed the Church founded by Jesus Christ, which the gates of hell shall not prevail against. It’s probably a good thing to study the Scriptures and look at what the Fathers had to say about the Eucharist, justification, Mary, apostolic succession, and others.
Those same men, who were guided by the Holy Spirit to settle the Canon of the Bible we all love so dearly, may have something important to say about the Catholic Church. We may not all become Catholic, but hopefully we’ll at least come out with a better understanding of what the Church truly teaches and why they teach it.
I believe we are saved by grace through faith… and so does the Church (works do come into play on justification, but Catholics don’t believe in “works alone” or “works based” salvation which is how many Protestants frame the Catholic doctrine of justification).