When I first began this blog over two years ago, there was a flood of comments from Roman Catholics objecting to my posts. One person, a convert to Catholicism from Judaism, engaged me in a somewhat lengthy debate, which included many individual comments back and forth. I did my best to answer her concerns and felt I made several valid points using Scripture and referencing church history. She ended the exchange by stating that, in the end, any arguments I made were irrelevant because the Lord had unmistakably led her to Catholicism and that was all that mattered.
This same individual was recently featured as a guest on the Roman Catholic EWTN cable television show, “The Journey Home,” which features converts and reverts to Catholicism relating their testimonies. In the interview, the woman stated that she was brought up in Judaism, but eventually “accepted Jesus Christ” at a non-denominational evangelical church. She became very involved in the church, but had a gnawing feeling that something was missing. She states that she had grown up with a vast number of traditions within Judaism, but her non-denominational church regrettably had no traditions or ceremonialism (“no altar,” “no candles,” “no reverence”). The tipping point came when she felt the strong desire to pray in a “chapel setting” during the work week. None of the evangelical churches in her area were open during the day to her great disappointment. A friend suggested she read a book about Jewish-to-Catholic convert, “saint” Edith Stein, aka sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, which led to inquiries into Catholicism and the discovery that many Catholic churches are open during the day for people to enter and pray in. One thing led to another and she eventually went through the year-long RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) training and was baptized into the Catholic religion.
As a person who has gratefully been led out of Catholic legalism to salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, this story was very sad to hear. I must examine this individual’s testimony and ask a few questions and make a few observations.
This person says she “accepted Christ” at an evangelical altar call. What does she mean by “accepted Christ”? If a person genuinely accepts Christ as Savior, they could not possibly join a religious denomination that teaches a person must merit their salvation by receiving the church’s sacraments and obeying the Ten Commandments (impossible!). Non-christians, like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, also use the same religious jargon as evangelicals – e.g., “accept Christ,” “have a relationship with Jesus,” “trust in Christ” – but they also mean something entirely different than what evangelicals understand. If a person genuinely accepts Christ as Savior, they could not affiliate with a religious group that teaches salvation by sacramental grace and obedience to the Ten Commandments (impossible!).
The woman made it very clear that she was attracted to the rituals, ceremonies, sacraments, and traditions of Catholicism, which in many ways mirrored the traditions of her former Jewish religion. A genuine relationship with Christ is based upon saving faith in Him and His finished work. Externals like candles, incense, statues, robes, chanting, holy water, ritualistic motions and postures appeal to the senses and become a substitute for a genuine relationship with Christ. I don’t need to drive across town to pray to my Lord inside a “holy” church building. Many people are attracted to “high church” ritualism and ceremonialism, which have little to do with genuine, personal faith in Christ.
For this woman, subjective feelings and seemingly supernatural experiences overrode doctrinal truth. Converts to the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other non-Christian groups also appeal to subjective truth and being “led by the Lord” into their false religions. Emotions and seemingly supernatural experiences cannot be the basis of genuine faith. We must come to Christ by faith without one single plea of our own as directed by Scripture.
As Christians, our faith rests upon Jesus Christ, His finished work on the cross, and His perfect righteousness that He imputes to all those who trust in Him as Savior by faith alone. Christianity proclaims DONE (in Christ). Catholicism proclaims DO (to try to merit Heaven). One is right, one is wrong. If our friend was truly trusting in Jesus Christ by faith alone, she would not have joined a religion which teaches salvation by sacramental grace and merit.
But our Catholic friends may never understand that their church does not preach the Gospel of grace if we do not point it out to them.
“Know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” – Galatians 2:16