November 11, 2012 Q & A

Joining the Roman Catholic Church


A teenage son wants to join the Roman Catholic Church. How should his parents respond? What should their pastor say?


The first question that comes to mind is why is this young man being drawn to the Roman Catholic Church (RCC)? Is it a friendship he's developed? Is it a mentor? Is there something particular about the RCC that is attracting him? I have seen all three dynamics at work. A co-worker seems to be very persuasive and confident in what he believes about the RCC and "witnesses" to the friend, and the friendship becomes the determining factor. Or a mentor, a teacher, a coach who has influence draws a person in because they seem to care so much. Or a person compares the seeming solidarity of the RCC (which is an illusion); the idea of a church united around one leader (the Pope); the idea of continuity through the ages (continuity not with the Scriptures, however!)—all these things draw people toward the RCC. So I would explore the reason or reasons for his interest in the RCC.

Next, find out if he is willing to seriously engage in discussion about the issues at the heart of the disagreement between Protestants and Catholics. There are reasons for the Protestant Reformation. Those people back then were not ignorant or pre-modern. Why were they willing to die to maintain the distinction between the RCC and the church as described in the New Testament? If he is willing to seriously study the Scriptures, the book of Galatians would be a good place to start because, as the old saying goes, "we study the true that we might recognize the false." Studying Galatians puts multiple issues about the Reformation front and center, especially the nature of justification. Just comparing what Paul says in Galatians with what the Council of Trent (which still has the force of canon law in the RCC) wrote in its anathemas about the Protestant view of justification, is powerful. Which is to be believed: what the apostle Paul wrote or how the RCC defines justification? If the young man is being taught that he should believe the RCC's understanding because it is the RCC's understanding (in other words, believe the church because it is the church), then that brings us back to the "why" question (why is he being drawn to the RCC) and raises the issue of to which authority is he willing to submit: the RCC, his parents, his present pastor?

If the young man says that he is not denying Christ or turning his back on his hope in the gospel that Christ both removes the guilt of sin and imparts a righteousness to the redeemed (perhaps the key issue in the RCC's view of justification), then you might ask if he realizes that he will be identifying with all that the RCC is, teaches, and stands for—including anathematizing Protestants like his parents—for what they believe! This is not even to speak of the problems with which the RCC is beset. When you join a church you identify yourself with all that church embraces—does he understand that?

Perhaps these are some thoughts which might start a dialogue. Do not shut off discussion but encourage it and look to see how the Lord might be working in this situation—not in the young's man life alone but in the lives of all those who love him, sharpening everyone and making the gospel stand out clearly (I love Galatians 2:16 as a statement of the gospel). Remember that we always do things or make choices for reasons, even if we do not understand those reasons ourselves, so our hearts are being revealed. The Lord is at work in every situation, and if the young man is a covenant child, then the Lord is going to be faithful to his covenant promise to work in whatever way he thinks best.



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