It might seem, at least to some of my evangelical readers, that I blame evangelicals alone for the kind of warfare lingo of the “Reformation Wars” that I pray will cease. Let me begin this post by stating that EWTN (Catholic) and Relevant radio (Catholic) can be equal opportunity offenders in these “polemical wars” in a way very similar to conservative Protestant programming on various evangelical networks. The program “Coming Home,” hosted by Marcus Grodi, is one of the most egregious examples I know, though it is set in a very gentle tone. (You can read Grodi’s conversion story online.) This program is well-produced and includes an occasional account of conversion from no faith to a living Christian faith. (The majority of stories, however, are from ex-Protestants!) Grodi, himself a former Presbyterian minister, came to a personal crisis about what he believed while still in the ministry. He had clearly confessed personal faith in Jesus. But he saw some major problems in his Protestant faith. (I’ve seen the problems that he saw and agree with much of his analysis of the problems, though his critique is often simplistic to the extreme!) He ultimately concluded, as he looked around at his own ministry and that of other Protestant pastors he knew, that he had no remaining confidence in what he was teaching. He resigned. I admire his courage. The first doctrine that fell for him, after he left his ministry, was sola Scriptura. He concluded that this doctrine could not be correct given the multiplicity of opinions about doctrine that existed among various Protestants. Over time he discovered what he calls “the beauty of the Catholic Church.” The first ex-evangelical that he met inside the Catholic Church was the well-known Reformed convert Scott Hahn. Grodi’s burning desire was to help former Protestant ministers who were coming into the Catholic Church like he did. Then a change came that led him to begin the “Coming Home Network.” He says his goal has never been to lead Protestant ministers into the Catholic Church but rather to “stand beside” ministers on their journey to Rome. His goal is to “help them hear the Holy Spirit” who he believes is leading them into the Catholic Church. He hopes those outside will see the beauty of the church and, simply put, come home.
Grodi is compelling and winsome. But he is just plain wrong when he says the following: “There is not one doctrine that all Protestants agree on.” Yes, he says this again and again. Amazing! He is playing games (he might not be intentional about this at all) with words and ought to know it. He is clearly a smart man. Most Protestant churches have different views of some doctrinal issues but there is much more than “one thing” that we all (or at least most all) agree upon. Watch the interview above very carefully and you will see what I mean. If you find this apologetic compelling then I respect your conclusion as genuinely sincere. I find his argument tendentious and the result of a kind of patronizing zeal that I rarely, or never, encounter among Catholic priests, theologians or bishops. This argument is not based on true Protestant principles, which themselves are generally consistent with the ancient Catholic and Orthodox creeds. It is based upon stereotypes that Grodi must sincerely believe to be true. If you watch him long enough you will soon hear a rather triumphalistic edge emerge in his interviews with these converts. He presents Protestant to Catholic conversion stories as if these are the only people, people like himself who came into the Catholic Church, who have true faith. They have come into real life and into the sole possession of the gifts of the Spirit and the ultimate truth of God. If I am wrong about this then I would humbly urge him to invite ecumenists (Catholic and Protestant both) to tell their story. If he wants a list of capable names I can give one to him.
This kind of programming is so common that many lay Catholics, almost always good people who want to hear a clear and strong expression of their own story, look to men like Marcus Grodi to speak courage into their hearts. What I wish is that Marcus Grodi would celebrate his own journey with more obvious humility about the Catholic Church while he also works harder at publicly understanding people like me, and millions of others like me, who do not feel drawn into the communion of the Catholic Church. If he knew the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox friends I know I sincerely believe he would take a very different approach to how he interviews converts and talks about other Christians.
I truly want to see the “Reformation Wars” cease. I do not want to see any of us stop searching for better ways to understand one another. Nor do I want to end our differences through compromise or a denial of what we truly believe. I believe there is a third way, a way outlined in The Decree on Ecumenism of Vatican II, a decree which I will talk about later.
The reason the “Reformation Wars” continue is clearly not all on one side. Until we learn to respect the conscience of the other believer, love each other far more deeply, and cease to proselytize each other so aggressively, we will never stop these calls for continued warfare against one another. The Catholic Church has increasingly trusted evangelical intentions in Latin America with regard to proselytism. This must go both ways if we are to cease this centuries old warfare. We must now learn how to engage in missional-ecumenism or the wider culture will continue to leave our common Christian faith behind. Shouldn’t our primary goal be to make disciples of Jesus Christ, not Catholics or Protestants? Both our communities, at least in the secular West, are faltering badly at the present moment. Now is the time to talk about our common problems and to seek a common solution to the loss of members and faith. It is not the time to enflame old controversies with language that drives our brothers and sisters further away from one another.