Why I won’t convert to Roman Catholicism

In the past 6 months, I’ve read more Catholic theology than I have in my entire life. Now, why did I do that? Well, I did it because, to a large extent, I realized I knew nothing about Roman Catholicism except for the common stereotypes. I only really knew the common Protestant objections: pope, tradition, priests, works, Mary, icons, etc. But I had never really dug into the theology. And so, I bought some works by major Catholic theologians.

I have to say, I really enjoyed reading them. At the end of the day, I value theologians like Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karl Rahner, Scott Hahn, Thomas Aquinas, Robert Barron, et al. For all my differences, these guys really center on the big picture stuff. So I really enjoyed them.

I also really enjoyed getting to know the distinctives. Papal authority, priesthood, sacerdotalism, infused (vs imputed) righteousness, etc. This was an area which I had simply never studied. I feel better off for having studied these theologians.

With that said: I really don’t plan on converting to Roman Catholicism. I could never convert in good conscience. I want to list 3 reasons why I wouldn’t ever convert:

Exclusivity: 

The first reason I could not convert is because of how exclusive Roman Catholicism is. I’ve read of a number of stories from Roman converts, and the stories are all relatively similar. These people are happy Protestants, until one day, they realize the wide history of the Catholic church. They realize the size, the teaching, the rich theology. And they realize that their thinly-veiled Protestantism just can’t stand up to it. And so they switch. But what most if any of those converts do not realize, is that when they switch, they are saying something very negative about their past experience as Protestants: namely, that it wasn’t a valid or true Christian experience. Peter Leithart explains it this way:

Here’s the question I would ask to any Protestant considering a move: What are you saying about your past Christian experience by moving to Rome or Constantinople? Are you willing to start going to a Eucharistic table where your Protestant friends are no longer welcome? How is that different from Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship with Gentiles? Are you willing to say that every faithful saint you have known is living a sub-Christian existence because they are not in churches that claim apostolic succession, no matter how fruitful their lives have been in faith, hope, and love? For myself, I would have to agree that my ordination is invalid, and that I have never presided over an actual Eucharist. To become Catholic, I would have to begin regarding my Protestant brothers as ambiguously situated “separated brothers,” rather than full brothers in the divine Brother, Jesus. To become Orthodox, I would likely have to go through the whole process of initiation again, as if I were never baptized. And what is that saying about all my Protestant brothers who have been “inadequately” baptized? Why should I distance myself from other Christians like that? I’m too catholic to do that. (source)

For a Protestant to make the move, they must by definition invalidate everything they had experienced before. That is simply not catholic in the real sense of the word: that is exclusivism. Peter Leithart goes so far to say that it is nothing else than sectarianism. To convert would be to say that my prior conversion was sub-biblical, that my baptism invalid, that my whole life was in some form out of the will of God. There is really nothing “Catholic” about that.

History: 

Of all that I’ve read, the main reason people convert is because of the deep history of the Catholic church. Put simply, Protestants do not understand the history of the church, and they are shocked by the long history of the Roman Catholic church. And for them, when they are exposed to this history, and the relatively shorter history of Protestantism, they opt for the older church.

The problem here is two-fold:

First, the history of the church is much less clear than Roman Catholics would like us to realize. The reality is that the early church did look different from the Protestantism of today; but it also looked different from the Roman Catholic church of today! Anyone who claims that the early church was the same, or even similar, to what it is today, is oversimplifying things. Many people convert because they feel that history is settled: the church of the apostles was Catholic. Not true. It is a historic fact that the Roman bishop (pope) did not have supremacy until the 3-4th century (link). It is a historic fact that transubstantiation was not dogmatically formulated until the medieval period. To make any claim on the early church is to muddy the water.

Second, and more important, many look to the early church as if they had it all figured out. The early church fathers were closer to the apostles, yes, but they did not have everything figured out. For instance, there was no formulated atonement theory until Anselm. The Trinity was not articulated until the 5th century. For goodness sake, it wasn’t until the reformation period that the church really began to think about and formulate the doctrine of justification!

My point here is that while we owe much to the early church, we shouldn’t glorify the period as if they had it all figured out. There was much more to be understood in terms of doctrine and practice. Both Calvin and Luther quoted the early church fathers frequently, and saw themselves in historical continuity to them. They wanted to reform and develop the Catholic churchnot brake from it. They wanted to be a voice in line with saints before them. This is why I see my Protestantism as connected to that wide history of the early church. You should too.

Theology:

Lastly, I am not a Catholic because of the theological distinctives which make up Roman Catholicism. This should be no surprise. I do not believe that their theology, particularly of church authority and justification, is correct. By church authority, I mean papal authority. Their claim that the bishop of Rome has universal jurisdiction is, in my book, historically inaccurate, and biblically unfounded. More particularly, papal infallibility is unsafe, because it binds the consciences of the laity to one man.

Also, I believe their theology of infusion conflates justification and sanctification. What this means is that justification, for Rome, is the infusion of grace into the soul, which can ebb and flow, and can ultimately be lost by mortal sin. I think this is a grave error. This robs the believer of assurance, which is a biblical concept (Rom 8:15). And it places the believer’s final justification on their own shoulders rather than Christ’s. This, to me, is a huge deal.

Carl Trueman says this of Roman Catholicism:

The insight of the Reformation on assurance is key, theologically and pastorally. And… that it is one thing that every convert to Roman Catholicism must lose…That is a very high price to pay. Speaking for myself, all of the liturgical beauty of Rome, all of the tradition, all of the clarity of the authority structure (and the clarity is often, I think, more in the eye of the beholder than the Church itself) cannot compensate for the loss of the knowledge that I know I have been purchased by the precious blood of Christ that conversion to Rome requires (The Creedal Imperative, 125)

Trueman is right on. The owness in Roman Catholicism is on the person, not on Christ. That, to me, is not only unbiblical, but simply devastating. I wouldn’t be able to bear it.

I love much in the Roman Catholic tradition. However, with these reasons in place, I simply couldn’t convert.

If you want further study on this, please read these links, HERE, HERE

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36 thoughts on “Why I won’t convert to Roman Catholicism

  1. Very interesting post. And by the way, it’s Catholicism, not Romanism. Anyway, I think your last point was a bit off. Yes Catholic teach Papal infallibility, but not the way you put it. I think you’re seeing it as: “When the Pope lays down the law, he’s always right.” For the most part, I think that is what most Protestants see it as. Catholics believe that When the Pope lays down the law, the Holy Spirit will not allow him to err. God Bless!
    In Christ, Catholic2theMax

    • My issue is just what u describe. If the pope speaks ex cathedra, it is unquestionable, because it is inspired. There are many papal doctrines which scripturally, I feel don’t line up. I’m glad u enjoy the blog 🙂

      Also, I don’t usually allow outside links. Just FYI

      also, I take issue with simply calling it Catholicism. I associate myself with the “catholic” church, because I am part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. To say that Roman catholics have a right to “catholicism” is to confuse the issue, and is incorrect. Roman catholicism is distinguished from Protestantism, AND Eastern Orthodoxy, AND Coptic etc. However, we are all part of the catholic, universal church, if we are in Christ.

      • Sorry, I didn’t now bout the link thing. I believe I capitalized “Catholicism”, which would distinguish it from “catholicism” you are referring to. Thanks.

      • You should at least be aware that “Romanism” is a disparaging slur that originated in anti-Catholic polemics and has extremely offensive connotations to most Catholics. If precision is your intent, you ought to refer to “Roman Catholicism” — which many Catholics have issues with for different reasons, but it at least avoids the offensive connotations.

  2. We believe that the Mass is a participation in Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, extended in place and time so that we can all participate in the offering of that sacrifice on behalf of ourselves, our loved ones and, indeed, the whole world. The whole life of the Church, including our individual lives, is one long, continuous offering to the Father, made acceptable by virtue of being united with Christ’s offering of himself. As St. Paul wrote,

    “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? … Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? … but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons.” (1 Cor. 10:16ff.)

    Paul is saying that those who eat meat sacrificed to idols thereby indicate their participation in that sacrifice. The Israelites who ate of the Temple sacrifices also thereby indicated their participation in the offering of those sacrifices, even if they were not priests. By the same token, when we receive Communion we believe that it reflects our participation in Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross; we are ratifying it and joining in it, and thereby receive its benefits.

    You seem to be saying that we should allow any and everyone to partake of the sacrifice. I’m sorry, but in our view that would be to disregard St. Paul’s warnings that “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” 1 Cor. 11:27. Indeed, it’s equally for the sake of the person himself, in order to prevent him from committing sacrilege: “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” 1 Cor. 11:29.

    However, this is not an irremediable situation. If anyone believes that our Communion is really what we say it is, and for that reason wants to partake of it, he only has to approach the nearest priest in order to take steps to be able to do so. It’s free and all are welcome.

    • Thanks for joining in the convo, Agellius

      “If anyone believes that our Communion is really what we say it is” — this is precisely my issue in this post. This is sectarianism in my book. It is barring brothers and sisters in Christ because they dont believe exactly as you do

      Your long exegesis doesnt get at the issue here. I really wish some Catholics would read Calvin and Luther on the eucharist. Participation in Christ is precisely what we believe happens in the Lord’s Supper. We do not however accept transubstantiation or the thought that the mass is propitiatory

  3. Question: Do you favor legalization of gay marriage? I ask because I want to use it as an illustration, but first I want to know the extent to which we share premises in common, so I know if it will make any sense to you.

      • Point 1:

        From where I sit, all I see is you insisting that your doctrine of the Lord’s Supper is correct and mine is wrong. The point you seem to miss is that the “exclusiveness” of the Catholic policy on Communion is a direct outgrowth of Catholic beliefs concerning the nature of the Mass. The only way we could make Communion all-inclusive, as you do, is if we changed our doctrine to match yours. So basically you accuse me of being sectarian for not abandoning my beliefs in favor of yours. To me that appears every bit as sectarian as you accuse me of being.

        If you want to get someone to change his doctrine to match yours, you need to persuade him that yours is correct. You’ve made no attempt to do that, but have simply assumed the high horse: “I’m correct and you’re wrong, and your refusal to adopt my position reflects your sectarianism.” Obviously I have every bit as much right to argue the same in reverse: That your refusal to change your doctrine of the Lord’s Supper to match the Catholic doctrine is hampering Christian unity and is therefore sectarian as well.

        If our understanding of the Lord’s Supper was the same, and we were excluding you simply on the ground that you didn’t belong to our group, then you might have a point. But that’s not the case. (Note that we allow Orthodox Christians to receive Communion at our Masses even though they’re not Catholic.)

        Point 2:

        Gay marriage proponents complain that they are excluded from marriage. Most conservative (what I would consider orthodox) Christians reply, “No you’re not. You can get married the same as anyone else, under the same conditions, i.e. that you marry someone of the opposite sex. The problem is not that you can’t get married, it’s that you don’t want to.”

        By the same token, the problem is not that you can’t receive Communion in a Catholic church. You can, under the same conditions as anyone else, i.e. that you become a Catholic in good standing. We won’t exclude you on the ground of being black or white or Asian, or on the ground that you used to be a Protestant. Anyone is welcome to join us. The problem is not that you can’t receive Communion, it’s that you don’t want to.

      • I think your missing what I’m saying. Here’s why:

        First, I’m not asking Catholics to change their Eucharistic position. So, there ya go… We can have dialogue on that, but that is not the point of this post. Nor is it why I’m not a catholic.

        Second, your fixation on the Eucharist is not the content of my exclusivity objection. Protestants (historical ones at least) recognize the Catholic Church *as a church*. We think youre are wrong on some really important points, but you’re a church. Catholics don’t return the favor. We are not a true church. Not a church at all. So beyond the Eucharist deal, you have effectively anathematized the rest of the Christian communities.

        Peter leitharts point in the above quote is that when you do that, you are effectively committing the same sin as Peter in Galatians 2. We aren’t “the same” as you, and so you won’t fellowship with us. The worst being that you won’t allow us at the table.

  4. As far as my being “fixated” on the Eucharist, I chose one point in your post to respond to because I generally find it difficult to argue multiple points at once in a comment thread.

    My argument in response to your complaint that we don’t consider non-apostolic churches to be churches properly so-called, is basically the same: Our position on that issue is a direct outgrowth of how we define the Church of Christ, which is, basically, one that is directly descended from the Apostles and possesses a valid priesthood and sacraments. To call non-apostolic churches “churches” in the fullest sense, would require us to change how we define the Church of Christ.

    So again, why do we have to change our doctrine, rather than you changing yours? Why do we have to admit that you’re right and we’re wrong on this issue, in order to avoid the charge of sectarianism, instead of the other way around?

    Let me ask you this: Would you welcome Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses to communion in your church?

    • No ones asking u to change ur doctrine. I’m saying that because u don’t accept the Protestant church as an apostolic church, i couldn’t in good conscience make a shift to RCC. Theres much I appreciate about the RCC. Many theologians I read and learn from. But I wouldn’t be able to make the shift because I would be condemning my past experience as a Protestant and my Protestant brothers and sisters. I see the church as big and wide. And split for sure. But all of us are one body. That’s my stance. U don’t have to agree.

  5. Touching on another point, you write, “Catholics don’t return the favor. We are not a true church. Not a church at all. So beyond the Eucharist deal, you have effectively anathematized the rest of the Christian communities.” In the OP you write, “For a Protestant to make the move [to Catholicism], they must by definition invalidate everything they had experienced before. … To convert would be to say that my prior conversion was sub-biblical, that my baptism invalid, that my whole life was in some form out of the will of God. There is really nothing ‘Catholic’ about that.”

    I assume you and Leithart are referring to the statement in the Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith titled “Dominus Iesus” (by the way, have you read it?), which says, “[T]he ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense;…”

    However, if you continue reading in that document you will see that we believe that “[T]hose who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church. Baptism in fact tends per se toward the full development of life in Christ, through the integral profession of faith, the Eucharist, and full communion in the Church.”

    Further, “[T]hese separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.

    Therefore it’s false that in becoming Catholic you acknowledge your baptism to have been invalid. Your baptism is the one thing that we believe links you to the true Church of Christ. Further, “[your] whole life was in some form out of the will of God” due to belonging to a non-Catholic ecclesial community is not impied by the statements of Dominus Iesus.

    • I’m not referring to that doc no. I have some issues w it. Can’t elaborate.

      I’m away from the computer right now. But I want u to watch a presentation by Peter leithart that he gave during a panel discussion. Search “future of Protestantism” in YouTube. Peter leithart is the first speaker. That presentation sums up my thoughts on “the church” as it is experienced today.

  6. You write, “That’s my stance. U don’t have to agree.”

    I know we disagree and that’s fine. The point I’m quarreling with is your accusing the RCC of acting in a sectarian manner (“sectarian” being defined as “factional, separatist, partisan”), with the implication that its behavior is a barrier to Christian unity, more so than the behaviors of other churches. My point being that the doctrinal positions of the RCC are no more sectarian than your own.

    You didn’t choose to answer my question whether you would admit Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses to your church’s communion table. I’m guessing that you would say no, on the ground that those groups are not true Christian churches. And I agree with you.

    But note that you have a certain definition of a true Christian church, or criteria which must be met before a group may be called a Christian church and be treated by you as such. But if you have the right to such criteria, then so does the RCC. Therefore again, your main quarrel, and the basis of your accusation of sectarianism against the RCC, is not that the RCC has such criteria, but simply that the RCC’s criteria don’t match your own. If only the RCC would change its doctrine to match yours, then we could all be churches together and Christian unity could be restored.

    I know you say that you’re not asking the RCC to change its doctrine. But you are implying that refusing to change its doctrine merits your branding it as sectarian.

      • I just said that I know you’re not asking me to change. The point you have not addressed is what your arguments imply: That the RCC’s refusal to change merits your branding it as sectarian.

        Take for example your statement:

        “Protestants (historical ones at least) recognize the Catholic Church *as a church*. We think youre are wrong on some really important points, but you’re a church. Catholics don’t return the favor. We are not a true church. Not a church at all. So beyond the Eucharist deal, you have effectively anathematized the rest of the Christian communities.”

        This, for you, is what makes the RCC sectarian. So let’s look at what you’re saying here:

        We acknowledge you as a church; you refuse to acknowledge us.

        We’re right to acknowledge you; you’re wrong not to acknowledge us.

        We’re right; you’re wrong.

        Therefore you’re sectarian and we’re not.

      • The conclusion follows because if we would only stop being wrong, then we would no longer be sectarian in your eyes. That is, if we changed our definition of “church” to match yours, then we would no longer exclude you as a church and therefore would no longer be sectarian. Is this not clear?

      • “I understand what ur implying. What’s ur definition of church”

        It’s what you’re implying, not me. : )

        The pertinent parts of the definition of “church” are what I said previously: A genuine Christian church will have apostolic succession and a valid priesthood and sacraments, particularly the Eucharist.

      • I’m asking that because the RCC catechism doesn’t give me that. It gives me the nicean formula for sure. Sacraments. Invisible and visible. Etc–which I have no issue w. I think where we would diverge here is papal authority–Which other Christian communities reject along w Protestants

      • “I think where we would diverge here is papal authority–Which other Christian communities reject along w Protestants”

        And yet we acknowledge the Orthodox Church as a true Christian church.

  7. “Ur the one making the counter arguments friend. So ur implying… ”

    I was pointing out the implications of your statements, therefore I was inferring, not implying.

    “Where are u getting that definition?”

    It’s implied by Dominus Iesus, among other places, as quoted above:

    “[T]he ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense;…”

    Therefore churches in the proper sense are those which have “preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery”.

    See also the Catechism at 1400: “Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church, ‘have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders.'”

    Catechism at 815: “What are these bonds of unity? Above all, charity ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony.’ But the unity of the pilgrim Church is also assured by visible bonds of communion: – profession of one faith received from the Apostles; -common celebration of divine worship, especially of the sacraments; – apostolic succession through the sacrament of Holy Orders, maintaining the fraternal concord of God’s family.”

    • Also this from Dominus Iesus:

      “The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church [i.e. the Orthodox], remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches.”

    • I’ve got time enough for one more comment. Both Lutherans and Anglicans, Protestant communities, claim apostolic succession. EO claims it too. So that is not enough to get at my exclusivity point. I would also point out that some Anglicans and catho-Anglicans hold to the real presence (I realize Lutheran do as well, though they hold that substances remain), yet u reject them. So, it would seem that even with that definition, u reject their apostolicity. That is problematic for me. It makes me sad that we exclude one another–Protestants do it to one another as well!!. I see the reformation as a development in the long stream of church history. Yet another splinter–along w EO and coptics etc — in the one holy catholic and apostolic church. And while I obviously belie that the reformers got much stuff right (justification, Eucharist, authority) And steered the church in a RIGHT direction, I still see the church needing RE-reform and unity down the line. I want unity with u as a brother in Christ. Yet I don’t think unity looks like me giving up my distinctives and becoming catholic, or aligning myself w the pope. I believe it looks entirely different. And I believe it is a yet future thing in Gods mind. Hope this comment can close the thread, and hopefully help both of us think.

  8. Dear Lucas, I think you might have had a different experience if you had read or studied some good books on logic first before you even tried reading any of the Catholic theology or for that matter try you hand at criticism or argument. You seemed to have missed the points in all issues above, so much so its hard to know where to begin. In short, all your arguments start from different subjectivistic points of view. While your arguments ‘seemingly’ APPEAR valid given your various starting premises, what you have missed is that a really good argument should flow from a single objective starting point and only then branch into other sub-topics (which is what the other coverts have figured out – that Catholic theology flows systematically and does not collapse on itself on a bunch of contradictions). Also instead of rationalising in a systematic apriori method you have picked a few points and then rationalised aposteriorly. For example if you say that you won’t be Roman Catholicism because it is exclusive, then going by your logic, a non-Christian can rationalise that he wont be Christian because Christianity is exclusive, and for an extreme example of your logic; a non-American can justify that he wont be American because America is exclusive!. Mind you that was only the first of your points. Perhaps after you learn some logic you could reread the Catholic books again.
    But most of all we need prayer to learn Gods truth.

    • Friend, if you want an objective argument, simply scroll down a bit and go to the second point: History itself contradicts many of the Roman Catholic dogmas. That’s a fact. It’s only by affirming doctrinal development as Newman did that you can accept numerous RCC doctrines. But subjective arguments are not in themselves illogical. God bless

  9. Very good post and I appreciate your tenor. I would like to relay my experience as a convert to Catholicism. As a former Protestant (catechized, baptized and confirmed as a Presbyterian), who later spent quite a bit of time in Gnosticism, your first point doesn’t apply to me. When I converted to Catholicism, I kept my conversion to Christ, my baptism, my knowledge of the scriptures, 66 books of the bible, my Christology, the Nicene Creed, the Apostle’s creed, Sunday worship, knowledge of the Trinity, the Lord’s prayer memorized, my hope of the resurrection, fond memories of being close the Lord at various times… and that’s just what I can think of off the top of my head. Once I converted to Catholic, I realized that everything good I received as a Protestant, was actually from the Catholic Church originally. That’s why I got to keep it. That’s why all Protestant converts get to keep whatever is good about their Christian past. With all the reading you’ve done I’m surprised you didn’t pick up on this already. I’ve seen other converts talk about it.

    As for what you said about the history of the Church… it’s not that the history is longer, it is that it is more compelling. For example, when I decided to become Catholic, I intuited that Protestantism had embraced some form of gnosticism, but I couldn’t put my finger on it (I spent so much time as a Gnostic that I am hyper-sensitive to it now). Two days ago I came across a post that articulated what I intuited: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/07/ecclesial-deism/

    In a nutshell: Christ really did found a visible Church that he really did protect all these years. Any other teaching is ecclesial deism and ecclesial gnosticism.

    As far as theology: once one becomes Catholic, then the issue of authority is settled. I don’t get to pick the theology. If somebody doesn’t have a relationship with Christ as a Catholic, then that is not due to official Catholic teaching.

    • Thanks for relaying your experience!! I am certain that many converts share your rich experience. I pray that many Roman Catholics raised in your tradition can also share the same experience.

      My point about history is that the papacy isn’t a settled fact. I still to this day read lots of Roman Catholics and share your concern about Gnosticism and ecclesial deism as well! Christ did found a church and he’s present there. The question however, and one which I can’t answer in the affirmative, is did Christ desire that one bishop be set above the rest?

      Again, thank you for your contribution. I love the rcc and all of its great contributions. My main hang up in the papacy, which the Eastern Orthodox share as well. God bless!

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