Last week I received the following e-mail, and I felt it would be best to share my response here on the blog.
Dear Mr. White, For someone considering converting to Catholicism, what questions would you put to them in order to dicern whether or not they have examined their situation sufficiently? Say, a Top 10 list. Thanks.
When I posted this question in our chat channel a number of folks commented that it was in fact a great question, and we started to throw out some possible answers. Here is my “Top Ten List” in response to this fine inquiry.
10) Have you listened to both sides? That is, have you done more than read Rome Sweet Home and listen to a few emotion-tugging conversion stories? Have you actually taken the time to find sound, serious responses to Rome’s claims, those offered by writers ever since the Reformation, such as Goode, Whitaker, Salmon, and modern writers? I specifically exclude from this list anything by Jack Chick and Dave Hunt.
9) Have you read an objective history of the early church? I refer to one that would explain the great diversity of viewpoints to be found in the writings of the first centuries, and that accurately explains the controversies, struggles, successes and failures of those early believers?
8) Have you looked carefully at the claims of Rome in a historical light, specifically, have you examined her claims regarding the “unanimous consent” of the Fathers, and all the evidence that exists that stands contrary not only to the universal claims of the Papacy but especially to the concept of Papal Infallibility? How do you explain, consistently, the history of the early church in light of modern claims made by Rome? How do you explain such things as the Pornocracy and the Babylonian Captivity of the Church without assuming the truthfulness of the very system you are embracing?
7) Have you applied the same standards to the testing of Rome’s ultimate claims of authority that Roman Catholic apologists use to attack sola scriptura? How do you explain the fact that Rome’s answers to her own objections are circular? For example, if she claims you need the Church to establish an infallible canon, how does that actually answer the question, since you now have to ask how Rome comes to have this infallible knowledge. Or if it is argued that sola scriptura produces anarchy, why doesn’t Rome’s magisterium produce unanimity and harmony? And if someone claims there are 33,000 denominations due to sola scriptura, since that outrageous number has been debunked repeatedly (see Eric Svendsen’s Upon This Slippery Rock for full documentation), have you asked them why they are so dishonest and sloppy with their research?
6) Have you read the Papal Syllabus of Errors and Indulgentiarum Doctrina? Can anyone read the description of grace found in the latter document and pretend for even a moment that is the doctrine of grace Paul taught to the Romans?
5) Have you seriously considered the ramifications of Rome’s doctrine of sin, forgiveness, eternal and temporal punishments, purgatory, the treasury of merit, transubstantiation, sacramental priesthood, and indulgences? Have you seriously worked through compelling and relevant biblical texts like Ephesians 2, Romans 3-5, Galatians 1-2, Hebrews 7-10 and all of John 6, in light of Roman teaching?
4) Have you pondered what it means to embrace a system that teaches you approach the sacrifice of Christ thousands of times in your life and yet you can die impure, and, in fact, even die an enemy of God, though you came to the cross over and over again? And have you pondered what it means that though the historical teachings of Rome on these issues are easily identifiable, the vast majority of Roman Catholics today, including priests, bishops, and scholars, don’t believe these things anymore?
3) Have you considered what it means to proclaim a human being the Holy Father (that’s a divine name, used by Jesus only of His Father) and the Vicar of Christ (that’s the Holy Spirit)? Do you really find anything in Scripture whatsoever that would lead you to believe it was Christ’s will that a bishop in a city hundreds of miles away in Rome would not only be the head of His church but would be treated as a king upon earth, bowed down to and treated the way the Roman Pontiff is treated?
2) Have you considered how completely unbiblical and a-historical is the entire complex of doctrines and dogmas related to Mary? Do you seriously believe the Apostles taught that Mary was immaculately conceived, and that she was a perpetual virgin (so that she traveled about Palestine with a group of young men who were not her sons, but were Jesus’ cousins, or half-brothers (children of a previous marriage of Joseph), or the like? Do you really believe that dogmas defined nearly 2,000 years after the birth of Christ represent the actual teachings of the Apostles? Are you aware that such doctrines as perpetual virginity and bodily assumption have their origin in gnosticism, not Christianity, and have no foundation in apostolic doctrine or practice? How do you explain how it is you must believe these things de fide, by faith, when generations of Christians lived and died without ever even having heard of such things?
And the number 1 question I would ask of such a person is: if you claim to have once embraced the gospel of grace, whereby you confessed that your sole standing before a thrice-holy God was the seamless garment of the imputed righteousness of Christ, so that you claimed no merit of your own, no mixture of other merit with the perfect righteousness of Christ, but that you stood full and complete in Him and in Him alone, at true peace with God because there is no place in the universe safer from the wrath of God than in Christ, upon what possible grounds could you come to embrace a system that at its very heart denies you the peace that is found in a perfect Savior who accomplishes the Father’s will and a Spirit who cannot fail but to bring that work to fruition in the life of God’s elect? Do you really believe that the endless cycle of sacramental forgiveness to which you will now commit yourself can provide you the peace that the perfect righteousness of Christ can not?