Tag Archives: roman catholicism

Former Evangelical Christianity Today Editor Becomes Roman Catholic

Mark Galli receives Communion during Mass at St. Michael Catholic Church early Sept. 8, 2020, in Wheaton, Illinois. RNS photo by Tom Killoran

Mark Galli, formerly editor for the evangelical magazine Christianity Today, has decided to become Roman Catholic. Normally, conversions between Roman Catholicism and Protestant evangelicalism go the other way around: typically, I see a lot of “cradle” Roman Catholics grow up to become Protestant evangelicals. So, why would a Protestant evangelical “cross the Tiber” and make the journey towards Rome?

What makes the Mark Galli story so significant is because Galli was for several years the editor of what many still consider to be the flagship periodical of Protestant evangelicalism, Christianity Today. He also raised a lot of eyebrows in late 2019, when Galli, a moderate conservative who is firmly “pro-life,” with respect to abortion, wrote an editorial calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

It is a good question to consider: Why would someone who once publicly championed the principles of the Protestant Reformation take the Eucharist, with Rome’s understanding of transubstantiation, along with other doctrines of Rome that repel the typical Protestant?

Was part of it the continual drift we see in the Protestant evangelical movement away from centuries-long, established church tradition? In Galli’s case, according to an article in the Roys Report, he was a “cradle” Catholic, who became heavily involved in Presbyterianism as a teenager. He eventually moved towards Anglicanism, and even looked into Eastern Orthodoxy for awhile.

Was it the never-ending fracturing in Protestant evangelicalism, that zapped him of his spiritual energy? Was it the tendency of evangelicals to unite more around politics than solid, Scriptural doctrine? An interview with Galli tells the story.


Why Do Some Evangelical Protestants Convert to Roman Catholicism OR Eastern Orthodoxy?

Roman Catholic Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill made history in February, 2016, by meeting together, in an effort towards Christian reconciliation. (Photo credit: Edgar Jimenez / Flickr | Larry Koester / Flickr)

The vast majority of evangelical Protestants remain in such churches, once they become Christians. Also, quite a number of Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox convert and join evangelical Protestant churches, particularly if their faith was rather nominal to begin with.

But interestingly, some evangelical Protestants move in the opposite direction, and either join the Roman Catholic Church, or they join an Eastern Orthodox church.  So, why do some evangelicals bail out on Protestantism, to become members of these other churches?  When it comes to Roman Catholicism, is it not true that Protestants fought long and hard to try to reform Catholicism, only to find themselves outside of the church of Rome? When it comes to Eastern Orthodoxy…. well,… what is Eastern Orthodoxy, anyway?

Well, there are multiple reasons why some evangelical Protestants either “cross the Tiber” (a metaphorical way of saying that they become Roman Catholic…. the Tiber River cuts through the heart of the city of Rome), or “cross the Bosphorus” (a metaphorical way of saying that they become Eastern Orthodox…. the Bosphorus is a body of water that goes through Istanbul, Turkey, the traditional heart of the Eastern Orthodox world). One reason is that in both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is central to their corporate worship. Whereas, in much of Protestantism, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper often takes a back seat, when compared to the teaching of the Scriptures.

But perhaps one of the main reasons for leaving evangelical Protestantism is a disillusionment with how Protestants often handle the doctrine of sola scriptura, from the Latin, or “Scripture alone.”

The idea of sola scriptura assumes that Scripture, by itself, can be interpreted, without an authoritative magisterium, or teaching authority, like the Pope (Roman Catholic) or college of bishops (Eastern Orthodoxy). But when Protestants rely on the private interpretation of Scripture, confusion has often ensued. Protestant Christians, in the United States, have been often known to “vote with their feet,” once they run into perceived problems with a teaching pastor, who says something that does not line up with how they read the Bible.

You do not have that problem in either Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy.

The “vote with your feet” syndrome, that commonly divides Protestant churches, can become quite weary for some Christians. When Protestants are unable to work through their differences, it can get rather tiresome.

So, on the other hand, it is pretty much a “package deal,” if and when you decide to join either the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox communions. Both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have their own authoritative magisteriums. Such conflicting understandings of teaching authority has created another whole set of problems, which would take a comprehensive look at church history, to fully digest.

Those “package deals” presented by both older communions have presented obstacles for those Protestants who have considered making the journey across the Tiber or the Bosphorus, but who end up not crossing one of those rivers (I would include myself in this latter category). For example, both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy hold to what is called the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. That is a big stumbling block that keeps many evangelical Protestants from seriously considering crossing “the” river.

If you want to learn more about why some Protestants look to Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy, these two short videos, respectively, help to explain why:


Bishop Robert Barron at the Graves of Tolkien and Lewis

Happy Reformation Day!…. which is a not-so-subtle reminder that I am not a Roman Catholic.

But I have a great appreciation for so many of my Roman Catholic friends, and particularly an admiration for a number of great Roman Catholic thinkers. Bishop Robert Barron is one name that comes to mind.

Father Barron has dialogued with the Canadian “Intellectual Dark Web” phenomenal figure and psychologist Jordan Peterson, as well as with Protestant evangelical apologist, William Lane Craig. Even as a “son of the Reformation,” I personally get an education from one of the most articulate and winsome Roman Catholic minds, whenever I heard Father Barron speak. Recently, Father Barron participated in England, as part of the beautification ceremony of John Henry Newman, the 19th century Anglican priest turned Roman Catholic apologist, perhaps the greatest Roman Catholic mind of the 19th century.

While in England, Father Barron stopped to visit the graves of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Below are two short, 3-minute videos that give you a flavor of Father Richard Barron. Finally, I included a clip of Father Barron’s Word on Fire episode, discussing the canonization of John Henry Newman, from Rome, with St. Peter’s in the background. I recall many fond memories from my trip to Rome, almost exactly a year ago. For those who appreciate “The Great Tradition,” that folks like Lewis articulated so well, enjoy:

Even though more people convert from Roman Catholicism to Evangelical Protestantism, a surprising number of Evangelical Protestants move in the opposite direction, and “cross the Tiber,” so to speak, and join the communion in Rome. This can be quite puzzling for some.

If Roman Catholicism is like a “black box” to you, and you really do not understand much about it, you might want to investigate some of the videos put out by Ascension Presents. Father Michael Schmitz is a very gifted, dynamic, young priest and communicator, who knows how to explain the intricacies of Roman Catholic doctrine, to younger audiences. As opposed to Father Richard Barron, who can be academic at times, Father Michael Schmitz is very good at making Roman Catholic teaching accessible, to just about anyone. You may not be convinced about purgatory, but perhaps you will understand a little bit better what purgatory is all about.


Our Lady of Kibeho

From William and Mary’s production of Our Lady of Kibeho

Are apparitions of Mary real? What do they signify?

When I viewed a recent College of William and Mary theatrical production of Our Lady of Kibeho, written by Katori Hall, I pondered these questions. Based on a true story, in 1981, there were reports of at least three girls in a Rwandan Catholic school, who all claimed to have received visitations from the Virgin Mary. At first, these visions were positive in character, emphasizing the love of God. But soon, the visions turned dark, depicting a future time when the land of Rwanda would become killing fields, overwhelmed with violence. The visions were warning the people to repent. Initial skepticism of these visions eventually gave way to fear.

Thirteen years later, in 1994, Rwanda descended into mass genocide, where somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsi’s were murdered by Hutu tribes people, which was soon followed by reprisals and civil war. The 2004 film, Hotel Rwanda, tells the story of these atrocities. Some say that the visitations of Our Lady of Kibeho were prophetic warnings that predicted this immense human tragedy. In 2001, a local Roman Catholic bishop deemed these Marian apparitions to be authentic.

Immaculée Ilibagiza, whose family was killed during the genocide, survived this ordeal, hiding in a pastor’s bathroom, along with several other women, for weeks. Ilibagiza was a speaker at the Bill Hybel’s Global Leadership Summit, that our church, Williamsburg Community Chapel, satellite hosted, this past summer. Ilibagiza, herself a Roman Catholic, travels the world, sharing her story, the challenge of forgiveness, and the story of the Catholic school girls involved with the Our Lady of Kibeho visitations.

As a Protestant evangelical, affirming the principle of sola scriptura, I have my doubts about the authenticity of visitations by the Virgin Mary. I see nothing in the Bible that would lead us to expect the Mother of Jesus to make visionary appearances to Christians in our day and age. To claim such apparitions to be authentic must somehow account for that fact that there are no such visitations to Protestant Christians, at least to my knowledge.

Nevertheless, these African girls did see something. I know that some Protestant Christians might think of these extraordinary experiences as being something demonic, but given the message of the visitations, a more moderate and positive view makes more sense. The call to the Rwandan people to repent of their racism was prophetic, and entirely consistent with the teaching of the Scriptures.  It is sadly horrible to think that so many people of Rwanda, many who called themselves Christians, were unable to hear and obey that call to repentance.

But such a warning should not be limited to Rwandans.  Jeremiah 17:9 points to the problem that all humans have, and not just the Rwandans involved in perpetrating the genocide: “The heart is deceitful above all things,and desperately sick; who can understand it?” I may not be able to fully explain the claims of the Marian apparitions, but I can affirm the teaching of the Scriptures that calls sinful humanity to repentance.

William and Mary’s production of Our Lady of Kibeho was an A+, in my view. If you ever have the opportunity to see Our Lady of Kibeho, you should do so, even considering the fact that the subject matter is indeed disturbing. The following two videos flesh out some of the stories I highlight here, first a three-minute interview with the William and Mary actors, explaining why the story of Our Lady of Kibeho needs to be told, followed by a twelve-minute CBS interview with Immaculée Ilibagiza.

 


Vatican II, Embracement, and Pope Francis: Roman Catholicism Today

Martin Luther, a “heretic” or “a witness to the Gospel?” How has the Roman Catholic communion changed in 500 years? (credit: Finland stamp from 1967, from a ETWN web page)

I need some help from my Roman Catholic friends. It is difficult to figure out exactly what is going on in Rome today.

An Italian evangelical leader, Leonardo De Chirico, gave a very thoughtful 30-minute message at a recent Ligonier Conference, in this year of remembering the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. In the video below, Chirico argues that in order to understand Roman Catholicism today, we need to have in mind three concepts/names:

  • Vatican II: The 16th century Council of Trent codified for hundreds of years what has been traditionally understood to be Roman Catholicism, the high water mark for the Catholic Counter-Reformation, a formulation of doctrine that sought to refute many of the reforms of Martin Luther and other Protestants. The next major council, Vatican I, set much of Roman Catholicism against the changing modern world of the 19th century, affirming the work of the Council of Trent, and reinforcing traditional boundaries. But the early 1960s, Vatican II council changed all of that. However, Vatican II did so, not by altering the doctrine of the church, but rather, by changing the tone and attitudes towards those outside of the Roman communion.
  • Embracement: Vatican II set the wheels in motion, whereby this change of tone and attitude has characterized the trajectory of the Roman church for the past fifty-plus years. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict put the brakes on much of this Vatican II trajectory, embodying the doctrinal commitments that have traditionally defined Rome. Still, incremental changes in smaller ways, in terms of a warmer spirit of embracement and inclusiveness of others, made their way into the church. But the doctrine remained effectively the same.
  • Pope Francis: Now however, unlike his recent predecessors, Francis has downplayed the doctrine and turned up the warmth of this new spirit of embracement. Arguably, Francis is the first truly “Vatican II”-like Pope. In the past four years since his ascendancy, Francis has hinted at or suggested various reforms in the church, some that point towards reconciliation with other parties in the universal Christian community (like Protestants and Eastern Orthodox), some that thrill liberals and others outside of  the church, and some that horrify Catholic conservatives.

What are we to make of all of this?

Briefly stated, on the one hand, Roman Catholicism has never been a monolithic movement, even during the era of the Council of Trent. On the other hand, Protestants can easily misrepresent what Roman Catholics believe and think, and that does harm to efforts to try to heal the divisions of the last 500 years. That being said, here are two things that come to mind as examples of what puzzles me, as to what is coming out of Rome in the Pope Francis era:

  • A generation ago, those Catholics who experienced the tragedy of divorce, were conscience-bound to go through the process of securing an annulment for improper Catholic marriages. Nowadays, fewer divorced Catholics even bother with the annulment proceedings. Also, according to authoritative Catholic tradition, regular confession is a required sacrament of the Catholic Church, and yet, I know many Catholic friends who rarely, if ever, go to confession. What are we to make of all of this?

Leonardo De Chirico offers some insights from a Reformed Protestant perspective. I can imagine that many traditional Catholics might be terribly dismayed by all of the changes. Can any of my Roman Catholic friends help me out here? Are Chirico’s observations correct?

Ligonier Ministries, associated with Bible teacher R. C. Sproul, has some great resources, particularly for those with interest in the theology of the Protestant Reformation. In this year, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Ligonier sponsored their annual conference, with the theme of the Reformation, and you can even view all of the videos of the conference on YouTube.

 


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