How Do I Share The Gospel With Roman Catholics?
A few questions have come through the Q-Box in the past about Catholics. Are they saved? How do I share the gospel with them? Could I be saved and go to a Catholic Church?
We believe that there are genuinely regenerated, born again believers within the Roman Catholic Church, but this fact is in spite of the Church’s teachings, not because of their teachings. If a Catholic believes that they are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone (not of works such as baptism, commitment to the Catholic Church, penance, or any other thing) then they are genuine believers in the gospel. However, many of the teachings of the Catholic Church are not only unbiblical, but outright contrary to the gospel. For this reason, Catholics, at large, need to be evangelized.
There are a few different caricatures of Catholics that we have come across:
Though Nominal Norman adamantly professes to be a Catholic, for the most part he is a functional atheist. He claims Catholicism, but it has very little impact on the way he lives, with the exception of the rosary beads on his rear-view mirror and semi-regular attendance to Weekly Mass. Nominal Norman doesn’t really care to read the bible, so he isn’t concerned with any false teachings that may come from the priest because he wouldn’t know about them. Norman may, however, have a strong opinion that there is only one truth, and that Jesus is truth (even though he might not agree that we ought to surrender our lives to Jesus as Lord).
Freddie knows his stuff, and is willing to debate you any time of the week. He is a proud Catholic who believes that Protestants are part of an apostate church. There is no way you can be saved, according to Freddie, because you have not been baptized in the Catholic Church and do not submit to its authority. Freddie may recognize that there are inconsistencies between the bible and Catholic Church tradition, but whenever these inconsistencies surface he will always take the side of tradition because he believes that the Catholic Church is the living embodiment of God’s truth on the earth today.
Justin Case has absolutely zero interest in religion, but will profess to be Catholic, just-in-case hell is real. He doesn’t necessarily believe that the Catholic Church is the true way to God, but thinks he is safe even if he’s wrong because he was baptized into the Catholic Church when he was younger. I’ve even met a Catholic Atheist! He said “I don’t believe in God, but even if he is real I would still go to heaven because I was baptized when I was a baby”. There are no qualms in Justin’s conscience about the apparent hypocrisy of his sinful lifestyle and his profession of faith. His Catholicism is strictly a safety-net, just in case it happens to be true.
Oblivious Oscar is a sweet guy who loves Jesus, and is absolutely clueless as to the fact that the Catholic Church teaches things fundamentally different, and even contrary to the bible. In Oscar’s mind, the Catholic Church is pretty much the same as any other Protestant Church, with the main differences being about styles and preferences in worship. Oscar is heavily dependent on the interpretation of the scriptures through other people (namely the Catholic Church) because he has a hard time understanding the bible for himself. A lot of times Oscar would rather hold on to ignorance instead of digging deeper into the scriptures for himself; possibly out of fear that he may have to leave the Catholic Church, which consequently means leaving his life-long family values.
Traditional Timmy is a proud Catholic who loves his Catholic Church, and thinks that Protestant Churches are missing it because of the apparent “lack of reverence”. He equates structure with godliness. He loves the formalism and almost military-style consistency of the Catholic Church, as opposed to the loose, up-in-the-air, “tradition-less” Protestant Church (as if the Protestant Church were free of tradition). He may tell you that you can be a Christian in a Protestant Church, but not a very good one. He will strongly disagree with you for being a Protestant, but none of the arguments will be based on the bible. Most of the arguments may sound something like “the building isn’t holy enough” or “it’s too casual in a Protestant church, nothing is sacred”. For Timmy, rituals are equivalent to reverence, and adornment is equivalent to adoration.
Keep in mind that these are all caricatures based off of our experiences of talking with many different Catholics. I am not suggesting that ALL Catholics fall within these categories. Also, I acknowledge the fact that we Protestants have our own caricatures that fall under similar categories. The reason for pointing these caricatures out is to give a surface-scratching overview of some of the different types of people you may run into when evangelizing who classify themselves as Catholic.
So, with that all being said, what do we do? What do we say? What if they are family members trying to convince us of leaving Protestantism? Thought I don’t claim to have all of the answers as to how to best handle these types of situations, I have found a few things helpful.
1) Ask them what they believe
Don’t assume you know what they believe, ask them exactly what they believe about key issues: What is the gospel? How are we saved? Do I have to go through a mediator to get to Jesus? What do you believe about purgatory?
Not only does this help you figure out what they believe, it may open their eyes to the fact that they may really not know what they believe.
2) Ask them “where does it say that in the bible?”
Once you find out what they believe about certain key issues, ask them “where does it say that in the bible?” The good thing about sharing the gospel with people who claim to be Catholic is that they believe the bible is the inspired Word of God.
3) Show them the Bible
After you find out what they believe, it’s important to ask them how they came to that belief biblically. Once they figure out that they don’t believe what they believe because of the bible, it is always a good idea to then show them what the bible actually teaches. Offer clear evidence of scriptures that teach contrary to what they said they believed. The bible is a sword (Ephesians 6:17). For Catholics who claim to believe the bible, all you have to do is put the sword in front of them and let them fall on it themselves.
Here are some examples of how to talk to professing Catholics about some key issues
What do you believe about praying to Mary and the Saints?
Where in the bible does it say I need to have Mary or the Saints intercede for us to Jesus?
What does 1 Timothy 2:5 say? What does Leviticus 20:27 and Deuteronomy 18:10-13 say about what God thinks of us talking to the dead?
Do you believe that I have to be baptized in the Catholic Church to be saved?
Where in the bible does it say that you are not saved until you are baptized?
What does 1 Peter 3:21 say? Ephesians 2:8-9? Read Luke 23:40-43 – when did the thief on the cross get baptized?
What do you believe about putting the priest on a pedestal?
Where in the bible does it say that as a New Testament believer, I need to come to a priest as a mediator between me and God?
What does Hebrews 4:16 say about us approaching God? What does Matthew 23:9 say about calling someone else our “father”?
The point in asking these questions is to plant a seed of doubt in their tradition by comparing it to the truth of God’s word. The point is to get them to see that there are fundamental differences between what men have taught them, and what God has spoken. The goal isn’t so much to get our Catholic friends and family to leave the Catholic Church, but rather to help them know and believe the gospel. Consequently, if someone knows and believes the gospel, they can’t linger in a Roman Catholic Church for very long.