A Conversation on Whether or Not the Roman Catholic Church Is a True Church
There was long a silence between us. I watched as Bill slowly dipped and raised his teabag in and out of his cup of hot water in a rhythmic motion. Then he began to speak again.
“I didn’t decide this overnight. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Every time I go to my church I feel more and more removed from the services. But when I attend a service at St. Matthews Church, I feel like I belong.”
As he spoke, I searched my mind for a response. I spoke up.
“Forgive me if I seem a little bit shocked. It’s because I am. After all, we both moved here to Charlotte to study under Dr. Norman Geisler, one of the greatest minds in evangelical thought. We sat in class after class from Philosophy to Systematic Theology. I listened to your penetrating questions during class. We had great discussions concerning some of the most important theological questions that the Church has faced. I find it hard to believe that you plan to join the Roman Catholic Church. What they teach is so different than what we have learned.”
As I said those words it occurred to me that I really did not know what the RCC taught. I knew that they accepted books into their bible that we did not. I also knew they had this thing for Mary and the Pope was supposed to be infallible, but that was about it. The Catholic Church was not part of the curriculum we studied in seminary.
There was another long silence. But now I could hear the chatter or others talking at tables close to ours. I could hear the clanging of silverware as people ate their meals. I remembered the many times we would meet here to discuss issues we had at home with our families or school coursework, but most of all, we would talk about theology. We would try to meet at this diner once every month or so for fellowship. Our conversations often got so deep that we would order breakfast, but would leave long into the time that the diner was serving lunch and dinner.
I broke the silence. “Like I heard Denzell Washington once say in a movie, explain it to me like I’m a two year old. Go over your reasoning one more time to make sure I understand.”
“Sure HC” Bill said. He took a long sip of his tea and began to speak.
“Let me break it down for you” he said with a big wide smile.
“There are really three reasons why I am considering leaving evangelicalism and joining the Roman Catholic Church. The first reason is that it is intellectually sophisticated. Look at some of the greatest theologians such as Thomas Aquinas and Augustine. There is a long tradition of deep philosophical thought. When I go to my church, all I get is a bunch of emotional pandering. There is nothing there of any substance. I want a deeper more intellectually fulfilling experience. That is what I get when I go to St. Matthews.”
I sat in silence and listened intently. I really wanted to understand Bill’s position. He continued.
“Second, is the beauty. Look as some of the cathedrals of the Catholic Church. The beauty alone draws me closer to God. Just walking in the doors of St. Matthews seems to usher me into the presence of God. The majesty of the traditions, the high ceilings, the tall stained pane glass windows all instill in me a sense of awe. This is much different than my current church where we meet in the gymnasium of a school. There is nothing about those surroundings that give any sense of the presence of God.”
I continued to listen, and I admit that he had some good points but something about his arguments thus far seemed a little weak.
“Third, is that it is biblical. The Roman Catholic Church traces its history all the way back to Rome. Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16:18 ‘I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church’ so Jesus Himself said that He was building the church based on Peter and that church is the Roman Catholic Church. Besides, I don’t think God really cares what church we belong to as long as it is biblical and the Roman Catholic Church is biblical. They hold to all of the main tenants of Christianity. They believe in the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection, the bible as the Word of God, salvation by grace, and the literal existence of heaven and hell. The way I see it, I get all of the good of the Roman Catholic Church without giving up any of the essentials of the faith. What could be wrong with that?”
I did not immediately respond. I was processing what I just heard. I knew something wasn’t right but I wasn’t sure what it was. I took a couple of bites of my breakfast. I prayed for a wise response and I began, “Bill, we have known each other for a while now and I love you like a brother. I would like for you to grant me a request,” I said with a slight smile. Bill smiled too. I continued, “let me do a little research about the Roman Catholic Church then let’s meet back here for breakfast in about three weeks and let me respond to what you have said.”
Bill sighed. “I don’t know what you could say. I’ve done my research. I am convinced that the RCC is the true church…” I interrupted him. “Humor me Bill. Just consider it one of our many theological discussions.”
“Of course HC,” Bill said with a smile. Just then the server brought our bill. Bill picked it up and said “I’ve got this one. You get the next one.” We’ve done that so many times that we have both lost track of whose turn it was to pay. We both smiled at each other as we got up from our table. We gave each other a bear hug and went our separate ways.
During the next couple of weeks I did my research. I read Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Ludwig Ott to get an authoritative Catholic position. I also read Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences by Norman L Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie. I felt I had a good understanding of the differences and similarities. I called Bill on a Thursday and setup our breakfast meeting for that Saturday.
While I was waiting in the entrance of the LandMark Diner, I rehearsed in my head all of my arguments. However, I had an uneasy feeling. Bill was my friend and I was sure what I was going to say to him was not something that he wanted to hear. Nonetheless, I also knew that it was my responsibility as his friend to share the truth in love. I was in a position to speak into his life in a way that Bill could understand. Whether or not he would accept it is a different story.
As I looked out the window, I could see Bill getting out of his black SUV. I also noticed that it was getting cloudy outside. It was bright and sunny just a few short minutes ago. We both smiled as our eyes met and we greeted each other with our familiar bear hug.
“Good to see you brother”
“Good to be seen” he responded and we both laughed. We talked of light matters concerning family while we waited to be seated. We continued to talk as we were seated and while we ordered our meal. Once the meal came I asked if I may say the blessing. Bill nodded with approval. I began. “Father God in heaven, I give thanks for my brother Bill and our relationship based on you being in the center. I pray for your presence here as we discuss matters dear to your heart. I pray we will both be respectful of one another and that we will yield to the guidance of your Holy Spirit. We also ask for your blessings upon this food that you may purify it for the nourishment of our body in Jesus name…” and we both said “Amen” in unison.
I could sense uneasiness between us as I began to speak. “Well Bill, I’ve done a little research on the RCC based on our last conversation and I wanted to start off addressing the reasons you gave for wanting to join the RCC.”
“Sure brother, go ahead” Bill replied as he briefly looked up from his plate. I continued.
“For your first reason you said that you appreciated the intellectual sophistication of the Catholic Church. You have a good point there; after all, we both believe that some of the greatest minds of the Roman Catholic Church such as Thomas Aquinas and Augustine have contributed much to theology and philosophy. However, keep in mind that both of these men as well as the apostolic and church fathers were part of a very different RCC than the one that exists today. The doctrines have changed to the point that it would be unrecognizable to these intellectual giants that we both admire. Also keep in mind that there is no connection between intellectual depth and truth. You can find intellectual depth in atheism, Buddhism, and Islam. However we both know that the intellect of man is a poor substitution for the truth of God. As believers in Jesus, our main goal is to be follower of Christ first and foremost.”
It was at this moment, the server came over.
“Can I get you anything?” she said.
“No” I replied. I was a little frustrated that she interrupted my point just when I was on a roll . As she looked toward Bill, I noticed that it was getting darker outside. Just then the server walked away and I tried to regain my thoughts. I forgot what I was saying about that point so I went on to his next reason.
“Your second reason is the beauty” I said as a tried not to miss a beat. Bill listened intently as he continued to eat. Every now and then he would stop eating and look up in the air as if he was thinking about what I was saying or possibly formulating a response.
“You said that you like the beauty of the RCC, correct?” Bill nodded affirmingly as he put his head back down to eat. It was at this moment that I noticed that it was starting to rain. I continued. “I understand the appeal of beauty and how it might enhance your experience. Although I have personally never been inside a Catholic Church, I’ve seen pictures on TV…”
Bill interrupted. “It’s not the same” he said. “St. Matthews heightens all of my senses. It’s not just pleasing to the eyes but to the nose as well. I can remember the beautiful smell of the incense that just seems to make me feel good.”
“You are right. I don’t know from personal experience, but what I do know is that truth is not determined by beauty. Yes, God is the author of beauty but we all know that beauty itself is not a condition for truth. I am sure I can find Mosques or Buddhist temples that are just as beautiful, yet you would never consider converting to Islam or Buddhism because of the beauty.”
Bill responded “beauty was simply a reason, not the reason.” He seemed a little surprised that I did not make the distinction.
You are correct, I responded. “I just wanted to make the point that beauty is not a test for truth.” I noticed that I had not taken a bite of my food since beginning my talk. So I started eating since I hate cold grits. I also noticed that the rain had gotten heavier and the sky cloudier. I continued.
“Bill, for your final point you said that the RCC was biblical and they can trace their beginning back to Jesus’ remarks to Peter in Matthew 16:18, correct?” Bill nodded yes as he continued to eat. I took the opportunity to continue to eating as well. Then I began to speak.
“The fact is that they use this passage to prove way too much. What I mean is that even if Jesus was saying that He was building His church on Peter, they use this same passage to claim that Peter and every succeeding Pope was infallible. Yet we know from history this is not true. There were times where there was more than one infallible Pope, with each excommunicating the other. At one point there were three Popes! And not only that, some of the Popes were found to be heretics! That makes no sense if they are correct about infallibility.”
Just then the server interrupted us again asking if we were okay or needed anything. I would normally appreciate the attention and good service, but not today. Today I was involved in the most important conversation Bill and I would ever have.
As she walked away I noticed that it was now raining hard. Bill was quite. He listened respectfully. His focus was now more on me then his breakfast. I could tell that he was digesting what I was saying, but I could also tell from his body language that he was not totally convinced by my arguments. I continued.
“Bill, from my research, I don’t believe that the Roman Catholic Church is the True church as they claim. I believe they are a true church with significant error. Here is why I say that. Although they do hold to all of the essentials, the problem is that they do not hold to them alone. For instance, although they hold to grace, it is not grace alone but grace accompanied by works. This is a serious problem. This goes to the heart of Christianity. And you can never know if your works are sufficient, therefore you can never have eternal security. You can never have the assurance that you are going to heaven. Also, they accept the Bible, but they add the Apocrypha which is a real problem because it basically destroys the whole idea of inerrancy since some of the Apocrypha books contradict our accepted Scripture. They contain historical errors as well as teachings that are found nowhere in Scripture such as praying for the dead, purgatory, and giving money for the forgiveness of sins.”
The rain was coming down even harder now. I had eaten all that I was going to eat. Although I didn’t finish my plate, my grits were now cold so there was no way I was going to eat them now. Bill had finished and was just listening to me. I could see that his body language was a little different. It shifted from being skeptical to being more reflective.
I picked up my intensity as I continued. “Bill, have you considered the implications of the doctrine of purgatory? It’s a place where you have to pay for the sins not atoned for by Christ. This denies the sufficiency of Jesus’ death on the Cross. It implies that it was not enough but that you have to pay for those sins yourself. This makes the sacrifice of Jesus a sham and it made Him a liar when He said ‘it is finished’ while on the Cross.”
I didn’t miss a beat and continued with my voice and hand jesters becoming more animated. I began to speak a little louder since the rain outside was getting louder. I am sure that others sitting around could hear our conversation because I caught a glimpse of them looking at us but at this point I did not care. I was focused on the matter at hand. I continued.
“Bill, because they have rejected the inerrancy of Scripture they have adopted all types of unbiblical practices and beliefs. They teach that you can pray to saints and particularly to Mary. Although Jesus may have died for us, Mary is the one who actually passes out the merits to forgive sin. How is that biblical? They even call her ‘Mother of Heaven’ which is a pagan term.”
The rain was now pounding as I finished up. “Bill, you know I consider you my brother from another mother.” We both smiled. “I felt I had to share with you what I found so that you can make an informed decision.”
Bill looked at me and said “Wow HC, we have had some intense conversations in the past, but I don’t think I have seen you this passionate before in any of our previous conversations. I know your heart is in the right place. I will take everything you said into consideration. Some of the things you said I already knew. I just didn’t realize the significance of them until you phrased it in the way you did. Some of them I didn’t know. I am glad you did your research and found me worthy as a friend to have this talk with me.” We smiled at each other once again. We changed the subject to less weightier matters. I was glad because I wanted to part on a good note. I didn’t want Bill to think that I could not separate him from his beliefs. I also wanted him to know that I love him as a brother and would continue to love him regardless of his decision.
Once we finished talking, we got up from the table and I took the check. “It’s my turn, remember?” Bill smiled and we hugged a little harder and longer than usual. As I stood in line to pay the bill, I saw Bill running out to his car with the rain still pouring down.