Today I have asked John Frye to respond to the chp on why Catholics are moving to Evangelicalism, a movement of dramatic numbers in South America. As a pastor, John knows the substance of this chapter in Finding Faith, Losing Faith: Stories of Conversion and Apostasy firsthand. The research and the writing of this chp was done by Hauna Ondrey and I have asked her to pay attention to the post today and weigh in at some point.
In this chapter I was introduced briefly to John Cornwall, Jim Haider, Jim DiCenso, Dana Ames, ?Tony,? ?Angela,? Henry Gregory Adams, Frank and Alberta Taddeo, Linda Zollner and Mike Gidron and others. In reading their stories, I recalled Martin Luther?s famed ?Tower Experience? when, he, too, wrestled with an oppressive, sad, and fearfully dissatisfying faith in God as expressed in the Roman Catholic Church. Luther, pondering Romans 1:17, came to the liberating and joy-bringing realities of salvation as a work of God alone. Many of the stories (some from ex-priests) in Chapter 3 have the feel of present-day, mini-Tower Experiences. As a Protestant pastor I felt good that Wheaton became home for these people. The authors call them RCEs: Roman Catholics becoming Evangelicals.
What amazed me was the reality of ?Catholic guilt.? I had seen Catholic guilt caricatured in TV sitcoms and in movies, but the stress of it on the soul concerned me. My fundamentalist guilt was minor league guilt compared to these folks. The uncertainty and dread that many Catholics carry as they try to keep their categories of sins defined and confessed and try to faithfully honor their worship traditions produces a terrorized soul. It angered me. ?Why,? I kept asking myself, ?do they put up with all that?? That?s an easy, simplistic Protestant question for me to ask. As people in deeply held faiths, Catholics carry a long history of beliefs, a socialization process pressing for life-long fidelity, a sincere searching for God, and a longing to be at peace with God. What startled me is that these RCEs become hostile to their faith?s teachings/traditions and will risk excommunication from family and friends to find God. They are exuberant and rejoice deeply in the evangelical expressions of Christianity to the point of becoming ardent evangelists. They can become skilled in ?anti-rhetoric,? demonizing the Catholic Church and its leaders and teachings. For them, the Roman Catholic Church was a grand rip-off. This saddens me, too, because I have greatly benefited from the writings of the early Church Fathers and Mothers (e.g., Teresa of Avila, Bernard of Clairvaux, Catherine of Siena, Francis of Assisi) and Henri J. M. Nouwen, Ronald Rolheiser, Richard Rohr, Brennan Manning, C.S. Lewis, and Flannery O?Conner.
I am, along with many others, equally concerned about our Protestant evangelical indefensible reduction of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to bullet-points and napkin diagrams. Yet, to my surprise (and I found myself eating a big piece of humble pie), reduced Gospel presentations are like cool water to these very thirsty RCE souls. If you perceive that you?re lost in an endless choking thicket of religious duties and someone shows you a small, simple clearing, you get there as fast as you can. The love of God, the sure forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, the Bible as a loving Book, the believing community as vibrant, day-to-day Jesus-followers?all these realities become a safe clearing for RCEs. ?We don?t offer religion, we offer a relationship? to me is a clich?. To RCEs it is a total and transforming motto of the faith.
The greatest grief for me was this comment by Dana Ames, ?I felt Jesus was far too holy to ever approach me?[Dana could approach Jesus by the Sacraments] ?? but even so I didn?t believe Jesus would really want to be with me otherwise.? The very One who became flesh to be as close as possible to us as human beings is warped into someone just the opposite?an aloof, too holy Being who is alien to the Jesus we meet in the Gospels.
Dr. John W Frye
Fellowship Evangelical Covenant Church
1569 — 44th St.
Hudsonville, MI 49426