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News broke in early March that well-known and highly influential Christian leader Ulf Ekman had converted to Roman Catholicism (hereafter RC). Continue reading . . .

News broke in early March that well-known and highly influential Christian leader Ulf Ekman had converted to Roman Catholicism (hereafter RC). Ekman had served for many years as pastor of the charismatic church, Word of Life, in Uppsala, Sweden. My interest was stirred not only because of the impact Ekman’s “conversion” will have on others but also because he cites his son’s “conversion” to Catholicism as exerting an influence on his own thinking. Benjamin Ekman was a student of mine when I taught at Wheaton College, an exceptionally bright one at that.

But all of this raises yet again the question of why certain Protestants turn to Rome. Ekman himself cites his deep yearning for unity in the body of Christ as one of the principal factors. Some time ago I posted a blog article that addresses this issue, and I want to revisit it again today.

It’s important to understand why most Protestants remain suspicious of Roman Catholicism. The following are merely observations. I make no attempt to determine whether or not these evangelical fears are justified or misguided.

(1) Many Protestant evangelicals are energized by the Protestant martyrs of the reformation and post-reformation period: Hus, Cranmer, Tyndale, Hugh Latimer, Ridley, etc. They fear that dialogue with the RCC is a disservice and dishonor to those who gave their lives for their convictions. They were tortured and died for their refusal to embrace the RC Mass or bow to papal authority. Attempts such as Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) represent for many evangelicals a tacit dismissal of such heroes of the faith: “Are we selling out those who sacrificed so much? Why are we willing to compromise so easily on matters that were to them a question of life and death?”

(2) Evangelicals also fear the loss of theological integrity. They believe that the only way to enter a dialogue with Rome is by compromising on several key theological issues. Most evangelicals believe that unity is theologically based. Cooperative efforts must be grounded in theological consensus. Is this biblical? Is it feasible?

(3) Many evangelicals are afraid of liturgy and ritual. They are put off by the external trappings of the RCC and believe them to be a threat to the simplicity, genuineness, freedom and spontaneity of faith in Jesus. Perhaps they grew up Catholic or know someone who is Catholic and are personally aware of the potential of relying on a religious ritual devoid of spiritual substance. A biblically based theology of symbol and sacrament would go a long way in diminishing such fears.

(4) Evangelicals often fear that RC theology and practice detract from a single-minded focus on Jesus. Devotion to Mary, praying the rosary, penance, confession, etc., strike them as distractions from and perhaps substitutions for the worship of the Son of God alone. Associated with this is their belief that Catholics are obsessed with the pope, a mere man (as evidenced by the deference shown him, the honorific titles given him, and the habit of bowing in his presence or the kissing of his hand, foot, ring, etc.).

(5) Evangelicals are concerned that the RC concept of justification, doing penance, and the Mass, etc., detract from, and perhaps even deny, the centrality and sufficiency of divine grace. This raises the question of whether or not Sola Fide ("by faith alone") is itself the gospel.

(6) Evangelicals tend to be individualistic in their faith. Thus they do not like being told what to do and what not to do. They fear that papal authority and the magisterium of the church would rob them of their freedom as Christians. In other words, evangelicals are quite serious about the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer and the concept of “soul competency” (a favorite term among Baptists).

(7) The single most basic reason for evangelical reluctance to ECT and other forms of dialogue or ecumenical activity is their suspicion that Catholics are not saved. The question they ask themselves is: “How can someone be born again who denies Sola Scriptura, who puts their trust in the sacrifice of the mass, who grants such high privilege and power to both the Pope on earth and Mary in heaven, who believes that salvation is, at minimum, a cooperative effort of God and man?” This suspicion casts a long shadow over all efforts at dialogue between evangelical and Catholic. [But do Catholics, in fact, believe what evangelicals think they believe? It would appear that open and honest and prolonged dialogue is at this point absolutely essential.]

There are multiple reasons people cite to explain why they have “converted” to Roman Catholicism.

1) Aesthetic – Many appeal to the experience of being moved by the architecture of RC church structures, the incense, the beauty of liturgy, the mystery, the solemnity, the drama, the vestments of the clergy, the church calendar, the sense of transcendence, religious symbolism, etc.

2) Historical – Some appeal to the belief that the reformation was a rebellion and that Protestantism is a deviation from the historic stream of the true church. They also point to a desire for unity with the past and the appeal of tradition.

3) Theological – Some convert for strictly theological reasons. They insist that sola scriptura, sola fide, etc. are wrong. Many have become persuaded of a sacramental/sacerdotal approach to God’s mechanism for dispensing grace together with a belief that Protestantism is Gnostic and fails to embrace the incarnational principle of scripture.

4) Social – The growing secularization of society, together with the diminishing influence of the evangelical church, have led many to Rome. They often find in the RCC a stabilizing anchor and unified front to fight the battle against the paganizing of culture.

5) Personal – Many Protestants point to their bad experience in the church, often citing an oppressive and legalistic fundamentalism.

6) Authority – The appeal of papal infallibility, as over against the theological schisms in Protestantism, offers a stability in which their souls/minds might find rest in an uncertain and irrational age. Ekman himself cites the appeal of the magisterium, the official teaching office of the Roman Catholic Church. He, among others who likewise have converted, believe there is a great need for a single, authoritative voice that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in conformity with the tradition of the church can interpret and apply God’s Word uniformly.

7) Denominational – By this (and in keeping with the previous point) I have in mind the disdain many feel toward the divisions and denominations in Protestantism that they believe are the direct result of the disparate theological views so rampant in the non-Catholic world. They are offended by the obvious disunity that exists and what they perceive as the failure to take seriously the prayer of Jesus in John 17 that we all be one.

Perhaps a follow-up article needs to be written on why so many Catholics convert to Protestantism! Perhaps . . .


Good afternoon the risk of commenting more than once to this post, I wanted to provide you with a link about an article from a "Millennial" blogger, who advances the notion of his generation seeking out the high church denominations.

Here's the link to the article:

There's another good one by another "Millennial" blogger, who exposes the Emergent movment and its signature figurehead in pointed ways. Her post is a very encouraging read:


Calvin, and a host of others of course, was right in insisting that "justification by faith alone" is the doctrinal core of the Christian faith. Go back to Trent and even the current catechism, what RCC hates the most is the doctrine of imputation --- what Rome referred to as "legal fiction" -- which is the foundation of the Protestant faith and indeed the NT Church; it is the grounds for our justification. Is it not hard to see that what is required to believe in "baptismal regeneration" -- that baptism removes original sin -- is a completely different religion than one that believes that the basis for our justification is the imputed righteous of Christ?

For a concise but accurate assessment, consider "Are we Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism" by R.C. Sproul.

One factor that I think leads to some leaving Protestantism for Catholicism is the search for a tradition and foundation that'll stick. I'm 37, so I don't know if what I'm saying applies all across the board with my generation. What I see among some in my Gen-X generation and the Millennial is either entrance into one of the high church denominations (Reformed/Presbyterian, Anglican/Episcopal, RCC, etc.) or exiting the church altogether. Those who I have spoken to about their move into the RCC is their yearning for a more substantive expression of their faith in Christ. They see the Evangelical church as watering down the gospel and veering toward irreverence in its worship of God. Both aspects are off-putting to those in my social circles, who've transitioned into the high church denominations.

My differences with Roman Catholicism focus on their unbiblical view and application of foundational scriptural teachings such as justification, sanctification and assurance. I have been a serious student of the scriptures for 50+ years, having developed my theology mainly from much personal study of God’s word combined with sound biblical teaching in churches I have attended. I think that the RCC has so encrusted major biblical doctrines with man-made observances (works-righteousness, penance, confession, purgatory, the Mass, etc.) that biblical truths have been virtually lost to view. I can only surmise that some are “converting” to Catholicism for some of the other reasons stated in your post, because I can’t understand why they would do so for sound scriptural reasons!

Hey Sam! I remember our conversations and class with great fondness. And hope I run into you at some point. Pax et bonum, Benjamin

SUSPICIONS of Roman Catholicism??? How about complete rejection of RC because they are a completely apostate church. This is our fundamental difference with Romanism: RC is a system of trying to be righteous with God based on man's works. Christianity is a system of being righteous with God based on his grace. I agree with suspicion #7 above. If an RC is defined as someone who adheres to the Council of Trent, then they are simply not saved at all. One of the articles of the Council of Trent says that if a man believes in justification by faith alone (actually it should be "justification by grace through faith in Christ alone"), let him be anathema. Of course, Luther called the doctrine of justification by faith alone the standing or falling doctrine of the church). By this one act the whole RC church is proclaiming very loudly, "We are a fallen, apostate church!!!". What does it profit a Christian(?) to convert(?) to a fallen, apostate church? Why are we even bothering to spend even one more second on this issue which was settled in 1565.
Lesson to be learned: Beware, little flock, of certain so-called "well-known and highly influential Christian leaders". They have been given influence that they should not have. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.

Very interesting. I've never been Catholic, but I've know plenty of evangelical ex-Catholics. And I think the main reason these people convert from Catholicism is very simple: they know they never really knew the Lord or understood the gospel as Catholics. They don't like the fact that they lived as Catholics for many years and just never got saved!

But there are Catholics who do truly come to know the Lord in the Catholic church, and others hear the gospel through evangelical influence but believe they are able to continue practice true Christianity in the Catholic church, so they stay Catholic.

Now converting TO Catholicism is a different matter. I still find there are aspects to Catholic theology that are troubling, but my impression is that a lot has changed (although very gradually) since Vatican II, and there are a lot more people really practicing a vital, personal faith. That obstacle being removed allows the other factors you mention to create an attraction for evangelicals.

Are we certain the core issue isn't as simple as the New Birth? Are professing Christians truly born again if they apostatize to a cult? One can be unhappy or dissatisfied with their local church or the Church at large, desire change(s) in the Church, without fleeing to a Cult, Roman Catholicism or otherwise. It is indeed sad to see and much intercessory prayer is in order for professing Christians that find themselves so dissatisfied as to consider such radical actions.

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