Should Catholics try to convert Protestants?

Pope Francis to visit Pentecostal church in Italy What might the Pope say to Protestants on the topic of ecumenism and conversion? I think he will say that Protestants can be saved without converting. My point of view on this topic follows.

Suppose that you are a scientist. Do you ever reach a point where you have learned it all? No sane scientist would say that. Suppose that you are a medical researcher. You are constantly searching for more knowledge and a deeper understanding. And it is the same in other fields of human knowledge as well. No one has learned it all, without any misunderstandings. Why? because we are not God (and we do not yet have the Beatific Vision of God).

So why is it that so many believers take the attitude that they know enough, that they do not need to learn or change? Why is it that so many believers, Catholics included, speak and act as if their understanding of faith and morals cannot include any misunderstandings, and is not in need of improvement or advancement? Pride. Pride and the bad example of sinful secular society, in which everyone’s opinion is considered equal and offering correction to someone else is socially unacceptable.

This brings us to the question of ecumenism. Catholics must not take the attitude that any one of us possesses all truth, with no errors, so that we would teach and correct, without ever being subject to learning and correction ourselves. And so we must not condemn Protestants, as if they held no truths, and we ourselves never err.

Jesus has a teaching on this subject:

{9:51} Now it happened that, while the days of his dissipation were being completed, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.
{9:52} And he sent messengers before his face. And going on, they entered into a city of the Samaritans, to prepare for him.
{9:53} And they would not receive him, because his face was going toward Jerusalem.
{9:54} And when his disciples, James and John, had seen this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call for fire to descend from heaven and consume them?”
{9:55} And turning, he rebuked them, saying: “Do you not know of whose spirit you are?
{9:56} The Son of man came, not to destroy lives, but to save them.” And they went into another town.

Samaritans were not unbelievers or pagans. They were Jews who practiced an altered version of Judaism. Samaritans are to Jews as Protestants are to Catholics. Jesus presented a teaching which He knew would apply, centuries later, to Protestants and Catholics.

Catholics should not condemn Protestants, nor should we try to figuratively destroy their religion. The Son of Man came to save souls, not to condemn them. Catholics must not utterly condemn Protestantism. The Protestant Churches retain many truths of the Christian Faith. Many Protestants are in a state of grace. They have the valid Sacraments of Baptism and Marriage.

If a Protestant enters the state of grace by baptism, he or she can certainly be saved and have eternal life, without converting to Catholicism — if certain conditions are met. First, if he loses the state of grace by any type of actual mortal sin, he must repent with perfect contrition, so as to return to the state of grace. This contrition can be explicit or implicit. Second, his rejection of Catholicism cannot be culpable to the extent of an actual mortal sin (or if it is, he must repent before death).

So then, should we try to convert Protestants? Yes and no. It is more urgent that we convert persons living a very sinful life, including nominal Catholics and persons who essentially have no real religious belief. Their souls are in the greatest danger. But we should also always be open to converts from any religion, including Muslims, Jews, and non-Catholic Christians, who are seeking the better understanding of God and morals offered by the one true Church.

If a Protestant approaches a priest with interest in the Catholic Faith, the priest should be receptive and welcoming. There is no need to speak to the Protestant in a condemnatory or harsh manner. However, we cannot take the attitude that Protestantism is equal to Catholicism. The Catholic Faith offers a better understanding of Christianity than Protestantism or even the Orthodox Churches. Protestantism is material heresy. But most Protestants are not guilty to the extent of actual mortal sin for their rejection of Catholicism. We live in a sinful fallen world. We Catholics have not lived up to our calling. As a result, Protestants have a difficult time seeing Catholicism as the true path.

{10:29} But since he wanted to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
{10:30} Then Jesus, taking this up, said: “A certain man descended from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he happened upon robbers, who now also plundered him. And inflicting him with wounds, they went away, leaving him behind, half-alive.
{10:31} And it happened that a certain priest was descending along the same way. And seeing him, he passed by.
{10:32} And similarly a Levite, when he was near the place, also saw him, and he passed by.
{10:33} But a certain Samaritan, being on a journey, came near him. And seeing him, he was moved by mercy.
{10:34} And approaching him, he bound up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. And setting him on his pack animal, he brought him to an inn, and he took care of him.
{10:35} And the next day, he took out two denarii, and he gave them to the proprietor, and he said: ‘Take care of him. And whatever extra you will have spent, I will repay to you at my return.’
{10:36} Which of these three, does it seem to you, was a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?”
{10:37} Then he said, “The one who acted with mercy toward him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go, and act similarly.”

The priest in this parable represents Catholics, and the Levite represents the Orthodox, while the Samaritan represents Protestants. Though Protestants have the least full understanding of religious and moral truth, they sometimes excel beyond Orthodox and Catholics by their sincere love of God and neighbor, while we fall short. We can learn from Protestants, because the Spirit of God is at work in their souls and in their Churches.

More on this topic in my book: Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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2 Responses to Should Catholics try to convert Protestants?

  1. Francisco says:

    Another situation:

    [Luke 9]
    {9:49} And responding, John said: “Teacher, we saw a certain one casting out demons in your name. And we prohibited him, for he does not follow with us.”
    {9:50} And Jesus said to him: “Do not prohibit him. For whoever is not against you, is for you.”

    What? Jesus doesn’t want to convert him??! for “he DOES NOT follow with us”!!!

    Mark gives Jesus’ explanation with more detail:

    {9:37} John responded to him by saying, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name; he does not follow us, and so we prohibited him.”
    {9:38} But Jesus said: “Do not prohibit him. For there is no one who can act with virtue in my name and soon speak evil about me.
    {9:39} For whoever is not against you is for you.

    “For there is no one who can act with virtue in my name and soon speak evil about me.”

    That person is in a state of grace.

    And yes, being part of the group that stayed following Jesus, meaning being part of the Catholic Church (the Only Church that He founded), is evidently better for they were closer to Him.

  2. Francisco says:

    Another point that I would like to add is the different between the “people of good will” and the Pharisee like people.

    One thing are the group of people who are ignorant and sincerely mistaken about the word of God (or their particular beliefs) but seek to please the Lord or do good up to their limited knowledge. I think this is the people from other denominations the Pope wants to talk with. As Ron has stated, we are in a fallen world and we are all sinners which can be factors to obscure the knowledge of Truth on people. But as Jesus said: “For whoever is not against you is for you”.

    But another thing are people who act like Pharisees, those who attack fellow men, those who points out fingers, who are hypocrites, those who have lost the state of grace so their salvation is at risk.

    Another group of people who seek their own convenience, not the Lords, they only use His Name for their own purposes, those who are hypocrites who sin against the second Commandment, they do evil. I’m talking about those who based on plenty of evidence and facts, have come to the knowledge that the Catholic Church is the Only one built by our Lord Jesus Christ, that He has given Her authority to guide His Sheep, that Scripture can only come from Tradition (Jesus never wrote the Bible), that Her seven Sacraments have been instituted by Christ Himself for our salvation, to be closer to Him, to be One with Him, among other things, and yet, they reject Her, then, their culpability can be risen, for they are not that “innocent”.

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