EDITOR NOTE: The following Protestant-to-Catholic conversion story by William Reichert inspired me to create a dedicated page for such conversion stories. I’ll be adding more as time passes and other stories catch my eye…
I Will Be Where Peter Is
By William Reichert
In the fall of 1985 I was a rather complaisant Evangelical Protestant. If not quite fat, dumb, and happy–well, at least I was happy. Or so I thought. I was confident in my Evangelicalism and took it for granted that I possessed the truth absolutely. I had had a vivid conversion nearly thirteen years before. I studied the Bible diligently, and I belonged to a solid, growing, thoroughly Evangelical church. I had many well-educated Evangelical friends; I had a sense of purpose in pursuing apologetics as my ministry.
Then I chanced upon a slim little book by Thomas Howard entitled Evangelical Is Not Enough. I was offended by the title, yet curious. I had read Howard’s Christ the Tiger some years before and greatly enjoyed it. I knew Howard to be a solid, if questioning, Evangelical. What could he possibly mean? Not only was Evangelical “enough,” it was more than enough–it promised us the abundant life in Christ. What more could anyone possibly want?
I bought Howard’s book and read it quickly. Howard’s thesis is that Evangelical Protestantism has been greatly diminished and impoverished by its rejection of the liturgy of the Church, the great common tradition of Catholics, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox. As I read his book, I found myself conceding Howard’s point; I understood it implicitly from my own background.
I was raised in various small towns in the western U.S. By background, my father is a Presbyterian and my mother a Lutheran. Church attendance was taken for granted in my family, but religion wasn’t emphasized. During my childhood my parents moved a number of times. In one town we would be Lutherans, in the next Presbyterians, but we rarely gave it much thought.
Dad attended church infrequently. Mom was very practical: She talked very little about God, but towed my brother and me to services most Sundays, taught us our prayers, and volunteered readily for church work.
While I was baptized and confirmed in the Presbyterian Church, I spent most of my childhood in Lutheran churches where I grew to love the liturgy that Lutherans possess to a degree greater than most other Protestants, Anglicans excepted.
In 1968 I entered Stanford University, where I took a number of elective classes in the religion department, a bastion of liberal Protestants. In those days I was considered rather conservative because I wrote a term paper attacking the “Death of God” theology, so much in vogue then.
Later I had a chance to study in Germany, where I fell in love with the ancient Catholic cathedrals of Europe. I was particularly attracted to Rome. I vividly recall sitting in a small Roman chapel where I listened to Gregorian chants: I was entranced and thought I must be listening to an angelic conversation.
When I returned to school the next fall, I began attending a nearby Lutheran chapel. There was much there that reminded me of my experiences in Europe.
Above the altar-in-the-round was a stained-glass ceiling. Communion was taken at the rail, while kneeling, and from a real chalice (not those plastic Presbyterian Dixie cups). On Sunday morning the light streaming through the stained glass shimmered on the communion wine and looked almost mystical.
But at the time I knew shockingly little about the Christian faith. My own faith was rather nominal.
In 1972 I entered UCLA law school. My very first day of school I met a sturdy, sober Evangelical Presbyterian who quickly became my closest friend. He assumed that because I was (at least part of the time) a Presbyterian, I must know the Bible. He couldn’t have been more mistaken.
“The Bible,” I thought, “How quaint!” He invited me to a Bible study for law students, which I attended out of curiosity–I thought only scholars and clergy still studied the Bible. But there I found biblically earnest, sincere students whose faith I came to envy greatly.
I went out, bought the fattest Bible I could find, and proceeded to read and outline every single verse of the New Testament. By the time I finished, nearly three months later, I came to acknowledge, quietly and in reverence, that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Son of God.
I was rather dramatically converted while driving in my car near campus. I confessed my sin, offered myself to God, then felt something like an electrical shock pass through me. This was followed by a deep peace and an urgent desire to study the Bible and to learn all that I could about my new-found faith. I progressed rapidly, at least so far as Bible study and an intellectual grounding in the Evangelical faith were concerned.
As with so many Evangelicals, I focused almost exclusively on the Bible and the apostolic era. For me Church history seemed to end with the deaths of the apostles and was only resurrected at about the time of the Reformation. I utterly ignored Roman Catholicism, except as a bleak counterpoint to the bright light I identified as Evangelical Christianity.
My early years as an Evangelical were spent first at Hollywood Presbyterian Church and then at Bel Air Presbyterian Church, both isolated Evangelical islands in a largely liberal denomination. Later, when my wife, Marie, and I moved into our first house, too far away to commute to either of these churches, we joined a small Lutheran congregation.
That lasted for several years, until Marie began to gather about her a number of friends who attended the same large, booming Evangelical church in town. Marie wanted to join her friends. I tried a few services and was taken by the fact that all members carried Bibles with them, but I was put off by the lack of anything I recognized as liturgy.
Nevertheless the attraction of “hard-core” Evangelicalism (which resembles nothing so much as a weekly Bible study with singing) proved too much to resist. I left the “apostate” Lutherans in 1983 and became a “full-blooded” Evangelical.
But by 1985 Tom Howard’s book had hit a soft spot, the Evangelical churches’ lack of liturgy. I missed it terribly. I thought this was merely an emotional need on my part, and I gave it little intellectual scrutiny. Liturgical Protestants may be “apostate,” but couldn’t I take my Evangelicalism into a liturgical Protestant church? If not the Lutherans, perhaps the Episcopal church of my heroes, C. S. Lewis, John Stott, J. I. Packer, and Thomas Howard?
I tried an Anglican service, studied that church’s history and teaching, and concluded rather sadly that Anglicanism was moribund. I couldn’t join it.
Then I heard that Thomas Howard had become a Roman Catholic. I was thoroughly alarmed, fearing this is where “liturgical fancies” could carry me. I did the only thing a sane Evangelical could do. I tossed Howard’s book in the trash.
Naturally I had to buy a second copy. I couldn’t really deny my liturgical longings; but equally I couldn’t deny that they also stirred some some revulsion within me, prompted by my Evangelical certainty. I delved further into a study of liturgy, Church history, and apologetics.
But a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand began to appear on my intellectual horizon: Church history did not always seem to support my Evangelical certainty.
Then, in early August of 1988, I saw an ad in Christianity Today for Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism. For reasons I could not then fully articulate, I knew that I had to read this book. I picked up a copy and read it over the weekend. I came away utterly disoriented and dumbfounded.
I had naively assumed that Catholicism could be rejected out of hand (and I believe many Evangelicals and virtually all Fundamentalists have the same assumption). I hardly knew what to make of a “Catholic apologist.” It sounded like an oxymoron to me.
Oh, I had read bits and pieces of Catholic theologians: Këng, Rahner, Brown, and others. Liberalism with a Roman accent, I thought.
I honestly believed that orthodox Catholicism had died with Vatican II and that the Catholic Church today consisted of a motley assortment of modernists and reactionaries, none of whom could defend the faith. To find a serious, vigorous defense of orthodox Catholicism–well, I simply had no point of reference.
I immediately wrote to Karl Keating. I wanted to explore one issue in depth, the doctrine of justification, which I believed was at the root of Protestant/Catholic division. It seemed so clear to me that Catholics were wrong here that I wanted to go straight to the heart of the debate.
Keating’s reply was charitable. He invited me to explore the issue in depth using a newly-published book, The Church’s Confession of Faith by the German bishops. I agreed to do so and later wrote back that, to my utter amazement, I could affirm the entire section on justification.
But this only compounded my confusion. If Protestants and Catholics were so close on what I saw as the only issue justifying their division, why were they separate? Did the entire Reformation arise out of nothing more than sloppy semantics?
I knew the Protestant points of view. But in order to judge fairly, I believed that I must look at both Church history and theology from a Catholic viewpoint. I read widely and deeply in Catholic literature over the following year. I began to see that there was both a positive and a negative side to the Reformation and its theology.
The positive side, it turned out, was really nothing more than traditional Catholic teaching. The doctrine that man is saved by God’s grace alone is what the Church always had acknowledged.
But the Reformation also had a negative side. This arose as a logical consequence of its rejection of the authority that holds the Catholic Church together: the papacy and the magisterium. In their place the Reformers put the Bible itself, the inerrant Word of God.
This approach gave birth to an incipient subjectivism in Protestantism because, without a magisterium, each man had to be his own interpreter of Scripture. The consequences of this were not always immediately apparent, but the history of Protestantism is in fact the slow outworking of this subjectivism.
There weren’t too many choices really. Protestants probably had only two. They could either establish a counter-papacy and counter-magisterium, or they could ultimately establish a different type of authority.
The former course has been tried by some charismatic groups in history (such as the Montanists and, much later, the Mormons), but it was unlikely to succeed with people such as the Reformers, who were a fairly theological crowd. They did not see visions and were at least honest enough not to fabricate them.
It left them with a dilemma. If Christ is not to rule his Church directly from heaven, then some mediate authority had to be found. The Reformers naturally expected to govern this reformed Church, but their honesty was such as to prevent them from concocting a divine license to do so.
Even so, as the Reformation gathered momentum, it needed a unifying point. Mere rejection of the pope, of apostolic succession, and of the magisterium could not form the ongoing basis of Protestant Christianity, especially in lands where these rejections became accomplished facts.
Thus the unifying point of the Reformation came to be a particular point of doctrine: Luther’s assertion of justification by faith alone, or sola fide. Whatever authority unified the Reformation had to ensure the preservation of this doctrine, which, if it did not actually give rise to the Reformation, certainly sustained it after its initiation.
Luther clearly believed that the Church could not be infallible because it had, he believed, “lost” the doctrine of justification he saw enunciated in the Book of Romans. Thus men could not be relied upon as the mediate authority through which God governed the Church. If, however, Scripture contained this doctrine (as Luther saw it) as its cardinal doctrine, then Scripture was the Christian’s ultimate authority and men stood under it.
In fact, of course, men still exercised ecclesiastical authority, but now the determination of whether a man had authority within the Church was not based on whether one’s predecessors were in apostolic succession, but whether one believed a certain doctrine.
Thus the ultimate authority was not a man, or a body of men, or even a book. It was a belief, something highly subjective. This subjectivity is the touchstone to understanding the nature of Protestantism and particularly Evangelicalism, the theological heir of the Reformation.
Of course, a doctrine is an abstract concept, and the Reformers needed something concrete to point to as the Church’s authority. If men were not to be relied upon, then only God’s revealed Word would suffice. Yet it was theologically and philosophically imprecise to consider the Bible as an “authority.”
Authority, in all of our daily experiences, means a person or institution empowered to enforce a rule. Sola scriptura is in a sense a philosophical sleight of hand. A book by its nature can only be authoritative, not an authority.
If I were to proclaim a heresy, it would not be the Bible that would contradict me. The Bible would be mute until a Christian chose a particular text or texts from Scripture to refute what I say. It is the Christian interpreter who claims authority–his own or that of his tradition–to determine that what I teach is a heresy.
That this is so is only too clear from all the heretics and heresies that claim scriptural support. In the end, only people, individually or institutionally, can be authorities. A book cannot be, even if it is intended as an all-encompassing rule.
Ironically, it was the first pope–the apostle Peter–who pointed out the rather obvious fact that Scripture is not necessarily self-explanatory; it can be twisted by the unscrupulous to support virtually any theological position (2 Peter 3:16).
All of this may seem rather evident to a Catholic, but in fact this semantic sleight of hand still fuels the Protestant Reformation. Vast numbers of Evangelicals still believe that Scripture is so perspicuous that it is, in effect, self-enforcing. That one can be so blind in the face of a multiplicity of interpretations within the Evangelical camp alone is nothing short of mind-boggling.
Such diversity of interpretation can be justified, if at all, only by proclaiming that all such differences are really minor and don’t matter (something that is most difficult to support in view of the fact that churches and denominations continue to splinter over such “minor matters”), that those who differ are ignorant (again, difficult to maintain in light of the view that Scripture is so simple a “plowboy” could understand it), or that those who differ are motivated by their own, or demonic, evil (sadly, a rather common accusation).
If there was one thing about the Protestant faith that seriously disturbed me, it was the lack of concern for Christian unity that such division demonstrated. Of course there is still an ecumenical movement among some liberal Protestants, but this movement is largely structural in emphasis.
Among Evangelicals it is a joke. For them, the only true unity is the “invisible church” of which the Reformers, particularly Luther, spoke.
What disturbed me was the fact that over 450 years of Protestantism had produced more and more division, not unity, visible or invisible. This seemed not to bother my Evangelical friends at all. They seemed incapable of understanding why it would bother me. Yet to me it seemed quite simple. If “invisible unity” did not give rise to visible unity, was there any real unity among Protestants at all?
To this my companions would reply, “Well, we agree on the ‘essentials,’ but differ over the ‘non-essentials.’ We are, therefore, divided only by those issues that don’t really matter.” Now there is a sense in which this is true, but this truth says much more about Protestantism than most Evangelicals seem to understand.
There are a number of Protestant tenets on which most, if not all, Protestants (or at least Evangelicals) would agree. These are the “fundamentals” identified by various Evangelicals from time to time. They form a sort of Evangelical “creed,” however much Evangelicals deny the role of creeds in the Church.
But it is a plain historical fact that no church established around such fundamentals stays “simple.” Even Evangelical churches develop their “creeds” over time, as they reflect on the implications of the “fundamentals,” and it is this development that causes division over “non-essentials.”
This has been the unfailing course of Protestantism over its history. Interestingly enough, creedal development has taken place within the Catholic Church as well but has not produced the same internal division. I had to concede that at least on this point there was something unique about Rome.
How would an Evangelical respond? Probably by asserting that in the end truth is more important than unity and that if one must prevail, it would be truth at the expense of unity. If the linchpin of the Christian faith really is justification by faith alone, then the doctrine judges the Church–the Church does not judge it.
Yet justification by faith alone, or sola fide, is likewise a theological sleight of hand. It was meant as a battle cry for the Reformers to attack the sacramental foundations of the Church, and it has succeeded nearly as well as any of the Reformers might have hoped. But the issue is similar to that raised with Scripture as the sole “authority”–we are playing games with words and drawing profound implications from these games.
Of course we must receive grace through faith, and in that sense it is faith that saves, for “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). But the confusion lies in assuming that saving faith is solely a state of mind. This again is a subjectivist error: man alone confronting God, without any intermediary.
If our faith is objective, and not merely subjective, then it is not merely a mental state, but the entire attitude of body, mind, and soul directed to God, whether in one’s state of mind or in one’s outward life in Christ lived through the reception of the sacraments and the performance of good works.
In this sense, good works are faith seen objectively; mental assent and trust are how one sees one’s own faith subjectively. Salvation is by grace alone, seen inwardly by faith, expressed outwardly by sacraments and works.
Expressed another way, grace in the form of the sacraments is the salvific channel from God to man, which is reflected in man through two channels, one of which is our inward faith, the other of which is our outward works. Salvation, which is the be-all and end-all of Evangelicalism, is, in some ways, but a starting point for Catholicism.
This may sound a bit odd when one considers that, while Evangelicals contend that a man is saved from the moment of belief, Catholics say that salvation is a life-long process. But Evangelical Protestantism rarely goes beyond “getting saved,” while this concern is but a part of Catholic life. In a sense, salvation for Evangelicals is almost a selfish interest, a “fire insurance policy,” while for Catholics it is an entire way of life.
Even more than that, a Catholic would say that man’s salvation is not the sole interest of God, and in some ways it is not even his primary concern. For a Catholic salvation is but part of God’s plan of reconciliation and redemption. Sin, after all, is not just a personal disaster. It is cosmic.
A Christian who is concerned exclusively with his own salvation–or even with the salvation of others–can still miss much of God’s intent, a plan in which we have the inestimable honor of playing a part in the universal drama of redemption, where our ultimate goal is to enter into an eternal love and unity modeled on the very triune life of God. Not to see this is to miss the very reason why we are redeemed.
I had come a long way in understanding, or trying to understand, justification and salvation from a Catholic perspective and my own uneasiness with the lack of passion for Christian unity among my Evangelical brothers. I had also come to see the force of Catholic arguments on these issues. But I was still some distance from the Catholic Church, both intellectually and emotionally.
The simple fact is that Evangelicals badly misunderstand Catholicism in all areas: history, theology, practice. The more charitable Evangelicals believe that Catholics may indeed be Christians, but that it is more difficult for a Catholic to come to saving faith because of various obstacles to biblical literacy and hence gospel truth.
The less charitable regard Catholicism as a cult, something akin to Mormonism or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yet few Evangelicals try to understand Catholicism, and often their views of the Roman Church are quite distorted.
As I looked at the Roman Church, I had to address the usual Evangelical argument that Rome today doesn’t look at all like the “simple” Church that Christ established. I myself stumbled at this point until I happened to reflect on Luke 13:18- 20: “Then Jesus asked, `What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.'”
Like most Evangelicals, I had always understood this passage to refer to the growth of the Kingdom over time, as more believers were added to the fold. It surely means this, of course, but I came to see that it also alludes to the appearance of the Kingdom, to the fact that the Kingdom, as it grows, might look very different from the bare seed from which it sprang.
This helped me to understand that the Church today should not necessarily be expected to look like the primitive apostolic Church (as many Evangelicals believe it should), but rather that its validity must be judged by history. Has it in fact sprung from the mustard seed of the primitive Church, even if the fully-grown tree that is the Church today looks vastly different from the seed of the apostolic Church?
I came to see that indeed history showed that the tree that is the Catholic Church did spring from this apostolic mustard seed. Jesus did not describe the seed as producing many seeds; he said that the tiny seed would give birth to (“become”) something vastly different from the seed, although bearing its imprint. But no one would know merely from its appearance that the tree derived from a seed unless he had observed the seed develop into the tree.
The Catholic Church could trace its development historically from the apostolic mustard seed. Jesus also did not say that the seed gave rise to a great many trees. The one seed became one great tree. That one tree could only be the Catholic Church. It could trace itself in unbroken succession back to Christ and his apostles. Every other church must sooner or later trace its history back to the Catholic Church or to another church that separated from the Catholic Church.
This fact gave me pause. Protestants may argue that they are, or have been, branches of this same tree, but when separated from the tree, must they not eventually wither and die? Of course Evangelicals argue that the Catholic Church departed from biblical truth, or that it is corrupt, or both. They claim that Evangelicals alone now uphold the true and unsullied Christian faith, as reflected in Scripture alone, the inerrant Word of God.
It is an attractive proposition. I know, for it attracted me for many years. And it is true to this extent: The Catholic Church did stray at times from proclaiming the gospel as it ought to have, and it harbored corrupt members within its fold. But corruption in doctrine cannot be shown merely by pointing to corrupt members. It must be shown that the Church defected at some time, or over some period of time, from the original deposit of the faith.
We Evangelicals would claim that one need only compare the Bible to the teachings of the Catholic Church to see how far the latter has strayed. Again I remembered the parable of the mustard seed. The fact that the seed became a tree does not prove its development was illegitimate. Who would be convinced by one who argues that since a tree looks so different from a seed, the former could not have derived from the latter? I had to see how the tree in fact developed.
And here I noted a startling fact. The teaching of the Catholic Church could be shown to have developed, slowly but distinctly, from roots going back to apostolic times, and the earliest picture of Church doctrine I saw did indeed look like a small Catholic tree! (It certainly does not resemble a Protestant seed.)
I found this disturbing. The Catholic tree appeared early. If it were not the original apostolic teaching, then the Church somehow defected very quickly, perhaps as early as the death of the last apostle–all of the Church, everywhere, until the Reformation, when, finally, Evangelical Protestants managed to “rediscover” the true gospel, hidden from all the Church.
This again gave me pause. Just to state such a thesis is to demonstrate its untenability. If the Church in fact defected from the truth so early, I thought, surely there would have been a great protest, and surely there would be a record of such a protest. But there was not. Heresies certainly abounded, but where were the “Bible Christians”? The Bible was certainly not unread. Indeed, it was written in the “vernacular,” the Koine Greek of its day.
Why is it that Bible-reading Christians did not “reform” the early Church? If these early Christians could not comprehend the true gospel from reading the Bible in their own language at a time so close to the apostolic era, how is it that Protestants were suddenly able to do so some fifteen centuries later in translation and in a culture remote in time and space from the apostolic age?
Do Evangelicals today possess some infallible understanding that early Christians lacked? Surely it was not that the early Church possessed means of enforcing doctrinal uniformity such as were developed (rather unsuccessfully, it seems) in the Middle Ages. The early Church was quite weak, scattered, and despised. What accounted for its uniformity–indeed, its Catholic uniformity?
(An interesting aside: With all the affirmations the Apostles’ Creed makes, why doesn’t it affirm that we believe in Holy Scripture? Why does it instead affirm that we believe in the Holy Catholic Church?)
I came to see that Evangelicals had no firm basis for affirming that their understanding of Scripture was correct. Ultimately an Evangelical must point to one or the other (or both) of two possible bases.
Either he is correct because he believes he has the Holy Spirit to guide him, or he is correct because what he believes is the consensus of all Bible-believing Christians (read: Protestant Evangelicals).
But Evangelicals rarely agree among themselves on any issue, even one so fundamental as the doctrine of salvation. While most if not all Evangelicals may claim that a man is saved by faith in Christ alone, Calvinists and Arminians are so far apart on the issues of the freedom of the will and the assurance of salvation that they form almost two different religions.
And if the basis for one’s belief is the agreement of all Bible-believing Evangelicals, the argument is circular–the viewpoint is said to be correct since all who identify with it believe it. The Catholic, on the other hand, could claim not only an infallible Scripture, but an infallible interpreter of Scripture: the magisterium.
Both Catholics and Evangelicals cling to an infallible Scripture, but which Evangelical can be sure that his understanding of Scripture is not flawed? If it is only the witness of his own heart (which he honestly believes to be that of the Holy Spirit) or that of other Evangelicals, he is on shaky ground.
He can pick and choose his beliefs and be reasonably certain that somewhere there is an Evangelical group that will support him, with warm encouragement and fervent testimonies. But still the question remains: Is it true?
The Catholic could turn the table on the Evangelical and testify that the Bible tells him it is Peter who is the focus of unity, the infallible authority and teacher of the Church. One need only look at Matthew 16:18-19: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth will be loosed in heaven.”
The exegetical contortions that Evangelicals engage in with these verses are truly amazing. Few responsible commentators today still contend that the “rock” in verse 18 is merely Peter’s confession of faith. Almost all are united in admitting that Jesus meant Peter himself. Anything else is simply unbelievable.
What other reason could there be for the change in Simon’s name? Peter (Petros) means rock, and if Jesus meant anything other than Peter as the rock on which the Church is built, he certainly went about saying it the wrong way–indeed, in a way calculated to mislead the Church for centuries.
But this is not all. Peter is given the keys of the Kingdom. When the other disciples are given the power to bind and loose (in Matthew 18:18), they are not likewise promised the keys; only Peter is entrusted with these.
The fact that Peter then immediately stumbles and indeed later denies Jesus is significant because Jesus never withdraws the gift of the keys regardless of Peter’s behavior. In fact, Jesus thereafter reaffirms that Peter is to feed his sheep (John 21:15). This tells me that neither sin nor denial will result in the withdrawal of the keys; they belong to the office, not to the man.
Peccability cannot destroy infallibility. A pope who sins may deceive himself, but a pope who errs would deceive the whole Church: On such a difference does the Church Militant stand or fall.
If this is so, then all arguments based on corruption within the Church as the basis for breaking with Rome had to be rejected. And if I argued departure in doctrine, I again wound up arguing against history in order to show that the gospel remained hidden for nearly fifteen centuries after the apostles.
Indeed, I had to conclude that the gates of hell did prevail against the Church (and rather quickly too). I might sincerely believe that the true Church suddenly disappeared upon the death of the apostle John, but I would be arguing against the plain teaching of Jesus.
It was not a position I wanted to take. Jesus did not see the Church as the “faithful remnant.” He saw it as something enormous that grew from something very small. I had to conclude, therefore, that Peter is the rock on which the Church is built (and on which it grew).
But what of the paraphernalia of the Catholic faith–invocation of saints, purgatory, Mariology, prayers for the dead, indulgences, and so on? As a Catholic, I would not be called upon to defend all Catholic dogma and doctrine in the same way that the Evangelical must defend his faith by his personal interpretation of Scripture.
What would be required of me would be to acknowledge the true source of all Christian authority (the Word of God as conveyed in Scripture and in the constant teaching of the Church) and the infallible interpreter of that authority (the magisterium). I need not fret, “Am I correctly interpreting the truth?”
In giving us the church, Christ relieved me of the burden of depending on my fallible intellect to interpret Christian doctrine correctly. (I must, of course, use my intellect to understand it.) Truth, after all, is objective, not subjective. The Church can know it and know it infallibly; therefore so can I. This is an unbelievably great grace given to us directly by Jesus Christ.
By now many of my Evangelical friends are on the edge of their seats, saying, “But we do know the truth, for the truth is Jesus Christ, not Peter or the Roman Catholic Church!” Indeed this is so. I am not saying that Peter or the Church is the truth in the same sense that Christ is the truth. I am simply saying this truth of Christ is revealed by the Roman Catholic Church and specifically by its magisterium: “He who hears you, hears me” (Luke 10:16).
An Evangelical may indeed know Jesus Christ and be saved by grace through faith, but that is not really the issue here for me. Christ is not only my Savior, but also my Lord. If the Catholic Church is truly his Church, the one tree that developed from the mustard seed, then a Christian who is not in communion with Rome fails to that extent to acknowledge fully the lordship of his Savior.
I am not arguing that Evangelicals cannot be saved unless they join the Catholic Church–surely they can be saved, and the Catholic Church so teaches. I am simply arguing that acknowledging the lordship of Christ must eventually require one to be where Christ intends him to be.
That is an inescapable conclusion, which is why I find myself compelled to say that I will be where Peter is.
William Reichert, an attorney, devotes much of his time to apologetics.