How To Evangelize the Evangelicals
In a previous essay, I wrote the time has come to forget the Liberal Catholics and Convert the Evangelicals. The premise of that essay, in a nutshell, is that Liberal Catholics have already abandoned the faith and have no interest in returning to it. Their fate is now sealed. We’re watching it happen right now with Pope Francis’ new dicastery on evangelization, a massive bureaucracy designed to “put evangelization first and doctrine second.” It’s basically what nearly every diocese in the West has done for the last 40+ years. Pope Francis is now doubling-down on it, and it will fail — miserably — just as it has everywhere else, but he’ll never live long enough to see it. These things tend to happen slowly. Traditional (orthodox) Catholics need to move on if we want to survive. We have to stop trying to change the minds of Liberal Catholics (who will never listen to us) and turn over to a missionary path, drawing upon the largest pool of potential Catholics in the West — Evangelicals! We need to win them over to traditional (orthodox) Catholicism.
In a followup essay, I wrote about the future of Catholics and Evangelicals Together in the 21st Century. In this essay I further explained the phenomenon of Evangelicalism, what it is and isn’t, and what they have in common with traditional (orthodox) Catholics. I rejected the idea of religious syncretism, and pointed out that while we most certainly can (and should) work together on social issues, at the same time the ultimate goal of real ecumenism is unity (meaning their conversion not ours) and this can’t happen unless Evangelicals first know who we are and what we have in common. Thus, we must join arms with them in working to combat social evils, like attacks on human life, family and religious freedom for example.
In this essay, I will write about practical ways traditional (orthodox) Catholics can reach out to Evangelicals and ultimately bring them into the Catholic Church as newly converted traditional (orthodox) Catholics, thus increasing our numbers and infusing our movement with new missionary zeal. In doing so we will not only save the souls of many Evangelicals, but we will save our own as well, fulfilling the Great Commission.
So how do we do it? Do we stand on street corners with megaphones outside their churches? Do we put Catholic tracts on their car windshield wipers? Do we rail against their religious errors on the Internet, on blogs, forums, and social media? Thankfully, no, that’s not how it’s done.
The first thing we need to understand is that reaching out to Evangelicals is authentic evangelization, because you see, even though Evangelicals have some of the gospel, they don’t have all of it. That’s what we’re giving them. We’re filling in the missing pieces — big pieces. By reaching out to them, we’re giving them something they could never find on their own in their Evangelical churches. It’s something that only we, as Catholics, have to offer, and it is something they truly need to fulfill their Evangelical (gospel) hopes and desires.
The second thing we need to understand is that what keeps Evangelicals away from the Catholic Church is (to a large degree) certain stereotypes they have about Catholics. One of the biggest ones is that Catholicism is an impersonal religion, filled with rules and regulations that don’t make much sense, and are completely devoid of any heart or love. Busting down this stereotype will be the biggest job we Catholics have, because it requires long-term commitment. All their other arguments against Catholicism will be “easy-peasy” in comparison, because it’s just a matter of answering questions and directing them toward apologetic resources.
No, you don’t need to become an apologist. No, you don’t need to spend years studying doctrine, history and rhetoric. It’s not necessary. It would be wise to make sure you know your own faith well enough to answer some very basic questions. All you need to do for that is get yourself an adult Baltimore Catechism (softcover or hardcover) and study it. Beyond that, just read your Bible, especially the New Testament. That’s all I’m going to tell you to do, because when dealing with Evangelicals, that’s all the basic knowledge you’ll ever need about 90% of the time. Leave the remaining 10% to the apologists. I’m working on an apologetics page where you can forward articles to them on specific topics as needed. It’s an ongoing project that I hope will help you in your efforts to reach Evangelicals. For your personal studies, however, all you’ll ever need is your Baltimore Catechism (softcover or hardcover) and the Bible (particularly the New Testament). Nothing more is necessary.
When dealing with Evangelicals, here is the process. You need to commit to the long haul. You’re not going to stand on street corners, hand out tracts, or rail against the heresies of their faith. Rather, you’re just going to do one thing. You’re going to make friends.
You read that right. You’re going to make friends, and by that I mean real friends, not a superficial friendship that is dependent upon their conversion. You’re going to make real friends to last a lifetime, hoping they will see the light and convert, but you must be willing to remain friends even if they don’t. I’m talking about the real deal here — real friendship — with no religious preconditions. If you do this, you’ll show them love, and you’ll prove to them that Catholicism is not an impersonal and heartless faith.
I’m not talking about compromising any Catholic teachings here. On the contrary, truth is the one thing Evangelicals need most, and they won’t respect you if you don’t give it to them, even the hard truth. Everybody needs to hear it. We don’t have to be obnoxious about it, or come across as arrogant, but we can tell people the hard truth in loving ways that shows we really care.
Now beyond that, you’re going to need some guidance, some ground-rules that will slowly and gradually guide them to the truth, and simultaneously keep you out of trouble…
- Stay clear of the Fundamentalists. As I pointed out in previous essays, Evangelicalism is not a monolith. It’s a spectrum. Most Evangelicals are either okay with Catholics, or willing to be okay with us, under the right conditions. Only a small few, on the fundamentalist side, believe Catholics are automatically damned and cannot be saved. They believe the Catholic Church is the “Whore of Babylon” and the pope is the “Antichrist.” These folks cannot be converted using the friendship method. Only humiliation will change them, and God has to provide that. I recommend you stay clear of this type of Evangelical. When you encounter them, just move on. Leave this type to the apologists. We’ll deal with them.
- Study your Catholic faith well and teach your kids well. Do it yourself! Don’t leave it to your Catholic parishes and schools, even if they’re traditional. Nothing can compare to good parents, who know their faith, and are able to pass it on to their children. Nothing can compare to that. Nothing! Teach your kids well, and you can’t teach them what you don’t know yourself. Remember that. You can’t give your kids what you don’t have. So learn it, live it and teach it. Got it? That being said, be careful not to become legalistic when you teach them. Remember, the heart of the gospel is love — God’s love for us. That always has to be in the center of everything.
- When you encounter an Evangelical who is not a Fundamentalist (meaning they’re willing to concede that a Catholic might be saved) then you’ve got yourself a potential friend there. Start working on building up a positive relationship. Obviously, you should never hide your faith from them, but at the same time you never want to “beat them over the head” with it either. Be open and frank about your Catholic Christian faith. Acknowledge them as fellow Christians and brethren, so long as they’ve been baptized in the name of the Trinity, as the Catechism says. This doesn’t mean that you’re accepting of their church or their Protestantism. What it means is you’re not coming across as self-righteous. Remember, Protestants basically have two valid sacraments — baptism and matrimony. We need to acknowledge sacraments as sacraments. A Trinitarian baptism is a Catholic baptism, and two Protestants can give themselves in a sacramental marriage outside the Catholic Church. You will find that the Catholic Church recognizes both, which is why she does not “re-baptize” Protestants, and she requires an annulment if a converting Protestant is in a “second marriage.”
- Answer their questions politely. When you’ve made a good Evangelical friend, and he/she starts to feel comfortable with you, questions may follow. Your study of the Baltimore Catechism and the New Testament should be more than enough to answer about 90% of those questions. When they ask one of those 10% questions, politely tell them you’ll have to look into that, and you’ll get back to them. Then simply go to my apologetics page and see if I’ve already provided the answer. If so, forward the essay to them. However, if I haven’t written anything yet on that topic, send me a question, and maybe it will inspire me to write an essay. Keep in mind, that you should be able to answer 90 out of 100 questions on your own, just by studying the Baltimore Catechism and New Testament. Of the other 10 questions, you should be able to find the answer on my apologetics page, but you might encounter 1 or 2, out of a hundred, that requires you to send me an email. When you do, don’t hesitate. I will do my best to help you out.
- Get them to Mass! This is huge. About a third of Evangelical resistance to Catholicism is purely emotional based, simply because the whole thing seems foreign to them, and they don’t know what to expect. The only way to overcome emotional resistance is through desensitizing. It’s pure psychology. If you’re scared of heights, the best way to overcome it is with high places. If you’re scared of water, the best way to overcome it is with a swimming pool. If you’re scared of spiders, the best way to overcome it is by looking at spiders. Personally, I hate snakes, but I moved to an area where we have a lot of them. Most of them are non-poisonous. I am now much more calm and relaxed around snakes, mainly because I’ve been exposed to a lot. I still don’t like them, but I’m chilled out about it now. Desensitizing is a real thing. The same is true with Catholicism. Get your Evangelical friends comfortable around Catholic things. Wear a crucifix or Saint medal that’s visible. Make sure they can see the crucifix and Saint statues in your home. If you’ve got some friends who are nuns, monks, or priests, make sure your Evangelical friend gets to know them too. Most of all, get them to Mass. Tell them you would like them to come with you on Sunday morning, then treat them to a BBQ at your place afterward. Be creative. Maybe mass followed by the beach is your thing. Or maybe it’s mass followed by a some time on the lake, river or in your neighborhood pool. Maybe it’s mass followed by something else. You’re the one driving this bus. Figure out what works best.
- Make sure that the only type of Catholicism they’re exposed to is traditional (orthodox) Catholicism. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Latin. You might be surprised to learn how little of an obstacle that really is. As for me, I’m a Catholic of Anglican Patrimony. I go to an Ordinariate parish which is very traditional (orthodox) and we worship in Sacred English. I find that Evangelicals actually really like this. The “thee” and “thou” doesn’t turn them off at all. Some of them find it refreshing. Likewise, I imagine Latin will be intriguing to a lot of Evangelicals. When you take your Evangelical friend to Mass, it should be a traditional (orthodox) mass. If you happen to know of a rare Novus Ordo Mass that is celebrated this way, feel free to take them there. But when such a liturgy is not available, and it’s usually not, then the best thing to do is take them to a Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) or a Divine Worship Mass (DWM).
- Do not expose them to mainstream, liberal Catholicism. This will be a turnoff to them. They’ll see it as nothing more than liberal Protestantism with a crucifix. The similarities are uncanny. Remember, if you read my previous essays here and here, you should know by now that the whole reason why Evangelicalism has grown so much is because mainline Protestants have been fleeing their liberal Protestant denominations for over half a century now. They want nothing to do with Modernism. I tell you, they hate it. They hate Modernism with a fervent passion. They may not be familiar with the name “Modernism” but they know what it is. How do I know? Because I am a former Evangelical. I hate Modernism with a passion I can’t even describe. I hated it long before I became Catholic, long before I even knew a name for it. If you take an Evangelical to a mainstream, liberal Catholic parish, you’ll lose them. They’ll find it repulsive. Trust me. I know.
- Don’t be afraid to be critical of Pope Francis and liberal clergy around them. Now, I would NOT recommend a bashing rant. That’s never a good idea. You don’t want to come across as some kind of a rebel. However, if they ask about why some liberal clergy (even the pope) do certain things, don’t be afraid to tell them that Catholic clergy don’t always live up to the ideal standards of the faith, and the pope is no exception. History is replete with religious leaders (even popes) who failed to live up to the dignity of their office. Assure them that we respect the office as established by Christ, but the men who occupy it are not always worthy. Our faith is outlined in the Catechism and the Bible. It’s not based on the whims of men wearing miters. Believe me, telling Evangelicals something like this will go a long way. They’ll learn, by your example, that being a Catholic doesn’t mean checking your brain at the door, and it doesn’t mean that you must follow Catholic leaders (even the pope) like some mind-numbed robot. Evangelicals respect Christians who study their faith and uphold it. Seriously, they do. One of the most common misconceptions in Evangelicalism is that Catholics are nothing but a bunch of lemmings following the pope around and doing whatever he says, even if it’s against the teachings of Christ. Showing them that you study the Catholic faith and you uphold it, in spite of unworthy leaders, is going to gain a lot of brownie points with Evangelicals. I’m talking about respect here. They’re going to respect you. They may even admire you. This might lead them to imitate you, and if that happens, their conversion won’t be far behind.
- Don’t make a habit out of going to your Evangelical friend’s church. That’s not a good idea. As for weddings, funerals and baptisms; yes, by all means you should go. But these are rare occasions. When you do go, however, you MUST abstain from communion if it’s served. This is a matter of both Catholic faith and canon law. Catholics are not allowed, under any circumstances, to receive communion at Protestant (Evangelical) churches. So keep this in mind. But when you occasionally go for weddings, funerals and baptisms, it’s okay to sing with them, pray with them, and politely listen to their sermons. You just can’t receive communion in their churches. Likewise, you should never make a habit out of going to such churches. Tell your Evangelical friend, respectfully of course, that this just isn’t your idea of what church should be. Tell them you seek “Biblical worship through sacrifice, and that means the living sacrifice of the Eucharist in the liturgy of the Holy Mass.” That’s why you go to Holy Mass, and that they are welcome to attend Mass with you instead. Likewise, don’t attend their home Bible studies, and you should never send your kids to their youth groups, unless you plan on losing them. Extra-church activities are fine, however, such as homeschool cooperatives, pro-life ministries, or anything outside of official church functions are no problem. It’s the official church functions you’ve got to stay away from, with the rare exceptions of weddings, funerals and baptisms.
- When they’re ready to move beyond questions, and want to really learn what the Catholic Church is about, you’re Evangelical friend may ask you how this can be done. This is the time to tell them that the best thing they can do is take a catechism/formation class with a traditional (orthodox) priest, and you could offer to attend the class with them as a friend. Keep in mind, that Evangelicals generally fear high-pressure sales. They generally shy away from churches that push membership hard. What I recommend you do is inform them that they can always do a catechism/formation class without joining. Assure them that nobody will ever pressure them to join the Catholic Church. They can take a catechism/formation class without having to join the Church after. In other words, they can just “audit” the course. People do it all the time. Plus, if it makes them feel more comfortable, you can audit the class with them. When they’re agreeable to this, refer them to a traditional (orthodox) priest, preferably one who celebrates either the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) or the Divine Worship Mass (DWM). Explain to your Evangelical friend that Catholics don’t just learn by hearing and reading. We learn by doing. Attending mass regularly is part of the learning process. Lex orandi, Lex credendi, or “prayer leads to belief.” The best way to learn the Catholic faith is to attend mass for at least six months, while taking a catechism/formation class in a traditional (orthodox) Catholic parish at the same time. Then, after six months, they’ll know what Catholic Christianity is really all about, and they’ll be able to make an informed decision about joining or not. It’s important here to let your Evangelical friend know that he/she is in full control of this process and nothing will ever be pressured. The worst case scenario is that after six months of catechesis/formation, he/she may not become Catholic, but at least he/she will have a clue about Catholicism, which is more than we can say for 99% of Evangelicals out there. It’s still a win for everybody, regardless if he/she joins the Church or not. It is my experience, however, that if you give an Evangelical six months of catechesis/formation, conversion will follow most of the time.
As you can see, this stuff isn’t hard. It’s pretty straight forward and simple. It doesn’t require you to be an academic or an expert. It only requires you to be a good Catholic, who studies the Catechism and the New Testament, and practices the faith in a traditional (orthodox) way. It only requires you to open your heart toward Evangelicals who are willing to open their hearts toward you. It only requires you to be a friend — a real friend without preconditions — not a superficial friend who is just looking for converts. In other words, it requires you to be real. Do you think you can handle this? I’m willing to bet that most of you can and will. This is how you evangelize the Evangelicals.