Why I Left the Roman Catholic Church

glass-rose-JPG-300-dpiI was raised Roman Catholic. Now I’m a Lutheran pastor. But I didn’t just leave the Roman Catholic Church because I happened to marry a pretty Lutheran girl. Nor was my attending seminary part of the deal when we got married (my wife never went “semming”). So why did I leave the Roman Catholic Church? From the Council of Trent, Sixth Session. Chapter IX: “Against the Vain Faith of Heretics.”

“But though it is necessary that sins neither are remitted nor ever have been remitted except gratuitously by divine mercy for Christ’s sake, yet it must not be said that sins are forgiven or have been forgiven to anyone who boasts of his confidence and certainty of the remission of his sins, resting on that alone, though among heretics and schismatics this vain and ungodly confidence may be and in our troubled times indeed is found and preached with untiring fury against the Catholic Church… no one can know with the certainty of faith, which cannot be subject to error, that he has obtained the grace of God”

If we cannot boast with confidence and certainty that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), then God is a liar. With the united testimony of Holy Scripture and the Evangelical Lutheran Church, I will continue to preach with untiring fury the certainty of salvation in Christ Jesus by grace through faith alone. God does not lie.

“To [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name,” (Act 10:43).

Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses (Act 13:38-39).

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness (Romans 4:4-5).

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.
For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring–not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (Romans 4:13-16).

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:23-29).

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law (Romans 3:21-28).

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned (St. John 3:17-18).



Why I Left the Roman Catholic Church — 20 Comments

  1. Wow! I’ve never before read “Against the Vain Faith of Heretics.” How tragic to leave their hearers so unsure of the grace of God. Thanks be to God for leading you home.

  2. I guess that’s how they keep ’em coming back trying to make God happy (and why Mary is so much more appealing – her son can’t run her down, right?)

    But, seriously, after 25 years of marriage, my RC wife is finally coming to church with me, as are my kids. The Gospel reaches out with love and patience and Christ is nothing if not persistent in his pursuit of all those baptized.

    More Roman Catholics should do what my kids did, ask questions. Their frustrations with the answers and lack of answers gets them to read things like the Bible.

    Thanks, Pastor!

  3. I’d love to hear more of the story of your journey from Catholicism to Lutheranism. What impression of God did you have growing up Catholic? How did you start discovering these Scripture passages on justification by faith? What was the point where you realized Scripture and the Council of Trent were irreconcilable? What was the reaction of your family and friends when you came over to Lutheranism? Please write a follow-up post!

  4. I’d also like to know if you brought any of your Catholic-ness with you into your Lutheran expression. I don’t mean the doctrinal side of that…but more of an appreciation for liturgy and the day-to-day flow of liturgical life. For myself, who grew up as an LCMS kid, I did not bring that same appreciation into my pastoral life or practice. I have many Catholic friends, some of whom are very devout, and still others who find solace in their devotion to Mary. When you encounter that, do you have empathy for that? How do you respond?

  5. What is particularly sad (and I’d even say diabolical) is that so many RC’s seem to have been taught that that “monstrous uncertainty” is *itself* a form of “good work”. “I’m more righteous than you, because I do not dare to claim to be sure that I am going to heaven.”

  6. I’ve also seen the flip side of this from Evangelicals certain of their salvation because of all the things they do right and all the wrongs they avoid. Self-righteousness creeps in from all sides against Christ’s righteousness. The is a lot of Pharisaism out there.

    One interesting discussion I’ve had with others concerns the duty to attend mass and that attendance is a work, in itself, that merits grace. I see going to worship and receiving what God offers in Word, sacrament, and absolution as a great privilege. It’s what God does to strengthen me and make me happy so that I can go out and do His will. I believe He takes the most pleasure in working through us to reach others.

  7. Many thanks for supporting so clearly from God’s Word the most basic difference between Roman Catholicism and the Holy Bible—which is the one and only source of our confessional Lutheran doctrine. Your comments are “spot on”! When I vicared in Havana, Cuba during the revolution between President Batista and Fidel Castro, I was privileged to take numerous Roman Catholics through private adult instruction. Before they joined our Lutheran Church mission in Havana, I would ask them (at the suggestion of my Bishop who was Rev. Eugene Gruell and who had done the same when instructing RC’s in Cuba and in McAllen, Texas) to choose “one word” to describe Roman Catholicism and one word to describe Lutheranism. The word chosen almost 100% of the time was the word “fear” to describe RC and the word “love” to describe Lutheranism. They told me that they always” feared” that they would never do enough to please God and to be sure of salvation (and none of ever can do enough to save ourselves). They used the word “Love” to describe “God’s undeserved love” in sending Jesus Christ to win salvation for us so that they were “assured” of God’s forgiveness, life and salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It was a tremendous burden lifted from them when they experienced God’s saving love by His grace through faith in Jesus. I asked those same questions of converts to Lutheranism from Roman Catholicism all during my pastoral ministry and I would guess that about 85 to 90% of converts chose those same two words. Grace Alone! Faith Alone! Scripture Alone! That is what you used, good brother in Christ. Never change!
    Rev. David V. Dissen
    Pastor Emeritus
    Cape Girardeua, MO

  8. I have never been Roman Catholic. However my wife was a very good Roman Catholic until about 6 years ago when she was in college when she was confirmed in a Wisconsin Synod Church. The backlash she faced from her family, and the subsequent backlash we faced when we married in the Lutheran Church was more than I would wish on anybody. In conversations with my in-laws the Catholic understanding of Grace and Forgiveness discussed and to be sure if there were in any doubts in my mind, I saw that we were on different planets concerning those tenants of faith.

  9. You sound like the Lutheran version of the “Coming Home Network”. How by switching churches one finds the “true” light, and how many former Lutherans finally came home. These types of comments need further study on both sides of the fence.

  10. @David Moseley #11

    I’m leaving the Catholic Church, perhaps to join the Lutheran Church, but there has been no such reaction from my parents, both of whom continue to be churchgoing Roman Catholics, or from my best friend of 25-plus years, who is a devout Catholic who nearly joined the priesthood. Let’s not pretend to know that most Catholics would react hatefully or nastily to relatives or friends choosing to join another denomination. Personally, I doubt it.

  11. @John Brendel #14

    Good morning, John. I agree with you that not all Catholics would have a negative attitude.
    I’ve heard stories on both sides. I have a friend who grew up Irish Catholic and is now a Lutheran pastor and theologian. His family did not receive the news well, at first. It took many years for them to warm up to the idea.

    My wife is Roman Catholic and we’ve been married going on 26 years. Because she attended parochial school, she’s got a better grip on theology than most of the “devout” Catholics I meet. It keeps discussions lively and we can appreciate the differences and similarities – we understand each other. Both of my children attended CCD and were confirmed in the Catholic church. Both did it to please their mom, their grandmother, and the memory of their great-grandmother. But they were both frustrated at the lack of education they received, no exposure to scripture, and lack of answers to their questions. I actually dug in and helped with their studies. Turns out that being Lutheran actually helps clarify a lot of Catholicism. My son is thinking about coming to church with me but my daughter is currently taking member classes, sings in the choir, and is a Sunday School aid (she loves hearing the many stories they were never taught in CCD).

    My wife also attends church with me but sets aside time during the year for novenas and an occasional mass. She comes with me because she is hearing a Gospel message that she’s only gotten from a few priests and youth ministers from her past. She comes to Bible study both on Sundays and a weeknight because we talk about things, read, discuss and she can contribute. Her church does not enrich adults beyond attending mass or sitting with a rosary and her options of a local parish are very limited.

    There is concern in her family over the kids joining my church but not to an great degree. At least we’re not generic protestants lacking the sacrament or spewing anti-Catholic rhetoric. We’re not the first Lutherans to marry into the family. But we are the only ones where the children are following the father to church and I am the only father to remain a Lutheran.

    At times, my wife feels she failed the children by not passing along her faith. But it wasn’t for lack of discussion or teaching on her part. My one request, because we live in NJ and Lutherans are rare and scattered and I was really tired of hearing people ask “what is that?”, was that my faith not be a mystery to my children. They came on Wednesdays during Lent and Advent, Christmas Eve, early Easter morning (before they went to noon mass). I always remind my wife that there is no failure – there is really only one Christ and one Church. Failure would have been that the children did not take this seriously enough to pray over the decision and think about their faith and hold on to faith. Failure would be if they left the Church.

  12. I really appreciate your story Pastor Anderson. I am a 45 year old married man with 7 children and we are all practicing Roman Catholics. With that stated, my children have attended a LCMS school for the past several years and have had exposure to the Small Catechism and Lutheran practice. My best friend from high school is a devout Wisconsin Synod Lutheran. I have been challenged many times over the years about particular Roman Catholic teachings and beliefs by my Lutheran friends and for the past 5months I have been reading and studying The Book of Concord. I must say I am feeling a strong pull towards Lutheranism simply because I am coming to believe that the Scriptures are rightly taught and honored in The Confessions. Please pray for me as I discern this difficult decision to convert. Thank you

  13. @Steve #17

    Steve, I certainly will! Sola Scriptura is a hallmark of Lutheran theology and a major feature that differentiates us from Rome. Any well-catechized Roman Catholic will readily admit that, for them, tradition is an authoritative source of doctrine. Your statement, “I am coming to believe that the Scriptures are rightly taught and honored…” gives you away. You may still be on-the-books Roman Catholic, but not in doctrine. A true Romanist would speak of the authority of “Church”, not Scripture.

  14. @Pastor Eric Andersen #18

    Thank you for your comments and prayers Pastor. Yes, I am coming around with the principal of Sola Scriptura. I have noticed a long and steady “explaining away” of the plain sense of Scripture on the part of several Roman Catholic apologists and even the official position of Rome seems to be one of Sola Ecclesia (Church Alone) in practice. Coupled with this is the growing use of the Historical Critical approach to the Scriptures that is endorsed and approved of by Rome (just check out the introductions, footnotes and commentaries in The New American Bible Catholic translation as well the Conciliar Document of Vatican II: Dei Verbum for evidence of this). If I may inquire, what eventually brought you to embrace fully Confessional Lutheranism? Also what would be additional reading resources you could recommend besides The Book of Concord? Thank you and God bless!

  15. @Steve #19

    Spot on. If memory serves, the RCC catechism even embraces evolution. As far as my own path into Lutheranism, I came into it backwards. I started off in the praise band (see my “Why I Quit the Praise Band” post), but it was through a series of encounters with faithful professors at Concordia, Chicago (notably, Brian Mosemann) and later, pastors in the Denver area (Bauer & Sherrill @ Trinity, Denver; Wolfmueller/Melius, Frahm, some of the Wyoming guys like Pr. Scheer, etc.) that really brought me into the fold. That and reading Sasse, Chemnitz, Nagel, Kleinig, Pless, etc. Kleinig’s “Grace upon Grace” is outstanding. I also read Senkbeil’s “Dying to Live” early on. Veith’s “God at Work” is great on vocation.

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