It’s my first time posting. I’m a born Catholic but I spent most of the last six years away from the Church in a couple of Protestant churches. I came back to the Church after my evangelical mega-church, Mars Hill Church, imploded recently following a string of scandals. What was once one of the fastest-growing and largest nondenominational churches in America is dissolving at the end of this year. Sad. Not sad.
I’ve always been pretty much in agreement with Catholic doctrine. Sure, I have some trouble with the emphasis on Mary and a couple of other things but I think and have always thought that Catholic doctrine is the closest to the Truth of Christ. I have enough faith to know that I’m probably misunderstanding something in the areas of doctrine I have trouble with.
So, what drew me away for those six years? I think it’s an important question because I’m likely not an anomaly. Other Catholics have been drawn away, are being drawn away, and will continue to be drawn away for similar reasons. They are being drawn out of the Church to primarily Protestant/Evangelical churches, “spiritual but not religious” lifestyles, and to Atheism. The statistics attest to this. Thirty percent of adults raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic and 10% of all Americans are former Catholics. I’ll tell you what drew me away.
- The vast majority of Catholic churches I am familiar with have been dead and lifeless compared to the Protestant and Evangelical churches I have experienced. I’ve been to many Catholic churches as well as many non-Catholic churches all over the world. When I say “dead and lifeless” I mean that in a couple of ways.
A) Protestants and Evangelicals simply, from my subjective vantage point, have more genuine interest in living out their faith individually and in community than Catholics do. They seem to be much more “on fire” for Christ than most Catholics I know and encounter. And BTW, I know far more former Catholics than I know current Catholics. That is sad. The culture of the Catholic Church is to be subdued and restrained. But the mandate of the Great Commission requires a joy about our faith. I rarely saw that in Catholic Churches.
B) Protestant and Evangelical church services were typically much more alive than Catholic Church services. I saw a few exceptions to this, most notably a small Catholic Church on Guam in a quonset hut. For all of Mars Hill’s faults, it’s services were often joyful experiences brimming with life and energy. Obviously, engaging preaching, awesome worship music, and excitement are not the complete package but they also are good things when they focus Christians on the reality of the salvation offered by Christ.
- In addition to Catholic churches corporately driving Catholics away, the way individual Catholics walk in their faith is also responsible for the exodus of Catholics from the Church. In my case, I saw two primary ways this manifested itself:
A) Most of the Catholics I know now and the ones I have known for as long as I can remember are much more “check off the box” Christians than they are Christians who seem to have a genuine desire to engage in a personal relationship with Christ. They see Mass as a boring requirement that they’re supposed to do, not that they want to do. Their faith seems pharisaical rather than focused on love: more concerned about rules and regulations than mercy and humility.
B) Catholics do not know the Bible and Catholics do not know their faith. In my opinion, this is the single greatest weakness of Catholics today. If they knew their faith and they knew their Bible, it would mean that they were joyful and excited about their faith. However, that’s not the case. Protestants/Evangelicals, the “spiritual but not religious”, and Atheists can all peel Catholics away from their Church with relative ease because most Catholics have very little to no idea how to answer their questions and challenges. They could not explain their faith to another person beyond a preschool level (and I don’t mean that in the good, Matthew 18:3, sort of way). The classic question Evangelicals ask Catholics is “Why do Catholics say you need works to get into heaven when the Bible says faith is what saves you?” The typical Catholic is bewildered and flummoxed by this question. It doesn’t take too many more similar questions for the Catholic to begin seriously wondering and become convinced that the Catholic Church is in heresy and represents the whore of Babylon. This would not be the case if Catholics knew their faith and knew their Bible.
So, that has been my experience. Like I said, I don’t think I’m an aberration. The Catholic Church is the One, True Church but most Catholics seem to have very little real appreciation for that fact and the droves of people fleeing the Church bear that out.
Oh, and as an important end-note, in my opinion Pope Francis is a great move in the right direction. He is a big part of the reason I came back.