Why Catholics are Becoming Protestants

One out of every 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic. If they were a separate denomination, they would be the third-largest denomination in the United States, after Catholics and Baptists. One of three people who were raised Catholic no longer identifies as Catholic.

So observes Father Thomas Reese, summarizing new Pew Research Center data in an essay for the National Catholic Reporter. And to his credit, Reese dives into the data to honestly identify the root causes of the exodus: “Contrary to what conservatives say, ex-Catholics are not flocking to the evangelicals because they think the Catholic church is politically too liberal. They are leaving to get spiritual nourishment from worship services and the Bible.”

Because Omaha is a very Catholic city, and because many of Coram Deo’s members come from a Catholic heritage, I wanted to link to Reese’s essay for the benefit of all. Reese is writing as a Roman Catholic, identifying a problem within his tradition and attempting to propose a solution. Those who read his observations with a “gospel filter” will discern that the issue really comes down to the gospel. Here are a few of the most interesting excerpts:

The Catholic church has failed to deliver what people consider fundamental products of religion: spiritual sustenance and a good worship service… Dissatisfaction with how the church deals with spiritual needs and worship services dwarfs any disagreements over specific doctrines.

The people becoming Protestants [are not] lazy or lax Christians. In fact, they attend worship services at a higher rate than those who remain Catholic… As believers and as worshipers, Catholics who become Protestants are statistically better Christians than those who stay Catholic. We are losing the best, not the worst.

Almost two-thirds of former Catholics who join a Protestant church join an evangelical church… compared to those who became mainline Protestants, a higher percentage of those becoming evangelicals said they left because their spiritual needs were not being met (78 percent versus 57 percent) and that they had stopped believing in Catholic teaching (62 percent versus 20 percent). They also cited the church’s teaching on the Bible (55 percent versus 16 percent) more frequently as a reason for leaving. Forty-six percent of these new evangelicals felt the Catholic church did not view the Bible literally enough. Thus, for those leaving to become evangelicals, spiritual sustenance, worship services and the Bible were key.

That Catholics are leaving to join evangelical churches because of the church teaching on the Bible is a disgrace… Few Catholics read the Bible. The [Catholic] church needs a massive Bible education program. The church needs to acknowledge that understanding the Bible is more important than memorizing the catechism. If we could get Catholics to read the Sunday scripture readings each week before they come to Mass, it would be revolutionary. If you do not read and pray the scriptures, you are not an adult Christian. Catholics who become evangelicals understand this.

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  1. The “dissatisfaction” over worship rather than doctrine surprised me. I thought doctrine would be the reason for departure from the Catholic church. But this paragraph seems to imply that doctrine refers mainly to the “issues.” I’m not sure if I’m reading into this accurately, but it looks like they’ve missed the doctrines of the gospel by looking too closely at the doctrines of the issues in this survey. This is more anecdotal evidence, but the Catholics I know who have switched to Protestantism have done so over doctrines of the gospel (mainly justification), and the Catholics who have stayed also stayed because they agree with Catholic doctrine in those areas.

    “Dissatisfaction with how the church deals with spiritual needs and worship services dwarfs any disagreements over specific doctrines. While half of those who became Protestants say they left because they stopped believing in Catholic teaching, specific questions get much lower responses. Only 23 percent said they left because of the church’s teaching on abortion and homosexuality; only 23 percent because of the church’s teaching on divorce; only 21 percent because of the rule that priests cannot marry; only 16 percent because of the church’s teaching on birth control; only 16 percent because of the way the church treats women; only 11 percent because they were unhappy with the teachings on poverty, war and the death penalty.”

    • Brandon,

      Authority is a major difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants. I initially left the Roman catholic church and became a Protestant over the authority of the pope. However I now see the Roman catholic view of Justification and the Protestant view is a strong dividing line between being Roman Catholics and being a Presbyterian Protestant.

      I will agree with you when you said: “but the Catholics I know who have switched to Protestantism have done so over doctrines of the gospel (mainly justification), and the Catholics who have stayed also stayed because they agree with Catholic doctrine in those areas.”

      I am now a strong Protestant. I am no longer a Roman catholic in any way.

      I believe the beauty and awesomeness of the Protestant doctrine of Justification is that we are eternally secure in Christ because we have contributed nothing towards our redemption.

      “Justification is a judicial act of God, in which He declares, on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that all the claims of the law are satisfied with respect to the sinner. It is unique in the application of the work of redemption in that it is a judicial act of God, a declaration respecting the sinner, and not an act or process of renewal, such as regeneration, conversion, and sanctification. While it has respect to the sinner, it does not change his inner life. It does not affect his condition, but his state, and in that respect differs from all the other principal parts of the order of salvation. It involves the forgiveness of sins, and restoration to divine favor.” Louis Berkhof

      Justification is by faith alone.
      “The Roman Catholic view of justification [is that] God declares a person to be just when justice (or righteousness) inheres in the person. The person, under divine analysis or scrutiny, is found to be just. God justifies the just. …By stark and radical contrast the Reformation view of justification is that God declares a person just based upon something [external to them], something not inherent in the person: the imputed righteousness of Christ.”
      R. C. Sproul

      Justification is the process of transforming us from what we were: dead in sin, to what we will be: Like Christ. Justification does not make us good; it imparts Christ’s goodness to us.

      II Cor. 5: 21
      For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

      God counts the people He has called as righteous by means of their faith and not their works. This does not mean the elect are counted righteous on the basis of their faith. Since faith is itself a gift from God, no one can boast of this as if he has done anything to merit it.

      Eph. 2: 8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

      Christians are counted righteous on the basis of Christ’s righteousness which has been applied to us through the vehicle of faith.

      Rom. 3: 21-24 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all] who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

      Paul uses a legal term to explain how and why the elect are justified. The Greek word to justify is diakioun. Whenever a Greek verb ends in –oun, it means to treat someone as something. It never means to make someone something. When we stand before God, as we all will some day, we need to recognize that in us, there is nothing which makes us worthy of God’s grace; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
      We are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God treats us as righteous because of what Jesus did on the Cross.

      Heb. 9: 12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.

      When we stand before God, as we all will some day, we need to recognize that in us, there is nothing which makes us worthy of God’s grace; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

      We are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God treats us as righteous because of what Jesus did on the Cross.

      The beauty and awesomeness of the Protestant doctrine of Justification is that we are eternally secure in Christ because we have contributed nothing towards our redemption.

      I am a Protestant today because I believe completely in the Protestant teaching of Justification.

      God counts the people He has called as righteous by means of their faith and not their works. This does not mean the elect are counted righteous on the basis of their faith. Since faith is itself a gift from God, no one can boast of this as if he has done anything to merit it.

      Eph. 2: 8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

  2. It seems as though when the protest happened starting with Luther and Zwingli, that it didn’t really take off until the scriptures started to get into the hands of the masses. Once people were able to read it themselves they reformed by the will of Jesus. In a way I see the Acts 29 movement as another step in the direction of moving from justified by works. Even with the scriptures at or complete disposal we still need the Holy Spirit to enable us to have better and better theology. To be a little more specific I think most evangelicals view faith in a way that would categorize it as a work. If faith is indeed our own than we have done something to earn salvation. But boating is excluded because of righteousness that is by faith and faith that is authored by Jesus, gifted by the Holy Spirit, and apportioned by God.

  3. I am an adult convert to Presbyterianism as well as Protestantism. I was a Roman Catholic until I became interested in the study of the Protestant Reformation and the different branches of Protestantism about 5 years ago. I was also very disillusioned by Pope Benedict and I was no longer able to believe in the primacy of the pope or accept him as Christ’s vicar on earth. I explored all the mainline protestant denominations and a series of circumstances led me to make a decision to become a Presbyterian.
    I began an intensive study of Protestantism and the Protestant Reformation. I began to believe the Reformation was establishing and returning the Church and the Gospel to the way it was in the early church. My studies and exploration of the Protestant Reformation and the mainline Protestant denominations also lead me to firmly believe in the doctrines of the Protestant reformation. As one who believes in the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation i.e. the authority of the Bible alone in all matters of faith and practice and that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone and all Glory and Honor is for God alone I now define myself as a Protestant.
    After studying John Calvin I also became convinced that the Protestant doctrine of Justification by faith alone in Christ alone was biblically correct and I became very interested in the Reformed Protestant theology. When I accepted the authority of the Bible alone in all matters of faith and realized that salvation is by grace alone I could no longer say I was a Roman Catholic. I fully understood that only Christ heads his church.
    I wanted to find a Protestant denomination that I believed had the purest form of the Gospel. It was in that search I became a Presbyterian in faith not only a Protestant. In August 2010 I began worshipping with the First Presbyterian Church of Manasquan and I decided this is the Christian church I wish to unite with as my church home of faith. I was received into full membership in the church on October 24th 2010 by public affirmation of faith before the congregation who then affirmed my acceptance into the Prebyterian church by public affirmation.

  4. ”The Catholic Church is losing the best, not the worst?” — No, just the opposite. The people who leave are the weak, who do not know or understand what the Church is and what it teaches.

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