On the one hand, the Roman Catholic Church seems impressive with her history, symbols, liturgies, popes, and rituals. Some people become Catholic because they appreciate these types of religious things. However, others are leaving Rome because amidst the rituals and symbols, they cannot find the gospel. In Stepping out in Faith, Mark Gilbert has collected eleven stories of Christians who left Rome because they weren’t hearing the message of grace.
This book isn’t too long (c. 120 pages), the stories aren’t too difficult to read, and it isn’t a point by point theological/biblical critique of Rome. Rather, Stepping out in Faith is simply a collection of short personal stories that explain how and why these people left Rome and became evangelical Protestants. Though the stories are mostly written by Australians who are now Anglican, they are certainly understandable for any Christian interested in this topic.
A common theme that struck me in these stories is how Rome’s traditions and theology actually cloud the gospel of grace. One priest told a young boy that if he did what he said (concerning religion) it would all be OK. Another child grew up thinking that God was ready to condemn him if he’d screw up. Still another child was told by a nun that if he didn’t confess all his sins to the priest, he would go to hell. Several stories in this book said the Catholic church taught them that God helps those who help themselves. Indeed, the theology, tradition, and rituals of Rome cloud the gospel.
Along these lines, here are a few excerpts from the stories in this book.
“I came to believe that Roman Catholic teaching makes it very difficult for people to understand the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I know this is a very serious charge…, but because the gospel is so fundamental, I decided to leave the Catholic Church” (p. 79).
“I was taught that if I didn’t go to church one Sunday and I died before my next confession, I would go to hell. I became totally confused. The only thing I truly understood was fear – fear of a God of punishment, fear of committing mortal sins before confession, fear of dying and going to hell” (p. 86).
“I was angry with the Catholic Church for a number of years after I left. I felt that my trust had been betrayed. I’d attended mass thousands of times, not to mention the retreats and youth groups I’d been to; I’d even met the Pope. But I’d never heard the gospel. I also felt angry because they did not teach the truth about God to the people I loved. With time that anger settled, and I came to realize that it was only God’s grace and generosity that enabled me to hear the gospel and trust in him in the first place” (p. 120).
Again, this book isn’t a deep Reformed theological refutation of Roman Catholicism. But it still is a good resource – a good resource for those interested in a starting point for what it means to leave Rome. This book would be helpful for average Catholics who are questioning. It’s also a good read for those of us who are in solid Protestant churches. Stories like this should make us thankful for the Reformation and for churches that proclaim the doctrines of grace clearly Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day.
[This book was reviewed as part of the CrossFocus review program; I was not compelled to give a positive review in exchange for the book.]
rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)