The Lever: Tell us a bit about how the book came about.
Ray Galea: I got several phone calls about eighteen months ago from people concerned that, with the Catholic World Youth Day coming up, young Christians wouldn’t be able to discern the differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. We’re well over the old sectarianism which was really ugly for both sides, and that’s a good thing, but in the process we’ve actually forgotten what the real differences are, and that blood was spilled for good reasons, or rather, for real reasons, 450 years ago in the Reformation. There are profound differences and those on both sides that know what they believe will say that. So, it was an opportunity to clarify that and to particularly help young Christians be aware that the difference between a Catholic and a Baptist, or an Anglican, is profound in a way that the difference between an evangelical Anglican, Baptist or Presbyterian is minimal. It was also a chance to be able to tell my story in a way that’s respectful. I am really thankful for many of the good things that I learned as a Roman Catholic (and there were lots of good things that were true to the Bible) and yet at the same time there are profound differences as well.
TL: You spend a good deal of time in the book trying to sort out those differences. Can you summarise for our readers what you feel the most significant differences are?
RG: What we have in common, amongst other things, is the clear notion of the Trinity. We really have no significant differences in that. All confessing mainline denominations hold that there is one God and three Persons. But the differences are really on the understanding of the gospel, and the implications that flow from that. So my reluctant conclusion, and painful conclusion, is that every distinctive Catholic teaching (not every Catholic teaching, but every distinctive Catholic teaching) in some way or another undermines or erodes the person or the work of Jesus Christ. That’s at the heart of the matter. Once I became a Christian I was driven by a jealousy for Jesus, and guarding his sufficiency and his unique role. So, the classic four statements of the Reformation of Bible alone, grace alone, Christ alone, and faith alone really do capture in a nutshell what the differences are. There have since become more differences, but the foundation is different. They accept that God speaks through a two-sided form of revelation; the Bible plus oral tradition that was given to the early church and then passed on. In effect what that means is that the church stands over the Bible. As Protestants we’re convinced that the Bible alone has the final say and that every preacher and every church council has to submit to the authority of the Bible, and that you’re not allowed to bind anyone’s conscience against what can be found in Scripture. The moment you allow for oral tradition, well, it’s like a ship with a crack in the hull, and over the centuries the traditions of the church begin to seep in until finally the ship sinks under its own weight of traditions that have replaced the word of God or undermined the word of God. And that’s what you see, for example, with the teaching of the immaculate conception of Mary and the idea that she is co-redeemer; the elevated view of her sharing in the mediatorial role of Christ. Or, the place of purgatory that undermines the sufficient work of Christ – that somehow there’s work to be done after you die, before you go to heaven, where you need to be purged from your sins. You’re justified not on the basis of your faith alone, but on the quality of your faith and works. Because of this you can never really have any assurance, and you’re forbidden to have assurance, because it doesn’t rely solely on the death of Christ. It relies on the quality of your response as you co-operate with the grace of God. And the list goes on and on, but there are some examples. ...
TL: As you indicated at the beginning, those are fairly fundamental differences. How have people reacted to the book? What chance have you had to get some feedback from various types of people?
RG: I get at least two emails a week from someone who has read it, or I hear stories. From within the Christian group it’s kind of distorted because people are more likely to send you positive rather than negative things. Amongst the Christians they’ve been essentially positive. I think they’ve appreciated that I’ve really worked hard to be respectful, and not to be “narky”, and to be thankful for the good things I’ve learnt. People appreciated that. A number of people have become Christians. It’s not the sort of book I would normally give to a Roman Catholic who is yet to understand the gospel. I prefer to give them something like A Fresh Start, and then work from there. But some people have and it’s been really helpful. One teenager I know, and one person I’ve heard of just recently, have understood the gospel as a result of it, so that’s wonderful. Amongst Roman Catholics who have been given it, particularly clergy, I’ve got some, not a lot mind you, but some e-mails, accusing me of handing out the same Protestant line and misrepresenting Catholicism. But I always ask them to help me, and point out where I’ve misrepresented them. I don’t think I misrepresented the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. They may not have liked my responses to those teachings but I’ve not yet got them clarifying where I’ve particularly misrepresented them. Amongst Catholics there are those that found it interesting, and some found out things about their own faith that they didn’t know. For others, particularly for those that think about their faith, well you wouldn’t exactly call them over the moon about it! Neither would I be, if the reverse were the case.
TL: In terms of talking to and relating to our Catholic friends, what do you think are the biggest mistakes evangelicals make?
RG: The classic is they take the offensive and want to attack Catholicism, rather than trying to preach Jesus. You do get to that point where you have to deal with the differences, there are no two ways about that. But I’ve got a pro-Jesus, not an anti-Catholic, ministry. Jesus wasn’t ashamed himself to critique church leaders around him, but at the end of the day it was about announcing that the kingdom of God was at hand, and that he was the king. We all know that whenever anyone attacks Australia from America we get defensive. We can criticise Australia all we like, but get an American attacking Australia and we get very defensive. So even at a human level no one is going to hear you if you go in boots and all. What you need to do is say, ‘let’s find out about Jesus, open the Scriptures together, and see what the nature of salvation is.’ For me, I found the most helpful set of tools to be 7 Basic Bible Studies from Matthias Media. Particularly the second study on Ephesians 2:8-9, ‘by grace you have been saved through faith.’ In my years of ministry I can count over 50 people from a Catholic background that have become Christians just through that study alone. As my friend, who is an Orthodox, once said:
‘We had all the pieces, we just couldn’t put it all together. We knew there was a heaven and a hell and that Jesus died on the cross, we just didn’t know how it worked. And understanding the death of Christ and the nature of salvation – by grace alone through faith alone, finally the penny drops and the scales fall off.’For a much longer version of this interview as well as an article by Anthony Petterson called 'How Should We Respond to World Youth Day?'and a book review on Catholicism Today and Tomorrow, by Hefin Jones, you can subscribe to The Lever at the Baptists Evangelicals Today (BET) website.