In most parts of the world, Catholics and Protestants have come a long way from their history of bloody battles with each other. We now live, work, and play side by side in relative harmony.
Which is how it should be, although this doesn’t mean we’re supposed to give up on evangelizing our Protestant brothers and sisters. Jesus calls all of us to work to peacefully help Him gather everyone into His one Church.
Protestants have often outdone Catholics in their evangelization efforts. While Catholic apologetics has developed a lot over the past few decades, we still have plenty of work to do.
Here are a few ways you can pitch in to gently encourage your Protestant friends to consider the claims of the Catholic Church.
1. Suggest that they study the writings of the Fathers of the Church
Many former Protestants credit the writings of the Fathers of the Church with leading them to embrace Catholicism. This includes some pretty big names in the Catholic world, including Scott Hahn, Peter Kreeft, and Stephen K. Ray.
The Fathers of the Church are early Christian leaders, preachers, and writers of the first several hundred years of Christianity. The reason they are so valuable is that they give us a window into what the early Christians believed in the time period following the Apostles. Some of these men even knew the Apostles personally.
Time after time, Protestants have gone to the writings of the Church Fathers to “prove” that the early Church was Protestant — only to discover very Catholic-sounding beliefs and practices. We have St. Clement of Rome at the end of the first century talking about the apostolic succession of bishops; St. Irenaeus of Lyons in the second century defending the authority of Apostolic Tradition; and St. Justin Martyr in the second century describing an ancient form of the Mass. And the list goes on.
Thankfully, many of the writings of the early Church Fathers are available to read for free online. New Advent has one of the best collections.
2. Show them Catholic beliefs in the Bible
The Bible is a Catholic book. While you won’t find every Catholic doctrine laid out there, you’ll find quite a bit of support for our beliefs in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, confession to a priest, the authority of the papacy, and more. John 6 is a great place to begin a discussion about the Eucharist with your Protestant friends, as is Matthew 16 to defend the papacy.
Just be careful about proof-texting. Make sure to read the entire passage or chapter to make sure you’re not taking the words out of context. There are many great apologetics resources out there to help you better understand the Scriptural basis of Catholicism.
3. Gently help them overcome misunderstandings about Catholicism
Some Protestants inadvertently perpetuate misconceptions about Catholic beliefs they’ve heard from their pastor, fellow churchgoers, or televangelists. There are too many to list here, but some common misunderstandings you’ll encounter from Protestants are that Catholics worship Mary and the saints, think they have to “earn” heaven, and don’t really care about the Bible.
Sometimes, the misunderstanding is due to using words differently. For example, many Protestants have a more narrow definition of the word “pray” than Catholics. For Protestants, it always denotes an act of worship. For Catholics, the word can simply mean “to ask.” So when we say we are praying to the saints, we just mean we’re asking for their intercession.
It’s important to exercise charity in these cases because it’s often not the Protestants’ fault that they have these misunderstandings.
These tips have helped many Protestants open themselves to the truth of Catholicism. Your goal should not be to win a debate with anyone. It should be to shed light on Christ’s presence in the Catholic Church in such a way as to help them become receptive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who is ready to lead them into the fullness of truth.