A former Catholic, Jim Fallon was Catholic Answers' guest at its "Go Forth and Teach" workshop, which was held in Long Beach, California the first weekend in March. Finances prevented him from attending the annual conference of the Association of Fundamentalists Evangelizing Catholics, which was held two months later, but he videotaped for that group a report on our workshop. On June 22 we obtained his permission to reprint the script of that report (we think this "outside-looking-in" view is instructive for Catholics), and we publish it under the title he provided. Two days later, Jim Fallon died unexpectedly. May he rest in peace.
It is my view , after attending the Catholic Answers "Go Forth and Teach" workshop, designed to train Roman Catholics to defend their faith, that Catholic Answers is a force we Fundamentalists must seriously reckon with.
This workshop was held in the grand ballroom of the Marriott Hotel in Long Beach, California, from the second to the fourth of March. The group of some 300 people came from all over the country. I believe it has the potential to be a group of Bart Brewers in reverse, based on my interactions with the participants. [Fallon worked closely at times with Brewer, a former priest who heads Mission to Catholics International and who is one of the leaders of AFEC.]
To give a breakdown on the make-up of the group, there was a large section of Carmelite nuns, dressed in the traditional habit (about 60), a number of priests (about 15 celebrated the daily Mass held before each day's sessions), and the rest were lay persons.
I met a surprising number of converts to Catholicism. It was surprising to me because I have not, in the past, met so many at one time. First, four of the speakers were former Protestants, three of the four being ministers and describing themselves as having been anti-Catholic at one time.
They were: Mark Brumley, who spoke on the Jehovah's Witnesses; Deal Hudson, a former Baptist minister; Scott Hahn, a former Presbyterian minister; Gerry Matatics, also a former Presbyterian minister who said he was, at one time, part of the "Batman and Robin of Anti-Catholicism." In the audience I met other converts to Catholicism, one of whom was William Reichert, whose story appeared in the January 1990 This Rock.
Besides dealing with specific groups--Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and the New Age movement--there was also general advice given on how to be an apologist. Each participant was given a workbook of materials that supplemented the lectures, and each was given an envelope which included a pen and notepad (I made good use of both). All sessions were videotaped.
Although it was a time of learning, it was not so intensive so as to be boring. For example, one speaker, Don Carney, gave an extremely humorous talk called "Real Catholics Don't Eat Okra."
As participants were told to bring their Bibles, I saw many there (New American Bibles). One Catholic woman who sat beside me had put index tabs on hers and had it heavily underlined with pink highlighter, thus showing that it was heavily used. During the seminar, much stress was laid on the need for Catholics to increase their knowledge of Scripture.
Based on my interactions with my fellow participants, it seems the Roman Catholic Church wishes to make up for lost time in this area, since more and more parishes are holding Bible studies.
To me, I wonder if all this emphasis on Bible study will not lead to the rise of a new Luther and a new Reformation. Whether that happens or not, this emphasis on Scripture is definitely commendable.
I would class this group of some 300 who, generally, were in their middle thirties to their early forties, as being traditional Catholics. There was no speaking in tongues, by the way. It was of interest to me to hear these folks decry the theological liberalism that has made inroads into Catholicism--for example, the ordination of women was opposed. I also saw a group praying the rosary, and, after one session, it was announced that a rosary would be said in one of the rooms. (I passed this by, although it was open to all.)
As I said, a Mass was held each day. I bypassed the Friday Mass, sat through the Saturday Mass, and sat in the back of the Sunday Mass. There was a bit of levity during the Sunday Mass when, while a nun was reading Romans 5, the fire alarm went off. The incense fumes from the censer had set off the smoke alarm.
What do these folks believe? Actually, we Fundamentalists and they hold much in common, such as the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and the inspiration of the Scriptures. Some distinctives would be: their belief in the magisterium and the authority of the Pope, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the veneration of Mary, her Immaculate Conception and perpetual virginity, and needing tradition to understand Scripture. I mention these because, during the seminar, various speakers gave a defense of these views.
Besides the talks of the speakers and the workbook, there were other sources of Catholic apologetical information. There was a long table in the back with a large number of books and tapes for sale. I gathered that a great deal was sold, since there was a lot less to take back to San Diego. These people wanted apologetical works, and they got them aplenty!
I would say that an important indicator of the sincerity of those attending concerned the price--it cost $165 to attend, although contributions from those unable to attend paid the way for many. My own way was paid, or otherwise I could not have attended. That, plus other expenses, such as food and lodging, plus the long distances some came, indicated to me that you had to have a definite set of Catholic convictions to attend.
Breakfast was not provided (I was "on my own" in this regard), but box lunches were on sale and dinner was provided. The grand ballroom, where the training was held, was transformed as if by magic into a fine banquet hall, with tables set up for participants and a long table in front for the speakers. By the way, unsold lunches were given away. On Friday fish was served, due to the Lenten season. Although I am no longer a Roman Catholic, I did not try to sneak off for a hamburger!
Now someone might wonder why I, a Fundamentalist Baptist, who made no secret of being such when the matter came up, would be invited to see a group of Roman Catholics being trained to defend their faith. Wouldn't that be like inviting a Russian general to observe the secret strategies of the CIA or the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Well, perhaps so, but I sat through all of the training sessions, busily making notes on the paper provided, and interacted with everyone else. I had no problem with being accepted, although I was a bit apprehensive at first. In fact, I enjoyed the whole three days and found much useful advice given.
I said, at the start, that Catholic Answers is a force we must seriously reckon with. If they can motivate this group of sincere, zealous Catholic apologists to do as they have been doing, and thus start a chain reaction, we Fundamentalists will have our work cut out for us. And let us remember they they would be glad to multiply themselves as much as possible.
It was brought out in the seminar that Fundamentalists, as well as the other groups dealt with, have made great inroads into the Catholic laity, particularly among Hispanics. They hope to awaken the "sleeping giant" of the Catholic laity and reverse the floodtide from Rome.
Catholic Answers is a group of militant Catholics who believe they are in the true church--Roman Catholicism--and wish to start a counter-reformation. There are some 52 million Catholics in the U.S. (and 18 million ex- Catholics). How could we Fundamentalists cope with such a group were they to be mobilized into action? We already see the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons as two significant groups we must deal with, but Roman Catholics could become the third group, due not only to the influence of the Catholic apologists, but also because of the large number of books and tracts they have for sale. (They also give away a good deal of stuff.)
We Fundamentalists will need to do our homework. It will be to our advantage to deal carefully with these materials and the arguments they present. For example, I noticed that the "historical argument" carries a great deal of weight with the Catholic converts. By this I mean that Catholicism can, by the use of history, trace itself back through the long ages past, allegedly back to the days of the apostles. Whatever we Fundamentalists may think about this view, it is a view we must seriously deal with. Another view is sola scriptura--is the Bible alone the sole guide to faith or not?
So, must we conclude that our hope to evangelize Catholics is really hopeless and that we must now throw in the spiritual towel? Will Catholic Answers make our task more difficult? While Catholic Answers will make our job more difficult, it will not make our work hopeless. After all, if it causes us to go to God in much prayer and drives us to a better defense of Bible truth, it will have been a real blessing.
Rome may be on the march, and this group may be in the forefront, but "Though this world with devils filled/ Should threaten to undo us/ We will not fear, for God has willed/ His truth to triumph through us."