William Reichert’s conversion story [This Rock, January 1990] caused quite a stir. Some of it is reflected in letters published in this issue, but the largest stir has been within the Evangelical community in Southern California, where Reichert had been a leading and well-respected apologist at a prominent church near Los Angeles.
His conversion came as a disappointing surprise to many, one of whom was the recipient of the following letter. "Max" (not his real name) is himself well known among Southern California Evangelicals for his work in Christian apologetics, and his disappointment at Reichert's switch was especially deep because he is more antipathetic to Catholicism than are most of Reichert's other Evangelical friends.
We think Catholics should read this half of the exchange because it will give them some appreciation of the turmoil one goes through in coming to Rome. "Born Catholics" too readily think conversion is easy, but most converts will attest it's the toughest thing they've ever done.
It is quite unfair to allege that the Catholic Church "allows" its clergymen and theologians to deny cardinal doctrines of the faith. The Catholic Church is patient with wayward clergy and teachers, but its moves to discipline Hans Kung, Charles Curran, Raymond Hunthausen, and Marcel Lefebvre show that the Catholic Church jealously guards the truth of the Gospels.
With respect to the actual position of the Church on the issues you mention, it is not at all difficult to find. It has never been hidden under a bushel. The papers of the councils, papal encyclicals, and the like are easily available in Catholic book stores. The official position of the Church on many issues, such as the nature and role of the Church, is found in the documents issued by the Second Vatican Council, and these are available in English translation. (Look particularly at the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.)
In advance of our meeting again, I want to take a moment to clarify some of the points I raised at our breakfast. I tend to express myself better on paper than in person, so perhaps this will help.
While I believe the Catholic Church is the true church, I don't believe for a moment that it is a perfect church in that its members are perfect.
As I mentioned to you, in many ways I expect it may be a disappointment of sorts compared to my old church. The issue is not whether I am attracted to the Catholic Church; it is whether in obedience to Jesus Christ I must be in that Church.
To be honest, until fairly recently my feelings about the Catholic Church were something of a love/hate affair (and mostly the latter). It is only recently that love has replaced hate, and only as I responded in obedience to what I saw as a spiritual imperative. Feelings, in other words, are following obedience, and not vice versa. There is much in liturgical Catholicism that is beautiful, but I felt that way for years while still rejecting the Catholic Church on theological grounds.
The problem now is that I am convinced of the claims of the Catholic Church. What should I do but what I am doing?
This is most certainly not a hasty decision; it has been over a year in the making. I have had a great deal of counsel, although admittedly not everyone's counsel. I have given each issue deep and serious consideration, starting from premises hostile to Catholicism.
You said you sense a bit of pride in my decision and in my article. I hope you are mistaken in this. If anything I have said has given offense because of the way I said it (as opposed to what I said), I sincerely apologize to you and to anyone else I may have offended. But if my offense is simply in what I said, I cannot apologize, for I am still fully persuaded that all I wrote is true.
In fact, I had to strip away what I perceived as pride on my part in order to look at the Catholic Church fairly. As a result I have felt a great deal of humiliation because of my blindness to the claims of Rome. I think I have been proud, even arrogant, in the past when I seemed to act as if there were some virtue in me for my Christian faith (of course, I knew it was all grace, but I didn't always act that way).
But coming to acknowledge the claims of the Catholic Church hasn't made me proud: It has brought me low, for I have had to acknowledge a great deal of thick-headedness on my part.
I'm not now saying I'm right; I'm acknowledging that the Catholic Church is right and I've been wrong. To say the Church knows better than I do seems to be the opposite of pride, for I would not admit just how limited my understanding has been.
In Christian charity I must ask you to reconsider some of the points I raised in my article. While you were gracious to say there can be born-again believers in the Catholic Church, I did catch a certain "damning with faint praise" attitude, as if to say that despite the Catholic Church I could still, theoretically, be a Christian, although I would be pathetically misguided if I continued in the Catholic Church.
The point of my paper is that Catholicism is not an option, like being a Baptist or a Methodist, but a command. Entering the Catholic Church is not like making a religious faux pas. It is as critical a decision as one could make.
I found the most telling admission you made to be that you believed the Christian Church would never be visibly united in this life. You apparently see that a divided visible church is the inevitable consequence of the Protestant understanding of authority. You said each man is a "little church" unto himself in the final analysis.
This was a conclusion I drew in a draft of my article, but I shied away from stating it in the final version, thinking I would be accused by Evangelicals of being unfair. I now see this is indeed the logical consequence of Evangelicalism.
I have been an Evangelical and an apologist long enough to know exactly how you see me, even if you find it difficult to say so directly. You think that I must be blind to the truth if I embrace Catholicism, and you fear that I have become, if not a cultist, then at least a quasi-cultist.
You have known me too long to deny that I am born again, but since you appear hesitant to engage me on the issues, you have to find some subjective motivation within me that accounts for my conversion--hence the accusation that I am motivated by pride.
I will not respond in kind. I do not believe your unwillingness to address the arguments of my article are motivated by pride. But it does seem to me that, for whatever reason, you refuse even to concede the possibility that the Catholic Church could be right and you wrong. Is this correct? Or have I misunderstood you?