Roman Catholics make up the largest church denomination in the country, accounting for one-quarter of the whole US population, and their numbers are increasing. Many of us might have a lot of Roman Catholic friends or even relatives. However, Rome teaches another gospel than that found in the Bible. Thus, it is an increasingly important question as to how to reach the large number of Roman Catholics in our environment.
I am a former Roman Catholic, and I have studied Roman Catholicism in depth and have had discussions with many Roman Catholics. I have also taken part in street evangelization events where we entered into dialogue with Roman Catholics.
There are certain things we as Protestants share with Roman Catholics. For example, we both believe that Scriptures are the Word of God. Furthermore, we also share concern over a number of societal issues, such as abortion, homosexuality, and religious freedoms.
However, there are certain key issues, which separate us from them. Some of these are salvation, purgatory, the papacy, Mariology, and the mass. These numerous differences are so great so as to make ecumenical union impossible with Rome. Let us remember the words of Amos 3:3: “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?” Thus, in order to be agreed, we must present the gospel to Roman Catholics in a manner which is loving but does not lose sight of the truth.
First, and most importantly, we must keep quoting Scripture. We must know our Bibles well, and also how to defend our views. Since Roman Catholicism relies heavily on human traditions, if we stick to the Scripture, then ultimately the truth will shine through. Also, we must be prepared to discuss the topic of Sola Scriptura, since it is guaranteed that this issue will come up during discussion. This is a key factor in Protestant/Roman Catholic debates, since epistemology defines whether or not we accept certain truths or not. A good Bible verse that supports Sola Scriptura is Acts 17:10–11:
The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
While the Bereans readily accept Paul’s teachings as a church authority, they still compare it to the sole highest authority, the Scriptures.
Second, we have to remember that when we as Protestants speak with Roman Catholics, we might be perceived as antagonistic to their church, since it was Martin Luther who leveled a very heavy criticism at their church during the Reformation. Many Roman Catholics are defensive about what they perceive as multiple attacks on their church from many different quarters in society. Therefore, we have to be willing to listen to what they have to say about their own religion and ask questions, and not wish to run them into the ground straight away or be overly offensive to them.
Third, I have found that it is rather easy to talk to Roman Catholics about the gospel, since the main issue during the Reformation was how to achieve salvation. This is a great concern for many devout Roman Catholics, and if we assure them that our goal is not to win an argument but to help them towards salvation, it will be much appreciated. Roman Catholics do not have assurance of faith; the greatest gift we can give them is to tell them that salvation is free, and of no cost to them.
Fourth, devout Roman Catholics prize intellectual discussion of religion, since their priests undergo rigorous intellectual training. Unfortunately, during church history Rome has so overemphasized the intellect, that they have introduced scores of humanistic traditions into their church. Therefore, it is useful to be familiar with Roman Catholic teaching, and to show by contrast that the gospel is logically consistent and biblical. Chick tracts are definitely not something we should use with Roman Catholics. Chick tracts portray Roman Catholics in a derogatory manner and come across as insulting to many Roman Catholics, therefore I do not recommend them.
Lastly, and also quite importantly, we must pray for our Roman Catholic friends and family members. Although on the surface Rome may seem like a Christian church, its false doctrines and idolatry stifle the faith of many of its members. Also, since Roman Catholicism is a complete doctrinal system, it makes it that much harder to convince Roman Catholics of their errors and of the truth of the gospel. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15).
 R. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust, 2012), 13–21.
 James R. White, Scripture Alone (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2004), 169–89.
Matthew Cserhati is a member of Faith Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is presently in training for the office of elder. Ordained Servant Online, February 2017.