Why many Catholics join fundamentalist sects

Why many Catholics join fundamentalist sects

Frank Mobbs

Many Catholics are being converted to fundamentalist Protestant groups. Of that there can be no doubt. Each convert to fundamentalist Protestantism has his or her own set of reasons.

At the same time, three general factors are operating which encourage the trend. Each factor is related to the formation which Catholics commonly receive today.

These factors are respect for the Bible, ecumenism and a lack of theological formation.


The Second Vatican Council laid great stress on the place of the Bible (Scriptures) in Christian life. The liturgy of the Mass was revised so as to make clear that the readings from the Bible are above all other readings because they are indeed the word of God.

The study of theology was to be grounded firmly on the Bible. So also were catechetics and religious education.

The results include: Bible-based preaching, numerous Bible study groups and education in faith using the Bible as the key text.

The important point is that Catholics nowadays generally accord the Bible deep respect. At the same time, most of them remain ignorant of the contents of the Bible.

So when a fundamentalist approaches a Catholic and asks for acceptance of the Bible as the basis for discussion, the chances are that the Catholic is ready to agree that if the Bible says so, then it must be true.

However, basic to Protestantism is the belief that not only is God's revelation contained in the Bible, but also that it is restricted to the Bible - the famous doctrine of Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura).

For 12 years I lectured to students at what is now a campus of Australian Catholic University. Their answer to the question, "How can we know about God?" was almost invariably, "The Bible". If they are typical of their generation, then Scripture Alone is part of its creed.

It is a short step from "The Bible is God's word" to "Only the Bible is God's word"; but in taking that step one moves from a Catholic to a Protestant position.

Given that Catholics have come to esteem highly the Bible, and seeing they are hazy about the role of Tradition and often regard the authority of the Church as a joke, they are wide open to appeals to biblical texts.


In the case of ecumenism, as is well known, Vatican II committed the Church to maximum co-operation with Christians of other churches and to working for their reunion.

At every level, Church authorities have been promoting the idea that faith in the Lord Jesus and baptism so unite Christians that there is a lively possibility that friendly discussion will, before too long, result in visible unity.

A significant number of Catholics have come to believe that the differences (whatever they are) between the Christian Churches are unfortunate legacies from the past and such differences should be ignored now as unimportant.

Their attitude is, in brief: "Protestants are good Christians, much the same as we are, with a few differences that don't matter."

Also, they are unaware that there are some very anti-ecumenical Christians with no intention of bringing the churches together because they intend to convert everyone to their version of the Church of the Bible.

Theological argument

Meanwhile, two generations of Catholics have grown up unused to argument about God and His revelation.

From homilies, school classes and study groups they have picked up a lot of information and quite a few opinions. But step-by-step argument, employing careful citation and assessment of evidence is unknown to the vast majority.

My students used to reject the mere possibility of theological argument. "Religion is a matter of faith. There is no such thing as evidence or argument applicable to religion," they would say.

Then one day, a young fundamentalist approaches them, takes a Bible (which we all agree deserves respect) and begins to run through a series of biblical texts which, combined, furnishes a view of what it is to be a Christian which is very different from the view they have so far held.

The evidence is readily available because the Bible is the cheapest book in the world. On the other hand, evidence from the post-apostolic writers, the Fathers and the Church Councils is hard to come by.

The texts cited by the fundamentalist seem hard facts. There they are in black and white - and in English.

Moreover, they are strung together so as to constitute a convincing argument. And who has ever heard of a Catholic argument - of any kind?

I submit that these three factors have disposed, and will continue to dispose, many Catholics to adopt fundamentalist Protestantism.

Dr Frank Mobbs is a Gosford (NSW) based Catholic author, writer and lecturer.

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