Both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches have, during the past decade or so, received a growing number of converts from Protestantism, most notably Evangelicals searching for a “more authentic” form of Christianity. Not surprisingly, these converts tend to embrace their new Tradition with an enthusiasm and loyalty that is not generally the norm among those who were born and raised within that same Tradition.
The convert from Evangelicalism has usually thought long and hard before deciding in favor of Rome or Orthodoxy. He has probably read a good deal, discussed doctrinal concerns with priests and pastors and fellow travelers, weighed theological differences, and experimented with the various devotional and liturgical aspects of the prospective Church. Serious Evangelicals are inclined to investigate such matters rather thoroughly, and they don’t move precipitously. Converts from Evangelicalism also know what it is to be misunderstood by their Evangelical friends, to have relationships severed, even their salvation questioned and character distrusted by former friends if they opt for Catholicism or Orthodoxy. And, lastly, such a convert in search of the “more authentic” must choose between these two great claimants for the honor of being regarded as the original Church.
This last aspect of the quest is more difficult for some than for others; but here, too, there is a very definite choice to be made. If one heads Romeward, one will need to adopt a particular vision of the church’s shape and life; if one heads towards Orthodoxy, one will necessarily adopt a rather different vision of these same things. Both visions represent what is, in fact, the only surviving institution of the classical Western world; and by adopting one or the other expression of it, the convert has involved himself, like it or not, in an ecclesiological schism more historically deep-rooted than that of the Reformation (the latter presumably being more familiar to him, and providing him with his only experience of a division within Christianity).
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