Mark Galli Becomes Catholic

Many of you may not be familiar with Mark Galli. He is a former Presbyterian pastor and editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, a magazine founded in 1956 by Rev. Billy Graham that many regard as the leading journalistic voice of Evangelical Christianity. On September 13, Mark Galli was received into full communion with the Catholic Church. Tod Worner interviewed Mr. Galli and I thought the interview worth sharing. I was very impressed hearing of Mr. Galli’s journey to Catholicism. In particular, I was impressed with the following exchange between Worner and Galli:

Worner: “Are there any aspects of Catholic teaching, or the Catholic Church in general, that still give you pause or make you uncomfortable? If so, how do you view these in light of your coming into full communion with the Church?”

Galli: “Of course I’m still uncomfortable with some things in the Catholic Church; I’m still uncomfortable with some things Jesus said. (“Loving my enemy, Jesus? You’ve got to be kidding!”) One does not convert to Catholicism, or Jesus for that matter, and immediately enter into an intellectually pristine state. There’s a learning curve as I try to understand the depth, breadth, and beauty of all that Catholicism teaches. That’s the point of conforming oneself to the Church and its teaching—to allow the Church to shape my mind and soul. That’s what I’m really looking forward to in the years ahead.”

This, I think, is a nice summary of the idea that one becomes Catholic and is never simply born Catholic or made Catholic. Even as a Catholic of many years or baptized as an infant, the journey of faith is always a journey toward conforming oneself more and more to the will of God and the image of Christ.

I also want to share a comment a gentleman posted who is disappointed in Galli’s conversion to Catholicism and my response to that comment in hopes of sharing insight into the different ecclesiologies among Christians of differing traditions:

Gentleman’s post: “That’s unfortunate for Mark G. It’s too bad he’s confused man’s tradition and having some appreciation of the outgrowth of those said traditions, with the key articles of the faith as handed down from the apostles- which is all that is required. Then again Christianity Today would be where the associated camps make one feel he’s ‘at home’ by associating with one in particular. There is nothing in the ‘church’ traditions that requires belonging or becoming RC or Protestant of Orthodox. Following Christ can be done completely (as much as possible) by simply adhering to the NT/OT, and having the Holy Spirit reveal Christ and teach and lead oneself in community as needed . All else is ascribing more than what the one real spiritual Body of Christ is supposed to be from the beginning.”

Bob’s response: “Your comment simply reveals the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant ecclesiology. For Protestants, Evangelicals in particular, it mostly comes down to a personal relationship with Jesus. For Catholics, of course, it is never only about a personal relationship with Jesus. When one enters into a relationship with Jesus, one necessarily enters into a relationship with His Church, which is His Body. One’s relationship with Jesus is one’s relationship with the Church, and one’s relationship with the Church is one’s relationship with Jesus. Why? The Church is the Body of Christ, and Christ is the Head. One can’t have a relationship with another’s head and not have a relationship with his or her body. Not only is it impossible, it’s gross!

“As well, your comment reveals the Protestant ecclesiology that one’s relationship with a particular church is incidental, because the Church is a mystery, a mystical Body. This would never be the ecclesiology of a Catholic. For Catholics, the Church is certainly a mystical Body, but not only a mystical Body. The Church is also a visible institution. As such, Catholics don’t regard the Catholic Church (Roman or otherwise) as simply one denomination among many. While the Catholic Church has long regarded non-Catholic Christians as genuinely Christian and, as such, members of the mystical Body of Christ, we also recognize that the Church subsists in the Catholic Church as the visible manifestation of the mystical Body of Christ here on earth. Man made? Of course. But, the man who made it is the man Jesus Christ. As Pope St. John Paul the Great said, within the Catholic Church and only within the Catholic Church is found, “the fullness of God’s revelation to humankind, the whole truth of Jesus Christ.”

“Why is this important? Because the Church believes in the Incarnation. Just as Jesus Christ is fully divine and fully human, so is His Church fully divine and fully human. His Church being the Body of Christ, how could it be otherwise? To be fully human, of course, means being visible, practical, touchable if you will, as well as having within herself people who possess all the faults and foibles of the human experience. Christ did not come to save souls. He came to save persons, and persons are body and soul.

“All of that having been said, there’s no reason that Christians such as you and I cannot share between us genuine respect and love for all that we share in Christ, as well as respect for our differences. Christians today are experiencing what many have called an “ecumenism of martyrdom”. There are many places in the world where friends of Christ are suffering severely and sometimes offering the ultimate sacrifice for their faith. The enemies of Christ are not too terribly concerned to what ecclesiology the Christians they persecute and kill adhere. Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Evangelicals and Pentacostals are suffering equally and often together. It is more important today, for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ, that we who do not suffer so terribly stand together against those who would tear us all down, respecting our differences while rejoicing in the faith we share in our one Lord and Savior.”

Gentleman’s post: “Thank you for your respectful response. I think we agree on most things, however I’m not going to delve into the differences (don’t have time). Your last paragraph is what is important. I only consider myself a member of the church – believers in Christ Jesus who follow and live in accord with His Word. I’m not involved in any one particular denomination. Each of these can serve a purpose in evangelizing, presenting truth, fellowship but they are as easily raised up as they can torn down. By that I mean humanly organized and established ‘churches’ including the RC one. The only real church is the spiritual one Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit brought forth to the Apostles, and mandates it be brought to all peoples (ethnos). (The Gospels and letters were preserved by God for this reason, in the same way God kept and still preserves Israel.) So when you say the church is ‘fully divine’ it can only mean that God establishes in the hearts of fallen men (and women), to so lead and direct them to be separated from the world, ambassadors for the Kingdom of God – which is to come. Though Jesus was fully man and fully God, believers in him are saved through him only, this makes them the only real church because they belong to him (not the church). However scripture is clear that they are still fallen (in this world, with the hope of resurrection) and do sin. In that sense every ‘church’ is made up of fallen sinners, which means it is prone to error. What corrects it is the doctrine from the the Apostles as recorded in the Bible. Again in this aspect the no ‘church’ is ‘divine’. The churches mandate can be said to be divine in that we know that it’s origin is in God in Christ. That is a mystery.

“Mysteries again are what God leaves unrevealed. The true church holds some of this and we know ‘Christ in you’ has been revealed to the body of Christ… Holy just mean separated – lookup the greek work (hagios). I agree the church”

Bob’s response: “I think part of your response was cut off at the end. But what you were able to share is enough to understand what I offered in my original comment: that we adhere to very different ecclesiologies and understandings of the Church. I wonder where you get yours, except in your understanding of Scripture. There’s the rub, of course. It is your understanding of Scripture. But, is it the Church’s understanding? That question is crucial. I think if you ask most people today, including most Christians of all stripes, what is the most important question we need to consider regarding our relationship with God, they would answer, “I have to discern what it is I believe about God.” That answer, it seems to me, and based on your comments, applies to your thoughts on the above matters. You’re very good at explaining what you believe about God, Christ and where the Church fits into all of that. Of course, that question would be ridiculous in the eyes of the Apostles and the Church Fathers. The most important, the most crucial question we need to answer regarding God and our relationship with Him is, “What has God revealed to us about Himself and our relationship with Him, especially in terms of what is necessary for our salvation?” Our contemporary culture has little confidence that we can even know that there’s a God, much less have any confidence that He has revealed His truth to us. Like the ancient Hebrews, however, Catholics believe that we can know God, that He has revealed His truth to us.

“From your perspective, obviously, the Scriptures are that instrument of revelation and, I suspect, the only instrument of that revelation. From a Catholic perspective, it is the Church that is the instrument of God’s revelation. Catholics are not a people of the book. Rather, the Bible is the book of the Church. The Scriptures uphold this understanding: Mt 16:16:13-19; Mt 28:19-20; Jn 15:15-16; Jn 17:20-26; Rm 10:14-15; Eph 3:8-12; 2 Thess 2:15; 1 Tm 3:15. St. Paul calls the Church the instrument by which “the manifold wisdom of God is made known” and the “pillar and foundation of truth”. You have great faith in the Scriptures as instrument of God’s revelation in Christ, but little to no faith in the Church as such. Yet, when humans attempt to interpret the Scriptures, they often end up at odds with each other, each community and sometimes each individual grasping for this snatch of truth or that snatch, with little confidence that any of it is God’s truth. This is why the Church as instrument of God’s revelation is a gift. In the Church’s interpretation we have confidence that God’s Word is given to us with authority.

“You make too much of a distinction between Christ and His Body and seem to reject the idea that Christ is the founder of the Church, or at least the institutional Church. As I suspected, you regard the Church as primarily a mystery which, of course, she is. But, part of that mystery is that the Church is very much an incarnate reality, just as surely as Christ was incarnate in the womb of St. Mary and the Word of God is incarnate on the pages of Holy Scripture. All of what you say makes sense in light of your ecclesiology, but not in light of that of the Apostles and Fathers, I’m afraid.

“I doubt we will have much success in convincing each other of our differing perspectives. I am too much a Catholic Christian and you too much a [gentleman’s name] Christian. As you agree, we can still respect each other as fellow travelers on this journey of conforming ourselves more faithfully to God’s will and to the image of Christ. We can unite our prayers, too, for the sake of those brothers and sisters of ours who do not enjoy the freedom to speak so boldly about matters of faith. God bless and keep you in His tender care.”

Here is the link to the interview found on Bp Robert Barron’s Word on Fire website:

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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