Over the last week several friends have inquired into the background of a marketing campaign now airing on television networks called Catholics Come Home. Perhaps you've seen it. If so, you were likely impressed, or even intrigued. And maybe, like me, you even paused for a moment and wondered, "Why did I leave the Catholic Church again?"

The Catholics Come Home campaign was founded by its president, Tom Petersen. Twelve years ago Tom returned to the Catholic Church following a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ at a men's retreat. Sensing God's call, Tom consecrated his 25 years of experience in the advertizing field to the task of promoting spiritual renewal among Catholics. This "apostolate" (or what evangelicals might call a parachurch ministry) is dedicated to reversing the tide of lapsed Catholics, calling them, with the warmest intonation and most technologically savvy forms of media, to "come home." As Tom puts it on the website:

Each of our television commercials invites people to come to CatholicsComeHome.org, where they are given the opportunity to learn (or relearn) the truth about the Catholic faith, find their local parish and return home. As our site says, coming home to the Catholic Church has never been easier!
Catholics Come Home wants to partner with Catholics like you to evangelize our fallen-away brothers and sisters, the un-churched and the under-churched. Campaigns are launching in numerous archdioceses and dioceses across the United States. With your help, Catholics Come Home plans to air nationally on mainstream television networks, during the top TV programs in 2010.
After the U.S. airings are underway, plans are slated for international airings—to help fill empty churches across the globe, and re-evangelize our culture worldwide.

The scope of Peterson's vision is enormous, but then again so is the challenge, as the website points out:

  • Only 33 percent of U.S. Catholics attend Mass on a weekly basis. That means approximately 42.7 million U.S. Catholics are not practicing Catholics.
  • The number of Americans identifying themselves as non-religious/secular increased 110 percent from 1990 to 2000! It is now 13.2 percent of the total population. Comparing this statistic with the previous one, non-religious, secular individuals outnumber active, Mass-attending Catholics by 58 percent.
  • As many as 100,000 baptized Catholics in the U.S. drift away from church each year.

With one in ten Americans identifying as "former Catholics," according to a recent Pew Forum study, many in the Catholic Church long for renewal. It is a mission which Pope John Paul II called a "New Evangelization," a lay-led initiative of outreach to inactive or fallen-away Catholics.

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Are any Catholics listening? You'd better believe it. The number of organizations "answering the Pope's call," as it's phrased, is impressive. Simply take note of the lawn signs outside of your neighborhood's local parish advertising programs such as "Alpha" and "Theology on Tap," or visit the Vatican's YouTube channel, or tune into Relevant Radio or the EWTN Global Catholic Network, or now surf the web to CatholicsComeHome.org, and you'll see it. Trenchantly conservative, devout, enterprising, organized, and above all committed to the Church, these Catholics are serious. In them, the spirit of Ignatius of Loyola lives.

I haven't heard too many proponents of the New Evangelization compare their efforts to the legacy of Loyola and his Society of Jesus; but for me, an armchair church historian, the parallel is striking. Starting with a commitment to supporting and serving the papacy, both endeavor to promote dynamic faith among laypeople and to enrich the structures of public life. The parallel of theological substance, spirituality, innovation, and evangelistic zeal is remarkable. With this connection in mind, I would like to offer two words of caution: one for Catholics and the other for Protestants.

Catholics would do well to remember that although Jesuits eventually became aggressive adversaries of Protestantism, this was not so in the beginning. As Oxford historian Diarmaid MacCulloch writes, "When the Genevan Pierre Favre, one of Ignatius's closest associates from his Paris student days, instructed fellow Jesuits in how they should treat Lutherans, he stressed that it should be a matter of simple Christian witness, 'speaking with them familiarly on those topics which we have in common and avoiding all contentious arguments in which one party might seem to beat the other.' "

From this historical example, my encouragement to Catholics pursuing the New Evangelization is to remain positive. While there will necessarily be moments of defining yourself over and against Protestants, don't let this become your modus operandi. Unfortunately, this negative trend seems to have already started in some of the above-mentioned apostolates. Even the Catholics Come Home site, in the "Answering Your Questions" section, has some content that is, shall we say, less than winsome. It's one thing to express disagreement with Protestants; it's quite another to portray them as morons.

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Protestants must be equally vigilant. For many in our tradition the temptation will be to dismiss or perhaps mock the programs. After all, that's what we're supposed to do when we encounter error, right?

Speaking as an evangelical pastor, card-carrying Calvinist, want-to-stand-up-and-salute-when-I-hear-Luther's-Mighty-Fortress kind of guy, I nonetheless feel secure enough in my Protestant convictions to express appreciation for elements of the Catholics Come Home programs and other New Evangelization efforts. Turning away from sin, commitment to reading Scripture, looking to the Savior, protecting the life of the unborn, serving the poor—these and other such themes are ones that Protestants can affirm, even though we disagree with the institutionalized structure of Catholic authority, the role of the sacraments, and requisite precepts surrounding them. This sort of measured response—consciously gracious while rooted in biblical principles—is more intellectually honest, more missionally compelling, and more genuinely Christian.

Chris Castaldo serves as Pastor of Outreach at College Church in Wheaton and is author of Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic (Zondervan). "Speaking Out" is Christianity Today's guest opinion column and (unlike an editorial) does not necessarily represent the opinion of the publication.

Related Elsewhere:

Recent Christianity Today coverage of Protestant-Catholic relations includes:

Not All Evangelicals and Catholics Together | Protestant debate on justification is reigniting questions about Rome. (Oct. 29, 2009)
Amiable Impasse | Charitable Catholic/evangelical dialogue snags on imputation, authority. (Sept. 8, 2009)
The Post-Neuhaus Future of Evangelicals and Catholics Together | Charles Colson says the convert to Catholicism helped break down the most important barrier. (Jan. 23, 2009)