From the Baptist Press via the Biblical Recorder:
As Hispanic populations across the United States, many of which are traditionally Catholic, continue to increase, so do opportunities for Southern Baptist churches to address the spiritual questions of current and former Catholics.
Hispanics made up 38.1 percent of the population of Texas in 2011, the U.S. Census reports. This reflects a nearly 10 percent increase since 2006, when Hispanics accounted for 35.7 percent of all Texans, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts’ office.
The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) has 193 cooperating churches listing Spanish as their primary or secondary language. Many of their members are former Catholics. Churches in southeast Texas such as Beaumont’s Calvary Baptist also attract people from French Catholic traditions, much like their neighbors in Louisiana a few miles east.
How, then, can a Baptist church, with sensitivity and wisdom, integrate former Catholics who have converted to evangelical faith?
In Beaumont, Texas, Calvary Baptist Church offers a Catholic Connection class twice annually. About 200 people have taken the four-week class since it began five years ago.
“We use the class to help people from a Catholic background understand the differences between the Catholic faith and the Protestant religion and our church’s beliefs,” said Cliff Ozmun, Calvary’s minister of education.
“It is not a formal pathway for new members,” Ozmun said, “but almost every term we offer it, people do join the church and are baptized.”
The Catholic Connection class is not intentionally promoted in the wider Beaumont area. “It is aimed at the Calvary community,” Ozmun emphasized. When enough from Calvary express interest, the class is offered.
“The class is not an evangelism tool for us. It is comparative theology,” said Ozmun, who noted that the last time the Catholic Connection class was offered, four individuals from a local group of Catholic apologists attended for the purpose of, in their words, providing “the Catholic response.”
“By the fourth week, they commended us,” Ozmun said. “It was not because we aligned with Catholic doctrine but because we taught the contrast in such a respectful way. They felt we were accurately presenting Catholicism.”
One person from the Catholic group even later approached Ozmun in a restaurant to say how much he had enjoyed the class.
Bill Morgan, Calvary’s minister to median adults, wrote the Catholic Connection class curriculum. Jim Robichau, a lay leader and former Catholic, teaches the course.
“We focus on a handful of things,” said Ozmun, including the authority of the Bible, the completeness of the canon, concepts of baptism, the purpose of communion, the doctrines of heaven and hell and the nature and role of confession.
Since Catholics and Baptists differ at several key doctrinal points, Mike Gonzales, SBTC director of language ministries, recommends focusing on the nature of the salvation experience when discipling former Catholics.
“A new believer who comes out of a Catholic background needs to understand that salvation is a spiritual experience” and not the result of adherence to the sacraments, Gonzales said.