Pastor Chris Castaldo of New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois, delivers a lecture at College Baptist Church about Protestant/Catholic dis­course. Brooke Conrad | Col­legian

For Pastor Chris Castaldo  — a former Roman Catholic — con­structive engagement and sym­pa­thetic dis­course across Ref­or­mation lines has been a longtime endeavor.

Castaldo, who hails from New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois, opened his Feb. 21 lecture at College Baptist Church by inquiring how many in the audience came from a Roman Catholic back­ground. After a handful of the 40 or so attendees raised their hands, Castaldo asked how many attendees allow for the pos­si­bility that Catholics can be gen­uinely Christian, and how many rec­ognize the insti­tution of the Catholic Church as gen­uinely Christian.

Castaldo said in the past he has has received con­flicting responses among Protestant audi­ences to these last two ques­tions. He himself main­tains that while some Catholics are genuine Chris­tians and others are not — as is also the case, he said, among Protes­tants — the Catholic Church as an insti­tution does indeed belong to the Christian tra­dition and pos­sesses the resources to speak bib­li­cally, even if he may dis­agree with some of its doc­trines.

Castaldo empha­sized the impor­tance of han­dling dis­cus­sions between Protes­tants and Catholics with “grace and truth.” According to Castaldo, Protes­tants need to find a balance between main­taining firmness in their beliefs and expressing those beliefs in a gra­cious way.

“Protes­tants are either foaming-at-the-mouth pit­bulls who go for the jugular with their dear Catholic friends with whom they dis­agree, or, on the other extreme, they can be so open-minded that their doc­trinal brains fall out of their heads,” he said.

Castaldo explained that the chief dis­tinction between the Roman Catholic faith and that of evan­gelical Protes­tants is the issue of authority: while Catholics see faith pri­marily through an insti­tu­tional lens, Protes­tants see it through a Bible-cen­tered lens.

Catholics and Protes­tants, for example, see the reality of denom­i­na­tional dif­fer­ences in dif­ferent lights, Castaldo said. While Catholics crit­icize Protes­tants for what they see as a prob­lematic lack of unity among their churches, Protes­tants do not view denom­i­na­tional dis­persion as a concern, since they do not depend on insti­tu­tional authority in the same way that Catholics do.

Castaldo empha­sized that in every dis­cussion, Protes­tants should aim to help the other person “take a tan­gible step closer to Jesus” and try to find where they share com­mon­ality in their Christian identity.

“Your approach to this person is to be a good friend, to love them, to put rela­tional cur­rency in the bank, so that when that person goes through suf­fering — and we all do — then they will turn to you and give you the priv­ilege of walking beside them and sharing the good news,” he said.

Ben Cuthbert, pastor of College Baptist Church, said Castaldo’s lecture has been a year in the making. The church’s leaders, he said, wanted to learn how to “engage Catholics and Protes­tants in the Hillsdale com­munity in char­i­table dis­cussion while main­taining con­viction.”

Cuthbert said in his 18 months at Hillsdale, he has seen a preva­lence of con­ver­sions between tra­di­tions  — “more than I’ve ever seen” — and felt it was a topic the church should address.

Sophomore Car­oline Hen­nekes, who grew up Roman Catholic but is now Protestant, said Castaldo’s lecture was helpful, as she often engages in similar dis­cus­sions about faith tra­di­tions with her Catholic family members.

“He had a good quote about how our con­ver­sa­tions need to come from grace and truth and how you can’t have only one or the other. They work simul­ta­ne­ously, and I think that fuels con­ver­sation,” she said. “I have almost a right to defend the truth and defend the word, but I do that in a lan­guage sprinkled with grace because that’s how God gives truth to us as well.”

College Chaplain Adam Rick, who also serves as rector at Holy Trinity Parish, noted that Hillsdale’s campus is “uniquely ecu­menical.”

“There can be friction in areas where we dis­agree, but genuine friend­ships formed across the ecclesial divide also deepen the spir­i­tu­ality of all con­cerned by exposing them to the strengths of tra­di­tions other than their own,” he said in an email. “This can only deepen both our appre­ci­ation for the whole of Christ’s body on earth and also our prayers for the unity of the same.”

Senior and Catholic Sammy Roberts attended a similar dis­cussion between Castaldo and Pro­fessor of History Matthew Gaetano earlier in the day. Roberts said while dis­cussing his­torical figures in the jus­ti­fi­cation con­tro­versy can be helpful, it also has its draw­backs.

“I walked away from the talk with a better aca­demic under­standing, but the his­torical approach didn’t really do any­thing to further dia­logue between the living com­mu­nities of the present,” Roberts said in an email. “That kind of dis­course will be harder and more dif­ficult than an intel­lectual cor­re­spon­dence, but its fruits may be more ben­e­ficial in the long run.”

Rick also noted that some attendees found the dis­cussion to be “unhelp­fully subtle.” However, he says it’s important to pay attention to the details.

“For my part, I have grown deeply in my under­standing of the Roman and Ref­or­mation tra­di­tions by learning of these doc­trinal nuances,” he said. “It’s helped me make sense of a lot of the surface dif­fer­ences we might be tempted to dismiss as unim­portant.”