My parents gave me a solid Christian background. I was baptized at 10 years of age at First Baptist Church of Dallas. We attended a variety of churches: Baptist, Free Church, Evangelical Covenant, Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA). After high school, I attended a charismatic Bible Institute in Dallas, Christ for the Nations (CFNI). My wife and I began our first year of marriage there. We moved back to Toledo where I served for a year in an Assemblies of God (AG) church as youth and associate pastor; I was licensed in the Ohio District, contingent on accepting a new position. Instead, I went into the Philosophy program at the University of Toledo. After earning an M.A. degree there, I entered the Ph.D. Philosophy program at The University of Nebraska, where we again attended a CMA church and then an AG church. From there I began teaching at Harper College in Palatine, IL; just down the street was Willow Creek Church, a mega seeker-sensitive church where we attended awhile, before ending up back in an AG church. In 1999, I graduated from the Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary with an M.T.S. From there I taught a year of high school for a classical Academy, with a strong Reformed presence. We attended Baptist churches for a couple years.
A few years after leaving the classical Academy I ran into several false starts with my church attendance. I worked with a worship leader from a large charismatic church in town. He emphatically denied the doctrine of the Trinity and persistently went out of his way to convert me to his Oneness Pentecostalism. I informed our associate pastor of this. He told me he was aware of this man’s anti-Trinitarian beliefs, that the man told him directly. I mentioned that our church’s doctrinal statement supports the triune nature of God. He told me simply to trust them. I further explained that this meant this worship leader was saying one thing orally but signing off on the church’s doctrinal statement that taught the contrary. He became irate with me. We left that church.
We began attending a small charismatic church, only to realize that the pastor, who preached and led the worship band, owned the building and the land, making his elders and deacons merely yes-men. No Pope wields as much power over his parishioners, and priests certainly don’t. It was pretty much a one-man-show.
Next, we tried a midsize church belonging to a denomination that was established in the 1970s, out of the Jesus Movement. In membership class the associate pastor brought up homosexuality. He said that nothing in the church’s constitution or bylaws addresses this topic. I asked if he at least would admit that the practice is unbiblical. He simply restated that the church’s constitution and bylaws do not reference this. Sarcastically, I pointed out that adultery also is not mentioned in them. That ended that membership process for us. I understood that Jesus loved the prostitute and the dishonest tax collector, contrary to the religious authority’s proudly detesting them; that’s why Jesus told them to sin no more—because he loved them. Today, Jesus equally loves those practicing an LGBTQ lifestyle; we all require his mercy–and his justice is impartial.
I began feeling that church attendance is bad for our spiritual health, that the charismatic movement is dead, and that evangelicism has gone right off the rails. The seeker-sensitive emergent church movement and their mega-churches have turned Christianity into something like a feel-good self-help country club. Its goals, it seems, are to avoid all confrontation with popular culture, and to continue growing in their numbers and building programs. Expediency trumps orthodoxy, holiness, and charismata. It seemed that the winds of the culture, not of the Holy Spirit, directs these churches to a rather extensive degree. I gave up looking for a church that stays true to established moral teachings, countering the militant regressive-left. I grew tired of feeling marketed and manipulated by emotional services.
After several years of self-exile, I realized that personal Bible reading and praying, and fellowshipping at coffee shops occasionally with friends and colleagues, was not enough. We needed accountability, formal worship, and sound teaching. I needed helpful rules, accountability, tradition, the rhythms of a liturgy and seasonal calendar. Back on the church-search we went.
We dropped in on a large AG church one Communion Sunday. The grape juice was in a small plastic container with a cracker sealed on top. Just before I entered the sanctuary a young man entered; he dipped his hand into the usher’s bucket, grabbing several of these communion packets. He yelled down to his friends several rows in front of him, “Guys, it’s Communion Sunday,” throwing one down to each of them. I shook my head, thinking that it seems this memorial is shown no reverence here. The next Sunday we attended Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church, a church that actually believes and practices Catholicism (some Catholic Parishes don’t). The priest, during his homily, mentioned that one’s understanding of the Eucharist has everything to do with how one treats it. To me, this was a timely, resounding gong. Theology does affect practice as practice affects theology.
Later, I began realizing that so many issues the Roman Catholic Church held, for at least a thousand years, were dismantled under Protestantism, beginning with Christ’s literal presence as Eucharist. Catholicism never taught, as many Baptist Churches did, that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit no longer where needed, since that which is perfect had come; or that only belief mattered, not journeying toward sainthood; or that a host of moral issues no longer hold (regarding, for example, divorce/remarriage, contraception, homosexuality and their unions…). Given the Teaching Magisterium’s universal and hierarchical authority, carefully and thoroughly expressed in writing for nearly 2000 years (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Papal Encyclicals, Church Doctors, biographies on and writings of recognized saints…), she’s far more able to keep Christ’s light of Truth shining, resisting capitulation to Satan’s culture and deceit. (My purpose here is simply to give my testimony. For theological detail and apologetics, visit:
Nathanael, our eldest son, became Catholic a year and a half before my wife and I entered the Church. He politely and persistently discussed theology and spirituality with us, despite my sometimes mocking and combative tone. For my birthday, I received a fine hand carved Italian statue of St. Mary. While I admired the beautiful gift, I didn’t know what to do with it. “I don’t place idols in my home.” Yet this was a nice gift from my son. “Well, placing it in the kitchen would be fine,” I thought. Several days later, though, my action begged for an explanation. “Why was I doing this?” The syllogism is simple. If Mary is the mother of Jesus and Jesus is God then Mary is the mother of God. Why then was I against honoring God’s mother, not even placing her on our mantle in the living room? I placed her on that mantle—and I began thinking more about Mary, the Mother of God. Another gift I received from Nathanael on my birthday was Volume 1 of The Writings of St. Birgitta of Sweden. I was happy to read her, but especially because she was Swedish. Her writings quite impacted me, though. No seeker-sensitive go-with-the-flow fluff there! I’ve recorded excerpts from her writings; listen at www.birgittaville.com
My wife and I were in a Catholic bookshop looking for a gift for Nathaniel. I happened to notice a Rosary; I was curious, intrigued. “My prayer-life is in a slump; why not check it out?” My wife responded, “Just one week ago I prayed that you would ask to pray the Rosary with me, if we should consider becoming Catholic.” Praying it daily, often along with an EWTN video: (http://www.ewtn.com/Devotionals/prayers/rosary/how_to.htm ),
directly challenged my understanding of Mary, but more affectively than intellectually. Praying the Rosary with its five weekly mysteries, focusing each day on five events of Jesus’ life on earth, and including the Lord’s Prayer, Apostle’s Creed, Hail Mary, and Glory-be, all to beads, is foreign to the spontaneity of Pentecostalism. It helped foster in me an appreciation for ancient, formal praying. Sure, that can grow stale, perfunctory, impersonal, like anything done inattentively, but so had much in Evangelical, Holiness, and Charismatic circles.
I began reading daily from the Missal; it takes one through almost all the New Testament and much of the Old Testament every two years. This helps insure that the only Scriptures selected for corporate reading aren’t simply the ones a given pastor favors; it gives balance to a congregation, especially since the pastor’s sermons are related to those selected passages (one from the Old Testament, one from a N.T. Letter, one from a Gospel, and one from a Psalm).
Praying the Psalms and other prayers in The Divine Office (Breviary), and meditating on a variety of its other biblical and non-biblical passages and hymns, twice daily, also deepened my appreciation for Catholic spirituality and liturgy. Clearly, it’s centrally biblical—enough for any Baptist to respect. Much in Catholicism is also very experiential—Pentecostalism on steroids (minus the emotional outbursts, which gave me headaches, anyway).
After Confirmation in the Catholic Church, these prayers, readings, and litanies continue nourishing my faith and character, along with other practices. Regularly confessing one’s sins (about each month), preceded by a thoughtful examination of conscience, helps uproot sin before it becomes intransigent. Even knowing that, if one goes along with some temptation, one will have to audibly confess it to a priest, incentivizes obedience. The teleology of these practices is loving God in mind and body, becoming a saint. Observances aren’t for their own sake.
Receiving Holy Communion as Christ’s body and blood, not simply as tokens for remembering, greatly changes the attitude with which one receives the Host. This isn’t a show, with singers or the pastor center stage. Christ is held up by the priest, all focus on Him. One then receives on the tongue, while kneeling—no one “takes” Christ’s body. While receiving, a golden plate undergirds the Host, lest even a crumb falls. The bells, incense, chanters, kneeling before His presence on entering and leaving the pew, making the sign of the cross with holy water upon entering the sanctuary, making the sign of the cross just after receiving Communion, using the kneeler in prayer before and after receiving, all enhance reverence at Christ’s presence. Ornate statues, paintings, carvings, and architecture further enhances the spirit of worship. (Why some Modernist Catholics dropped much of this, in favor of the purely functional halls and hand-holding sing-a-long songs I often knew as a Charismatic and as a Baptist, I can’t understand! A couple sources that helped me process this deconstructive tendency are thewandererpress.com and churchmilitant.com). Mass is performed several times, every day of the week. Weekly attendance is required, as is attendance on Holy Days of Obligation, but some attend Mass almost daily. Eucharistic adoration, silently sitting before the Host in a chapel, often with others, underscores reverence for Christ’s literal presence as Eucharist. This path, leading one toward sainthood, holiness, is well marked. For learning more about Catholic praying, visit http://www.ewtn.com/Devotionals/prayers/
In hindsight, now that I’ve been Catholic almost four years, a few factors stand out as having predisposed me for conversion, a few factors that deterred my entering into full fellowship with the Catholic Church, and a few factors that disarmed those obstacles.
My reading of the Ancient and Medieval Christian mystics and theologians, for my own edification and for theology and philosophy courses, favorably disposed me toward Catholicism. In my Baptist seminary courses, we read much of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Erasmus, and books like The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard. At CFNI I wrote a lengthy paper on the history of the Charismatic Movement. My research led me back to Oral Roberts and A.W. Tozer of the mid-Twentieth Century, to the Pentecostal revival of 1901 at Azusa Street, to the Keswick movement with A.B. Simpson, to the Second Great Awakening with D.L. Moody and Charles Finny, to the First Great Awakening with Jonathan Edwards and the Weselys, to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, to Medieval mystics like Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross and Bonaventure, to Ancient mystics like St. Antony and the AntiNicean Church Fathers. With this background, I wasn’t antagonistic against Catholicism, as many Protestants and Fundamentalists are. I realized that much of what I appreciated in the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement, and the “Deeper Life” message of the CMA, had roots all the way back through every Century since the Apostles.
Soon after leaving ministry in the A.G., my wife and I even attended St. Mathew’s Episcopal Church in Toledo, thinking this was the perfect compromise between being Protestant while appreciating deeper liturgy and spirituality (until my priest told me they support abortion and gay priests).
I even attended Lourdes College for a semester; I left it for the much larger Philosophy course offering at The University of Toledo (U.T.). This helps explain why I didn’t begin taking the Catholic faith more seriously, though. Some of the theology courses at Lourdes were little different than they were at U.T.; my Spiritual Formation professor seemed New Age more than Christian, teaching us how to get in touch with our “spirit guide”–hers was a spirit that appears as a wolf under her bed! I understood though, that, like any very large group, there always are the good and the bad. Though I read Catholic theologians that sounded more like Liberal Protestants, Communists, or New Age gurus, I didn’t suppose all Catholics were demythologizing Christianity, though I wondered.
My wife’s adamant refusal even to visit any Catholic service was the more influential deterrent. Key doctrinal differences certainly existed, though, from our Protestant beliefs: the “immaculate heart” of Mary who was “co-redemptrix;” the Pope as Vicar of Christ, brother bishop with a hierarchy calling itself The Church; baptizing infants, Catholicism’s apparent alignment with the Democrat Party and with Socialism…! While I couldn’t attend R.C.I.A. classes (Right of Christian Initiation of Adults), given my work schedule, our director graciously went out of her way to meet with us outside of class, answering our questions about such topics. Our RCIA textbook was also helpful: Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Church Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Peter Kreeft. Nathanael explained beliefs and practices, also, serving as a constant and patient resource.
Just after becoming Catholic, my RCIA director reminded me that my baptism, at First Baptist Church of Dallas, was accepted by the Church, and that I have much in my Christian journey, before becoming Catholic, to be thankful for—I know she’s right. I’m appreciative of my Evangelical/Pentecostal days. Many a Protestant pastor, teacher, family member, friend, and media grounded me in knowing and loving Christ and others, in understanding much biblical truth.
Both Protestants and Catholics need to learn from one another. I’m not advocating a mindless ecumenism that glosses over significant differences, here. Each group, at best, will think of the other as Jesus told his disciples to regard the man who wasn’t a disciple but was casting out demons in Jesus’ name (Mark 9:38-41). Believing and practicing orthodox Protestants and Catholics serve the same Lord. Given today’s paganized culture, we certainly have all the same determined enemies! Visit Acton.org for a fine example of effective collaboration between us. Viciously attacking one another does not reveal Christian love to our world and it’s really, really, stupid!
I encourage Protestant believers, my “separated brethren,” at least to begin watching Catholic devotionals, the Mass, and teachings, at EWTN.com. Misunderstandings over Catholic teaching abounds. Simply investigating Catholic teaching and practice will enrich one’s own faith and understanding; at least it will prevent one from mischaracterizing one’s sibling–bearing false witness. For many testimonies, from a wide variety of backgrounds, of people’s journeys into the Roman Catholic Church, watch “The Journey Home” https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL97DC29A06F85B07E
My Wife’s Journey
I was born in 1964, the fifth of six children, raised in a non-religious home—Methodist in name only. I always had a yearning for God. I regularly prayed as I laid in bed at night, wrote poetry of seeing the hand God in nature, rode to church with an elderly neighbor for a while, and periodically attended Mass with my childhood best friend.
I never doubted the existence of God, but always new I lacked both intellectual and experiential understanding.
When I was fifteen my older brother started attending an Evangelical Protestant church; he came to experience a personal and salvific relationship with Jesus Christ. He started bringing me to church with him and soon I came to the same understanding and experience. Having a relationship with Jesus was the fulfillment of the longing I had. In this Christian and Missionary Alliance Church I was baptized, grew in God, and met and married my husband. It was in incredible foundation in my Christian faith. I learned the importance of prayer, Scripture, and holiness.
After graduating from high school I attended a Charismatic Bible College in Dallas, Texas. There I received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and grew in my understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostals call this the “full Gospel.” Though it led me to a deeper relationship with God, I have since discovered that it is not the “full” Gospel.
Before returning for my second year in college, Dan and I were married. After graduation we moved back to Ohio where Dan became associate/youth pastor at an Assembly of God church for a year. After a year of ministry he changed his focus back to education, completed his Master’s degree in Philosophy at University of Toledo, then off to a Ph.D. program in Lincoln, Nebraska. Dan’s teaching moved us to Chicago and then to Grand Rapids.
During those several years our family grew by three boys. Our spiritual journey continued as well but with much frustration in finding a church we could call home; a church that did not water down the Gospel and pick and chose what scriptures to abide by. We attended various denominations: Assembly of God, Episcopalian, non-denominational, Baptist, Vineyard, Reformed….
During this period of church seeking, Dan sometimes suggested visiting a Catholic Church. I adamantly opposed this suggestion. Unfortunately I grew up in a very Catholic neighborhood, during a time many Catholics were poorly catechized. They did not understand their own religion, which lead many to an un-lively faith. Having been born into a non-religious home, later coming to a beautiful awakening of faith, I concluded that the Catholic Religion was a dead tradition. For the first 16 years of my life my best friends were Catholic. These same friends shunned me when I started reading my Bible, living a life that put God at the center. Socially, this was a painful time. When my husband mentioned visiting a Catholic Church, my immediate and emphatic response was “absolutely not”. This left us churchless. Prayer and Bible reading continued individually and as a family, but churchless non the less.
I now skip ahead to our journey into the Catholic Church. Our oldest son, Nathanael, graduated from Hillsdale College and moved off to DC to work on the Hill. The next thing we know he becomes Catholic. Why?! How?! This was shocking for me. Nathanael has always taken his faith seriously. God was at the center of his life. Overall he had been pretty solid, not swayed by external influences or pressures. When Nathanael was five years old God gave me a verse while I was praying for him, showing me that there was a unique calling on his life. How could his being Catholic have any part of it? His faith was still intact, his love for God still strong, even stronger. He went to mass as often as possible and was carrying around a string of beads praying the Rosary. I thought that, as a mom, I should look to see what my son had gotten himself into. I researched the Rosary and was quickly drawn by the richness of mediating on the mysteries of Christ and beautiful prayers. I started reading/praying this most every day. I watched “Journey Home” on EWTN, listened to countless testimonies of people converting to the Catholic faith. Many of these people were strong, committed evangelical Christians.
At the same time, I was having difficulty with my teenage son. I prayed often for wisdom. I never read anything remotely Catholic but I felt drawn to read a biography on the life of Mother Theresa. God used her in changing my relationship toward my son, beyond what I could have done on my own. I read a sentence in the book that hit me right between the eyes. Less than a week later, during an emotional talk with my son, those same words came from his mouth, directly to my heart. That has forever changed how I relate to him.
Also at this time, I started a new job. God stuck me in a tiny office with one other person – a cradle Catholic. She was different from my former friends. She has a childlike faith and love for Jesus. Simple, true and beautiful. She became my sponsor.
These influences started chipping away at some of the barriers between me and the Catholic Church. Through lengthy discussions and watching “The Journey Home” I started to see the misconceptions I had concerning Catholic Theology. This inquiry soon became an earnest pursuit — all done in secret. How would I dare let my husband know of this after my many refusals to visit a Catholic Church. I needed clear direction from God. Pursuing Catholicism went against years of beliefs. Not being sure how to handle this, I put out a fleece. I said: “God, if you want Dan and I to become Catholic, have Dan want to pray the Rosary.” Dan knew nothing of me praying the Rosary or of my watching Catholic T.V. Anything Catholic discussed between us was in regards to Nathanael. Less than a week later, Dan and I went to a Catholic bookstore to buy a gift for Nathanael. Dan looked at the Rosary’s and said to me “My prayer life is getting a little dull; maybe I should pray the Rosary.” He bought a Rosary and a “how to” booklet, and has been praying it every day since. The wall of resistance that stood for many years between me and Catholicism came crashing down that day. After reading many books, along with prayer, we have come to believe in the full Gospel, that which the Church has believed for 2000 years.
Amazingly, God gave me a verse almost 25 years ago while praying for Nathanael. I underlined this verse and have held it in my heart ever since.
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Consecrate to me all the first-born; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.’”
I new when I read this that God was telling me He had something unique for Nathanael. If someone would have told me then, though, that Nathanael would someday be a Catholic priest, I would have slammed my Bible shut and asked God for another verse.
We are all on a journey. It doesn’t end till we stand before God. It is never a straight line, but takes on many detours, some created by God, some our own doing. But God’s word is true: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).
My two main goals are: to be able to say, as Paul said: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
The second goal is: that all those I know will be saying the same.