I have recently converted to the Roman Catholic Church. My family and I are in the latter stages of coming into full communion with the Church. It’s been quite a journey for me personally. I say this because I recently had a friend who is Protestant, but also exploring the claims of the Catholic Church, encourage me to write about this and so I shall.
There were lots of things that compelled me to “swim the Tiber” and I’m not really sure where to start. I have spoken before and often about my journey into what I called the historic Church. I was raised Protestant, graduated from a Protestant seminary, was ordained in the Protestant tradition and even pastored a Protestant church. The last two to three years of my pastoral ministry, things began to change for me. I discovered something that was a bit jarring for me. I discovered that there were Christians before Martin Luther and after the Apostles.
I know, shocking, right?
I say this with, of course, a touch of sarcasm. I say it sarcastically because, growing up the way I did and being educated by the people I was educated by, one would have thought that Christianity had somehow been lost after St. John the Apostle died and Martin Luther nailed up his famous 95 Theses. Now, in fairness, not all Protestants think that there were no Christians between St. John and Luther…but most of them act like it. The attitude seems to be one of “Well, Christianity kinda got lost during all those dark years and then Luther came along and read the Bible and voila!” Again, I know I’m using caricature, but you get the point.
What happened, for me, was that I began to go back. I was reading Scripture and preparing sermons. Anyone who preaches regularly will know exactly what I mean when I say that I was wrestling with some of these texts. There are some things in Holy Scripture that are difficult to understand. So, I did what I was trained to do; I consulted commentaries. One day I realized that almost all the commentaries I had consulted were written within the last 100 years and all were written by Protestants. So I did something dangerous. I decided that I wanted to know what the earliest Christians thought about what Holy Scripture said.
Like, when Jesus, at the Last Supper, said, “This is My body…This is My blood..” What did He mean by that exactly and how did the earliest Christians view those statements? So I began to read and consult with the earliest Christian writings I could get my hands on.
You guessed it…the Church Fathers.
Some of this I’ve said before but, the point is worth re-stating. As I read the earliest Christian writers, thinkers, theologians, pastors etc, I was astounded. They were Catholic. For example (my brother and I talked a bit about this last weekend), did you know that you could not find a Christian for the first 1500 years or so of the Church that did not believe in baptismal regeneration? Let me say that a little more clearly. Baptismal regeneration was believed by all orthodox Christians for the first 1500 years of the Church.
Sure, there were people who didn’t believe that, but those people were considered to be heretical. For my Protestant friends, read that again. Baptismal regeneration was believed by all orthodox Christians for the first 1500 years of the Church. To say that I was shocked when I discovered this is a huge understatement. This flew in the face of everything I had been taught about baptism as a Protestant.
Another example for you. The unanimous belief of all orthodox Christians before the Protestant “Reformation” was in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. All orthodox Christians believed that Jesus was present body, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. Those who did not believe that were considered heretical. I can’t even begin to describe to you how much this shook me.
I wondered, ‘What else was I taught that doesn’t align with traditional Christianity?’
You must understand. I was, and am, wanting to align myself with and practice the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” How can I claim to be Christian if I am not practicing the faith once for all delivered to the saints? How can I claim to be Christian if I don’t believe the faith once for all delivered to the saints?
We cannot claim that we are practicing the faith once for all delivered to the saints if we don’t follow the practice of the faith once for all delivered to the saints and we cannot claim that we believe the faith once for all delivered to the saints if we don’t believe what Christians have always believed.
I found myself in a really awkward position. Indeed, I found that I could not claim to be a Christian if I did not do and believe what Christians have always done and believed. As we progress, I will lay out my personal journey back to Mother Church.
I pray that this journey will be as wonderful for you as it has been for me.
If you’ve followed my blog or any of my social media platforms over the last few years or if you’ve spent much time around me during that time, you’ve probably noticed a difference.
I’m no longer protesting.
Here’s what I mean.
I grew up in a religious home. I grew up in a Protestant home. I grew up in a home that routinely criticized and even called into question the faith of people who were not Protestant, specifically those who were part of the Catholic Church. I want to be clear here. I’m not bashing my Protestant parents or relatives. I merely want to relate my experiences and perhaps it will resonate with you as well.
My “faith” meant almost nothing to me as a child and teenager. I didn’t understand most of what was talked about. I was “saved” at some point around the age of 8 because I said some prayer one Sunday morning, the “sinner’s prayer.” I have no memory of it but know I said it and made a “public profession of faith” and was baptized at some point soon thereafter.
It was not until many years later that I actually came to a saving faith in the person of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.
Since my conversion and re-birth, I have walked a bit of a winding road. It has taken me through seminary (at a Baptist seminary), church planting, leaving the Baptist practice and becoming Reformed (Presbyterian), re-planting a church (tried to), completing the ordination process in the Anglican Church of North America to where I am today.
What has led me here is what I’d like to talk briefly about before launching into a series of posts about the beliefs and practices of the Church catholic.
I came out of Baptist seminary knowing beyond a doubt that I was not Baptist. It was a bit ironic to me that my professors encouraged us to love and read and study the Bible. But when I began to do the very thing my Baptist professors encouraged me to do, it led me away from the Baptist practice. There were things in the Scriptures that my Baptist friends simply could not answer for me or, if they did, I found their answers to be unsatisfying or explained away.
I’ll give you an example; actually I’ll give you two. The first was baptism. Baptists, of course, believe that baptism is only for those who have made a “public profession” of faith in Jesus. Nothing wrong with making a public profession of faith and being baptized but that didn’t seem to square (at least in my mind and reading) with most of the accounts of baptisms of converts in the book of Acts. Those accounts almost all involved household baptisms. Hmm….that seemed odd to me that members of the family of a professing Christian should be baptized without making a “public profession of faith” in Jesus. So as I dug deeper, I found myself in previously uncharted waters. I was developing what I believe is a more robust and biblical view of covenants and how those play out in the life of God’s people. Thus I became “reformed.”
The second example was the offices of the Church. I began an in-depth study of 1 Timothy in preparation for a sermon series I was going to preach at our church in Nashville (I was the lead pastor of a re-planting effort). As I began my exegetical work, I was a bit surprised to find that Paul uses three distinct Greek words for offices of the Church. He used the word ‘episkopos’ which is best translated ‘bishop’ or ‘overseer.’ He also used the word ‘presbuteros’ which is best translated ‘elder.’ And he used the word ‘diakonos’ which is best translated ‘deacon.’ I found that to be shocking to my formerly Baptist sensibilities. You mean Paul was advocating for three offices, not two?!
That led me to doing some study on the early Church. I thought, ‘Okay, these terms have been hotly contested for many years now. So, how did the earliest leaders of the Church after the Apostles take the meaning of these words?’ I was supremely surprised to find that they all, and I mean all, took it as three offices; bishop, presbyter and deacon. That was jarring for me.
You have to understand…actually, if you’re Protestant, you probably do understand. I was taught from a very young age that anything that looked or smelled or sounded remotely Catholic was evil. Not just, ‘Hey, this is how they do but we do it differently and that’s okay.’ No, I was taught that anything connected to Catholicism was evil.
This discovery about the practice of the early Church shook me to my core. I could not reconcile what I had been taught with either what the Bible said or with the practice of the Church. I didn’t know what to do. So I made a decision that has forever changed my life and the practice of the faith that has been handed down to us.
I went back to the beginning.
I wanted to know what else I had always been taught was contrary to the teaching of the early Church. I had to know how deep it went for me. So I went back to the beginning. I began to study the early Church and her writings. I began to read what we call the Fathers; mostly the Fathers of the early Church, i.e. the first 6 centuries of the Church. What I found shocked me and shook me.
I want to encourage my Protestant friends. Some of you have found modern Protestantism to be lacking in some things. I mean, when churches are dressing people up in movie costumes and having concerts that they call “worship” we’ve drifted a wee bit from a biblical practice so I get it. I want my discouraged Protestant friends to know that there are deeper wells out there. The wisdom of the Church in her reverent worship practices is out there for you. The water is warm.
I want to encourage my catholic friends, both Roman and otherwise. Some of you may not know why you do some of the things you do in worship or what it means or where it came from. You may not understand exactly what’s happening with all the symbolism and ritual. I want my catholic friends to know that those same deep wells are for you also. Go back and read and study as to why we do the things we do. Test what you do and say and believe in the teachings as they have been handed down from the beginning.
My prayer is that we may all be one again.
I fear we may not see that day until our Lord returns.
But we can all strive for it; for His glory and our good.
Soli Deo Gloria!