“K” blogs as the Contemplating Christian and is a 2006 convert (which she describes as ending her “protest” against the Catholic Church). Prior to her confirmation, she was a member of a “large independent Bible Church” but the community of her youth was ELCA Lutheran. Growing-up Lutheran, K was exposed to liturgical worship noting “I found myself missing the liturgy of my youth, missing weekly communion (the Bible church did a Communion service about four times a year).”
Returning as a Lutheran was not an option. K continues “I thought about returning to the Lutheran church, but they’d strayed so far from their theological roots as to be unrecognizable. The Episcopal church was similarly apostate, but at least they seemed (at the time) to be working with the more orthodox factions of the church as opposed to running utterly roughshod over them like the ELCA.” (For background on what she is referring to on ELCA Lutherans, see my 2010 piece Protestantism trainwreck. Of course, the Episcopal community is now at least as bad – see my recent Elsewhere: the Episcopal experiment.)
K’s story is insightful and well written, so let’s jump in…
The pastor of this church is an excellent speaker. He is engaging, well-educated, funny, self-deprecating, and culturally savvy. The church buys airtime on the Howard Stern Show and other non-traditional, worldly venues and produces a short spot in which the pastor addresses some life problem that almost anyone (regardless of religion or lack thereof) can relate to, using examples from Scripture to offer solutions. Thousands of unchurched people visit this congregation each year thanks to their willingness to reach out through worldly means. In fact, the church’s motto is “Impacting Secular (insert our metro area here) for Jesus Christ.”
This megachurch is big for a reason – one reason. It’s really all about the pastor. If, God forbid, he died tomorrow, I don’t believe for a second the church would ever be the same again. In many ways, it is a cult of personality. And this is a feature common to many protestant churches. In my 24 years as a protestant, I saw countless pastors come and go, and entire churches live or die by their popularity.
Pastors and the churches they lead can be popular for a number of reasons. Some water down the gospel to make it palatable to people whose very lifestyle is one of sin (pro-aborts, gay activists, etc.). Some take a hard line on everything and attract people who need structure and rules. Some are more like social clubs than houses of worship. And some are the real deal – places where people can go and be challenged and supported, and grow closer to God.
The church I mentioned above was the real deal in many ways. Our pastor was never afraid to take an unpopular position for the sake of Truth. Week after week, he offered practical, realistic ways to apply the gospel to our everyday lives in an inspirational way. And he was committed to the church in a way that many pastors aren’t — he promised (or “threatened,” as he likes to say) to stay with that church until he died or we threw him out, whichever came first. All in all, his church was a good place to be, and I happily grew in my faith there for five years.
So why did I start looking for something different?
Well, there were issues at the megachurch. I won’t share them in detail because in the end, they’re not relevant to my conversion story. Some were financial, some were legalistic, and a few were doctrinal. But the main thing that pushed me out the door was, ironically, the very same thing that had ushered me in five years earlier – the life application teaching.
Don’t get me wrong – life application teaching is wonderful. Necessary, even. How do we know how to live the Christian life unless we are taught? But is its proper place the main worship service on Sunday morning? We once did an excellent series on The Da Vinci Code – twelve weeks” worth of debunking its myths and lies. It was timely and interesting, but I couldn’t help feeling its proper place was a seminar or a Sunday School class, not a Sanctuary of the Lord. Same with the series on finances, and the series on workplace evangelism . . . these things were tremendously helpful, but I didn’t come away feeling like I’d just worshiped the Lord of Lords.
Later, K discusses church options with her husband…
“It’s not the same thing!” I protested. “The beliefs are totally different.” I explained the major differences in a nutshell (the authority of the Pope, the Marian doctrines, purgatory, consubstantiation vs. transubstantiation) and he nodded thoughtfully. I added emphatically, “I’m just not comfortable with the Catholic Church’s beliefs!”
And then, in what was almost a throwaway line for my husband, he said the words that would eat at me for the next three weeks: “Why do you have to be comfortable with the church’s beliefs?” Again, all I could think was, “Ouch.”
Why, indeed? I realized that instead of trying to shape my theology to match God’s, I was searching for a church to fit my theology. A theology carefully honed over a whopping eleven years. In between classes, work, dating, marriage, and a child. That’s the stuff of theological legend, right there . . . or maybe not.
That struck a chord with me! In my own story, I wrote “reflecting back now I see my whole approach was wrong. I was shopping for a church that fit my beliefs.” Indeed!
K then begins checking the claims of the Church with a more open mind and heart…
With my Bible in one hand and my mouse in the other, I began to fact check everything. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that after a couple of hours of this, I was a convert, in mind if not yet in body.
As I read the scriptures with the mind of a Catholic, they came alive like never before. Thinking of Peter as the first Pope shed so much light on the dynamics of so many relationships in the New Testament. I noticed things I’d studiously ignored for years, like Jesus giving to the apostles the ability to forgive sins on earth so they’d be forgiven in heaven. I could go on and on, but I’d rather send you to Scripture Catholic to see for yourself. It’s truly eye opening if you’ve never seriously considered Catholic theology before.
At any rate, literally overnight I became a Catholic. In the days to come, I found myself reading protestant arguments on different forums and mentally picking them apart only to find that they fell short every time when put up against the Catholic teaching. That’s not to say there haven’t been plenty of debates won by protestants against Catholics, but I started to recognize that on these occasions, it was due to a lack of knowledge on the Catholic’s part, not a failure of the theology itself.
I also found a site with a lot of writings by the Early Church Fathers, people who knew and worked with the apostles themselves. To my surprise, these men were unarguably Catholic. (Present-day Catholic, not some kind of imaginary “early Catholic” of the type that was good enough to put together the Bible, but not good enough to hold the fullness of the truth for all generations.)
Even after my husband returned home, I kept all of this to myself for a few days, considering I had recently firmly proclaimed my opposition to all things Catholic. I didn’t want him to think I was flaky, or worse, schizophrenic. But as the desire to pursue this path grew inside of me, I sat my husband down over dinner and said, “Honey, I have a dilemma. While you were out of town, I did a lot of reading and praying, and I think God showed me that the Catholic Church is true.”
These are some highlights from K’s complete story which is at What happened? (Or, how I turned my back on a lifetime of protestant teaching and learned to love the Catholic Church).