Watch/hear our story from our appearance on EWTN The Journey Home (2011).
Sorry - this is the long version. I'll eventually get up a shorter version.
In August of 2004 I resigned from being a pastor in the Foursquare Church and on December 12, 2004, my wife, Crystal, and I and our three girls, Haley (9), Madison (7) and Corissa (5) were received into full communion with the Catholic church. This came as a result of a most unexpected journey of study, prayer and following Jesus to the fullest extent possible.
This story doesn’t even come close to detailing all that has taken place, but is simply an overview of how we got to where we are now. I didn’t take the time to handle theological issues in this writing, but the story of the process and the key questions that led me to examine a great volume of theology. The fullness of the gospel is what excites me and I’m happy to share with any who are interested.
Let me also make clear that my decision to become Catholic was in no way motivated by a dissatisfaction with the denomination (Foursquare) in which I was pastoring. As far as I’m concerned, Foursquare is one of the most solid, faithful and healthy denominations available today. This story is about that to which God was drawing me; not that from which I was running.
Here is an overview of our story and how it happened.
I grew up in a wonderful Christian home. My parents taught my sisters and I the Word of God as it was revealed in the Bible. My parents went the extra mile and found extensive, creative ways to instill in us the truths of Christ and what it means to live for Him. Because of this, I grew up with a love for Christ, a desire to live for Him and I never had a season in my life where I did not want to follow Christ. There were seasons where I did not follow faithfully, but that was because of complacency and not a desire to reject my upbringing.
In my early 20s I began an intentional time of prayer and seeking God for clarity on what direction my life should take. During this time God gave me a clear call to enter into fulltime ministry within the Foursquare Church, and to give Jesus the rest of my life in service to Him. This call was as clear as any I have had and it completely reoriented my life. Had I been Catholic at the time, I would have entered the priesthood. That led to thirteen fruitful years of pastoral ministry (youth, associate and senior pastor) in the Foursquare church beginning Fresno, CA and then Stanwood, WA.
The final leg of my Foursquare ministry leading me to Seattle, WA in 1999 to co-plant a church with my dearest brother in Christ and friend, Tim Clark. God had called him and Deborah to Seattle and then God called Crystal (my wife) and I to join Tim and Deborah. We all had big dreams of reaching the unsaved with the gospel of Christ.
By this point (1999) my wife and I were familiar with the voice of God. When He says go, we go. If He says go now, we go now. So, when God said go to Seattle to be a part of a church plant, we wound down our current ministry as associate pastors, and put our house on the market. Once our house sold, my wife and I and 3 kids and moved to Seattle. We left a brand new home on an acre and moved into a small duplex that was more expensive than our previous house and half the size. I had no income. We had three months’ worth of money to live on while we figured out how to support ourselves. God said go, so no job and no money didn’t bother us. God had always provided for us and we knew that when we walk in obedience to His commands, He will meet our needs.
I say all this to paint the picture that by now, God had grown us into people that lived by faith, walked in obedience, had a desire to see the unsaved know Christ and were willing to leave everything to follow Christ.
The half hour that changed my life.
Here is where my first encounter with the Catholic church enters in. Ilike talk radio. I have this vivid memory of sitting in my car in the drive way of our duplex and scanning the AM dial to see what new talk stations I could pick up since I now lived in the big city (Seattle). As I scanned the dial, I came across a talk/call in show. I listened for a bit to see what the topic was. To my shock they were talking about Catholic theology. I had stumbled on to Sacred Heart Radio on 1050 AM—a Catholic radio station. I thought this was very odd. I had never heard of Catholic radio.
I knew that Catholics and I shared the same basic theology on the nature of God and that through Christ we find salvation, but I always viewed Catholics as Christians with a ton of unnecessary theological baggage. I began to listen and argue with the radio. They had all kinds of different perspectives on familiar scriptures that I knew very well. Non- Catholics would call in and ask a question and talk show host would give a well-reasoned, logical answer from the Catholic perspective of Scripture. It drove me nuts because I was amazed they actually still believed things like transubstantiation, infallibility of the pope, Sacred tradition, etc. They were unapologetically Catholic.
After listening for about 30 minutes to that show here’s what stood out to me. Aside from my disagreement with them on their theological interpretations of Scripture, I heard people that were passionate, charitable, Christ centered, steeped in Scripture, evangelistic and... Catholic. Never before had I encountered a Catholic that possessed all these characteristics in one package. The more I listened the more I thought, “These people sound like me!” They love Jesus and have invested everything to see that others can also know Him. I still thought it was very odd, but from that point on I occasionally tuned in to argue with the radio and to learn more of what Catholics actually taught. Frankly, I didn’t really know what Catholics actually taught but only my perspective of their teachings from what I had picked up over the years from my Protestant surroundings.
Over the next year, by the summer of 2000, the Lord moved Tim and Deborah on to their next assignment and I became the senior pastor at our church. With the added responsibility and weight of being the only pastor at the church, I continued to dig deeper in my study of Scripture and search for the most effective and genuine way to “do” church. Any pastor worth his salt will find it a humbling and fearful task to be the primary shepherd of the people he serves. This caused me to invest more and more time into understanding Scripture so I could teach people as effectively as possible.
During this time, I also invested a great deal in reaching out to the poor and needy around the area of our church. I would go down to the main drag and find street people to hang with. I greatly desired to be personally involved in the lives of people so as to truly understand how to best reach them with the gospel of Christ. During this season, we had homeless people come to our church, live in our homes and we set up a regular weekly outreach to provide basic food and clothes to those who lived on the street. Our desire was to serve the people first and after we had earned their trust, share with them about Christ.
On paper all of this sounds very romantic, courageous and bold. The truth is that I was scared, ill-equipped and the scope of our outreach and impact was very minimal. Few noticed when it started and few missed it when it was gone.
The Value of Context
One thing that shaped my teaching was the desire for context. When I taught, I liked to read aloud a solid chunk of scripture on either side of the passage. This helped provide sufficient context and perspective to the verses being taught. Because of this, I always challenged those I taught to not study in a vacuum. Without understanding the context, a specific set of words can mean something completely different than what the author intended.
Because of my desire for context, not only did I enjoy deepening my own understanding of the gospel, but understanding other groups as well. In my zeal to effectively share the gospel of Christ with all people, I would seek out conversations with Mormons, Buddhists, Muslims, pluralistic relativistic cultural thinkers and just about anyone I could strike up a conversation with to better understand their point of view. This desire also led me to continue listening to the Catholic radio station, because they too were a group that I didn’t fully understand.
I always considered that genuine, Christ following Catholics were Christians, I just didn’t know any. I was never anti-Catholic. I always taught, and still teach, that showing up to a building or joining an organization does not equal salvation. The problem was, the more I learned about what the Catholic Church actually taught, the more I realized my perception of their teachings was distorted. As I continued to listen to the Catholic radio station I really began to enjoy learning the proper perspective of the Catholic Church, even if they were wrong. I thought that if I am going to disagree with someone, I should at least accurately understand their teachings so that I can properly refute them. I would never intentionally want to misrepresent any group.
The Early Church Fathers
Here’s where it gets interesting. There was a particular show on the Catholic radio station called “Catholic Answers.” This was the very same show I first stumbled upon in my driveway in the summer of 1999. This show, and many others, would regularly give logical, well-reasoned, scripture-based answers to the gospel as understood by the Catholic Church. They would then demonstrate existence of their biblical teaching in the life of the earliest Christians by drawing upon Christian writers from the first, second and third centuries commonly called the Early Church Fathers.
The scripture I understood. And I understood that Catholics were wrong in their interpretations. The problem was that I was completely unfamiliar with these historical figures they kept referring to as the “Early Church Fathers.” They kept claiming that the earliest Christians were Catholic in practice and belief and that all the writings from the first, second and third century verify that claim. They would constantly present a point of the gospel that was rooted in Scripture and then support it with quotes from multiple sources in the writings of these Early Church Fathers. They were clear these writings of the Early Church Fathers were not inspired nor on the same level as Sacred Scripture, but that they are a clear witness of what the earliest Christians believed and taught. More importantly, they claimed these beliefs and teachings were handed down by the apostles themselves and some of these writers were actually ordained by the apostles.
Here’s where the context enters in. Being committed to understanding things in context, I was sure that if I could ever actually find these secret documents of the Early Church Fathers and read them for myself, I’d see that these numerous quotes were taken partially, if not completely, out of context and I could easily dismiss them as valid sources. The radio show Catholic Answers regularly threw out a challenge to not simply take their word for any of the positions of the Catholic Church, but to search it out for one’s self and see if the claims of the Catholic Church are true or false.
I decided to take them up on this challenge. I figured that this would be relatively easy. First of all, the Catholic church had so many weird teachings that it seemed like it would be a piece of cake to show that there was little or no support for them in Scripture or in history. Secondly, I was sure that when I found the writings of the Early Church Fathers they would set the story straight. But there was a catch. Along with the challenge, they would throw out a caution. They would say that if you take them up on their challenge... be careful... you just might become Catholic. Yeah right! Impossible.
This set me on a journey of study, research, prayer and a lot of surprises. Needless to say, this adventure completely challenged understanding of what I thought the Catholic understanding of the gospel to be. This did not take place all at once or over a short period of time. It involved much study over many years. You can be assured that at no point in this process did I ever imagine I would become Catholic. I never wanted to be Catholic. To this very day, my desire is not to be Catholic, but to follow Christ to the fullest extent possible. It’s this desire that has led me to the Catholic Church.
At this point, I’m going to spare you the blow by blow details of how I came to what I consider to be the crucial questions that caused me to make such a radical switch. I will simply skip to the key questions that caused me to reevaluate my foundations. As a side note, one thing I quickly found was that the writings of the Early Church Fathers were not secret, obscure or hard to come by. In fact, the most popular distribution of them come from a Protestant publisher. I was completely shocked at the volume and depth of material available to us from the first, second and third centuries.
The following issues did not arrive to me in the order that I am placing them now. Nor is this list even close to covering all the issues and obstacles that I navigated. This is simply a list of five things that most impacted me and caused me to dig deeper.
1. Truth — I’m not a relativist.
How do we know what is true? I realized there were many things I believed about Jesus and the Christian faith to be true, but how did I know they are true and not just my or someone else’s opinion?
As I have walked with Christ and studied Scripture over the years, I have become more and more convinced that there is objective truth—that it can be known. I do not believe that each person can believe whatever they want about their path to heaven and expect to actually arrive there. For example, someone cannot be saved who believes Jesus existed but denies that salvation comes through Him.
The difficulty comes when two people have a different definition of the truth. The need is then to determine whose version of the truth is actually true. All truth is important, but issues that pertain to salvation are of greatest importance.
Jesus proclaims that He is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). When Jesus was before Pilate He says that He came to testify to the truth. Pilate’s response is, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38). Jesus is acknowledging that there is objective truth. Pilate, being a Roman and steeped in a pluralistic, polytheistic, pagan culture, did not think objective truth could be known. The New Testament mentions “truth” about 99 times. It refers to truth as something that can be known (John 8:31-32), as something to believe (2Thes 2:11-12) and something to be lived (1John 1:6).
The perspective of Scripture is that the “truth” is not something we have to hope for but can be confidently known. Since knowledge of the truth can impact one’s eternal life, Christ must have left us a way to discern and resolve conflicts when well intentioned people come to different definitions of what is true. Scripture is also very clear that truth is not simply something to be believed, but lived. We know truth cannot live in a vacuum. At some point truth must intersect with real life and with real people. Something believed is not fully believed until it is lived.
This takes us to point number 2.
2. Subjective experiences don’t make something true or untrue.
We know that someone can say they believe the truth of the gospel of Christ, but still act opposite of what they say they believe. Conversely, someone can say they don’t believe in the gospel of Christ and display actions that could be more Christ-like than the one who professes faith in Christ, but does not live it.
The point here is that a subjective experience doesn’t make something true or untrue. If someone professes belief in Christ and is unfaithful to Christ, his poor example does not demonstrate that the Christian faith is untrue. Likewise, if someone rejects Christ, but lives a better life and is more loving than the professing Christian, does that mean his view of Christ is true? No. Another example can be seen with marriage. If someone grows up in a home with divorced or abusive parents, it would be incorrect for him to conclude that because of his negative experience, we should do away with marriage. The problem is not marriage, but the understanding and implementation of marriage.
Many times, our modern Christian perspective of whether something is true or untrue is based on how well the subjective experience plays out. If a certain theology is proposed or a certain program is started, it is often judged to have been a viable belief or a worthy pursuit based on its subjective results (How many people did it reach and how large was the impact?).
The trouble is, I have encountered many people who have had very good experiences in systems that have a severely altered view of the nature of God, Jesus and salvation (Jehova’s Witnesses, Mormons. etc.). The fact that they grew up in a loving, supportive family and faith community does not make the false teachings any truer. And many of these people come to these teachings by way of great study and a desire to serve God.
Over the years, I have consistently run into Christians who validate their view of the gospel simply by how it is working for them or others in real life. I include myself in this. I have experimented with many versions of “how church should be done”, how to reach people, what must be believed, how the church must be structured and more.
Along with that I run into many Christians that decry a particular theology or system simply because of their opinion of how well it’s working.
One point of view that has given me pause in regard to this subject is the nation of Israel. All throughout the Old Testament God, was faithful to the promise he made to Israel. Israel was and is God’s chosen people. He chose them to bring about the truth of the prophetic revelations of Christ. It was through Israel that the foreshadowing of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was played out every year with sacrificial sin offerings.
Here’s the catch, much of the time, if not most of the time, if you were to visit Israel you would find them woefully lacking in their faithfulness and effectiveness in following God’s instructions. Many times, they completely rejected God and completely turned to worship false Gods. None of this changed God’s promises to them. Their unfaithfulness didn’t take anything away from the truth proclaimed by the prophets—because God declared that they would be the bearer of that truth. Repeatedly, God would raise up men and women to bring the nation back to obedience.
Israel’s authority to be the prophetic voice of God is carried right through the life of Jesus. Even while they are plotting Jesus’ death, God is prophesying through them.
John 11:48-52 48 “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, 50 nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” 51 Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
Because Israel was unfaithful at different times, it is not possible to render their teachings and prophetic revelations untrue or “not working” simply because Israel couldn’t live it. Even while they are plotting the death of the one who could save them, God sovereignly speaks through them—because they have the authority.
Many people say the Catholic church is flawed simply because they had a poor experience in the church they attended or have only known Catholics who lived their faith poorly. The challenge is to not render judgment based on experience, but to press through experience and unearth the truth. With that said, the goal is that all Catholics would live their faith to the fullest and people would have a positive subjective experience.
We know that Christ came to testify to the truth—so truth can be known. We know that a subjective experience doesn’t make somthing true or untrue—it is simply either true or untrue.
This takes us to point 3.
3. Authority—Who has the authority to determine what is true?
I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God and that it contains the truth of the Gospel. I believe the Bible is inerrant, being free from error and can be completely trusted as an accurate source for Christian teaching. With this profession of trust in the Scriptures also comes the admission of a problem. The problem is this: A written text must have someone to determine its meaning and application.
Our faith is not as simple as a math problem. A math problem needs no interpreter. If you have one apple and you add another apple, you now have a total of two apples. It is very concrete, objective and there is no room for interpretation. Theological issues on the pages of scripture do not present themselves as simply or objectively. Since we don’t have access to Jesus or His disciples personally, we can’t just ask them what they meant by a certain passage. Let me give a brief example of just one point of theology that has many different perspectives in Scripture.
The question: When is someone saved and what is required?
Here are a variety of scriptures on the subject.
When are we saved?
Past action – been saved
Ephesians 2:4-5 – 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ —by grace you have been saved,
Present continuing action – being saved
1Corinthians 1:18 – 18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Future reality – will be saved
Mr 13:13 “You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.
What must be done to be saved?
Mt 7:21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.
Lu 7:50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Mt 10:22 “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.
Mr 16:16 “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
John 6:53-54 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Rom 2:6-8 6 [who] WILL RENDER TO EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.
5* But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,
Ro 10:9 if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;
Gal 5:19-21 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
James 2:14-17 14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
1Pe 3:21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
This is only a small sampling of the verses that deal with salvation, judgment and the process of how we get to heaven. If you’re like me, you had an immediate explanation for how these verses harmonize. Different groups all throughout history have used these scriptures to support many different “plans” of salvation ranging from us not needing to do anything for salvation to the idea that we can go in and out of salvation all throughout the day.
The point here is not to discuss the topic of salvation, but to highlight the fact that just because a verse says something doesn’t mean its meaning and application is black and white. Right within Scripture we have many different explanations of how to get to heaven. Which one is correct? Are they all correct? How do we know which one to emphasize? How do we understand the harmonization of all these verses? There is no shortage of “plans” of salvation in the many different denominations and books abound on the previous questions.
This takes us back to the starting point of this section, that the Bible requires someone to interpret the Scriptures to bring out the proper understanding. The key question is when two people come to different conclusions on major theology points, like salvation, and they both cite Scripture to support their case how do you determine who is correct? Who has the authority to decide? You, me, your pastor, your denominational leader a theologian?
Either there must be a way to authoritatively understand the gospel or one ends up believing that all paths that contain Christ lead to heaven. If there is not an authoritative way to understand the gospel, we are left following the most charismatic leader who can best communicate his position in such a way that it draws people.
There is much more to say on this, but I shall leave it at this time.
We know that Christ came to testify to the truth—so truth can be known. We know that a subjective experience doesn’t make something true or untrue—it is either true or untrue. We know that the words on the pages of Scripture cannot interpret themselves and that there must be a reliable authority by which we can understand what Jesus and the Apostles taught.
This takes us to point 4.
4. The witness of the early church fathers.
The process of identifying the proper authority for interpreting Scripture is a slippery and well-traveled slope. Many have risen over the years and claimed to have that authority. Some of them valid Christians and others were cults. The challenge here is that since Scripture can’t interpret itself, how can we identify the authority for interpreting Scripture and therefore, our Christian faith?
Growing up in the Foursquare denomination, I developed a great love for the Bible, the power of the Holy Spirit and the necessity of living what I believed. Foursquare, as a denomination, got its start in the 1920’s. As I grew up I never considered church history much beyond the 20th century. In Bible College, we touched on the Reformation, but very superficially. I say this to point out that I was very, very ignorant of any church history before the 20th century. Sure, I had the general Protestant understanding that my faith was rooted in Scripture and that because of Martin Luther and the Reformation, I was able to freely worship God outside the pressure of overly organized religion.
Due to the problems in the church in the 16th century, Martin Luther asked some much-needed questions that caused all kids of reforms to take place—some for the good and some for the bad. The more I looked into the whole of Church history, all 2000 years, I some nagging questions began to surface.
Here’s what I began to realize. My own denomination agreed with Luther on many things but we disagreed with him on many major points of theology. We disagreed with Zwingli, the great Swiss reformer, on many major points of theology. We strongly disagreed with Calvin on major points of theology as well. If you’re unfamiliar with these names, Luther, Zwingli and Calvin are the 3 major reformers that put in motion the reformation in the 16th century.
My denomination had already re-reformed much of the theology of the Reformation in regard to how we are saved, if could we lose salvation and the power and work of the Holy Spirit. These are not small issues. The nature of salvation and whether you can lose it, is not a peripheral issue. If my denomination was right, then we were saying that others were wrong. How did we know that we were any more right than Luther, Zwingli or Calvin? Both the reformers and my denomination appealed to Scripture as their source.
This led me to begin searching throughout Church history to see what had been historically believed and lived. My searching lead me to the writings of the earliest Christians from the 1st, 2nd century and beyond. I had vaguely heard of these writings but had never read them. These writings are commonly referred to as the writings of the Early Church Fathers. These documents cover a time period roughly from 90 AD to 700 AD. These are not secret writings or recently discovered. The writings of the early church fathers have always been acknowledged by the church in every age. In fact, the particular set of writings that I looked at had been translated from the Greek and Latin by Protestants and published by a Protestant publisher.
There’s a lot to say about these writings but let me summarize in brief the most important pieces. First, these documents are not inspired, like the Bible, but give us real insight to how the earliest Christians lived from the end of the first century onward. I call these “Church Fathers” the interpretive lens of Scripture. Namely, we can read a verse like John 3:5 and come up with an interpretation, but when we see that 100% of the writers from the 2nd century have the same interpretation, we can have greater confidence that their interpretation is the intent of the apostles. They help us see more clearly what the apostles handed on to their immediate disciples and to understand the Bible. Secondly, I was surprised that some of these writings were from disciples of the apostles and a couple of writers are even mentioned in Scripture. These were men who sat at the feet of the apostles and directly received their teaching. Thirdly, as I read, it became clear that the church of the second century (100-200 AD) bared little resemblance to my denomination and many others. Fourthly, there are many things in common theologically between modern Christianity and the early church (like the nature of Christ, His saving work on the cross and a lot more), but I was surprised that there was quite a bit of difference on other important theological issues (baptism, communion, Church structure, authority of the Church, tradition, relationship between faith and works, etc.).
My greatest shock was that the theology, practice and structure of the earliest Christians that lived just after the apostles looked very, very Catholic. I had always been told that the Catholic church emerged much later in the fourth century. But as I studied I found that the core foundational theology of the nature of God, salvation, sin, the church, Scripture, authority and more was easy to find and very Catholic.
As I began to understand who these church fathers were and what that had done for the church I was constantly amazed. These are the men who courageously defended the faith in the face of bloody persecutions, torture and execution. During these early centuries these are the men who preserved the Bible for us. The fourth century fathers are the ones who determined which early Christian writings were inspired and assembled them into the New Testament which we have to this day.
These early church fathers defended the faith against heresy after heresy. They successfully overcame every movement that rose up to deny divinity of Christ, the humanity of Christ, the virgin birth, his literal resurrection and much, much more.
This gave birth to another nagging question: How could I accept the contributions of these men regarding the canon of the New Testament, definitions of the Incarnation and the Trinity, but reject all the rest of what they taught (faith, justification, salvation, the Church, tradition, works, apostolic succession and more)? And how could I reconcile the fact that from the earliest writings (90AD-300AD, before Constantine) the undeniable evidence is that the earliest Christians were Catholic in theology, practice and structure.
This leads to one of two conclusions.
1. The apostles failed to pass on the basic message of gospel and the nature of the church to their very own disciples and therefore the true church immediately slipped away only to be rediscovered at the time of the reformation (early 1500s) or later.
2. The apostles had handed on everything accurately and the writings we possess are an accurate representation of the early church.
The overwhelming evidence is that the apostles did not fumble away the faith and the church, but they faithfully handed on all they were taught by Jesus and the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Also, the structure and authority of the Catholic church is one of the most biblically sound teachings. It doesn’t work for someone to claim to have the authority and there to be no evidence in Scripture to support that claim. Conversely, it also doesn’t work for someone to claim their authority comes from Scripture without any supporting historical evidence of that belief and practice of authority existing. At some point at the beginning of the Church, Scripture and history must work together.
I don’t have time to go into all the reasons for how we can know with reasonable assurance that the faith of the earliest Christians is the faith of the Apostles and those Christians were Catholic.
• We know that Christ came to testify to the truth—so truth can be known
• We know that a subjective experience doesn’t make something true or untrue—it is simply either true or untrue.
• We know that the words on the pages of Scripture cannot interpret themselves and that there must be a reliable authority by which we can understand what Jesus and the Apostles taught.
• We also see the witness of history clearly identifies who that authority is and even though I have not taken the time here, I assure you that Scripture makes the best case of all. Scripture is the foundation on which history builds.
This takes us to point 5
5. My love for Christ.
Well, up till now, this has been intriguing to you depending on your interest in logical thought, theology, history and the spiritual musings of a disciple of Christ. In the end this can all seem very stale apart from a life-giving application. So, let me bring some life to this.
This journey for me has not been one of only logic and mounting facts, but it began and is being sustained completely by my love for Christ. My only desire in life is to serve Christ and be faithful to that which He calls me. I never set out to be Catholic—I set out to disprove certain key aspects of Catholic theology. To this day my desire is not to be Catholic, but to follow Christ to the fullest extent possible. There is no more full way to follow Christ and to receive all that He truly has for us than to be Catholic.
I have not taken the time in this letter to go through the detailed theology that verifies the teachings of the Catholic Church. I looked, at some level, at all the major aspects of Catholic theology and of the historical evidence. It’s not possible for someone to be a Pastor and make this kind of switch without a significant amount of study.
There are great answers to all the questions: What about the crusades? What about the inquisitions? What about Mary? Don’t Catholics work to earn their salvation (the short answer is no)? How could the Catholic church be correct when all I’ve met are Catholics who don’t know or live their faith? Doesn’t the Catholic church breed ignorance? What about the bad popes? and much more.
I consistently run in to questions like these and many more. All these types of questions are very valid and deserve solid answers. I have no ignoring difficult questions. What I can assure you is that there are solid, reliable, logical, historical and most importantly biblical answers for these questions.
My job now is to live what I believe. If you have been turned off to the Catholic Church by unfaithful people who have called themselves Catholic—let me be the first to break the stereotype. And I assure you that I am not an anomaly. There have been hundreds of pastors that have come into the Catholic Church over the years and I have met many faithful, Christ centered, zealous, full of life Catholics since my journey into the Catholic Church. I have also met plenty of pew sitting, apathetic Catholics.
Over my years of ministry I have asked a lot of questions about why and how we do things in the church. I questioned and examined just about everything that pertains to modern church life as we know it. Here’s what I can tell you, every single question that I have ever asked, concerning how, what or why, has been most fully answered within the Catholic Church. Everything makes more sense now...and I truly mean everything. I understand, in a much fuller way, things like the nature of God, the nature of the church, theology, why we meet on Sundays, my marriage, my role as a husband, my role as a parent, my role as a follower of Christ, history, weddings, sexuality and much, much more. The teachings within the Catholic Church are so deep, rich and Biblical that it is astounding. Once I began to understand what the Catholic church actually teaches, instead of my distorted view of what they taught, the pieces began to fall into place like the gradual progression of strokes on the artists canvas.
It is difficult for me to explain how much freedom and simplicity there is within the Catholic Church. My previous perspective was that it was a system of rules and regulations—nothing could be further from the truth. Have there been Catholics who have treated it like a system of rules and regulations? Absolutely. But just because someone does something badly, doesn’t mean he or she should be the measuring rod by which one determines the truth of a system.
I have been amazed at how accessible Jesus is from the youngest to the oldest. I have been amazed at how Christ centered everything is when the church gathers. Good chunks of Scripture are read at every service. Sin is talked about and addressed. The teachings on morality and the family have been so life giving that it has truly changed my family. My wife has been transformed into a woman of God on a whole new level.
Now, I realize this last point is, to some extent, my subjective experience, which alone cannot be a foundation for truth. I share this for those that think it’s not possible to have a positive experience in the Catholic church. I have had positive and negative experiences during my journey to the Catholic church. It has not all been wonderful. There has been a great deal of pain, struggle, disappointment, excitement, joy and more. Anything worth having does not come easy.
I say all of this to point out that I have searched, studied, dug deep and sacrificed a great deal and it has been of greater value than words can express—I have found the fullness of the expression of Christ. I am not saying that I did not have Christ before, but now I see the whole picture of Christ and not just pieces.
There is so much more to the answer in regard to how one benefits from being Catholic, but that is for another time. Suffice it to say that throughout my ministry I have sought to serve Jesus to the fullest at whatever the cost. Following the Spirit’s draw to the Catholic church has cost me more than any other decision. To become Catholic meant that I lost my job and my provision for my family since I was a pastor. God has taught us that He is our provider so we knew that as long as we are seeking Him first, He would continue to provide what we need—and He hasn’t missed a day! (Matt 6:33).
The main point of the letter is to explain the process which brought me to the decision to enter the Catholic Church. I have intentionally not covered specific theology differences between Catholics and other Christians. In short, the biggest differences are in the understanding of the nature of the Church, apostolic authority, the application of the Grace of God (the when and how) and of course, Mary.
If you have more questions please email me. I would love to give you any additional information or resources on our journey, the Catholic Church, early church fathers or anything else. There is a ton of great information and it is very accessible and understandable.
May God bless all that you do for Him and may everything else simply fall by the wayside.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith;
that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.