“’Till all shall see Christ only, always, living in me.”
I remain ever grateful for my Christian heritage and the godly examples my Protestant family and friends set for me. Under their tutelage, I received a thorough grounding in scripture, developed a desire to please God, learned the necessity of maintaining a tender conscience, and discovered the basics of Christianity such as the blood of Jesus, God’s unfathomable love, the efficacy of prayer, the necessity for repentance and the certain knowledge that I will answer to God for every action and decision in my life.
Yet, I now see that the Catholic Church holds the fullness of revelation. As a Protestant, I kept thinking that there had to be more — more help, more guidance, more understanding, more ‘something’ from God. Often the services, Bible studies, and prayer groups I attended left me spiritually hungry rather than satisfied. Now, I find that the answer is in the Catholic Church. We Protestants too often ignored the gifts God has provided for us through such treasures as: the Real Presence, the communion of saints, the Magisterium, the novenas, the emphasis on developing virtue, the sacraments and the sacramentals. Like a Jew who accepts the Messiah sees himself as a completed Jew, I see myself now as a completed Christian.
Some of the issues that friends outside the Catholic Church have raised in conversation about my reconciliation (in no particular order) are:
- Salvation: As a good charismatic Baptist-Episcopalian, I had been thoroughly versed in the basic tenet of the Protestant Reformation — justification by faith.
But I had worried for years about “cheap grace.” Too many “good” Protestants live as though it didn’t matter how they acted after they have made a profession of faith. Not that they became notorious sinners, but that they easily rationalize this action or that decision. This tenet has led to many fervent converts who quickly lose their desire to make Jesus the absolute Boss of their lives.
The book of James very clearly states that faith without works is dead and that we exhibit our faith by our works. Romans 2:7 mentions that we must persevere in well doing if we want to reap eternal life. Galatians 6:6-10 also reinforces that concept. And Philippians 2:12 talks about working out our salvation in fear and trembling.
In less theological terms, “works” is merely putting your money where your mouth is.
Yes, we are saved by grace, not by our own merits. But even our faith is a gift of grace from God, as well as the desire to do good works to bring honor to Him. So the answer is that grace from God is the means of our salvation, but that both faith and works are necessary elements in salvation. “Sola fide” is not the answer, just as the Catholic Church has stated through the years.
2. The foundation of truth: Again, the Protestant Reformation stands on the principle of “Sola Scriptura.” However, therein lies an inherent inconsistency. Neither the term nor the principle is to be found in any Biblical text. A non- Scriptural doctrine that says only Scriptural doctrines can be authentic contradicts itself.
Baptists, like the Jews, even like to call themselves the “People of the Book.” But now I see that while the Bible is true and can be relied upon as written by God Himself in the form of the Holy Spirit inspiring men to write, it cannot stand alone as the foundation of truth. In II Thessalonians 2:15, we read, “So, then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.”
Even Baptists accept and believe things, the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, that are not stated explicitly in the Bible. So they indirectly admit that there are foundational truths that have been handed down by word of mouth as well as truth written and accepted into the canon.
None of the truths or traditions accepted by the Catholic Church by word of mouth from the Apostles contradicts the written Word; they merely enhance it.
- Baptism: Even after my entry into the Episcopal Church, I, true to my early Christian education, privately believed that baptism should be for believers only, not children.
But as I studied the Jewish roots of Christianity, it dawned on me that children, at eight days of age, became members of the First Covenant by an act of their parents. The Jews circumcised their sons without the baby’s approval or consent. Later they instructed them in the faith and formally admitted them as members of the congregation at a Bar Mitzvah, about age 12 or 13.
Early Christians adapted the same process, except the sign of the New Covenant was baptism, not circumcision. If they were adults, they experienced a Believer’s baptism, as in Acts 8:36-39 when Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch. If there were children in the family, they were baptized at the same time as their parents. This is implied, not explicitly stated, in passages such as Acts 16:15 (And when she [Lydia] was baptized, with her household, she besought us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.) Like the Jews, the church then trained these children in the faith and held a Confirmation service to admit them into full membership at about 12 or 13.
The question is, if children were admitted into the Old Covenant by an act of faith on the part of their parents, why would it be any different for the New Covenant? And if it is to be different, why do the scriptures not explicitly state that only believers can be baptized?
Besides, our American culture is infused with a fairly new Lone Ranger mentality that glorifies the individual apart from the group. I often wonder if the tenet of Believer’s Baptism would flourish in any other society. The Jewish way of life has always emphasized the family and God’s dealing with the family as a whole. (Of course, throughout the Old Testament there was always a special concern for anyone who happened to be really alone – “the stranger in your midst.”)
- The Lord’s Supper: I, like many Episcopalians, have long understood that the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ when blessed at the altar. So this was not a stumbling block for me. In fact, I am delighted to be in a church that revels in this truth, instead of merely mentioning it in confirmation class.
But for those of you to whom this is new, let me encourage you to re-read John 6:41-59. There Jesus definitely states, to the dismay of many Jews who had been trained to avoid eating or drinking the blood of any animal because of the Old Testament laws, that His disciples would eat His flesh and drink His blood.
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh…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 you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”
Those four strong statements can only point to the reality of transubstantiation. Jesus repeats the words for emphasis rather than “explaining them away.” (By the way, He only said, “You must be born again,” once.) Furthermore, they emphasize the importance of communion as a vital part of the Christian life, not just a once-a- quarter reminder of Christ’s death.
Later in the gospels, when Jesus celebrates His last Passover Seder with His disciples, he changes the liturgy of the Seder to tell them that the unleavened bread and the wine of the Seder would now become the flesh and blood of the New Covenant. In Matthew 26:26-28 we read: Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins….”
The first Passover in Egypt required the lamb to be slain; the blood sprinkled for the household with a hyssop branch, and the paschal lamb had to be eaten by those who would be saved. Couple that with Jesus’ strong statements about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, to begin to understand the partaking of Jesus’ body and blood and becoming one with Him. He is our Pascal Lamb. Understanding this, you gain a whole new desire for partaking of the Eucharist as often as possible.
Celebrating salvation through the administration of the Eucharist became the chief method of worship in the early church. Indeed, it also appears to be the chief form of worship in heaven; both worship scenes in Isaiah and St. John’s Revelation sound a lot like the Mass in the church.
- Unity in the Church: I have been concerned, as has every Christian, about the major divisions in the Protestant churches. When I read Jesus’ prayer for His followers (…that they may be one, even as we are one. John 17:11b), I can’t help but feel sorry and guilty because the church is so divided that we mar our witness to unbelievers. While claiming to have access to ultimate Truth, the many contradictory variations of Christian practice belie our assertions. To list all of the official Protestant denominations here in the United States takes two to three hundred printed pages. Then there are all the house-church groups that form and meet without submitting to any authority.
And every Protestant friend I have is somewhat dissatisfied with his church. Many friends seek daily for a new church home. But, like me, they look everywhere except in the Catholic Church. I assure you, that finally, after a lifetime of seeking God, I can now say that I have found a home in the Catholic Church. Could it be that Jesus wants us all to belong to the one great Church He authorized during His time on earth?
- Authority: We all know how Protestants interpret Matthew 16:18-19 “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” But have you ever considered that it means just what it says?
In the Old Covenant the rabbis had the authority and obligation to bind and loose in regards to Halakah for the community where they served. So giving this authority in the New Covenant primarily to Peter just continues the same concept, but in regards to the things Jesus has taught His disciples while on earth.
Before the crucifixion, Jesus prayed especially for Peter. After the resurrection, He specifically told Peter to “feed my sheep.” Peter was obviously a leader in the first church. He led the sermon on the First Pentecost in the New Covenant, for example. If Jesus Himself said that the foundation of the church would rest on him and his successors, why not take the scripture at face value? Don’t you think that in spite of human frailty, God would protect His church just as Jesus promised? Why not through a succession of church leaders beginning with the one He chose Himself?
Yes, there have been Popes that no one is proud of, just as many Protestant leaders bring shame to the name of Christ. Luther himself was sinfully prejudiced against the Jews, for example. But Protestants still claim that Jesus is Lord, even when the people they put their faith in fail. Can they not allow the same generosity of spirit toward the Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, and Priests who have failed? In spite of personal failures of some members, the Catholic Church has guarded steadfastly the major tenets of the faith for the last two thousand years.
We all know what happens when a little child has too much freedom. He becomes almost impossible to live with because he is too demanding and never happy or satisfied with anything. He also becomes insecure, because deep in his being he knows that he has too many decisions resting on his little shoulders. It’s more than he can bear, even though he outwardly demands to have his way. Intelligent, caring parents understand this and provide limits to his choices in relation to his age. For example, they tell him when to sleep and where, what and when to eat, what to wear, when to be quiet and when he can play loudly with abandon.
Would not our dear Heavenly Father give us untutored Gentiles similar earthly guidance about living out the Kingdom life here on earth?
Some Protestants act like little spoiled children who have been given too much freedom when it comes to spiritual matters. They tend to pick and choose what they want to believe and what kind of authority they will submit to and under what circumstances. And when they run into someone who doesn’t agree with them, they tend to want to go elsewhere or else form a new group of “real” believers. Some have become eternal seekers, looking always for spiritual highs to maintain their faith, ignoring the necessity of nitty gritty Christian discipline and submission. But I think everyone is unhappy with this situation at some level of consciousness, even though they might declare otherwise
What I see in the Catholic Church is the spiritual authority and discipline to meet genuine spiritual needs. No, no individual or group is perfect. But here at last, I have found what I can submit to in full faith that God can bless my obedience. I have come home.
I could compare my Christian walk to directing an orchestra. I have been the conductor, directing the instruments to play music for everyone who passes by my life. At first I only had three instruments to conduct: the piano, trumpets, and bassoons. I often achieved strikingly beautiful movements. The piano carried the sweet melodies of Jesus’ life; the trumpets sounded the clarion call for repentance and the bassoons trumpeted visions of God’s judgment. When passers-by complained that the music was occasionally shrill or strident, I shrugged and replied that God was beautiful whether our ears could understand His goodness or not.
Later, as I allowed the Holy Spirit to be more active in my life through the Charismatic renewal, I found a whole section of violins that added sublime melodies and counter melodies that spotlighted the message in the other instruments. They brought a joy and coherence my music had not exhibited before. Then I discovered liturgy – the worship that we people offer to God – in the Episcopal Church. I loved having the clarinets’ haunting refrains from early Christian worship. And the drums added structure to my music, making it better than ever.
But in the Catholic Church I found all the instruments that make up a full orchestra. Their understanding of the community of saints completed my string section with violas, bass viols, and cellos. Learning more about the Virgin Mary, brought in the harp that seems to bring heaven to earth. Their tubas, counter bassoons, French horns, flutes, cornets, and even, occasionally, cymbals, enriched every song played by the first orchestra pieces. And making music is easier than ever before.
The song I’m playing is still the simple message of the gospel, so clear that it touches the lives of the simplest buffoons. Yet it is so rich that in two thousand years of dedicated human effort we have not yet begun to explore the depths of it.
Footnote: Have Thine Own Way, Lord
1. Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.
2. Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Search me and try me, Master, today!
Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now,
As in Thy presence humbly I bow.
3. Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Wounded and weary, help me, I pray!
Power, all power, surely is Thine!
Touch me and heal me, Savior divine.
4. Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Hold o’er my being absolute sway!
Fill with Thy Spirit ’till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me.
Adelaide A. Pollard, 1907