On the Road to RomePosted: March 14, 2014
“I never dreamed that the Roman religion was true; but I knew that its accusers, for some reason or other, were curiously inaccurate.” –G.K. Chesterton, The Catholic Church and Conversion
I would like to share a bit of my journey with those who are interested. A year ago, I was frustrated because I knew that Christianity must be something real, courageous, and deep, but as much as I wanted to experience real Christianity and be an effective servant of God, the mission seemed vague. Christians who were naturally passionate seemed to be experiencing something special, so I tried to be more extroverted, but this was unnatural for me. Why would God create me with a mostly introverted personality, and then require me to adopt a different personality in order to properly serve Him? Plus, there were too many theological questions unanswered for me to be truly effective as a Christian witness. I wanted to get the tough questions answered for myself before facing them from unbelievers. Christianity is too important to risk getting it wrong and leading others astray.
I was also discovering many so-called Christians whose doctrines I knew must be wrong, but because they pointed to the Bible while explaining their beliefs it became an argument over interpretational opinion. Who can effectively demonstrate that the Calvinists are wrong? The Arminians have been trying for centuries, but does anybody really care about what the Arminians have to say? Who’s to say the Swedenborgians are further off-track than the Lutherans, if they’re both pointing to the Bible as their doctrinal authority? After 2,000 years it didn’t seem right that Christianity should involve so much uncertainty. Is God fine with our personal interpretations, or did He put structure in place?
“And therefore they [Protestants] would maintain that the Church is invisible and unperceivable. I consider that this is the extreme of absurdity and that immediately beyond this abide frenzy and madness… in all Scripture it will never be found that the Church is taken for an invisible assembly.” –St. Francis de Sales, ca. 1595, in his Defense of the Faith
I assumed the Bible was the Christian’s handbook for life, and that it is really all we need. But try applying verses like Luke 14:33 without interpretational help. People have opinions about Scripture, but who’s qualified to have the final word? Amidst all the questions and frustration, I was blessed to discover the early Church fathers, and their relevance, and their writings, which had basically been hidden from me before. I began to notice how people who appealed to the history and traditions of Christianity had explanations of Scripture that were far better than those that came from modern attempts at using the Bible alone.
“The Scriptures are given for our salvation, but not the Scriptures alone; traditions also have their place. Birds have a right wing to fly with; is the left wing therefore of no use? The one does not move without the other… the Scripture then is the Gospel, but it is not the whole Gospel, for traditions form the other part… the Apostles have taught by writing and by tradition, and the whole is the Gospel.” –St. Francis de Sales, ca. 1595, in his Defense of the Faith
So it became a search for authentic, historical Christianity. This opened up a whole new world of understanding and research, but I was still left with two big frustrations: who settles matters of doctrinal dispute, and how are Christians supposed to live today? Although obviously aware of the Roman Catholic Church (who isn’t?), I hesitated to consider it because their doctrines seemed so weird, and had the apparent “baggage” of things like Marian theology and purgatory. Basically Catholicism wasn’t Protestant enough for my tastes. I’ve since come to realize that it is Protestantism that is peculiar when examined from a historical perspective.
Protestant theology (which is the lens through which I viewed the Bible, even while avoiding the title of “Protestant”) is inherently a protest against Catholic doctrines. It was created that way on purpose about 500 years ago, and perpetuated to this day by the allure of doctrinal freedom. Protesting the Catholic Church is just about the only thing that really unites Protestants. But I digress.
I was desperate enough for answers that I decided I may as well check out Catholic Mass. It seemed weird, and I was uncomfortable. But encountering the first century Church would be weird too, and who ever said Christianity was supposed to be comfortable? So those factors shouldn’t count. The question was, is this legitimate? Or more specifically, is this the Church? The last few months have been an investigation into answering that question. There have been ups and downs, hardships and joy, but the end of the tunnel seems to be in sight. At this point I would guess there’s about a 95% chance that I will be joining the Catholic Church. If there are no more misconceptions about the Church left for me to protest, there’s little sense in remaining a Protestant. I still have months to wait, but in the mean time the evidence has been pouring in to support the Church’s legitimacy, while Protestantism only gets weaker in comparison.
“Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the succession of bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre-eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.” –Irenaeus, early Church father, ca. 180 A.D. in his famous work Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 3, para. 2 (italics added)
Many of Protestantism’s best theological arguments were demolished over 400 years ago by St. Francis de Sales. Stereotypical reactions from concerned Protestant relatives were playfully mocked almost a century ago by G.K. Chesterton. Deep biblical concepts pondered from Protestant pulpits are often found to be elementary within Catholicism. It’s funny to note how hard it is to understand Scripture when you impose the rule of Sola Scriptura on yourself.
What’s not so funny, however, is the refusal I see among Protestants to test their faith.
What if your perception of certain Bible verses is not a contract that legally binds God to save you? What good is a feeling of relationship with Him if you are not obeying the instructions and people He put in place for you to obey? What if it turns out in the end that Truth wasn’t a democracy and you weren’t part of Christ’s Church? What projects, hobbies, recreational activities, or TV shows could possibly be more important than figuring this stuff out?!
“…it must not be said that sins are forgiven or have been forgiven to anyone who boasts of his confidence and certainty of the remission of his sins, resting on that alone, though among heretics and schismatics this vain and ungodly confidence may be and in our troubled times indeed is found and preached with untiring fury against the Catholic Church.” -Council of Trent, Session Six, 1547
It is a scary thing to discover that your theology is dangerously wrong. But in honestly confronting it, I was ultimately rewarded with the joy of finding the Christianity I had always hoped was real. The “gates of hell” did not prevail against the Church after all. How could I have assumed that the Church was in error for more than 1,000 years awaiting Protestant reformers? How absurd!
“Was he not lifted up on the Cross? Did He not suffer? And how then having drawn to himself the Church, should he let it escape so utterly from him? how should he let go this prize which had cost him so dear? Had the prince of the world, the devil, been driven out with the stick of the cross for a time of 300 or 400 years, to return and reign a thousand years? Would you make so absolutely vain the might of the cross? …he who trusts to the infallibility of the Church trusts to no lie, unless that is a lie which is written: the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. We place our trust then in the Holy Word, which promises perpetuity to the Church.” –St. Francis de Sales, ca. 1595, in his Defense of the Faith
I can tell you from personal experience that if you truly want to see, God will open your eyes. The answers are out there. Satan wants you to be too distracted or complacent to find them. You must seek the Truth out of your own free will. Are you assuming that God will forcibly turn you around if you’re on the wrong track? Some action is required on our part, despite what the Calvinists might tell you.
Heresies have been all-too common since the beginning of the Church, many based largely upon misunderstandings of Scripture. How do you know you’re not a heretic? I could not leave this question unanswered in my own mind.
Questions that had piled higher and higher regarding my Christian faith have been getting answered en masse by the Catholic Church. They were answered specifically and thoroughly long before I even knew to ask them. I feel like I’m the last one to arrive at the party. Better late than never. The flow of information has become almost overwhelming. It’s like trying to drink water from a fire hose. And Protestants get annoyed when an answer to a question can’t be conveniently placed in a drinking glass for them! Have we gotten so used to Facebook and thirty-second commercials that our attention spans are entirely shot? I have a newly discovered world to share with you, but you must be willing to understand and invest the time to understand it.
The bad part for me is that even though I can already see that Catholic theology is far more substantive than Protestant theology, I can’t explain it as well as it should be explained. The good news is that the wealth of information I’ve been uncovering is available to anyone who wants to learn. Since discovering the many Catholic resources that are out there, I’ve been hungrily devouring theological books as if I had been spiritually starving for the previous 30 years of my life. Things click in my mind that were mysteries before, and I want so badly to share the good news with others, but things are not so simple. I think people are understandably nervous that I might be on to something and they would rather not consider how their own faith might be affected. Christians, pursue and defend the Truth with courage!
If you think you’re too busy living a Christian life to figure out what Christianity really is, I challenge you to challenge yourself. If your loyalty to the Protestant “Reformers” runs too deep, or your own legacy is too dear, I feel sorry for you. If discomfort is too high of a price for you to pay, then I ask you to remember the martyrs, as Catholics are good at doing. Really study the history. Really study the Scriptures. Acknowledge that Christianity involves traditions either way, but does yours come from men or from God through the Apostles?
To those of you who care enough to be reading this, I am happy to announce my intention to join the Roman Catholic Church. As a Christian, what choice do I have but to obey Christ and be part of His Church? Chesterton may as well have been referring to me when he said, “There drops from him the holy armour of his invincible ignorance…” And I’m glad to be rid of it. Even though I can hardly wait, it may not be until Easter 2015 that I can officially be confirmed into the Church, after completing months of weekly classes. But there’s a lot of learning to do and wonderful people to meet in the interim, and it may take awhile for relatives and friends to adjust. Who knows, maybe some would like to learn more also and be at the Church on the big day!
I may be more hesitant in the coming months to write out my “ruminations” for the world to see, because even though Catholicism is pretty much the only thing I want to write about these days, the subject is better explained by people far more qualified than myself. It turns out that Christianity is deep! Many of my previous blog posts seem uninformed to me now, and my respect for the Church makes me want to be careful, at least until I can communicate effectively enough.
Please pray for me and my family as we go down this road, and I hope that God blesses all of us who seek His Truth rather than just our preferences.
“We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong.” –G.K. Chesterton, The Catholic Church and Conversion
I’m excited to see that I can know how to live, and it’s wonderful to find out that doctrinal disputes have actually been settled for a long time.
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