FROM CATHOLICISM TO EVANGELICALISM


In September 1970, I was born into a Catholic family.  Fifteen days later I was reborn a child of God and Mother Church through the Sacrament of Baptism.  Growing up I received a pretty good Catholic religious education, considering the confusion of the time (the "liturgical renewal" of the 1970's).  As a child I loved God, the saints, Mass, CCD - everything about the Faith.  I enjoyed a very happy childhood in the arms of Mother Church.

However, even as I learned about my Faith, certain grownups around me unknowingly undermined it.  They informed me that the Mass had not always been the way it was now.  The priest used to say Mass in Latin, they said, so that no one in the pews understood what was going on!  He also kept his back turned toward the people, as if they were too sinful and unworthy for him to look at them!  But then the Church realized that the people weren't so bad after all, so the priest turned around and started saying the Mass in English.  Now everyone can understand and participate!

Of course, this was a gross distortion of the truth, but it took me almost two decades to find that out.  I also know these adults meant well; they were obviously very happy with the changes and wanted me to be grateful for them. They did not realize that they were sowing seeds that would later sprout into doubts about the Catholic Church.

Meanwhile, society sowed the seeds of feminism in my impressionable young mind.  I remember feminists on television saying that men had "oppressed" women for centuries. This was not hard for me to believe; after all, the boys in the schoolyard used to tease us, saying "You throw like a girl!...You hit like a girl!".  I thought this was a personal experience of such male "oppression"! (Of course, my male classmates were not acting from a position of power to disenfranchise us, and we could always tease the boys right back..  So my experience was hardly "oppressive," but my child's mind saw it that way.)

More Changes in the Church

Shortly before my First Penance, our pastor had the old wooden confessionals removed from the church.  I was soon told that this was a good thing; Those old confessionals were dark and scary!  You couldn't see the priest from behind the grill because the Church once thought that people were too sinful and unworthy to look the priest in the face  (more gross distortions of the facts, of course).  So I made my First Penance face-to-face, behind a sheet set up on the altar for the ceremony.

Soon after the confessionals went, the pastor had the kneelers taken out as well.  This time no one explained why this was a good thing and, frankly, I was puzzled.  I had learned that church is a place where people pray, and that kneeling was a good posture for prayer.  So the presence of kneelers in the church made perfect sense to me, while their removal made none whatsoever.

I do not blame the Second Vatican Council for this chaos, as it never called for most of the changes which occurred in its wake.  Anyone who reads the actual Council documents can clearly see that; you won't find any call for removal of confessionals or kneelers.  The champions of the so-called "liturgical renewal" forced these innovations on the laity in the name of Vatican II. I sometimes call this practice "renewalism", to distinguish it from the valid Conciliar reforms.

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"Non-Catholic Christians"?

When I was seven I joined the Girl Scouts.  My Brownie troop met in the local Lutheran church, which held a special service for the Girl Scouts once a year.  We were all encouraged to attend, which I did a few times.  It seemed very similar to the Catholic Mass I had known all my life, yet I knew this was not a Catholic Church, but a "Lutheran" one.  "Lutherans" were evidently Christians, but not Catholic.  This was my first exposure to Protestantism.

I became curious about Protestants, and wanted to learn more about them.  I found some books in the public library about Luther and the (so-called) "reformation", from which I learned from them that Protestants had abandoned Latin in favor of vernacular liturgies centuries ago.  Now I had learned that the Catholic Church had only abandoned Latin recently, a few years before I was born.  It seemed obvious to me that Protestantism was a sort-of "avant-garde" Christianity; far ahead of Catholicism in such important "reforms"!

One of my relatives, whom I loved very much, was really into God.  I used to love to hear him talk about spiritual things.  Unfortunately, he had embraced the renewalist spirit sweeping the American Church back then.  He believed that prayer to saints was backwards and unnecessary; after all, why go to them if we can go "straight to the Boss"? (His exact words)

I disagreed with him at first, but not because I could theologically defend the veneration of saints or anything like that.  I disagreed because my grandma had taught me how to say the Rosary, my great aunt had given me statues of various saints, and my CCD teachers had taught us to say the Hail Mary.  Obviously, these reasons were not very strong, and so would not last too long.

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Preparing to Leave

On 24 July 1982, shortly before my twelfth birthday, I went to a fair at my relative's parish.  There I found two Chick tracts which someone had left at one of the booths; the titles were  "This Was Your Life" and "Somebody Goofed".  I read them both, and the latter one really scared me; a boy went to hell at the end because he had not "accepted Jesus Christ" as his "personal Lord and Savior".

Now, at this time in my life I was reading our family Bible a lot and strongly desired to serve God; I even thought I'd become a nun when I grew up.  I had always loved Jesus, and believed He was my Savior and Friend, but did not remember ever "accepting Jesus" the way these tracts described it.  I feared that I might have "missed" something necessary to my eternal salvation; that I might even end up in hell like the kid in the tract!

I knew this tract was not Catholic, but that didn't bother me; I thought the Protestants were right on a lot of things.  If they were right to get rid of Latin four centuries ago, they could be right about this as well.  So I said the "Sinner's Prayer" in the back of the tract with my whole heart, really meaning every word.  (Years later, I would look back on 24 July 1982 as my "rebirthday"; the day I got "saved".)

But I did not leave the Catholic Church immediately.  The tract did say that I should get baptized and worship "in a church where Christ is preached".  But I figured this advice was just for the unchurched.  I had been baptized as an infant and I went to Mass every Sunday, at which we read from Scripture and received Jesus in the Eucharist, so I figured the Catholic Church fit the listed criteria.  (As this was my first exposure to Chick Publications materials, I was still unaware of Chick's rabid anti-Catholicism).

About a month later I had a heated discussion with my mother about prayer to saints.  Mom had unfortunately been influenced by the above-mentioned relative who opposed this practice, so she argued against it (don't worry; Mom has changed her mind since then!).  I argued for praying to saints at first, but then Mom's arguments began to "make sense" to me. Why should I pray to saints when I could go "straight to the Boss"?  God loves me too; surely He would listen to me just as quickly as to them.  From then on, although I still considered myself Catholic, I stopped praying to saints.  Once again, Catholicism seemed wrong and the Protestants right.

How I wish someone back then had pointed out to me that the "straight to the Boss" argument would logically rule out Christians on earth praying for one another as well. After all, why should I ask you to pray for me if I can go "straight to the Boss" myself? Yet the Bible says over and over again that Christians should pray for one another, and even shows the saints in heaven praying for us (Apoc/Rev 5:8). God our Father wants us to approach Him as a family, with concern for one another. This is why we can and should ask the saints to pray for and with us to God. If only I knew this when I was eleven! But knowledge of Catholic apologetics was not as widespread back then as it is today.

That September I started middle school.  I never did fit in at the new school; the children picked on me constantly. When they discovered that I loved God, they tormented me all the more cruelly!  Unfortunately, I let their teasing get to me. I became bitter, abandoned my walk with God, and by January 1983 I had "backslidden" (as Evangelicals call it).

I spent the next two years acting rather worldly; listening to heavy metal, experimenting with alcohol (just a few beers at home; no one ever invited me to a party), and not really caring about God too much.  I still went to Sunday Mass, but mainly to see a boy I liked (I switched from the 10AM to the 11:15 Mass when found out he attended the latter.).  After middle school I was accepted into a very nice Catholic high school.

In early 1985, after two years of worldliness, I became very dissatisfied by my life.  Something was missing; I felt so "empty".  I remembered how happy I had been years before when I was devout, and realized that my rejection of God was the source of my current misery.  So I stopped drinking completely, began listening only to a local Evangelical Christian radio station, and started praying again, begging God to take me back.

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Leaving Home

I was so hungry for God, I read all the religious literature I could find.  Soon I came across a book called God Speaks to Modern Man, written by a Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) named Arthur E. Lickey.  The book was very anti-Catholic; it argued that Catholicism taught false doctrine and tried to prove that the Church is the "Whore of Babylon" and the Papacy the "beast" of the Book of Revelation.

Looking back, I now see that Lickey used many deeply flawed arguments, reminiscent of the ravings of conspiracy theorists.  Yet I was just a naive 14 year-old; I couldn't recognize the problems with his alleged "proofs".  Since I could not counter any of his arguments, the book "convinced" me by default that the Catholic Church was an evil, pagan religious system, that the Papacy was the antichrist, and that I'd better "come out of her" right away (which I did).

Lickey's book also predicted that one day all the Protestant denominations which observed Sunday rather than Saturday would apostatize and join together as one group.  This would create an "image of the beast"; a sort of "Protestant papacy", which would use blue laws to enforce Sunday observance (allegedly the "mark of the beast") on everyone, and kill anyone who insisted on observing the Saturday Sabbath.  It (predictably) presented the SDA as the "faithful remnant" of New Testament Christianity which would stand against this evil scheme in the Last Days.

In case you're not familiar with it, this is the traditional SDA interpretation of the Book of Revelation.  For a while I bought the whole thing.  I decided to start observing the "true Sabbath" - Saturday - to avoid receiving the "mark of the beast". Now, there was no SDA church in my area (otherwise I would have joined it), so I just "kept the Sabbath" at home; which basically meant reading the Bible and refusing to clean my room on Saturday (Mom was not happy about that!).

This did not last too long, however.  In August of that year I was browsing through a Christian bookstore and wandered into the "Cult" section, where I saw a book entitled Seventh Day Adventism, by Anthony A. Hoekema.  I thought to myself "That's ridiculous; SDA is not a cult, it's the remnant church!"  But my curiosity got the best of me; I picked up the book and started skimming through it.

The author argued convincingly against many SDA doctrines and practices, some of which I did not know about because Lickey's book had not mentioned them.  Hoekema showed that first century Christians had started Sunday observance, not the fifth century Papacy, as Lickey's book claimed.  I bought Hoekema's book, read the whole thing and decided that SDA was not the "remnant church" after all and that Saturday observance was not really necessary for salvation (as Lickey's book had implied).

Convinced that it is okay to worship God on Sunday, I decided to find a local fellowship.  But I still did not trust the Catholic Church or any Protestant "denomination".  A fear that the denominations might all apostatize in the end still lingered, so I decided to avoid any church which called itself by a denominational name.

Now there was one church in my area which called itself "non-denominational", so I figured that would be safe.  I started going there in September 1985, and was soon "rebaptized" by immersion.  This fellowship, which had a large number of ex-Catholics like myself, would be my home church for the next four years.

Since I was a teen, I joined the church's youth group.  It had four leaders, two men and two women, all in their early twenties.  They were not trained "youth ministers", just ordinary members of the Church who "had a burden for the youth" (that is, they felt that God had called them to help teenagers).  I looked to them for spiritual guidance.

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Anti-Feminism

I soon discovered that my high school offered a Senior level religion course on something called "Christian feminism".  Though only a sophomore, I was curious about this class, and one day came across a course description.  Among the topics covered in the Christian feminism class was the question "Is God our Mother as well as our Father?" (this was evidently answered in the affirmative).  I wasn't sure what to make of this statement.

The following weekend, before a youth group meeting, I told the two female leaders about the various religion courses offered at my school.  When I mentioned the Christian feminism course, one of the leaders (an ex-Catholic) shook her head.  "Feminism is wrong," she said.  "God has shown me that He is male, and maleness is the image of God, so only men are made in His image."

Now, I had been told as a child that both men and women bear God's image, so this did not sound right to me.  I challenged her statement, but she insisted that this was the case.  The other leader (an ex-Presbyterian) then defended the first one's position, saying "Women are just a little inferior to men, and you're just going to have to accept that!"

I did not want to accept it.  It did not sound right, and the thought that God did not make me in His image and likeness hurt me.  Yet I looked up to these women. They were youth group leaders, and I was a mere member of the group.  Our church taught that God chose leaders in the church to guide us in spiritual matters, and that their counsel could reflect God's will for us.  So I wondered whether God was making a hard truth known to me through His appointed leaders.

As much as I did not want to believe it, I found their assertion difficult to dismiss.  Perhaps I really was not made in God's image after all.  (I never did take the Christian Feminism course, by the way. During Senior year I took another elective instead.)

A short time afterward, another ex-Catholic woman in the church made a similar statement: "God is Father, not Mother.  He is male, and you just have to accept that."

Now, the Catholic Church officially teaches that God is neither male nor female (though He must still be called Father), and that women are created in the image and likeness of God1.  Had we still been Catholic, I could have appealed to that teaching while talking to these women.  That is, had I been aware of the teaching myself; it seems many lay Catholics are not.  Those two ex-Catholic women certainly didn't know.

For the rest of my time in Evangelicalism, I had a nagging sense of inferiority because of my femaleness.  Perhaps my youth leaders were right; perhaps God had made me "a little inferior" to His sons. It was still very hard to "just accept".

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Zeal and Questions

Yet this feeling did not overwhelm or paralyze me, and it certainly did not cause me to leave Evangelicalism.  I believed that I had finally found true Christianity, the revived New Testament church, so I certainly would not go anywhere else!  And I thought that God wanted me in this particular fellowship, so I stayed there.

I was very zealous for Christ during my Evangelical years.  I went to church every Sunday and on Wednesday nights when I didn't have school the next day.  I passed out gospel tracts on the way to and from church, and even made my own.  I left them in the bathroom stalls of my high school, and stuck them in the encyclopedias and other books in the school library.

I immersed myself in the Evangelical subculture; listening to Christian radio constantly, preacher after preacher for hours on end.  I frequented Christian bookstores and only listened to Christian music.  I loved Jesus, loved to worship Him, loved the Bible, loved to study and learn about it.  I read my Bible every day, read (the 66-book Protestant Bible) all the way through twice and studied it intensively.

But my Bible reading started to raise questions.  One day I came across First Peter 3:21, which says: "baptism doth also now save us".  This contradicted what I had learned right before my "rebaptism"; my instructors had said that Baptism is just an act of obedience to Christ which does not play a part in our salvation at all.  But here the Bible clearly said that Baptism does save us!  This bothered me.

A few weeks later, our youth group Bible Study happened to be on that same chapter.  There we sat, open bibles on our laps, while the leader would read a few verses and then explain them for us, answer questions, then move on.  As he approached verse 21, my expectation grew; I hoped that he would explain its "true meaning".  Finally, he read the verse . . . paused . . . then looked up and said "Well, we know that's not really true".

I thought to myself, "That's not really true??? That's the Bible!!!  How could the Bible say something that's not really true?" He did not even try to interpret the passage, but merely dismissed it by implying that the obvious meaning of God's inspired Word was wrong.  I was not satisfied with that answer, or that treatment of Scripture.

(In all the time I was an Evangelical I never did found a satisfactory interpretation of I Peter 3:21.  I read commentaries, listened to preachers, but none of their weak arguments could change the simple fact that God's word said "baptism also now saves us".  I never made peace with that verse until I returned to Mother Church and embraced the biblical truth of baptismal regeneration.)

Over time, other disturbing questions began to arise. I soon started to wonder about a central tenent of Evangelicalism: the belief that we are saved by "faith alone", not by any works. I was told that nothing we do, no efforts on our part, could ever play any role in our salvation. All we must do is believe that Jesus died for our sins, repent of them and accept Him as our Savior; then we could know that we have eternal life.

Yet I couldn't help thinking: isn't repentance something we do? Isn't "accepting Jesus as Savior" and act on our part? Isn't saying a "Sinner's Prayer" (practically a requirement for salvation among Evangelicals) a "human effort"? How then could we say that we are saved by faith alone, with no effort on our part?

Yet I lived with this cognitive dissonance for years. I just pushed all those questions into the back of my mind, figuring that I'd one day find the answer. And I remained within what I believed to be true, New Testament Christianity.

During those five years, I heard many people offer lousy interpretations of Bible passages, or just dismiss them outright if they contradicted their pet beliefs.  Some preachers even made statements which flatly contradicted Scripture, or took one passage out of context and build a doctrine on it, ignoring other passages which contradicted their doctrine. Yet I didn't let this bother me. I told myself that it all didn't matter for I had found the true faith. Or so I thought.

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Strange Teachings

Some preachers made statements which grossly contradicted the truths of science.  One day, I heard a radio evangelist state that scientists had discovered that a baby gets none of its blood from its mother, which must mean that the baby gets his blood from its father!  Therefore, the preacher concluded, Jesus' Blood was "divine blood" from His Heavenly Father; He did not get it from His mother.

This struck me as weird; first of all, God the Father is pure Spirit (John 4:24), so how can He have "divine blood"? Second, I had learned in biology class that a preborn baby develops her own blood from her own cells. The father and mother only contribute chromosomes; neither one gives their offspring any blood.

So I laughed off the teaching as bizarre. Imagine my horror a few weeks later when my pastor said the same thing during his Sunday sermon! The rest of the congregation seemed so impressed by his words; I sat there with face in hand, shaking my head.

Just to be sure, I checked with a biology teacher at my school, and she confirmed that a baby gets no blood from either parent. I then convinced my youth leaders that the pastor was wrong (they had believed his sermon at first). But I'm not sure if my critique ever made it to the pastor. He never did correct himself from the pulpit before he left our church.

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Lies About Catholicism

I also witnessed some strange treatment of the Catholic Church.   Though I believed back then that Catholicism contained grave, unbiblical errors, I knew enough about Catholic beliefs from my upbringing to recognize some blatant *lies* which Evangelicals told about the Church.

Jack Chick was perhaps the worst offender.  In his tract entitled "Is the Pope Poor?", he claimed that Pope John Paul II is a Communist.  This is utterly ridiculous; the Holy Father studied for the priesthood in secret after the Communists in Poland outlawed the Catholic Church.  He was also a strong supporter of Solidarity, the Polish anti-Communist labor movement during the 1980's.  John Paul II is decidedly anti-Communist, and Jack Chick's claim to the contrary is pure libel!

I once heard a (former Catholic) radio preacher say that Catholics believe Purgatory is a place where people who "aren't good enough for heaven or bad enough for hell" are given a "second chance" to believe in Jesus.  Though I did not believe in Purgatory at the time, I knew the he was wrong.  Catholics believe that Purgatory is a state of purification for people who are saved, on their way to heavenly joy, but who die with sins on their souls or with an attachment to sin.  There's no "second chance" to believe; only the saved are in Purgatory.

Yet another ex-Catholic radio preacher said during his sermon that Catholics call Mary "the Mother of God" because they want to make her a goddess.  This, too, is a ridiculous lie; the Church believes that Mary is a woman, a human being.  Jesus had to be born of a human being in order to become human; He could not derive a human nature from a "goddess" (if such a being existed).  The Catholic Church believes this, and I thought that ex-Catholic pastor should have known better!

Such lies horrified me.  The Bible says that lying is a sin; how could these people who called themselves "Christians", who claimed to be "saved", tell such bald-faced lies?  This really bothered me: if they have the truth, I thought, why do they see the need to lie?

I agreed with them that Catholicism was false, but I figured that falsehood should be self-evident.  Why make up stuff, I thought, when you could just present what the Church really teaches and everyone will clearly see how unbiblical it is?  (Today, I sometimes wonder if some anti-Catholics might be pathological liars; perhaps they don't even know the difference between truth and falsehood.)

I decided to start reading some Catholic books myself and refute the obvious falsehoods therein.  But I ended up reading some books which defended the Church against Protestant charges (one of them was Catholic and Christian, by Alan Schreck).  They presented very good arguments, and even cited the Bible against some of my Evangelical beliefs.

This bothered me, but I tried to dismiss the arguments, telling myself that the Church was wrong in other areas, and besides, they were probably "misinterpreting the Bible".  If I couldn't dismiss an argument, I just tucked it into the back of my head along with all my other unanswered Bible questions, assuming I'd find the answers someday.

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Still Protesting

Slowly, I started to notice other, more subtle problems with Evangelicalism.  It seemed that people around me had an incredibly reactionary attitude toward Catholicism.  Their attitude was "The Catholic Church prays to saints, so we should have nothing to do with saints.  The Catholic Church worships Mary, so we should pay no attention to her" (this was largely unspoken, but still obvious).

I heard radio preachers do extensive Bible studies on the lives of great biblical figures such as Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and Moses, setting them up as models of faith for Christians to imitate.  But I never heard a similar sermon on the life and faith of the woman whom Jesus had chosen for His Mother.  In fact, every single time any preacher mentioned the Virgin Mary, he either put her down or took cheap "pot-shots" at Catholicism - badly misrepresenting Catholic teaching in the process. Funny; they never treated any other Biblical figure this way!

This reactionary attitude struck me as weird, especially since the Catholic Church did not have a similar reactionary attitude toward Protestantism.  Mother Church seemed to stand there peacefully, confidently stating her teachings, while the Protestants screamed and railed against her.  It was unnervingly like watching Jesus standing calmly before His accusers.  And the more the Protestants ranted, the more unsure of themselves they seemed; like they had to scream louder and react more violently in order to prove to themselves that they were right and that Mother Church was wrong.  The Catholic Church's gentle confidence presented a startling contrast.

I didn't understand why we were so reactionary. If we were the revived New Testament church why did we practically define our existence by our rejection of (what we considered) a false religion? Was this why Jesus had died to save us? Was this why God had given us His Word? So that we could spend all our energies rebelling against a system which the "reformers" had abandoned four centuries earlier?

In contrast, the Catholic Church did not define herself in opposition to anyone, Protestants or cultists. She simply stated her truths with calm assurance that she was teaching the very teachings of Christ. If we had the truth and she didn't, why did we lack this confidence and peace which she possessed?

Sometimes, a preacher's anti-Catholic statements said more about the preacher than the Catholic Church. After our first pastor left our fellowship, the assistant pastor took over. This man was also a former Catholic, and I remember him saying on a few occasions, "When I was a teenager I thought that I could sin, sin, sin all I liked, then just go to Confession on Saturday to get the slate wiped clean so that I could start sinning again." By this example, he intended to show an alleged "weakness" in the Sacrament of Penance, but it actually said more about the pastor's former attitude toward sin and confession!

The pastor never did mention the fact that the Catholic Church actually considers that a misuse of the Sacrament of Penance. One must approach Confession with a desire to "sin no more and avoid the near occasions of sin". If someone goes thinking that he can start sinning again come Monday, he commits a grave sacriledge!

Next: Out of Evangelicalism, Into Feminism


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