“So, that girl, do you know if she’s a Christian?”
“Uh, well, she’s Catholic…”
This was a statement that I have said more than once growing up. If someone asked me, for whatever reason, if someone the two of us know is a Christian, and if I knew they went to a Catholic church, my response was the aforementioned… skeptical at best.
Indeed, just because someone identifies as Catholic does not necessarily mean they are living the Christian life outside of Church or even acknowledging Christ in their hearts. It was not my place to give a definite answer, because only God knows their true heart. But the problem with my skepticism was the fact that if the person in question identified as Baptist or another “Bible-believing” denomination, my response was much more confident. Ultimately, the general attitude I had about most Catholics was that if they are truly living for Christ in their hearts, it is in spite of their Catholic faith, rather than because of it.
Like so many Protestants, all I knew about the Catholic Church was distorted misconceptions about what the Church teaches, why the worship is structured the way it is, and what the Church actually is in relation to Christ. The Catholic Church as an institution is corrupt, the followers do not read or care about the Bible, and they are merely taught to go through the motions of worship without thinking about the meaning of their actions. And they clearly don’t care about the Ten Commandments, because that commands against idolatry and Catholics worship statues.
Never in my life did I think I would become of them. Never in my life did I think I would cross over to the dark side of Christianity, where the Holy Spirit isn’t actually present and the overwhelming majority of its followers are hell bound and in dire need of salvation.
Never in my life did I think I would come to realize that everything in that preceding paragraph is terribly wrong.
I started my walk with God when I was fourteen years old. It was the summer before my ninth grade year, and before that year I didn’t heavily acknowledge God in my life. I believed in the existence of God, I had a Bible at home, and I went to church occasionally, but I wasn’t living a life surrendered to Him. He was a distant relative who crossed my mind occasionally and who I visited from time to time, but putting effort into growing closer to Him was not on my priority list.
Summer before the ninth grade, during a worship and prayer service at a week long church retreat, God’s spirit gripped me in a way that it never had before. I found myself on my knees, promising with a sincere heart that from that point forward, I would strive to live a life that was less about me and more about Him. I told God to begin to teach me and mold me into who He wanted me to be, and I would follow wherever He leads. I left that day feeling like a new creation, and I always refer back to that moment as the day I began my relationship with God. About six months later I was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All of these events occurred in the First Baptist Church in my hometown, and I know that I was blessed to begin my Christian life in a church full of godly role models and amazing friends who held me accountable in my walk with Christ. I was highly involved in the youth group throughout high school, where I grew spiritually through summer camps, mission trips, Wednesday night Bible studies, and various fellowship events throughout the years. I am thankful that I had such a wonderful faith community to call home during my teenage years, in which temptations and threats to my walk with Christ were at every corner.
However, when I was seventeen, I began to question some things I had never thought about before. This question was brought about when I became involved in a young adult program at a non-denominational church in my hometown. As a senior in high school, I would soon graduate from the youth group. This worried me because my church did not have a strong young adult program, and I knew that I needed community to stay strong in my faith. When I was introduced to the young adult group at this new church just in the nick of time, it was like a godsend. To this day that is still how I view it, because inclusion in this group caused me to question for the first time the reason for multiple Christian denominations.
This new church did not claim a denomination, because they wanted to simply love God free of denominational titles. Nonetheless, their theology did not differ greatly from that of my Baptist church, with a few minor exceptions. These exceptions were few, but they caused a slight division that was noticeable to me as I spent time with both groups. My new group would jokingly poke fun at the Baptist style of worship, which they perceived to be rigid and without freedom. Alternatively, my Baptist youth minister was infuriated with me for involving myself in a church that he thought wasn’t entirely biblical.
This division stirred something up in me, and I began to wonder why there are so many different kinds of Christians: Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, and Presbyterians are only naming a few, as I soon learned that there are over 30,000 registered denominations and sub-sects. All groups read the same Bible and claim to worship the same God, but are divided by some sort of disagreement in scriptural interpretation or practice. Then there is the identification of “non-denominational”. I initially thought, like many do, that attending a non-denominational church was the answer to refusing the Christian Civil War, as I would not be claiming any type of structured faith. I came to realize, however, this this is ultimately another denomination in and of itself, except that one freestanding church may interpret scripture entirely differently from another in the same five mile radius.
The more I thought about this in the months that passed after high school graduation, the more it began to truly anger me that as Christians, we aren’t unified. Christ wanted us to be unified. He wanted us to be one body, all in agreement with each other. I came across I Corinthians 1:10, where Paul says “I appeal to you brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say, and there be no divisions among you, but you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” People would often tell me that denominations do not divide the Body of Christ because we agree on most things. We all love Jesus and claim Him as our Lord and Savior, and that is all that is important. But Scripture does not tell us that we should agree on most things but then agree to disagree on that which keeps us in separate churches; it says we are to be perfectly united with no divisions.
This was a very hard time for me, as I was so broken about the fact that the Church was split up in so many ways, which is not what Christ wanted. In me grew a passion and desire to reunify the Church and to tear down denominational walls. This calling only overwhelmed me, because I was lost as where to start. Common sense clearly states that there can only be one truth, not multiple truths, and certainly not 30,000 truths. And when five different people from five different denominations say the Holy Spirit guided them to a particular understanding of scripture, and none of those interpretations perfectly coincide, that presses the question, “who is right?”
It did not occur to me right at first that perhaps Christ gave us a physical Church: one which He ordained as His authority, whose Teachings are divinely guided by His Spirit, and will keep us unified in one Truth, a Truth which this Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, will preserve throughout the years.
As I earnestly prayed and sought after God for the next several months, He led me to this answer, and in the most unexpected place: my longtime foe, the Catholic Church.
Part 2 of this story will be published on CatholicSistas August 24