“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
20 Replies to “Going AWOL Out of The Christian Civil War: How My Desire for Christian Unity Lead Me Home to The Catholic Church (Part 1)”
I loved the post and agree with you completely!
I hope you write another post telling more of how you “ended up” in the Catholic Church!
Oh yes Tricia! This is just part 1 🙂
Can’t wait to read the rest of the story! I love reading conversion stories. Being a cradle Catholic, I learn SO much and your testimonies help me to grow in my faith as well.
If someone is truly interested in the Catholic Church’s teachings, then please go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) instead of arguing strawmen.
My husband is a former protestant pastor and the CCC sent him straight Rome-ward (Story on a page at the top of my blog.)!
Nice work, Tiffany; will look for the next installment!
@Tiffany, thank you so much for the civil tone of your reply! 🙂 I hope that my post was civil as well. Discussions of religion can so often devolve into meanness, and I really appreciate the attitude of openness and kindness that you show here. I lived a full Catholic life for several decades — not a halfway “cafeteria Catholic” but a full-tilt Catholic, until the Holy Spirit quite unexpectedly led me away a little over a year ago. It has been an very interesting, fruitful, and unexpected journey, and it sounds like you have also had a very fruitful and unexpected journey yourself! I often think that the experience of being a Catholic child and a Catholic adult are very different, and that the way we view the divide between “Protestant” and “Catholic” has a lot to do with which of these we experience at which times in our lives.
I have to disagree with many of your statements intellectually and spiritually, but I appreciate the integrity and kindness with which you offer them. Peace!
As a convert I am so glad that you are Home! I was raised culture Catholic but went to a Baptist Church all my life. I am grateful for everything they taught me about Jesus and what He did for me by dying on a Cross to save me.
I started RCIA as a way to get my live in boyfriend to marry me. I knew he would not marry me unless I had gotten all of my Sacraments and we were married in the Catholic Church. I found Christ in my RCIA program and my life has never been the same. I had all the same arguments that most of the people who are commenting have. And since I know you, I know that you had them too. I know that most converts have those arguments. But one thing that I personally never did was pick up a catechism to see what the Catholic Church actually taught. I never read anything a pope ever wrote, and I never once ever read anything written by early Christians. Once I did there was no denying that the Catholic Church was established by Christ Himself, not any man. Men died for this Church, men who knew Jesus. And men who didn’t such as St. Paul who wrote most of the New Testament. How could I explain that?
People who grew up Catholic in the last 50 years were really cheated out of the beauty of the Faith by people who watered the Truth down for whatever reason. But anyone who will take time to really look into the Catholic Church will see the Truth and His name is Jesus.
Are there bad Catholics? Yes, I’m one of them. But that does not change the truth the Catholic Church teaches, rather it proves it, because nothing man creates could last 2,000 years like the Catholic Faith has.
What I have found, is that people who want to hold on to the misconceptions of what they believe the Catholic Church teaches do so because they are afraid of letting go of being comfortable Christians. Yes, if you want to be a sunshine and lollipop “not matter what I do I’ll be saved” Christian, then the Catholic Church is not for you. We are a Church made of martyrs, of Mother Teresa’s, Joan of Arcs, Catherine of Sienna’s, we are not a Church of pansies. It takes guts to face the Truth, to believe the words of Christ that Peter is the Rock upon which He built his Church, that only those who eat His Flesh and Drink His blood will have everlasting life, that following Him will come with a Cross and that the world will hate us. That takes Courage. And not everyone has it. It’s much easier to believe that believing in Jesus alone will get us to Heaven. But if that were true then why did so many people die for the sake of this Church? And why is the devil not saved? After all he believes that Jesus is real.
In the end it comes down to believing that Jesus is who is said He is and following Him and not following what makes me the most comfortable.
God Bless you Tiffany for telling your story. May the prayer of Our Lord come true one day and we will be of ONE flock. Not 33,000 different flocks.
Nancy, welcome to Catholic Sistas, we appreciate your stopping by and visiting with us.
I would like to take a moment to clarify my point. I have to admit that I am terribly bewildered with approaches to Christianity which result in another well meaning, Christ loving, Gospel seeking Christian casting aside all existing churches as unfit in order to start his own Bible based, simply following Christ, non-denominational church. Mathematically speaking, when there are 30,000 denominations, and Pastor John begins his own church instead of assimilating with an existing one (based on “non-essential” differences that are still too important to ignore), then he has increased the denominations to 30,001. This has not promoted Christian unity, even if Pastor John is doing everything he can to invite Christians of all denominations to join him.
Tiffany used Pope Benedict’s efforts as an example of promoting Christian unity, and I agree. He has not added a new denomination, and entire Anglican churches are coming into communion with the existing Catholic Church, not simply lone sheep. The more Christians are willing to fold into existing churches instead of throwing them all away to start over, the more we will regain Christian unity.
Protestantism failed from the get go in retaining Christian unity, to the degree as prayed for by our Savior, because while the reformers all agreed Rome was wrong, they could not agree with each other on what was truth. None of them were willing to admit they could be wrong about issue A, and thus would not submit to another reformer’s well researched take on that issue. Instead each stood his ground as Rome is wrong, you are wrong too, and I am right, so splintering happened immediately.
What makes submitting to the Catholic Church as different, like Tiffany has done, is checking your individual right to be right at the door, assuming that where you disagree with the Church is because you have a flawed human understanding, instead of assuming the Church is the one who is wrong. This kind of submission can only happen when one is humble, and when she trusts Jesus that He left us a Church to teach us until He returns.
Peace be with you!
@Adrienne, thanks for your clarification. Here is a quote from your post:
“What makes submitting to the Catholic Church as different, like Tiffany has done, is checking your individual right to be right at the door, assuming that where you disagree with the Church is because you have a flawed human understanding, instead of assuming the Church is the one who is wrong. This kind of submission can only happen when one is humble, and when she trusts Jesus that He left us a Church to teach us until He returns.”
This strikes a chord with me because I believed it with my whole heart for many, many years, and I nearly broke myself trying to live it. It is so hard to know how to respond, because even just two years ago, if I had read the comments that I have made here, I would have responded just as you and Tiffany have here. I totally get where you are coming from. I think it takes a certain level of personal experience — being pushed to the edge of faith, and the edge of reason — to tease out who we really are, spiritually. I have been through many personal trials, through which the Catholic faith sought only to punish and blame me further rather than reaching out a helping hand. I threw myself 100% into Catholic marriage and motherhood, and I ended up on the other end, burned out and nearly hospitalized from exhaustion. Catholicism made my physically ill, and I am still recovering from the OCD perfectionism that it placed upon me as my burden, which I had earned through my “flawed human understanding.”
I have not started a new church, nor do I believe that a particular Protestant denomination is the “one true church.” I actually believe that the Catholic church is the original church, but it is held hostage by the people in the Vatican who would make themselves God rather than submit to God’s will. Protestant denominations, as they attempt to gather the pottery shards and put them back together, are necessarily going to create an imperfect, flawed vessel that will never be as good as the one Jesus originally instituted. But the difference is that in my belief, study, and experience, the Catholic church as it is today is not the image that Jesus had, either. For some people, this tension is resolved by sticking it out and working for better days in the church. For me, that tension became too much of a strain on my person, and I have decided to separate myself from the daily goings-on of the church until I am led back, if such a day should come within my lifetime. Right now, I believe that it is better for me to be a good Protestant who dares to believe in Christ’s mercy and still has energy left over to be kind and live a Christian life, rather than to be a bad, constantly failing, spiritually/mentally/physically exhausted Catholic who hates herself and lives in constant, grinding fear of Hell. I fully admit that it is a question of personal experience. If I had more energy, I could have stayed with the Catholic church. I held on for as long as I humanly could. Right now, I have to choose physical and mental health, and perhaps one day the doors to Catholicism will be open to me again. And perhaps not. Either way, my faith grows that Christ is my guide, and the Holy Spirit will order my steps, whether toward or away from Rome.
I am trying not to be a troll here, so this will be my last comment, unless someone wants to very specifically engage in conversation with my further. (And I apologize for how many comments I have put here — for some reason this feels like an important discussion. If you feel like my comments are distracting from your message I hope you will delete them, with no hard feelings from me.)
When it comes to the question of the Catholic church being perfectly unified from time immemorial, I would encourage everyone who holds this belief to research the Great Schism of 1054 not just from Catholic sources but from Orthodox and secular historical sources. This event damages the Catholic church’s claim at being the original church. It was not until 1054 that the bishop of Rome claimed primacy over the other bishops — until then, the bishops had worked as a committee of equals. The true church only existed with an accord of all of these original bishops. In 1054 the bishop of Rome announced that he was the boss of everyone, and that they could either love it or lump it. When the other bishops disagreed, this caused the Schism, and from that point forward there has not been a true church, in the original sense. From 1054 onward, everyone has been doing the best they can, in pieces. I believe that the Protestant Reformation (and the historically verified abuses within the Catholic church which precipitated it) were a direct result of this previously existing brokenness, which came into Christ’s church when the bishop of Rome decided to place himself above the others. I think that everything that has happened since then has just been a symptom of that original illness.
Ok, I’m done now 😀 Like I said, if this veers to far off topic, delete away, and peace to you all.
@Nancy: I can thoroughly appreciate your explanation of why you moved away from Catholicism. I also have OCD and it mainly manifests itself through religious scruples. Though baptized Catholic, I was raised Baptist/non-denominational and came back to the Church when I was about 16. OCD has greatly impacted my faith experience, and I have been on the brink of despair many times. My primary consolation though is that I’m not the first person to go through this, nor am I alone on this journey. There are two main people in the Church’s history that help me continue carrying this cross within the Catholic Church, though I know that it would be easier (mostly, but not entirely) to be a Protestant. Both of these people desired to serve God, they wanted to live holy lives, they wanted to be united with God in Heaven and they wanted truth and holiness to be the faith experience of all their fellow Christians. From what can be gathered and inferred from historical evidence, both of them also had OCD. One of them carried this cross with prayer and a focus on God’s mercy and love, inspiring generations of Catholics to serve Him and witness to him even if they could only do “little” things. Even an intense struggle with despair before death was overcome. The other person concluded (rightly) that God did not intend for His children to live in fear. But rather than realize that the source of the fear was from their own mi d’s interpretation of Church teaching and practice, they concluded that the Church must be wrong in much of its teaching in the first place. This was the beginning of our current 30,000 denominations. The two people I speak of here are St. Therese of Lisieux and Martin Luther.
OCD is ever present to me, but I have to always remind myself that it is a lens through which I see the world. It is caused by my own neurological disposition, not the laws of our country or the morals and traditions of our Church. Also, If I must carry this cross, I would much rather do so with the Incarnate God physically present in me through the Eucharist than walk the path with Him in “spirit” only. God works both ways, but He clearly intended to be with us as closely as possible. And though my scruples often keep me from Communion, I would rather be there with Him than not. I pray God’s peace for you — please remember me in prayer also.
Much love in Christ,
A Fellow Cross-bearer
@Nancy:you said: “This event damages the Catholic church’s claim at being the original church. It was not until 1054 that the bishop of Rome claimed primacy over the other bishops — until then, the bishops had worked as a committee of equals.”
A good book to look into for an intro to what the early church taught and believed is Jimmy Akin’s “The fathers know best”. Pope Clement wrote, (before 80AD — Clement died in 80AD), to the Church in Corinth in Clement’s First Letter to the Corinthians. In this letter he writes very forcefully saying that the Corinthians must come into line with his teaching. He writes that “If anyone disobey the things which have been said by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgressions and in no small danger.”
Also, Clement’s letter was written in response to a request from the Church at Corinth (700 miles away) for clarification – why would they write to the bishop of Rome and not the local bishop, or even Saint John, Clement died in 80AD making him a contemporary of St. John, if the bishop of Rome did not inherent Peter’s primacy?
This is wonderful. Can’t wait to read the second part!
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