The Baptist faith community where I grew up deserves most of the credit for making me into the Christian I am today. It was there that I was first introduced to God and His immense love for me, that I learned to faithfully commit myself to the study of Sacred Scripture, and it is where my relationship with God truly began and developed. While this faith community did not contain the fullness of Truth that is found in the one Church established by Christ, the majority of what they taught me was truthful and good. As such, certain truths that I was taught over and over again as a young Baptist helped me take a step further and apply those truths to the Catholic Church, enabling me to better understand her Teachings. There are three that stand out to me the most. While the majority of Baptists will disagree with these three Teachings, I have found that I could not rationally accept the things that they taught me, which I still hold to be true, and yet deny what the Catholic Church further Teaches on those matters.
As a teen in the Baptist youth group, we were always encouraged to find what they called an “accountability partner”. This would ideally be a fellow teen in the youth group who can be an encouragement to us in our day to day lives outside of church. We would intercede on each other’s behalf in prayer, and keep each other on the straight and narrow path by holding one another accountable for their actions and protecting each other from the temptation to sin. Additionally, we had “Sunday School”–small Bible study groups that met Sunday mornings before worship. Each group was lead by an adult: older and more experienced Christians who can look to as role model, bringing to them our struggles and prayer requests.
All of this was rooted in Scriptures such as Matthew 18:20, which states “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”, and many others which stress the importance of Christian community and solidarity in prayer. When I later began my study into the Catholic Church, I learned that not only does she agree, but she goes further to include the Christians in Heaven in this community of fellowship, encouragement, and prayer. Based on everything they taught me, I could not reject this Truth. I was always told that Catholics idolize the saints because they pray for their intercessions, and seek to model their lives after them. Yet, the same people taught me that Christian accountability and role models are crucial to our faith. Another argument they had against the Christians in Heaven is that we should not talk to the dead, but they taught me that through Christ, saved Christians experience eternal LIFE in Heaven, a place that is separate from Earth and all its limitations. I can say with confidence that my Baptist upbringing has strengthened my devotion to communion with the saints–my heavenly accountability partners.
The Infallibility of that which is Divinely Guided
In my experience, Baptists have a strong and admirable devotion to Scripture, and it is heavily impressed upon all believers to spend daily quiet time in the Word. This is because of their (Truthful) belief that the Bible is God-inspired and and God-breathed. They taught me that although the Bible was written by flawed men of sinful nature, its words are inerrant because the Holy Spirit inspired the writing. The sins of the writers, therefore, do not negate the authority of the Scriptures. I accepted this explanation as True, and I still do.
When I first learned that the Catholic Church claimed to be the authority of Christ, divinely guided by the Holy Spirit and infallible in her Teachings on faith and morals, like most Protestants my immediate reaction was furious dissent. “There cannot be a perfect Church”, thought I, “because there are no perfect people!” But that is not what I was always taught; the Holy Spirit can and has guided imperfect men to produce something perfect and authoritative. Why then would I limit God so to say that He can only guide writers, and not an established Church? Why would the Holy Spirit be able to move God’s Word in the written form, but not also orally?
The men who lead Church throughout history and today are imperfect and have committed grave sins while in ministry. But just as the sins of St. Paul do not negate the infallibility of His letters in the New Testament, neither does the mistakes made by Catholic leaders negate the infallibility of the Church and its role as authority of Christ.
A New Creation in Christ
As I came to accept the Catholic Church as True and began my journey into full communion with her, the hardest pill for me to swallow was the belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This is understandable as I had spent my whole life believing that Christ was speaking metaphorically when He said, “This is my body”, and the Lord’s Supper was meant only to be a symbolic memorial service. It did not make sense to me how a piece of bread and cup of wine could contain all the elements of Christ after only a prayer. It still looked like bread and wine, tasted like bread and wine, and nothing about its substance visibly changed. It just didn’t make sense. I believed it to be True because I believed the Church to be divinely guided by Christ, and I acknowledged that history shows this is what Christians believed for 2,000 years, but I remained skeptical in spite of myself.
It finally clicked one day when I drew to mind my Baptist youth and all they taught me about new creations in Christ. Baptists believe that when one realizes their need for Christ and surrenders their life to Him, that in that moment they are “saved” once and for all. While this is not in accordance with Catholic doctrine, which Teaches that our Christian lives comprise of a series of ups, downs, and milestones as opposed to one, single moment, there was a part of this Baptist belief that was True and that was stressed: when one repents and turns to God, he or she becomes literally a new creation in Christ. They taught this based on 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here“. We told again and again that at the moment of repentance, the entire essence of our being is changed. “You look the same, and you smell, sound, and feel the same; you are still comprised of the same substance. But you are not the same–you have been made into something completely different!”, pastors, youth ministers, and other leaders said.
Upon remembering this, there was no longer any doubt in my mind that Christ was really present in the Eucharist, that which was once mere bread and wine. I still held to be true what I was taught by faithful, godly Baptist Christians that Christ has the ability to take one thing, keep it the same in appearance and substance while transforming it into something brand new–a literal new creation that is made of Christ.
At times I am confronted with old friends and acquaintances from the Baptist church of my youth; they are curious what lead me to the Catholic Church, which they still believe to be false or mislead in certain areas. My answer is this: I am Catholic because of Baptist theology, and all that it instilled in me.