My mom once told me that when I was five years old, my parents had been fighting, and that somehow my kindergarten-level brain came to a somewhat surprising solution as to what it would take for them to reconcile. While they argued, I fiddled around in the kitchen, gathering what I thought were the necessary ingredients for peace, and positioning them on a silver tray.
They continued to quarrel until I entered the room. That’s when, according to my mom, they turned, looked at me, and immediately felt sheepish and convicted. Because I had ripped up some slices of Wonder Bread and spread them on the tray. And I had poured some cold Welch’s grape juice into two small cups.
You guessed it: I was attempting to serve my parents Communion.
I admit: when my mom first told me that story, I was a bit in awe of my younger self. But over time, I was in far greater awe of the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit to impress upon a young mind the importance of the bread and cup–and what they point to: the body and blood of Jesus Christ, the most important and life-sustaining things in the whole universe.
Lately, though, I have wondered—actually, I have come to believe—that this was the first movement of the Holy Spirit in directing me to a church, the Church, for which the body and blood of Jesus Christ are not just symbolized by, but really present in the bread and the cup.
This coming Easter, I will seek full communion in the Roman Catholic Church. Although it will come as a shock and surprise to many who know me, several close friends and confidants have known I’ve been on this road for a long time. My journey is not a snap decision, nor the result of my relationship with Kasia, but is the culmination of nearly six years of wrestling and reflecting on key theological issues.
Some may ask, “Why did you continue to serve as an evangelical Protestant pastor when you were thinking of converting? Let me answer this way: I knew the minute I met Kasia that she was the one I wanted to marry. But there was still a process to undergo, a relationship to be built, and a certain schedule to maintain. In the same way, I left Grace Baptist—and the wonderful people there—when I was convinced it was the right time for me—and for them—to do so.
I certainly don’t leave Protestantism because I have had a bad experience. Far from it. I treasure my upbringing by Christian parents whose spiritual heritage includes the revivalism of Billy Sunday’s “sawdust trail” and the biblical common sense of A.W. Tozer’s Christian Missionary Alliance. And I would not, in any dispensation of God’s grace, give up my experience at Wheaton College—“the flagship school of American Evangelicalism” and the #1 college in the nation, according to the Roman Catholic journal First Things.
Sorry, I had to brag about that last little point
I am so grateful for my evangelical Protestant heritage. I have been taught the importance of personal conversion to Jesus Christ, the paramount importance of God’s Word, and the urgent mandate to preach the kingdom and share the gospel with whomever I meet. Although I will join the Catholic Church, my heroes will remain great Protestant saints like C.S. Lewis, Rich Mullins, Billy Graham, and John Piper—and I believe the Catholic Church would experience great renewal if she could receive a double-portion of their spirits.
Nevertheless, as Thomas Howard, the Roman Catholic brother of Protestant icon Elisabeth Eliot once wrote, “evangelical is not enough.” There is a fullness to the Christian faith that I have come to believe can only be experienced in the Catholic Church—the one, holy, and apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ.
G.K. Chesterton, the Roman Catholic writer whom many consider the spiritual father of C.S. Lewis, once wrote, “the difficulty in explaining why I am a Catholic is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.”
I will never be able to defend my decision to join the Church as well as Chesterton, and many of you will no doubt find my logic flawed and my arguments weak. In those instances, I hope to refer you to a Catholic saint or brother who is wiser and more competent than I—people like Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkein, John Henry Newman, Scott Hahn, Patrick Madrid, Thomas Howard, and Francis Beckwith.
That said, my basic reasons for joining the Church—simply stated—are as follows. (I will elaborate on them in the future.)
Authority. I want to love Jesus. So, how does Jesus Christ exercise his Lordship in my life? Do I study the Bible and, “led by the Holy Spirit” and “sound hermeneutical principles,” determine its meaning and submit to its truth? As I do this, how do I determine which pastors, teachers, and theologians are trustworthy and reliable guides and helpers? How do I determine whether the beliefs and practices of other professing Christians are valid? In the end, do I not just choose those who agree with my interpretations? Doesn’t this make my own subjective interpretations—and not the objective Word of God—the final arbiter on matters of faith and practice?
This approach—which is basically the one espoused by the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura—is fraught with danger and, in the end, undermines the authority of both Scripture and Christ. Because the authority doesn’t end up being the Bible at all, but instead the interpretations of each individual biblical interpreter.
The fruits of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura speak for themselves: divisions in the Church, multiple and idiosyncratic interpretations, and confusion and despair of certainty among God’s faithful. This much I believe: Sola Scriptura does not promote the authority of Scripture. Undeniably, it undermines it.
Instead, I’ve come to the joyful conclusion that God loves us so much he doesn’t just give us a book and say, “figure it out.” He has given us a book and a Church with a historic, living, reliable teaching authority.
Unity. In John 17, Jesus said, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” The Church of Jesus Christ is supposed to reflect the unity of the Trinity itself! I have come to the conclusion that this unity was always meant to be real, organizational, visible unity—not the sort of “spiritual, invisible” unity promoted in so many Protestant circles. “A city on a hill cannot be hidden.”
The sacraments—especially the Eucharist. A sacrament is “a visible sign of an invisible grace.” It is something material communicating something spiritual. The Roman Catholic Church teaches the importance of certain sacraments—including baptism, confirmation, marriage, and others.
I have embraced the sacraments because I have embraced what the Bible teaches about my humanity: I am a unity of the physical and the spiritual. Therefore, God wants to communicate himself to me through physical things. The most important sacrament is the Eucharist.
It is not enough for God to strengthen me with “symbols” of his body and blood, because I am not a “symbol” of a man. I am a real man. That is, a real human being. And that is why—among other reasons–Christians from the beginning of the Church have taught that in Communion, Jesus Christ so loves us that he gives us Himself: his real body, blood, soul, and divinity. There is only one Church that understands and teaches this: the Roman Catholic Church.
Reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Honestly, there is so much misinformation out there about the Roman Catholic Church. When I first read the Catechism—the Catholic Church’s comprehensive statement about what it actually believes—I was floored. I was inspired. I was excited. Do Catholics worship Mary? Does the Pope replace Christ? Do Catholics believe in works righteousness? Do they devalue the Bible? It is difficult for me to believe someone can continue to repeat these criticisms after giving a charitable reading to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
That’s it for now. More later.
In closing, let me say that I am not unaware of what I am leaving behind. At many times in life, I may discover that I found deeper and richer fellowship with evangelicals than with Roman Catholics. In general, I find evangelicals to be more biblically literate, personally pious, and committed to evangelism and God’s word. But in the last couple of years, I have met Roman Catholics who are heroically virtuous, deeply committed to the study of Scripture, and who understand that, Protestant or Catholic, our only hope is Jesus Christ.
As I write this, the faces of the students I have pastored for the last 9 years come to my mind. Many of you will be told that I have rejected all that I have taught you. Let me respectfully say: this is untrue.
Responses to my decision will be mixed. If he was still alive, C.S. Lewis would continue to consider me a brother in the Lord. John Macarthur, almost certainly, would not. I could be wrong about that. Either way, I still hold him in high regard.
You will meet good, godly people who think I have gone off the deep end. You will meet some who think my move is brave and meaningful. You might even meet some who are inspired to follow me.
Whatever the case, I urge you to trust me, to believe that I am the same person you have always known me to be, and that, in the end, I am simply trying to be the best follower of Jesus Christ I can possibly be. I am here for you and for anyone else who has questions.
One question, however, that should not be in doubt: do I still believe in grace? Yes. Now more than ever. Because Jesus Christ has given me the grace to come home to his Church. It is His grace that has “brought me safe thus far” and, I am fully persuaded, “it is grace that will bring me home.”
The peace of Christ to you,
p.s.: you are welcome to post comments or questions.