“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?..." - St. John 6:67-68
I guess I should start from the beginning...but that's an awful long way back to go, so I'll keep this as brief as I can.
I was raised a Southern Baptist in a small suburb of Birmingham, AL. I fell away from my faith during College. It's not that I didn't believe in Jesus or God but I wasn't a regular attender (in fact I never attended) and I had virtually no understanding of the theology behind my Baptist faith other than "once saved always saved", "salvation by faith alone", etc.
During College I met my wife, now of almost 14 years, who introduced me to Presbyterianism slowly over the course of our relationship.
In the P.C.A. I found a love for Biblical typology. I loved the foreshadowing of Jesus throughout the Old Testament. I loved the teachings that each new covenant between God and his people was an expansion of the previous one and also pointed toward the new and last covenant in the blood of Christ. I found a love for Covenant theology.
In the Spring of 2012, we moved from Madison, AL to Atlanta, GA and we eventually found a Church home at a small (1000+ members is a small church in Atlanta) Presbyterian P.C.A. congregation in Cumming, GA. They had nice facilities, good preaching and a modern rock-n-roll style worship experience. Everyone was into it with arms raised, crowd swaying. It felt like the Lord was in this place. We quickly fell in with a small group led by one of the pastors and eventually he asked us to break off and form our own small group and in the fall of 2015 we did just that.
We spent much time studying the Bible together and I led them through some of my favorite books of the Old Testament: Jonah, Hosea, Genesis.
Perhaps I'm just a bad teacher or maybe something was just not right with the mixture of the group, but in the Spring of 2017, the group disintegrated very quickly. Without going into too much detail, it started with one family deciding to leave our group for another group and then lying about the reasons for it and the circumstances around it to us. This left us feeling incredibly wounded. Meanwhile, the other families in the group were all going through difficult times either financially or with the loss of loved ones or the heartache of divorce. We could offer sympathy and some assistance but some of the issues in the group were beyond our ability to assist with. We reached out to the Church leadership to get these families help, repeatedly, for weeks, and we got virtually no response. This is a Church with DOZENS of Elders. In the P.C.A. Elders are there to assist the Pastors in ministering to the burdened in the Church. There are Dozens of Elders in this Church and getting their assistance for some of these families felt like I was trying to track someone down who owed me money.
At this point, my wife and I decided to dissolve the group and withdraw from the congregation for a time. We had some extensive travel planned in the Summer and Fall of 2017 and I wanted to take some time to reassess my beliefs and convictions. We honestly had no plans to leave the P.C.A. at the time but at the same time, I could not shake the feeling that there was something missing, not just from the congregation but perhaps from the teachings and theology of the denomination itself. I could not reconcile the behavior I had experienced, not just from a few believers in the body, but from the administration of the Church itself, with the teachings of Jesus.
We traveled extensively from May of 2017 to October of 2017 and upon our return we decided that six months was long enough to be away from the body of believers. In my mind, it had been too long and I figured I needed to just get over my "butt-hurt", chalk it all up to our sin nature and "get back in there".
We decided that we would try multiple Churches and see which one we like the best. The Church we had been attending wasn't close to our home and we wanted to "be where our feet are". However, this presented a problem. There were no P.C.A. churches really in our community other than one and the one time we attended it, whomever was speaking that day went on a long rant against Democrats, Liberals, Politicians, etc. It truly felt much more like Legalism and less like Grace and it was a complete turnoff. The Churches in our community consisted of Methodist, Church of Christ, Baptist, a Mormon tabernacle, a few Roman Catholic parishes, and several large non-denominational mega-churches.
None of these options were very closely aligned with what I believed to be true, or so I thought. Surely we wouldn't forsake our Protestant upbringing and go fall-in with a bunch of heretics who "worship Mary", "pray to idols" and "believe that Jesus dies repeatedly at every Mass" right? What an absurd idea..right? Right!?!? Don't be ridiculous....
“Lord, to whom shall we go?..."
During our time of abstention from our Church we heard very little from anyone there. Our assigned Elder, almost never reached out. The staff never reached out. We were in a bit of isolation. That was partially self-imposed but at the same time I honestly felt like the Church body didn't care that we had left either.
However, there was an ever-present Christian presence in our lives: a group of 3 Catholic women who are my wife's best friends. They were always there and always in constant contact with us. Without even knowing it we were sort of already part of a Catholic community that were "doing life together" by bearing each others burdens and praying for one another. They never once told us we should become Catholic nor did they try and get us to come to their Parish but they were always there, showing us Grace and Love and Mercy. During these months my wife and I joked on occasion "you know we're going to end up Catholic right?" which was always followed by an uneasy laugh.
Christmas came and we still hadn't found a Church home. At this time I had informed our old Church that we would not be coming back but we still had no idea where we were going. Of course, the Holidays are New Years Resolution time and I decided to make a different sort of resolution this year. Most years I would vow to lose weight or some other vain endeavor. This time I thought to myself "I want to be close to God and I want him to be close to me, no matter where that leads me".
James 4:8 says "Come near to God and he will come near to you...". I made my resolution that I would spend a few minutes every morning of 2018 reading my Bible and in Prayer about that passage. While I know a lot of my Bible, there is much I don't know, and I've never been consistent about spending time with God and in his Word. I had no idea where we were going to end up as far as belonging to a Church but I knew that shouldn't stop me from pursuing God. So I did it and I stuck to it.
"And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - St. John 8:32
For 48 consecutive days, I spent time in God's word, reading roughly 15-30 verses a day of the New Testament and spending a few minutes (usually 5) thereafter in prayer about the passage, my heart and trying to discern God's will.
On the 49th day (Feb. 19th) I woke up and there was an immense desire on my heart to ask one of my wife's friends some questions about the teachings of the Catholic Church. I told my wife that I simply could not explain why but there are questions I need answers to.
I started by asking about "once saved always saved" and "salvation through works". To my surprise I was told that the Catholic Church teaches that your entire life is a process of purification. That's exactly what I've always believed. Furthermore, I was SHOCKED to learn that the Catholic Church DOES NOT teach that you are saved by works. They teach that you are saved by Grace. They stand by the teachings of James who said "faith without works, is dead". As someone who is truly saved and indwelled with the Holy Spirit shall produce good works. It's right there in book of James...why should I be surprised that the Catholic Church teaches it?Shouldn't I be more surprised that the Protestant church ignores it?
At this point, I was starting to get excited and a bit scared. She suggested a few books I could read, the first of which was Rome Sweet Home, by Scott Hahn. I had never heard of it.
When I looked it up on Amazon I saw that it was the tale of a former Presbyterian Minister, who went to Seminary in North Carolina, and converted to Catholicism. I must confess, I was a bit nervous, but I bought the book on Kindle and I couldn't put it down. I read it in a day and a half.
I went on to read several other books over the next week that ranged in topics from the Holy Eucharist, Mary, and the conversions of other Protestant Evangelicals who, as the source of their own conversions, discovered the same shocking thing about the Reformation.
That being: Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura are un-Biblical.
Sola Fide, by "faith alone", was never in Paul's original writings of Romans. The word "alone" was added by Luther to Romans 3:28. Furthermore, there is absolutely no scriptural basis for the teaching that the Bible alone is the source of Christian truth (Sola Scriptura). In fact, in 1st Timothy 3:15, Paul says the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth.
This was very troubling for me. If the two most foundational reasons behind the Reformation are false, then how could I honestly continue being a Protestant? The Seminarians, whose conversion stories I referenced above, had all come to the same conclusion.
I embarked on a quest for the truth and it led me to the doors of the Roman Catholic Church.
I have much more to say about this process and the teachings of the church but I'll leave them for perhaps tomorrow or the next day or one of the other 396 remaining until now and when I can partake of the Holy Eucharist.
Peace Be With You!