Like Fr. Longenecker, I have great love and respect for my Evangelical friends and family. I will be forever grateful for the foundation that I received in Christianity from my upbringing. But, there is one aspect that, quite simply, enrages me. It’s the constant missionary efforts in Catholic lands. They operate under the assumption that Catholicism is not Christian. Granted, there are a whole lot of “cultural Christians” in Catholic countries who don’t know their faith at all, but if Evangelicals considered Catholics truly their brethren, then shouldn’t they be pushing us to get our act in gear?
Archive for the 'Evangelicalism' Category
Finishing the Chesterton quote from before:
And the third stage is perhaps the truest and the most terrible. It is that in which the man is trying not to be converted.
He has come too near to the truth, and has forgotten that truth is a magnet, with the powers of attraction and repulsion. He is filled with a sort of fear, which makes him feel like a fool who has been patronising “Popery” when he ought to have been awakening to the reality of Rome. He discovers a strange and alarming fact, which is perhaps implied in Newman’s interesting lecture on Blanco White and the two ways of attacking Catholicism. Anyhow, it is a truth that Newman and every other convert has probably found in one form or another. It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment men cease to pull against it they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair. The man has exactly the same sense of having committed or compromised himself; of having been in a sense entrapped, even
if he is glad to be entrapped. But for a considerable time he is not so much glad as simply terrified. It may be that this real psychological experience has been misunderstood by stupider people and is responsible for all that remains of the legend that Rome is a mere trap. But that legend misses the whole point of the
psychology. It is not the Pope who has set the trap or the priests who have baited it. The whole point of the position is that the trap is simply the truth. The whole point is that the man himself has made his way towards the trap of truth, and not the trap that has run after the man. All steps except the last step he has taken eagerly on his own account, out of interest in the truth; and even the last step, or the last stage, only alarms him because it is so very true. If I may refer once more to a personal experience, I may say that I for one was never less troubled by doubts than in the
last phase, when I was troubled by fears. Before that final delay I had been detached and ready to regard all sorts of doctrines with an open mind. Since that delay has ended in decision, I have had all sorts of changes in mere mood; and I think I sympathise with doubts and difficulties more than I did before. But I had no doubts or difficulties just before. I had only fears; fears of something that had the finality and simplicity of suicide. But the more I thrust the thing into the back of my mind, the more certain I grew of what Thing it was. And by a paradox that does not frighten me now in the least, it may be that I shall never again have such absolute
assurance that the thing is true as I had when I made my last effort to deny it.
At the end of the last episode, I was in a quandary. I had become firmly intellectually convinced of the truth of Catholicism. There was not a doctrine or dogma of which I remained unconvinced: once I accepted the need for the papal office, its infallibility on matters of faith and morals, and the Magisterium, everything else fell into place. Mary didn’t bother me; the Communion of Saints made perfect sense; I didn’t even have a problem with priestly celibacy. But, I remained a Baptist.
Community was the first big obstacle. With all our talk in the Catholic internet world of the need to follow truth in everything, we tend to forget that human society is based around actual, real community life. Once in such a loving group, it is hard to leave even when you know that the fullness of the truth lies elsewhere. Such was my situation: I spent a good part of my week in the company of my Baptist friends. Between Sunday school classes, choir and “worship band” practice, helping out with the youth on Wednesday nights, and any number of social activities, my world revolved around that community.
It took me over a year from when I became convinced that the Catholic Church held the fullness of the Faith, and when I left the Baptist church for good. I’ve tried to figure out logically why it took that long, but I’m not sure that it was logical. The cognitive dissonance between living in a faith community with which I agreed less and less, and spending the life of the mind reading Catholic literature, just ate at me more, day after day. After attending the Easter Vigil at my current parish back in 2005, combined with mounting pressure from Catholic friends to be true to myself, I finally decided to talk to a priest and start RCIA. It was not easy to say goodbye to my Baptist church, but I am still best friends with many folks there, and even fill in for their pianist from time to time.
But that was just the beginning of the agony of conversion. I managed to break myself away from the Baptist church with much heartache, but I still couldn’t get up the guts to tell my family. I come from a long line of Protestants, Methodist and Lutheran on my mom’s side, Baptist on my dad’s. The stereotypical anti-Catholic prejudices run strong. So, I was deathly afraid of what they’d say. It was cowardice, pure and simple, that kept me from discussing my newfound faith with my parents–I valued familial harmony above all else. But just like with the Baptists, I finally realized that I had to tell them. I wish I could say that it was courage and conviction in the truth that made me spill the beans, but it was more that I couldn’t in good conscience actually get confirmed into the Church without telling them. The commandment to honor your father and mother weighed too hevily. After a lot of tears and a few weeks of anger, especially on my mom’s part, we reconciled, and my relationship with my parents is stronger than it’s ever been. I doubt they yet understand why I felt that I had to convert, but they realize that my Christian faith has never been deeper.
So, on December 10, 2005, at the Saturday vigil Mass, I was received into the Church, confirmed, and received the Eucharist for the first time. It was a night I’ll never forget. I have never looked back; I love my Baptist friends still and enjoy going back and accompanying their worship on the piano. But, there’s not a chance that I’d go back to Protestantism. I value the firm foundation in Christian faith that I received growing up, but there’s so much more to Catholicism that I could never leave.
Conversion was just the beginning, however. While I have never doubted my decision to convert, the honeymoon didn’t last long. In the next installment, I’ll muse on the various issues that developed as the reality of Catholic parish life in the early 21st century set in. Stay tuned…
Once I recover from the shock of dissertation defending (yes, you may, if you would like, call me “Dr”, although I’m no different than I was yesterday), I’ll resume with Part III: “the agony of coming home”.
Continuing with GK Chesterton’s stages of conversion:
The second stage is that in which the convert begins to be conscious not only of the falsehood but the truth and is enormously excited to find that there is far more of it than he would ever have expected. This is not so much a stage as a progress; and it goes on pretty rapidly but often for a long time. It consists in discovering what a very large number of lively and interesting ideas there are in the Catholic philosophy, that a great many of them commend themselves at once to his sympathies, and that even those which he would not accept have something to be said for them justifying their acceptance. This process, which may be called discovering the Catholic Church, is perhaps the most pleasant and straightforward part of the business easier than joining the Catholic Church and much easier than trying to live the Catholic life. It is like discovering a new continent full of strange flowers and fantastic animals, which is at once wild and hospitable. To give anything like a full account of that process would simply be to discuss about half a hundred Catholic ideas and institutions in turn. I might remark that much of it consists of the act of translation; of discovering the real meaning of words, which the Church uses rightly and the world uses wrongly. For instance, the convert discovers that “scandal” does not mean “gossip”; and the sin of causing it does not mean that it is always wicked to set silly old women wagging their tongues. Scandal means scandal, what it originally meant in Greek and Latin: the tripping up of somebody else when he is trying to be good. Or he will discover that phrases like “counsel of perfection” or “venial sin,” which mean nothing at all in the newspapers, mean something quite intelligent and interesting in the manuals of moral theology. He begins to realise that it is the secular world that spoils the sense of words; and he catches an exciting glimpse of the real case for the iron immortality of the Latin Mass. It is not a question between a dead language and a living language, in the sense of an everlasting language. It is a question between a dead language and a dying language; an inevitably degenerating language. It is these numberless glimpses of great ideas, that have been hidden from the convert by the prejudices of his provincial culture, that constitute the adventurous and varied second stage of the conversion. It is, broadly speaking, the stage in which the man is unconsciously trying to be converted.
When I left off, I was at the stage when I was becoming fair to Catholics, and learning a whole lot about the intellectual and historical underpinnings of Christianity, but I had not yet encountered apologetics for Catholicism. One day, out of the blue, I ran across a page run by a prominent Baptist convert to Catholicism. I had not thought about the weaknesses of my own Baptist faith particularly, nor the strengths of the arguments for Catholicism. I won’t rehash the countless avenues of argument available to the apologist, but suffice it to say, for me, they all had the ring of truth. I was smitten. I could not answer them. I knew they were right in the deepest core of my being. I read for hours, which turned into days, weeks, months. I raided the Catholic section of the university library for numerous books, which I devoured. Those that I couldn’t find, and which weren’t terribly expensive, I bought.
I didn’t just read Catholic apologetics; I started digging deeper into the history of the Church to try to determine whether these intellectual arguments had the backing of history. I read St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, St. Athanasius, Eusebius’ History of the Church, and any number of other documents. Since I was concurrently teaching Sunday School at my Baptist church, I devised a series on “What the Early Church Taught On…,” to try to see whether what was becoming clear to me might be interesting to others as well. I didn’t end up bringing anyone along for the ride (and to this day, I don’t understand how), but by teaching others about the teachings of the Early Church Fathers on Baptism, on the Eucharist, on worship, on confession, and on many other subjects, I came to the profound conclusion that the early Christians were not Baptists, they were not Presbyterians, or Methodists, or Pentecostals: they were Catholics. (Well, they were also Orthodox, but why I ultimately ended up a Western Christian, not Eastern, is a subject for another time.) So, I became persuaded of two things: that the Catholic faith was intellectually coherent and compelling, and that the Baptist faith was not historically grounded. The early Christians would not have recognized Baptist praise and worship, but they would have been right at home in the modern Mass (despite its awful music).
But, I was still not ready to make the plunge for reasons that I’ll expound upon later. At the same time, I also started to think more about the issue of authority in the Church. I was, and am, deeply disturbed by the ramifications of the Baptist style of church polity. Every serious decision is effectively made by majority vote of the congregation. I asked friends whose judgment I trusted within the Baptist church, including the chair of the board of deacons and my pastor, how we would be protected from making serious errors. What would keep us from, if 51% of the congregation agreed, following the liberal Baptist church down the road and ordaining and marrying active homosexuals? How would we keep from voting in a statement of faith that contained Arian heresy, or worse? The answer was singularly unsatisfying to me: that the Holy Spirit would keep us from error, and that we could always leave and form another congregation if things got too bad.
I couldn’t mesh that mentality with what I knew from reading the New Testament. Jesus, in the High Priestly Prayer in John 17, prayed to the Father that we Christians would remain one. St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians, lambasted his audience for its divisions. Division is contrary to the desires of God, so the Holy Spirit cannot be leading us into it. From the Bible alone, combined with our subjective feelings and interpretations, we could not adjudicate between our conservative conclusions and the liberal ones of the church down the street. We had to fall back on tradition, no matter how much we wanted to deny it. So I realized that not only was my Baptist church practicing a version of Christianity that was quite different from the early Church, but that in denying a role for tradition, it left itself open to any wind of change that might come blowing in the future.
I was intellectually convinced that the Catholic understanding of the role of Tradition and a Magisterium to keep the Church on the right track was both viable and compelling. I was thoroughly persuaded that the Baptist/Evangelical understanding of the subjective role of the Holy Spirit, private interpretation, and democratic governance, could not prevent further fissuring of the Body of Christ nor a steady drift toward accommodation of our liberal, decadent culture.
But, yet, I could not make the move. I was stuck going to Mass when time permitted, and falling in love with the Church. But, I was still committed to my Baptist church family, my Sunday school class and my piano playing, and most of all, my Protestant family roots. Next installment, I’ll try to explain how I finally made the break.
A friend asked me the other day via email if I had a conversion story on my blog somewhere. I have purposefully avoided writing up a narrative of that long, drawn-out process because I was afraid that my views would be tinged with the emotions and zeal of a new convert. A year and a half out now, I think I can look back and pull together some of the threads that turned me from a contended, Evangelical/Baptist Sunday School teacher and worship team member into a traditionalist Catholic. The story won’t be linear, because my thoughts seldom run that way. I didn’t reason my way step by step into the Church, but rather, it hit me all at once that I was Catholic, and then I had to step back and work out why. I hope the picture painted will make sense come the end, but bear with me along the way.
Four and a half years ago, I attended a Baptist healthcare professional conference, where the keynote speaker, an Anglican from Canada, challenged us to ground our faith in reason–to work out why it was that we believed what we did. He peppered his talks with references from guys I’d never heard of, like Chesterton, Budziszewski, and Kreeft. I got a list of book recommendations from him, and determined that I was going to give myself a good grounding in Christian philosophy and theology. Unfortunately, or fortunately, for me, our university library had a copy of every book he recommended, so I got to work. He also recommended that I get a student subscription to the journal First Things, which would challenge me to think about my faith. And did it ever.
Not long before that conference, I’d also gotten interested in the early Church. A Catholic friend (the only serious Catholic I knew) lent me the Confessions of St. Augustine, insisting that I would find it very interesting. My view of the history of the Church at that time was something along the lines of “from the end of the New Testament to AD 1517, nothing good happened.” I then read about St. Augustine’s life, and found out that this 4th-5th century Christian was deeper in his faith than I was, and it was highly unlikely that he was Baptist. That shook up my world, not a little bit.
So, these two threads started winding together: I was reading everything I could get my hands on about Church history, philosophy, and theology. Every month’s First Things issue I devoured in a single sitting. But, I was still more-or-less a contented Evangelical–I was just a better educated one. These Catholics I was reading in First Things and elsewhere, though, they were starting to look just as Christian as myself. I started bitterly regretting the many statements I had made, disparaging Catholics as not knowing what they believed, and as idolaters or worse.
To end installment one, here’s a quote from GK Chesterton that summarizes where I was at, throughout the year 2004. This is stage one, he says. The other two, we’ll get to in time:
It is my experience that the convert commonly passes through three stages or states of mind. The first is when he imagines himself to be entirely detached, or even to be entirely indifferent, but in the old sense of the term, as when the Prayer Book talks of judges who will truly and indifferently administer justice. Some flippant modern person would probably agree that our judges administer justice very indifferently. But the older meaning was legitimate and even logical and it is that which is applicable here.
The first phase is that of the young philosopher who feels that he ought to be fair to the Church of Rome. He wishes to do it justice; but chiefly because he sees that it suffers injustice. I remember that when I was first on the Daily News, the great Liberal organ of the Nonconformists, I took the trouble to draw up a list of fifteen falsehoods which I found out, by my own personal knowledge, in a denunciation of Rome by Messrs. Horton and Hocking. I noted, for instance, that it was nonsense to say that the Covenanters fought for religious liberty when the Covenant denounced religious toleration; that it was false to say the Church only asked for orthodoxy and was indifferent to morality, since, if this was true of anybody, it was obviously true of the supporters of salvation by faith and not of salvation by works; that it was absurd to say that Catholics introduced a horrible sophistry of saying that a man might sometimes tell a lie, since every sane man knows he would tell a lie to save a child from Chinese torturers; that it missed the whole point, in this connection, to quote Ward’s phrase, “Make up your mind that you are justified in lying and then lie like a trooper,” for Ward’s argument was against equivocation or what people call Jesuitry. He meant, “When the child really is hiding in the cupboard and the Chinese torturers really are chasing him with red-hot pincers, then (and then only) be sure that you are right to deceive and do not hesitate to lie; but do not stoop to equivocate. Do not bother yourself to say, “The child is in a wooden house not far from here,” meaning the cupboard; but say the child is in Chiswick or Chimbora zoo, or anywhere you choose.” I find I made elaborate notes of all these arguments all that long time ago, merely for the logical pleasure of disentangling an intellectual injustice. I had no more idea of becoming a Catholic than of becoming a cannibal. I imagined that I was merely pointing out that justice should be done even to cannibals. I imagined that I was noting certain fallacies partly for the fun of the thing and partly for a certain feeling of loyalty to the truth of things. But as a matter of fact, looking back on these notes (which I never published), it seems to me that I took a tremendous amount of trouble about it if I really regarded it as a trifle; and taking trouble has certainly never been a particular weakness of mine. It seems to me that something was already working subconsciously to keep me more interested in fallacies about this particular topic than in fallacies about Free Trade or Female Suffrage or the House of Lords. Anyhow, that is the first stage in my own case and I think in many other cases: the stage of simply wishing to protect Papists from slander and oppression, not (consciously at least) because they hold any particular truth, but because they suffer from a particular accumulation of falsehood.
We are not relying on the authority of private interpretation but upon the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Give thou me a break. The author really doesn’t get it. The crux of the Catholic critique of the Reformation is that “ministry of the Holy Spirit” inevitably devolves to private interpretation. There is no third option.
Classic rant by the Great Favog:
The little tips were good, too. Get ‘em to mass a lot, so they will know what they are missing.
The short theological exegesis of that “helpful tip” is as follows if you live in one of the great majority of Catholic parishes in these United States: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! HAHAHAHAHA! HAHAHA! HAHAHAHA! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The long version is as follows: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! HAHAHAHA! HA! HA! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HOO HOO HOO HOO!!!! HEE HEE HEE HEE HEE!!!!!!!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!! HAAAAAAAA!!! GAAAAAAAAAAAAACK!!! (Thud.)
Now, I will admit to having gone to, for example, Presbyterian (sorry!) services and telling Mrs. Favog afterward that “There’s no there there.” But that’s because I buy into the whole Catholic thing already.
How can a church service not seem lacking when you believe that, even at the crappiest, most rote, most non-reverent, Haugen-ditty-filled Catholic Mass, you have seen the priest make Jesus Christ — Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity — truly present on the altar? When you, despite all the worst modernity has wrought upon my suffering Church, still get to — as Walker Percy would say — “eat Christ,” doing exactly what Jesus, in John 6, said we must do to have life within us?
LIKE I SAID, I know what I would be missing because I’m already Catholic. I’ve already signed up for the Roman Life Assurance policy.
Your woebegone Protestant conversion target hasn’t yet. Get it?
All your average evangelical probably sees is a lackluster homily, music that’s at least as bad as their “praise and worship” stuff, most of the congregation going through the motions — at best — and little to no fellowship after all is said and “celebrated.”
Such as it is.
THE JOURNEY into Catholicism for many today is a journey precipitated by marriage or a relentlessly seeking intellect homing in on the Original Source Material of Christendom. Both are good things, very good things. Fine reasons to join the Church.
But you’ll probably end up frustrated if you’re really on fire for Christ. After all, how many converts are touting the vibrance of Catholic parish life or the extraordinary witness of most lay Catholics as being this mysterious, mighty, irresistable riptide that pulled them out into the Living Waters and toward that far bank of the Tiber River?
Until you get acclimated — and I really don’t know whether acclimated is a good thing or not — the serious convert barely may be restraining himself from jumping atop the pew (and be careful about this if you’re in a parish with chair-pews or movable pews) and screaming at his fellow parishioners.
“WHAT THE HELL IS THE MATTER WITH YOU PEOPLE!?! Don’t you realize the riches this Church possesses? Don’t you know that’s JESUS on the altar there? And with 2,000 years of Gregorian and Byzantine chant, and hundreds of years of classical hymnody, WHY ARE YOU SINGING THIS ST. LOUIS JESUITS S***?????
“Oh . . . pardon my French, Lord. Please forgive me.” (Slinks silently out of the sanctuary as people stare and Father shakes his head.)
ON THE OTHER HAND, I quite literally have been brought to tears of joy by the Holy Spirit at the most humble of Masses, liturgies unremarkable except for the humility and love with which they were celebrated.
This is in the midst of a tirade against a book published by Ignatius Press on how to convert Protestants. I must say that the whole idea of taking your Evangelical friends to Mass sounds wonderful, but Favog nails it. Most of my friends, if they didn’t already “buy the Catholic thing”, would cringe at our half-hearted worship, awful music, and milquetoast homilies. The Mass as celebrated in the vast majority of American parishes, without believing in the Blessed Sacrament, is not an evangelism tool. It’s a sure-fire turn-off.
Heck, my parents would probably be closer to being Catholic if I didn’t know that my musically-trained mother and hymn-loving father would simply laugh at our music, so therefore, I cringe at the thought of them attending the closest two parishes to their house…
Go read–right now–Francis Beckwith’s beautiful interview with Christianity Today. What good he is already doing.
(HT: Amy Welborn)
In the comments section of my post on the reaction to Dr. Francis Beckwith’s conversion, an interesting topic came up that I want to expand upon. I mentioned that I have essentially stopped doing Catholic apologetics because it has been harmful to my spiritual life. That is true, and I will expound on that, but I want to make a broader point: apologetics has a place, but it cannot be the primary focus of Catholic evangelism.
Back a couple of years ago, before I was actually received into the Church, when I was intellectually convinced but not emotionally ready to leave the Baptists, I helped moderate a discussion board run by a prominent ex-Evangelical Catholic apologist.* I think I’ve heard–and made–every argument known to man for Catholicism and against Protestantism, particularly in its fundamentalist variety. I’ve probably seen every prooftext thrown at Catholics by our separated brethren, and every Bible verse with which to reply to them. To use an analogy from popular film, I felt like Neo at the end of The Matrix when he realized he could control the Matrix, and fought an Agent with one arm, nonchalantly and serenely.
But, after stepping out of the world of apologetics, I realized something. After all those arguments, all those airtight syllogisms that proved the Fundamentalists wrong, I don’t remember ever hearing anyone say, “You know, Ed, you’re right. I’m wrong. I guess I should join the Catholic Church now.” Our blows did not pierce their armor. In my own case, I was already open to the Church before I ever started arguing with Catholics. That, I think, is the key: openness. If an opponent does not have a self-inflicted chink in his armor, he will not be convinced.
And, conversely, all these triumphalistic arguments that I and others made for the Church only served to create smugness. I had friends very concerned about me because of my sudden air of arrogance. I knew the Truth; I knew how to argue it; but, all I was doing is pushing people away. It hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks when one of my best friends forced me to step back and look at my behavior. I stopped trying to convert everyone by argument; I started trying to be an example of living out the Faith instead of (or in addition to) arguing for it. My convert zeal had turned me into a Pharisee. I had replaced theological error with pride and arrogance; I’m not sure which one is worse.
So, is there a place for apologetics in the service of the Church? Absolutely. We’re surrounded by people who don’t understand the Church, and have created an absurd caricature in Her place. But, apologetics outside the context of friendship and relationships will fall on deaf ears. We will be more successful at drawing people into the Fullness of the Faith only if we are their friends first, only if we love them and serve them. Our arguments for the Truth are good, and are effective, but only he who has ears will hear.
Imagine, instead, an alternate scene in The Matrix where Neo and the Agent go out for coffee and discuss what humanity can offer to the robots. Wouldn’t that have been a different ending?
* I will not name him because of the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the departure of me and almost all his other moderators/administrators. We’ve all moved on, and it’s not worth going back to.
Wonderful quote from ‘Decker2003′ from Zippy’s combox:
You can’t avoid obeying a fallible human, because even if you reject everyone else’s opinion and do what seems right to you, you are simply another one of those fallible humans.
So, the question becomes, given that I have no choice but to follow the opinion of a fallible human, has God selected any particular fallible human for me obey in certain matters?
Mull that over a while…