My One Year in the Catholic Church. Every word that follows is true.
Why are Christians so mean? Not all Christians are ugly, but I sure was.
I was raised an evangelical. Became Reformed Baptist. Spoke out against and even despised other Christians. Especially Roman Catholics! For most of my life, including my ministry as a pastor, I hated the Roman Catholic church.
I considered the Roman Catholic Church to be the "Anti-Christ" (or at least Anti - the True Christ). The "Whore of Babylon," specifically, "Mystery, Babylon The Great, The Mother Of Harlots And Abominations Of The Earth." (Rev. 17:5 - KJV).
I didn't know much about other "Catholic" churches, such as the Greek Orthodox Church, (or Russian, or Syriac, or other varieties). I knew nothing about the Coptic Church (Egyptian Catholic).
All of this changed in 2014-2015. I had just moved from Denver, CO back to east Texas. Our Reformed Baptist church plant in the south Denver area didn't make it. Circumstances led us to move back to east Texas. The truth is, I was miserable and depressed.
Around this time, ISIS (or ISIL) began persecuting Christians in the Middle East. I heard many pastors, national Christian leaders and others talking about the horrors of these beheadings and persecutions in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and other places in the Middle East. I too thought it was terrible!
This from Wiki...
"On 15 February 2015 a five-minute video was published, showing the beheading of the captives on a beach along the southern Mediterranean coast. A caption in the video called the captives the "People of the Cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian Church". In the video, the leader was dressed in camouflage, while the other terrorists were dressed in black. The victims were all dressed in orange jumpsuits, as in many previous ISIL videos." (Source)
That's when it all hit me. Personally. These so-called Christians that were being martyred were (in my previous view), not Christians at all! These were Copts... and most others in the news were Orthodox. All essentially CATHOLIC. Horror of horrors to me.
As I thought about this, I called my close friend and former Pastor in the Denver area. As I shared these thoughts with him, he asked me some simple questions, such as...
"Do you believe that these martyrs believe in the Nicene Creed?" Yes.
"Are these martyrs confessing Christ until the end?" (Mark 13:13; Rev. 2:11). Yes.
"Then, what are you worried about?"
That is when everything changed for me.
I began to attend an occasional Catholic Mass, if for no other reason than to prove to myself that ALL Catholics are heretics. They worship Mary, and bow down to idols, and are not born again, and hate the real Jesus, and... ad infinitum.
What I experienced was remarkable. I heard more Scripture read and quoted than I had ever heard in a Protestant worship service. Everything in the Mass seemed to point to Christ and His work on the cross. The Nicene Creed was verbalized (by people who knew it by heart). Nary a word about Mary. No bowing down to statues. A serious veneration of Christ in the Eucharist (Communion).
After moving to east Tennessee for a stint, my wife and I decided to attend a Catholic church on a regular basis. It became more and more evident (in my thinking) that I could never become a Roman Catholic, but at the same time, I realized that there are many, many, many, sincere and even fervent Christians who attend and who are members of the Roman Catholic Church.
I want to be clear. The Roman Church has many, many problems. Doctrinal problems, moral scandals and heaps of superstition.
Due to the nature of this post, however, I won't attempt to discuss the doctrinal differences between Catholic and Protestant churches, nor between Roman Catholic and other Catholic churches, (such as the Orthodox church). I will simply leave that aside for now.
After several months of attending a Roman Catholic Mass, we began attending an Eastern Orthodox Church. We attended this church for a couple of months. That was enough for me. I loved many things about the Orthodox Church. It's beauty, it's majesty and it's serious approach to Christian worship. In my view however, there are serious problems with the Orthodox Church. It is shaped by culture and in terms of liturgy, is stuck in the 3rd or 4th century! There are also theological problems, but I'll leave that aside for now also.
For the next year, we attended what I would consider to be a "conservative" Anglican Church (The Anglican Church of North America). The Anglican Church is (to keep it simple), the English version of the Roman Catholic Church, started by Henry VIII, after he broke off from Rome.
I love so much about the Anglican Church, but I also think they are also stuck (in the 16th Century) Their approach to worship is serious and thoughtful. They incorporate both Word AND Sacrament into worship. In laymen's terms, they take Communion EVERY Sunday and they mean it!
ALL of these churches have flaws. Some more serious than others. But I have flaws too. Some are also serious. One of my more serious flaws was believing that God's grace was narrow. Very narrow.
To be sure, following Jesus is a narrow path, but that is true for Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians as well as Roman Catholics. All of us (if we actually BELIEVE the Bible and the Nicene Creed) are Christians.
Does that mean every member of every church I mentioned is actually (really, in their heart) a Christian? Of course not. No more than going to MacDonald's makes me a hamburger.
But I must say, what a FREEING thing it is to no longer be in a place where I get to play the Judge.
Do you know Jesus? Have you been saved by His grace? Do you love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength? Do you love your neighbor also? Do you love God's Word. Do you believe what it teaches? Do you believe in the foundational truths of the Christian faith (as taught for example in the Nicene Creed)?
Awesome! Start there. Worship the Lord. Walk in accordance with your baptism and your good confession. Stand fast. For, "the one who endures to the end, he will be saved." (Matthew 24:13).