“Ask a Catholic” #1: “I’m happily Evangelical, I’m not sure I see the relevance of learning about Catholics at this point in my walk of faith.”

Hello and welcome to our new series, “Ask a Catholic!” This is a spot where you can ask us anything about Catholicism, and we are happy to answer. I’ve been looking forward to this so much, especially since so many of my friends are Protestant/Evangelical. Firstly, as a way to reduce the misunderstandings between us. And second, as a place to invite dialogue in a world that sorely needs it.

And so, to our first question we shall go!

Question #1: “I’m happily Evangelical. I’m not sure I see the relevence of learning about Catholics at this point in my walk of faith.”

This is a great question, and a wonderful place to start.

I was thinking about it this morning, and I found an analogy that might be helpful. In many ways, I think declining to learn about the Catholic Church, or avoiding it, or even just assuming we understand it enough to know it isn’t for us, is sort of like a child refusing to get to know its mother. The idea of that seems so silly. Of course a child will want to know its mother- as much as he or she can know about her, probably! Because, for one, she is where that child came from. And second, who she is will greatly shape and impact that child for the rest of his or her life.

I think the same is true about the story of our Christian faith and how it grew since its beginning.

As someone brought up in various branches of Evangelicism, my idea of a church was often a relatively plain building or sanctuary that also functioned as an auditorium, or a performance hall, or even a basketball court in some occasions. My idea of church was an opening prayer, a series of songs, an offering…all of which led up to a sermon that was the sort-of pinnacle or focus of the service. Then another prayer and possibly another song at the end.

As I came into adulthood I started to wonder what the early Church looked like…what were there services like? Did we hold the same beliefs? Retain any of their traditions? And if we didn’t, when and why did we give them up? Did our American Evangelical Christianity look anything like Christianity looked like for the generations that immediately followed the life of Christ on earth? And if it didn’t, should it? I began to suspect that whatever it looked like, early Church couldn’t possibly have been an auditiorium-style sanctuary with projectors, and stage lights, concert-style emotion-driven music, and a pastor-centered service.

Then I realized that the people in these places-these auditioriums with the performance heavy services were the same people I had been listening to and believing for years, mostly passively, when it came to what Catholics believed and taught. And the thing was, for a group of people so certain that Catholics were wrong on so many issues, none of them could tell me what the early Church looked like once I started to ask.

So, on one hand, I had pastors and fellow church and small group members telling me what Catholics believed and how wrong they were compared to Evangelicals on a number of things:

“Catholics believe you can earn your salvation, Catholics worship Saints, Catholics have an unhealthy devotion to Mary, Catholics believe you can’t just go to God with your sins, Catholics are so devoted to tradition that they go through the motions and don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus, Catholics added books to the Bible, Catholics don’t believe in Bible Alone and obviously Bible Alone is the truth, they don’t believe in Once Saved Always Saved and obviously Once Saved Always Saved is the truth, Catholics think you can earn your salvation by works.” Just to name a few.

Then, on the other hand, I also had this vague understanding that the early Christian Church-from Jesus until the Reformation…was Catholic.

I started to wonder if somehow not all of the things I had been taught or had come to believe about Catholics were true, or even if they were, if they were maybe incomplete in some way.

And it all comes back to this. The child knowing its mother. If we don’t understand Catholicism, then we don’t truly understand the history of our Christian faith.

We don’t understand where we came from.

The Missing Years

Christianity didn’t appear in a vaccum, with hipster pastors and rock music and stage lights, even though that was my experience of Christiany- it was what I had known my whole entire life. Some of the churches I went to were very humble, just a couple of singers adding their voices to a cassette tape through the speakers. Others were much more highly produced, and some even recorded songs and sold CD’s of original music. But I had fallen into the mistake of thinking that because it was all I had known, that that was all it ever was. Pre-Reformation Christianity had been explained to me in vague terms like ‘indulgences’ and ‘Luther’ and ’99 thesis nailed to a door,’ even though our faith had existed for 1500 years prior to that. It was like we had the Bible, and then we skipped right ahead to the Reformation.

What on earth had gone on in between? What did the earliest generations after Jesus do and believe? How did they structure their life and practice of faith?

No one at the Baptist/Calvinist church we were attending at the time could tell me. I wondered if it could even be known? If it could, I felt very strongly that I needed to know it. There had to be something incredibly precious and sacred about those early Christians and the way they lived their faith. I felt like they had something to teach me, and the fact that I had grown up in an modern, Americanized bubble of Christianity no longer served as an excuse.

Our History Matters

There’s a joke among Catholics that to study Church history is to cease to be Protestant. I harbor no illusions that my little posts here and there will send people running to the Catholic Church. But I do hope for this: For anyone with whom I’ve garnered any bit of trust, I hope you’ll read this series. If for nothing else than to better understand a part of our shared Christian faith that was there since the start.

I think we all only have something to gain from a better, clearer understanding.

And that, my friends, is how we begin the “Ask a Catholic” series. Feel free to email us a question for the series, or drop it on our Facebook page or at the bottom of this post. We’ll answer as soon as we can!


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The First Day I Chose to Go to Mass

This December marks the five year anniversary of the first time I ever went to Mass by choice.

I had been to Catholic Masses before…as a baby, for my own baptism and that of my brother. I had been to funeral Masses. A few weddings. I had begrudgingly and awkwardly joined JP’s very devout family at Mass when we visited them so as not to cause ripples.

But there was something very different about the first time I decided I wanted to go to Mass, the first time I chose it for myself.

The Pre-Conditions

First of all, the conditions to led me, a once anti-Catholic evangelical, to seek out a Catholic Mass in the first place.

I had gone from a very fervent young Christian, to a disillusioned young adult inside the walls of various Protestant churches over a number of years. I was struggling to reshape the faith of my childhood into something with the depth required for my adult experiences. My own journey of faith began as a strong believer when I was a child and teen, but transitioned to a life as a near-agnostic in my early 20’s. That shift called into serious question the Protestant doctrine of “Once Saved Always Saved” because my own experience proved that one can start out with true belief but deny it later on. Our foray through a variety of denominations brought me to doubt individual interpretation of Scriptiure- if it’s that clear, why do all these churches disagree on issues both big and small? I grew weary of the hyper-emotional structure of worship, and the expectation that I developed equating a good church service with feeling emotionally fulfilled.

To top it off, no one could tell me what the early Church looked like, just as I was beginning to suspect that the Americanized version of Protestant Christianity wasn’t it. I wasn’t sure if what I was looking for even existed, and if it didn’t, I didn’t think I could remain in good conscience a sola-scriptura, once-saved-always-saved, American Protestant for much longer. Or, if this was all that Christianity was, I didn’t know if I would remain a Christian at all.

Cue me, sitting on my sofa, realizing that among these and many other things, I was possibly starting to think like…gulp…a Catholic. I hungered for a connection to the history of my faith. I wanted something deeper than an emotionally-driven experience could offer. I wanted sound theological depth.

I didn’t really know how to bring this up to JP because I had persuaded him away from actively practicing his Catholic faith early in our marriage. But I sprung the question on him one snowy night in downtown Racine while we were out at dinner. I asked, simply: “Do you want to go to Mass?” Shocked, JP shared with me that he had been praying for our unity in private, and had himself felt like he was being led back to the Catholic Church.

We got home from dinner and I sent a message to one of my friends, who I suspected might be Catholic:

The Mass Itself

Two days later, on December 6th, JP and I led our (then) two children through the doors of St. Lucy Parish in Racine, Wisconsin for the 10:30 Mass. Even though I had been to Masses here and there, I didn’t really know what to expect, and I wasn’t entirely sure what to do throughout the different components. But, on that Sunday, my experience in a Catholic church that early Sunday in December was markedly different from any Mass I had been to before.

I had chosen to be there. And, at last, my heart was open to what I might find.

I don’t remember a ton of specifics, other than the distinct feeling that if what I was looking for existed anywhere at all, it likely existed here. The very Church I had sometimes ignored and other times argued against, certain that it was filled with irrelivant, extranneous, anti-Biblical teachings, now might just be my only chance to remain in the Christian faith.

I do remember that there were many families with young children sitting altogether in the pews, which impacted me because at the church we went to a the time, we sent our kids to Sunday School in different rooms. I remember that there wasn’t any sense at all that this service was designed to cater to me, another marked contrast to the hip coffee-house, welcoming committees of the Protestant churches we had recently attended. The music was traditional. The components themselves were somewhat foreign, and yet oddly familiar too. I caught in them some echoes of the fragments that Protestant churches have held onto- Scripture readings, an act of contritian, Communion. But here, inside the Catholic Mass, they weren’t fragments of some lost, greater whole. I remember trying to piece together how it was I grew to be so anti-Catholic in the first place, when it was clear I knew so little about it.

The Aftermath

My friend met us after Mass and, after expressing my continued interest, she helped us get connected with RCIA at St. Lucy’s. We enrolled immediately. Inside the walls of that little RCIA room, I asked every question my heart had been wrestling through, knownig that I had to leave everything on the table. Based on what I had seen in multiple Christian churches over nearly 30 years, if the answers couldn’t be found in the Catholic Church, then they probably couldn’t be answered by anyone, and the Christian faith was a sham. One week later, we attended my last church service at the Protestant Church we had been a part of. I have many friends who love Jesus who remain Evangelical, but I could no longer look at it the same way as I once had.

And the rest, as they say, is history. That early December night, where the snow fell like wisps of cotton outside the restaurant window, when I asked JP if he wanted to go to Mass, was less than four months away from the day I’d stand in front of a full Cathedral in St. Paul Minnesota. Easter Vigil, 2016, when I was confirmed into the Catholic Church.

Protestant churches do a really good job of making new guests feel welcome. They greet you, connect you with a small group, offer you donuts and coffee. They give you great concert-quality music and an inspiring message. My first intentional visit to a Catholic Mass didn’t contain any of those things to the same extent I had been used to before. But I didn’t need any of that to be drawn in to the Catholic Church, at least not once my heart was open to it. The Mass drew me in, not with bells and whistles and trends and the promise of friendship with other people like me. It drew me in with beauty, and history, and, above all, rock-solid Truth.


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7 Misconceptions I Held About The Catholic Church Before Becoming Catholic

The Default of The Catholic Church Being Wrong

In my Protestant life, I held a lot of default positions that I had never given much thought. One of my main default positions was that the Catholic Church was, at least in some very important ways, wrong.

I had this default because of growing up where I did, and how I did. I didn’t even think about it. I didn’t even know the reasons I rejected Catholic teaching, I just believed they were wrong based on things people said to me over the years. It was the view I was taught. But I realized, as I found myself restless in my faith, that just because I grew up with something was not enough of a justification for me to assume it as correct.

It was an important step for me to acknowledge the default position I learned, but it was also important not to assume that default position is I held was necessarily the right one.

Below are some of my Protestant default positions, and then the questions I started asking to allow myself to be more fair and balanced in determining from what viewpoint I was going to approach my faith.

I believed that if there was Truth out there, my taking an honest and fair evaluation of my default positions would lead me closer to it. Truth need not fear an inquiring and honest heart.

The List

Default 1

The Catholic Church is in error.

Questions: What valid justification do I have to not give the Catholic Church a fair and objective examination? Is it possible my lack of knowledge about what the Catholic Church teaches is impacting my opinion of it? What gaps do I have in my own understanding of the development of my Christian faith that has informed this belief?

Default 2

The Catholic Bible has books that are not canonical.

Questions: Why does the Protestant Bible have 7 less books than the Catholic Bible? Where in history did that happen? Which books were removed, and for what reason? Did those who made those changes have the authority to do so?

Default 3

We all pretty much believe the same thing- the differences aren’t important.

Questions: God gave us an infallible book- wouldn’t he have given us a means to interpret it correctly? Is it fair to assume that it isn’t important to God if the Truths of Scripture are known accurately by Christians. Or is it important? And if it is, who has a claim to interpretive authority that can be backed by the history of the Christian faith as well as the scriptures?

Default 4

Praying to Saints is wrong

Questions: What do Catholics mean when they use the word prayer in this context? Do they mean the same thing I mean when I use the word ‘pray?’ Are those in heaven aware of those of us on earth? And if they are aware, why don’t I ask those who have gone before me and are now in heaven to pray for me?

Default 5

Sola Scripture– Bible Alone

Questions: Where is the evidence for Sola Scriptura in scripture? The Bible is an authority but is there anywhere in Scripture that claims it to be the final and ultimate authority? What did the earliest Christians do before the New Testament was written and before the canon was confirmed? What does the Bible have to say about the role of the Church and Tradition?

Default 6

Worship should be relevant to the culture.

Questions: What role does church history and traditional Christian practices have in the church today? What value could be found in practicing our faith in a manner similar to the earliest Christians? And what have we lost in the name of cultural relevance?

Default 7

Catholics focus too much on Mary

Questions: What did the early Christians attribute to Mary and why? How can I justify the differences in my view of Mary and the view of Mary of the historical church- including certain views held by Luther and Calvin? Is my discomfort with these teachings due to their falsehood or due to the fact that I am too far separated from the beliefs of the historical Christian Church?

A Default of Ignorance

I found, in my exploration, that I was so entirely ignorant of Catholic teaching because of these original default positions. But I was also ignorant of the history of our faith and what the earliest Christians professed to be true.

Once I opened myself up to the possibility of a different position than the default I had grown up with, I was both surprised and not surprised. Each and every default I had against the Catholic Church turned out to be a misconception. Something I misunderstood or understood incompletely. And once I opened a small crack in the door to the idea to give that which I thought was so wrong a fair shot, I was overwhelmed with depth and truth. Logic and consistency. The beauty of a combination of the thoughts of many, many Christian souls who had gone before me. And I found myself on my way to living a life of gratitude and peace within the Catholic Church.


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Is Anyone Sola Scriptura? (Catholic Stand)

Note: This article originally appeared on Catholic Stand.

Coffee Shop Calvinism

I recently came across a group of men from the Reformed Church we left to become Catholic who were gathered at our local Starbucks. They were discussing theology, and didn’t notice I was sitting next to them for several minutes while they talked about things like “once saved, always saved,” TULIP, and other Calvinist doctrine. It was interesting to listen in on this discussion on some of the very issues that led me from that church and into a life as a passionate Catholic.

This is a group of men who are adamantly Sola Scriptura. But they left the coffee shop that day, not with Bibles in hand, but with thick-as-the-Catechism sized copies of Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem clutched to their chests.

Is Anyone Sola Scriptura?

The belief in the sufficiency of Scripture, wherein one believes Scripture is sufficient to tell us all we need concerning the theological truths God desired to reveal to mankind, can only be believed to be true in light of accurate interpretation. Even to a non-Catholic it has to be, at the very least, Scripture + accurate interpretation.

The longer I look into these issues, the more I am convinced of the impossibility of truly being Sola Scriptura. Even the men from that Reformed Church, implicitly, are living out their faith through the interpretive lens of Grudem and his Calvinist interpretation of Scripture.

Now, this practical reality does not stretch as far as to encompass a Protestant substitute for the Catholic belief in Tradition and the Magisterium – and of course a Calvinist, for example, would say that even Grudem’s words are not infallible. But it does indicate heavily an implicit acknowledgement that Scripture requires an interpretive authority. We need to look at Scripture through some sort of lens. The importance of the accuracy of that lens cannot be understated because if we have a Bible, but can’t interpret it correctly, then we are in big trouble. And we can’t interpret it correctly on our own.

Who Do We Trust?

Even the strongest adherents to Sola Scriptura caution against a “Me, God and the Bible” approach to scriptural interpretation, though for many Protestant Christians, this is essentially what Sola Scriptura has become as denomination after denomination has diverged since the origins of the Reformation. What necessarily results is thousands upon thousands of Christians who are divorced entirely from any authoritative source, and they themselves become their own interpretive authority.

Others realize that we can’t divorce Scripture from its historical and cultural context, nor can we divorce it from the intent of the original authors, or the meaning of words in the original written language.

For those Christians, the question becomes: Who do we trust? How do we sift through the myriad of opinions on this section of Scripture or that? If the Bible is sufficient, how do we know what it is actually saying to the world? We are left on our own, or on the recommendation of our pastors, or the books of Christian authors and theologians like Grudem, Tim Keller, and others to help guide us in, what we hope, is the truth.

The “Ordinary Believer”

Reformed theologian Robert Godfrey writes: “The Protestant position, and my position, is that all things necessary for salvation and concerning faith and life are taught in the Bible clearly enough for the ordinary believer to find it there and understand it.”

But is this what we practically see in the Church? How does sufficiency come into play with issues that are clearly addressed in the Bible, but differences in interpretation lead people to different conclusions? Take baptism, for example. Are we meant to baptize infants, or should we only baptize those old enough to make an independent profession of faith? It’s clearly addressed in Scripture, but we cannot agree on a meaning. Or what about Holy Communion? Is the bread and wine truly the Body and Blood of Christ, or is it meant to be a symbolic representation of the same? It’s addressed in Scripture. But what does it mean? We cannot understand these things unless we have an interpretive source we can trust.

I do agree that the “ordinary believer” can find what he/she needs to know to understand the basics of the gospel and salvation in the Bible. My 5-year-old can understand that foundation. She knows we have sinned, and Jesus died for us and rose again so we can be with Him. She knows we need to live for God. All things we can find and understand at a basic level in Scripture. But, I don’t agree that all things necessary concerning faith and life are clear enough for the ordinary believer to find it and understand it. The “ordinary believer” does not have a thorough enough understanding of the historical and cultural context of Scripture, nor does he/she have an understanding of the original language of Scripture to understand all things necessary concerning faith and life.

A Protestant Christian living in America with an ESV translation of the Bible will come to some different interpretive conclusions than a Protestant theologian who has access to and understands the original languages of the text. This is why it isn’t a matter of whether or not we need an authoritative interpretive source. It’s a matter of in which interpretive source we place our trust.

The Ultimate Question

Even if a Protestant claims their interpretive source is fallible, they still need to rely on an interpretive source. And it will be the one they think holds most closely to the truth. A truth determined by their own best understanding of how to approach Scripture.

And, in my final months as a Protestant, the ultimate question for me wasn’t whether or not I believed Sola Scriptura. My ultimate question became which interpretive source has the greatest biblical, historical, and logical claim to truth.

When I acknowledged that the Bible requires a trustworthy interpretive source, I didn’t know it then but I was a few months away from receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Catholic Church. I have not found any authoritative person or source to even come close in terms of historical and cultural context, original intent, logical coherence and consistency, and theological and philosophical depth. It is my hope that we as Catholics can truly appreciate the gift we have in the authoritative interpretive teachings of the Church. I also hope that my Protestant brothers and sisters will begin an intentional search to begin to ask the question of who they trust to interpret Scripture accurately, and that they acknowledge the importance of the answer to that question. And when they make those inquiries, I hope they give the Catholic Church an equal chance among the other options out there.

I know it’s changed everything for me.

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