A recent exchange of emails with a very kind reader in Canada has encouraged me to try to remember my state of mind back when I was a Protestant. I was born Evangelical, raised Evangelical, remained Evangelical through college, and worked overseas at a Christian college hopeful that I might explain my Evangelical beliefs to students who might otherwise never be exposed to them. I married an Evangelical, and returned to the States an Evangelical. I attended Evangelical churches, read Evangelical versions of the Bible and Evangelical self-help books, and dedicated my children to the Lord at an Evangelical church. For 45 years of my life, I never once questioned the Evangelical status quo. Why did it never occur to me to look into the assumptions that we held as Evangelicals, foremost among those the assumption that the first Christians believed exactly what we believed? That assumption is crucial – for if the first Christians did not believe what Evangelicals believe, then the Evangelical gospel is the gospel that St. Paul warned against – a different gospel. The Evangelical assumption won’t stand up to historical scrutiny for 5 minutes, yet it never occurred to me to question it. Everyone I knew believed it – it had to be true.
I wasn’t really a comic book fan when I was a child, but one Batman comic I read in the 1960s really made an impression on me. Someone was impersonating the Caped Crusader. The impostor was so convincing that he even fooled Commissioner Gordon. This fake Batman offered to take the blindfolded Commish to the “Batcave”; of course, Gordon jumped at the chance. The phony Batcave was a travesty of the real thing, consisting of a workbench on which were placed a telephone, a microscope and a finger-printing kit. Reading the comic, my 10-year-old mind was screaming at Gordon: “Can’t you see that this can’t possibly be the real thing???” Gordon’s reaction to the cave has stuck with me to this day: “Somehow, I always thought there would be more…” “Oh, no,” mumbled the impostor in reply, “This is all I need….”
Why did it never dawn on me that there would be more? To take the metaphor to a more sophisticated level, forget the Batcave – how about Plato’s cave? When I saw all those shadows on the wall of my Christian experience – the altar upon which we placed no sacrifice, for example – why did it never occur to me to search for the source of those shadows? Of course, Evangelical Christianity is good, just as a telephone, a microscope and a finger-printing kit were a good start if you wanted to fight crime back in the 60’s. But the Batcave, the REAL Batcave, can very reasonably be expected to be so much more – and the Church that Jesus established can be expected to inspire AWE! No dithering around with 51,000 flavors of doctrine – the Church speaks with authority. No flip-flopping on issues like abortion – the Church declares to the world of today exactly what she declared to the world of all our yesterdays, that wrong is wrong is wrong. No invisible group of believers who said nothing, did nothing and went nowhere for 1500 years – the Church discerned the canon of Scripture, and preserved Scripture through the Dark Ages, while Christianizing the known world! No assembly that weeds out all but the fine and upstanding – the Church is made up of great saints and terrible sinners, the wheat and the tares, just as Jesus said! No myriad of leaders assuming various positions on Biblical issues – the Church is led by a Pope who can speak infallibly! The miracles! The Incorruptibles! The apparitions! The saints! What was I thinking?? OF COURSE, this is what the Church Jesus established looks like! His Church HAS TO be like this.
What was I thinking when I was an Evangelical??
On the memorial of St. Flannán mac Toirrdelbaig
Deo omnis gloria!