Why I’m Catholic

Looking ahead to Divine Mercy Sunday, when Pope John Paul II will be canonized, I have a wonderful example of Divine Mercy in action – in the conversion story of

Ryan McLaughlin, a former Calvinist:


My church was Reformed and vehemently so. We had a lot to say about what was wrong with other Christians: Dispensationalists, Arminians, Pentecostals, mega-churches, mainstream Protestants…all sorts of groups were frequent targets of our derision. And of course, we trashed Catholics. “I mean, if those people ever picked up a Bible, they’d figure out how dumb what they believe is, right?” We had debates–and I mean serious debates–about whether the Pope was the Antichrist (not any one Pope in particular, mind you, more just the papacy in general… the alternative Apocalyptic role for the papacy in our hermeneutic was the “whore of Babylon”). In the worldview I shared with my friends, to be Roman was to be ridiculous.


And then, in March of 2005, I inexplicably found myself engrossed in the news coverage of Pope John Paul’s final illness and eventual death. …I remember thinking, despite myself, “Maybe this guy was the vicar of Christ…”


I realized then that John Paul II had a holiness and a strength that my theology couldn’t account for: in the end, what I had believed about this man and his office was simply bigotry. There was now a gaping hole in the way I thought about the world. And as someone who was planning his life around a particular denomination and a particular theology that were opposed to the Pope in every way, that made me extremely uncomfortable. I began to silently question what I was being taught, as well as the people teaching it….


Ryan, the blogger responsible for The Back of the World, has a heavy-duty conversion story. Read it now at Why I’m Catholic!

What’s up with all the pro-life Protestants becoming Catholic? Randall Terry, Lila Rose, Norma McCorvey, the Rev. Paul Schenck, and Bryan Kemper are some of the big names, but many of the rank-and-file are following suit. It’s simple – the Catholic Church has the only coherent, well-developed Theology of the Body out there, and pro-life Protestants are coming to appreciate that. As a result, some remarkable things are happening.

Jewels Green’s life followed a predictably sad script: “pregnant at 17 and pressured into having an abortion” – “The guilt was overwhelming. I tried to take my own life” – “I remained vehemently and vocally pro-choice, in spite of my personal horrific experience with abortion” – “I got a job at an abortion clinic….”

She eventually left that job, but continued to consider herself a “pro-choice Lutheran.” But that started to change when she began discussing the sanctity of life with Catholics….

Read the conversion story of the former abortion clinic worker who can now say, “While being a faithful Catholic is not easy, it is right, and it is what God wants for us”!

Jewels Green at Why I’m Catholic

Seriously – stop what you are doing, read the latest conversion story on Why I’m Catholic, and praise our Holy God!

As I turned a corner with the lawnmower, all of a sudden, my whole person resounded with a divine intervention. A calm voice displaced all other thoughts and sensations, and, presented fully and clearly on my mind, the voice said,

“I love you, and I forgive you.”

As the words concluded, an immense love that I had never thought possible ignited in my chest like a smoldering furnace. It was a consuming love, but also gentle, and it slowly spread from my heart up to my head and down to my toes. Along with this love, God placed in my mind—as one places things on a shelf—two thoughts or convictions. The first thought was that I simply knew He removed the chip on my shoulder: the mistrust, the wariness and the fierceness of an ex-convict. And the second thought, that God’s promise—His intention—was to eventually restore me to the little boy that I had been 25 years before. Before my sins and the sins of others had left me the disfigured person I had become.

Glory be to the One Who can change a man from convict to college professor, from skeptic to believer, from everyday guy to mystic!

I was stunned—not just by the wickedness of the thoughts—but that these thoughts clearly came from just outside of me—as if some unseen entity was subtly pushing them into my mind. I immediately guessed that there must be something like evil spirits, and that God was allowing me to clearly distinguish their actions on me from my own thoughts. I got out of the car and started to run at a frantic pace. As I ran I kept saying over and over, “Are there demons? There must be demons.”

Then just as I emerged from a hollow of trees into an intersection of paths and dirt roads, God answered my question. Spread out below a large moon wrapped in smoky yellow clouds, a thousand furious demons streamed down the road toward me. They appeared like animal humanoids; like a thousand different failed genetic experiments. They were restrained at a distance of about fifty yards. There was a kind of spiritual de-militarized zone between us, and I knew I was in God’s care—that He was showing me something under His protection.

For several seconds, God had raised the veil that separates the natural and super-natural—revealing a cosmic drama that earlier ages had taken for granted, but that for me was unthinkable.

Glory be to the One Who cannot rest until the lost have been found!

On the one hand, I felt like I was failing God—missing a clue that was right in front of me. On the other hand, I felt like I was being pursued without a chance of escape, like the man was staring at me, and that I was being branded or claimed in some way. What was I to do? In a state of desperation I focused again on the picture. The image grew radiant as always, and then something happened. The man’s thick hair lightly blew as if in a gentle breeze. I couldn’t believe it. So I looked again, and again wisps of his hair wafted in a breeze—while the air around me was still. The thought hit me: “That’s not a picture of a man—that’s a real man. That man’s alive!” And it was obvious that he wasn’t simply alive in our familiar world, but that his life transcended all of our scientific categories, and that he must be alive in Heaven. This increased my desire to know who the man was, but the truth is, I knew who He was—even if I did try to hide it from myself. And now that I knew it was a living man looking at me, I couldn’t keep up the self-deception. Even if I couldn’t see Him clearly, I knew He could see me clearly, and so I admitted, “It’s Jesus. Yes, it’s Jesus.”

My heart will be reverberating for many days to come with the experience of Scott Woltze’s reversion story! Don’t miss it!

There’s a brand-new conversion story on Why I’m Catholic – FINALLY!

Richard Morgan was raised in a Congregationalist church, and converted to Mormonism as a teenager, even serving as a Mormon missionary. He eventually became disillusioned with the LDS belief system and embraced life as a committed atheist.

“What a relief it was to discover my real problem: I was a default position atheist. That discovery came through reading The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins. That truly was an experience of sweet relief.

I had become worn out and frustrated by my fruitless search for God.”

Now he’s Catholic.

If you need yet another example of the incredible work of God the Holy Spirit, check out Richard’s conversion story on Why I’m Catholic!

Halloween nears, and I can’t explain to you what a vast relief it is to me to be Catholic. I embrace wholeheartedly the sentiment expressed by the late Servant of God Fr. John Hardon:

[The Catholic Faith] ‘fits together’ in such a way that each truth we believe sheds light on other truths; the result is a marvelously coherent unity.

The absence of any kind of marvelous “coherent unity” in Evangelical thought was something that had really started to bother me back before I became Catholic. A lot of it stems from Protestantism’s break with historic Christianity. There is simply no continuity with the beliefs of the body of Christ down through the ages. When you bypass the Church’s understanding of Scripture and seek truth solely in Bible verses lifted out of their Scriptural context and separated from historical Christian understanding, you end up with a choppy theology composed of compartmentalized “truths,” a patchwork belief quilt sewn together with Bible-only thread. Catholic convert Steve Ray commented on this disjointed, piecemeal approach to theology:

Without continuity with the early Church and the intervening centuries, Protestantism was like a branch without a tree, a wing without a bird.

In other words, Protestant theology has much of the truth, but it has been disconnected from other truths, so encountering it is like finding a perfectly good bird’s wing – but where’s the rest of the creature? I thought of it, rather gruesomely, as shaking a hand outstretched in welcome, only to find that that hand was connected to… nothing. Considering that we were talking about my belief system, it all seemed just short of macabre.

Contemplate for a moment the Evangelical acceptance of artificial contraception. Evangelicals break with 2,000 years of Christian condemnation of contraception because this practice is nowhere forbidden in so many words in the Bible. The thinking goes like this:

  1. Abortion is clearly evil because you are ending a life. Remember, thou shalt not kill (the 6th Commandment for Protestants – Catholics follow St. Augustine’s system and consider this the 5th commandment).
  2. Euthanasia is clearly evil because you are ending a life. See #1.
  3. The death penalty is clearly SUPER because the Bible teaches that God gave the state the power to end the lives of certain people. THOU shalt not kill, but your elected officials certainly may.

In this scheme of things, contraception is fine because you are not killing; you are merely preventing life from coming into existence. There is no “thou shalt not prevent the conception of a new human life” in Scripture. Of course, we’re talking about contraception within marriage. Contraception outside of marriage isn’t a sin per se, but:

  1. SEX outside of marriage IS a sin. Thou shalt not commit adultery! Flee fornication!
  2. Christian kids are taught abstinence in sex education classes and given chastity rings because God has commanded chastity until marriage.
  3. Masturbation is not prohibited in the Bible and therefore is not a sin – unless you experience lustful thoughts when committing the act. Lustful thoughts ARE mentioned in the Bible and are condemned. That’s why pornography is wrong.
  4. Homosexual acts are a sin. God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. God didn’t rain fire and brimstone down on Sodom and Gomorrah because He disapproved of their system of municipal lien certificates!!
  5. Polygamy is seriously wrong. Serial monogamy, however, is fine, as long as your divorces have been “biblical.”
  6. Celibacy is just kind of weird.

See how it goes? It’s a set of rules based upon verses or compilations of verses in the Bible. No verse – no rule.
No real connection between them – God has for our own good simply prohibited certain things; He makes the rules, and we must inform ourselves of the rules and be careful to keep them.

Compare that approach with the teaching of the Catholic Church on the subject of “human life” and the 5th commandment:

Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.

In the account of Abel’s murder by his brother Cain, Scripture reveals the presence of anger and envy in man, consequences of original sin, from the beginning of human history. Man has become the enemy of his fellow man. God declares the wickedness of this fratricide: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.”

The covenant between God and mankind is interwoven with reminders of God’s gift of human life and man’s murderous violence:

For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning. . . . Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.

The Old Testament always considered blood a sacred sign of life. This teaching remains necessary for all time.

Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: “Do not slay the innocent and the righteous.” The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. The law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and everyone, always and everywhere.

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord recalls the commandment, “You shall not kill,” and adds to it the proscription of anger, hatred, and vengeance. Going further, Christ asks his disciples to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies. He did not defend himself and told Peter to leave his sword in its sheath.

The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. “The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not.”

Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.

Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others.
The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.

Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

The fifth commandment forbids doing anything with the intention of indirectly bringing about a person’s death. The moral law prohibits exposing someone to mortal danger without grave reason, as well as refusing assistance to a person in danger.

The acceptance by human society of murderous famines, without efforts to remedy them, is a scandalous injustice and a grave offense. Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to them.

Unintentional killing is not morally imputable. But one is not exonerated from grave offense if, without proportionate reasons, he has acted in a way that brings about someone’s death, even without the intention to do so.

Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.

Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.

God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.

The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:

“The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.

Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible.

Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.

Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.
The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.

Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous” treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.

Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable. Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.

You see? The Church knows the Bible verses – no question about that. But she has spent 2,000 years thinking about the 5th Commandment, “pondering these things in her heart,” and presents us with a seamlessly woven teaching on human life, encompassing the connections between abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty along with “usurious and avaricious dealings” leading to “hunger and death,” and the sin of self murder (and much more – I was forced to condense this), explaining to us that it is wrong to take a human life, yet showing us why under certain circumstances self defense, the death penalty, and the refusal of “overzealous treatment” can be legitimate options, whereas abortion and euthanasia can never be. These seemingly unconnected issues are all intertwined, because Human life is sacred – it is a gift from God.

Okay, so all this ties together beautifully, but where’s the connection to the Church’s prohibition on contraception? Isn’t that just arbitrary?

The tradition of the Church has understood the sixth commandment [thou shalt not commit adultery] as encompassing the whole of human sexuality.

Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.

The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift.

The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech.

Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom.  The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. “Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.”

Whoever wants to remain faithful to his baptismal promises and resist temptations will want to adopt the means for doing so: self-knowledge, practice of an ascesis adapted to the situations that confront him, obedience to God’s commandments, exercise of the moral virtues, and fidelity to prayer. “Indeed it is through chastity that we are gathered together and led back to the unity from which we were fragmented into multiplicity.”

The virtue of chastity comes under the cardinal virtue of temperance, which seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason.

Chastity represents an eminently personal task; it also involves a cultural effort, for there is “an interdependence between personal betterment and the improvement of society.” Chastity presupposes respect for the rights of the person, in particular the right to receive information and an education that respect the moral and spiritual dimensions of human life.

Chastity is a moral virtue. It is also a gift from God, a grace, a fruit of spiritual effort. The Holy Spirit enables one whom the water of Baptism has regenerated to imitate the purity of Christ.

Charity is the form of all the virtues. Under its influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self.  Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God’s fidelity and loving kindness.

All the baptized are called to chastity.  The Christian has “put on Christ,” the model for all chastity. All Christ’s faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life. At the moment of his Baptism, the Christian is pledged to lead his affective life in chastity.

“People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single.” Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence.

Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure.  Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.

By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.”

Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children.  Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young.

Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other.  It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life.  They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament.

Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death.”

“The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude.” Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure:

The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They accept what the Creator has intended for them. At the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation.

The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.

So why is contraception wrong? Because we’re not just talking about “life.” Plants have “life.” Animals have “life.” We are talking about “human life.” “Human life is sacred” – remember? Why?

Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, Who is its sole end.

There is a fundamental difference between our lives and the lives of animals – God is our end. He has created us in His image for Himself. It is His will that human beings become what He has created them to be; in order to do that, we must live truly human lives (see above).

We humans were not created to live for ourselves; we were created to live as God lives, in a constant pouring out of ourselves for Him and for others. To give ourselves to God and to others is the purpose for which we were created, because God is the Eternal Giver and Eternal Gift. Human life exists that it may pour itself out as a gift, in imitation of the Holy Trinity, the Persons of which give Themselves completely and unceasingly to each other. The Trinity is, in other words, Three Persons, One Life.

Married persons make a gift of their body and their life to their spouse, to the extent that they become one body. Celibate persons make a gift of their body to God, while making a gift of their life to their fellow man. No one is to keep his or her body or life for himself or herself; all are meant to give themselves, because we were created to give ourselves away. Animals procreate. Our sexuality becomes truly human when and only “when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman,” that is, when it is both “procreative and unitive.” We must lay down our claim to our own life, giving all that we are, withholding nothing – including the capacity for creating new life that God gave us. Truly human sexual acts must be open to the gift of life. What would make withholding your fertility from God and your spouse acceptable when everything that you have and are must be given in love? Your “total gift” would be a sham….

Contraception is wrong because “Human life is sacred.”

The reason the Evangelical system of dependence on explicit Bible verses breaks down is that the Bible is not explicit in many instances. Take 1 Corinthians 6:18 – most Bible versions translate this as “Flee immorality.” Fine. Define “immorality”! It is being actively redefined in our day, to the point where many Christians can remain firmly ensconced in their sins and yet feel no twinge of conscience when reading that verse – as the Protestant acceptance of artificial contraception demonstrates! And under the “Bible-only” system, a great deal has to be fudged – for example, the Bible nowhere actually condemns polygamy. The Old Testament speaks positively of it, and the New Testament is basically silent on the subject. Without a coherent system of thought such as the Catholic Church possesses, Christians really are adrift, fending for themselves, clinging to isolated pieces of theological driftwood floating in our modern-day sea of moral relativism….

The Catholic Church has a Theology of the Body, a Theology of Life, and a Theology of Work, just as the human body has a nervous system, a circulatory system and a respiratory system – all systems serving the same body and all interdependent. Bible-only Christians have Bible verses that teach them what they can and cannot do, like parts on a factory assembly line. Put them all together and you’ve got a theology – but it’s got no soul.

Which is why every year around Halloween, my thoughts drift back to this subject. Evangelical teaching is a bit like Frankenstein’s monster, a hand sutured onto an arm sewn onto a shoulder. Catholic teaching is organic; it is a living body of doctrine.

It is theology as God meant it to be.


On the memorial of St. Frumentius of Ethiopia

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: Patchwork Girl by André Koehne/Wikimedia Commons

I often wonder if some people who stumble across this blog aren’t tempted to believe that I might be presenting a caricature of Evangelical Protestantism. As I have stated before, when I write about the Protestantism I left behind, I write about once-saved/always-saved, nondenominational churches and charismatic assemblies: Bible-alone churches. I’m really not qualified to discuss things from the perspective of a former Lutheran or former Reformed Presbyterian, since I was neither. I did attend Presbyterian churches when I lived in Taiwan, but those churches were led by lay-preachers who delivered a gospel indistinguishable from the one preached at nondenominational churches of my acquaintance in the U.S. My only exposure to real Lutheranism or Presbyterianism would have come from visiting my college friend’s Lutheran church, where I was exposed to Ash Wednesday, and from the one Lutheran and two Presbyterian pastors who, with a Baptist, co-pastored the church I attended right after marrying my Baptist husband – pastors who, because of the extreme ecumenical nature of the church, were not in a position to teach any distinctively Lutheran or Presbyterian notions – once again, it was a lowest-common-denominator kind of Christianity.

I’m sure, though, that to some Protestants it would seem that I am caricaturing Evangelicalism, twisting it out of shape to make it appear grotesque and unappealing, distorting its features. I beg to differ.

Every single church I attended as a Protestant was filled with Bible-believing Christians, good people, sincere people. I have never attended a liberal, Bible-reinterpreting church. Yet the Bible-believing doctrine that I was taught in those Bible-believing churches of my acquaintance varied from church to church. Over the course of the first 45 years of my life I attended churches that told me I had to experience the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and speak in tongues, and other churches derided that notion as holy-rollerism. Some of my pastors preached that I could lose my salvation, and others preached that I could not. The theology taught by certain radio preachers (such as D. James Kennedy) on the local Baptist station ran counter to the theology taught by other radio preachers (such as Adrian Rogers).

I really did think that my Christian beliefs were the same as the beliefs of the first-century followers of Christ, despite the fact that I had attended churches that taught that I could lose my salvation and churches that taught that that was impossible. No matter which Protestant church I attended, I believed that what I was taught was exactly what the first Christians believed. Every Protestant church I attended really did believe that all conservative Protestants agree on “the Essentials.”

I really was baptized twice. This is not unheard of. Sadly, there are folks who get baptized three and four times, because they fear that their first baptism didn’t “work,” just as I feared that my first baptism had been invalid since it had been an infant baptism in my mother’s Methodist church.

The thriving church I attended as a child really did vanish off the face of the earth when the leadership felt “led by the Lord” to hand the church building back to the denomination and meet in informal “home church” settings, in imitation of what they believed the early church looked like.

Our Baptist church really did hold “prophecy conferences” in which various self-proclaimed “prophecy experts” proposed versions of the End Times that conflicted with those of other self-proclaimed “prophecy experts.”

We really did say “Now, we KNOW that Paul did NOT mean ‘continue to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling’ when he wrote ‘continue to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.'”

We really did use 1 John 5:13 to “prove” that true believers could know that they were saved with no chance of losing their salvation (AKA “you can know that you know that you know that you know…”)

I really have attended churches where the pastor was voted into office by the congregation based on his agreement with THEIR interpretation of the Word of God.

I really do know Evangelicals who believe that Mother Teresa most likely wasn’t saved because she was working her way to Heaven.

My former church’s newspaper really did cast doubt on whether we’ll see John Paul II in Heaven, given that he taught “false doctrine.”

Young Earth Creationism really was taught to my kids at their Baptist Academy.

My son’s Bible teacher really did tell the class that she never talks to Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses who knock on her door, because she is afraid that they will deceive her with their false doctrine and lead her away from the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, causing her to be damned, and then explained that if that happened and she did fall away, then she had never really been saved to begin with.

I really have met people here in town who believe that the King James Version of the Bible is inspired and inerrant.

When we became Catholic, Baptist friends really did wonder how we could convert to the beliefs of a religious system that burned Martin Luther at the stake.

I really did attend a charismatic healing meeting in which several people were “healed” of leg-length discrepancy.

My mother’s charismatic friend really did teach people “how to prophesy.”

My mother really did believe that lay Catholics are kept in the dark about the real, secret doctrines of the Catholic Church.

My point is, I don’t believe that the Bible-alone picture that I am depicting is a caricature of Protestant beliefs – I believe that nondenominational and charismatic theology are themselves a caricature of more traditional Protestant beliefs. However, in defense of my former beliefs, I would add that nondenominational and charismatic theology take traditional Protestant beliefs to their natural conclusion.

The beliefs and practices of Bible-alone Christians are the logical extension of the beliefs of the Reformers. After all, if the Reformers were right, if the Catholic Church junked up the pure Gospel with the trappings of ritual, why do away with only some rituals – why not all of them? As a nondenominational Christian, I and everyone I worshipped with was disdainful of Lutheran pastors donning robes and Reformed ministers baptizing infants and leading their congregation in the recitation of the Apostles Creed – those practices are not in the Bible! If the Reformers were right, and the Catholic Church added the traditions of men to the commandments of God, why only do away with some of those traditions? Why disavow the conclusions of only some Church Councils, like Trent – why not all the Church Councils?
If no one on this earth can come to infallible conclusions, how can you know for sure that the Council of Nicaea was orthodox while the Council of Florence was not? Why retain the Creed? Why not “no creed but Christ”?

Martin Luther believed that Mary was a sinless, perpetual virgin and that she was the Mother of God. Today’s Lutheranism rejects the former assertions, but still agrees with the latter. Bible-alone Protestants reject the second doctrine as well, with the understanding that Martin Luther set out to strip the Church of the barnacles of tradition, the prime example of a barnacle being the “unbiblical” doctrine of the Theotokos. In this sense nondenominational Christians see themselves as the true descendants and heirs of the Reformation, bringing the “purge” to its proper completion.

Why do things half-way?

I suspect that members of traditional Protestant denominations would listen to my story and explain to me that as a Bible-alone Christian I had fallen prey to “solo” Scriptura, a caricature of what they view as the biblical doctrine of sola Scriptura. Protestants such as I once was who take the Bible as their sole authority are twisting the doctrines of the Reformers, they would tell me. The Reformers actually taught that the Bible is the highest authority, but that the “church” also functions as an authority. Therefore, no true Christian can, for example, reject the Nicene Creed, crafted by the church, on the grounds that it was produced by men and is not found in the Bible. Got it?

As a Bible-alone Christian, my answer would have been, “Which part of Martin Luther’s declaration at Worms don’t you understand?”

Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other — my conscience is captive to the Word of God.

No, Bible-alone Christians emphatically don’t “get it.” According to Luther’s own words, Bible-alone Christians are the true heirs of the Reformation. Away with your creeds and councils! Just give me Jesus!

It is often noted that as you age, your features may become something of a caricature of your younger face. When the youthful bloom fades from your cheeks, your sharp nose looks even pointier. Your hairline recedes, making your ears look larger. This is exactly what has happened as Protestantism has aged. As Bible-alone Christians have taken the ideas of the arch-Reformer to their legitimate conclusion, the face of Protestantism has changed. It is not attractive, with all of its scars and pits of seemingly endless division. While mainline denominations try to distance themselves from Bible-alone Christians, the family resemblance is unmistakable. The rebellious rejection of the legitimate authority of the Church is ever-present, whether it is traced genteelly on the features of those who claim to submit to the “church,” (a church of their own creation), or drawn in harsher lines on the visage of those who reject every authority on Earth outside of their own fallible interpretation of Scripture. Like it or not, admit it or not, Bible-alone Christians are the spittin’ image of their spiritual forbears. Photoshop was invented for just such a reason.


On the memorial of St. Jerome

Deo omnis gloria!