A Southern Baptist Seminarian Turns to Rome

This is a guest post by a friend of mine, Anthony, who recently emailed me to inform me of his decision to become Catholic.

My name is Anthony and I am becoming Catholic. Writing this sentence would have made me cry two months ago. As an aspiring evangelical missionary studying at a Southern Baptist seminary, I knew that most Catholics were not “believers,” true Christians, yet now . . . things are different. I begged God for six months to let me remain in evangelicalism. He didn’t. My hope is that this story will encourage fellow Catholics and lead many of my evangelical friends to, at the very least, have a more charitable view of the Roman Catholic Church.

The beginning

One year ago I came home to visit my family. My dad, a worship and preaching pastor from when I was in fourth grade on, had resigned his position a year prior and was finishing his Masters in Theological Studies. He had grown up in the Catholic Church and one of his graduate courses caused him to reexamine some of the teaching. I found a silly-looking book titled Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic on his desk. Maybe I picked it up because I had brought nothing else home to read, or maybe my curiosity was peaked after spending a summer as a missionary to Catholics in Poland. For whatever reason, reading the testimony was the start of my confusing and reluctant journey to Rome.

David Currie’s 1996 memoir of leaving behind his fundamentalist upbringing, Trinity Evangelical education and ministries was bothersome. Currie’s unapologetic defense of controversial doctrines like Mary and the Pope were most shocking, as I had never seriously considered that Catholics would have sensible, scriptural defenses to these beliefs.

As I grew in my evangelical faith at a midwestern liberal arts college and listened to over two hundred hours of evangelical sermons by popular Reformed preachers like Mark Driscoll and John Piper, my assumption was hardened that the Roman Catholic Church didn’t adhere to the Bible. When I asked one pastor friend of mine during my junior year why Catholics thought Mary remained a virgin after Jesus’ birth when the Bible clearly said Jesus had “brothers,” he simply grimaced: “They don’t read the Bible.”

If Currie’s book bothered me, slipping nervously into Mass that weekend didn’t help the situation. I was shocked that the lyrics sung were derived directly from the Scriptures, a quality lacking in many Protestant songs. Three times as many Bible passages were read than was typical at my non-denominational and Baptist services I attended, and the priest spoke on the Great Commission and the need for evangelization. Many Catholics will not be able to appreciate my shock.

The fall

If I had further doubts after that weekend I don’t remember them. When I returned to my post-graduate job at school I continued memorizing Scripture, listening to online sermons, and praying with friends for the salvation of close friends and family, including Catholics. My evangelical assumption of salvation was that every person, whether it is subtle or dramatic, must have a “born-again” conversion experience in order to become a true believer and go to heaven. The experience does not take place in baptism, but in a mystical way that is different for each person. The assumption is what gave me no qualms about desiring to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” with Polish Catholic youth or agreeing with a respected evangelical leader who questioned whether Mother Teresa was truly a Christian. In fact, the common line I had heard from pastors and friends was that there are some believers in the Catholic Church, but not many. That is, some have managed to decisively put their faith in Jesus Christ and thereby become a true Christian, but not many. It is now surprising to me how disparaging I was towards Catholicism without remotely understanding it.

If reading David Currie’s book was the start of a journey, a phone call from my dad in late August quickened the pace. “You’re becoming Catholic? But, can’t you just be Lutheran or something? Do you still hold to our evangelical beliefs? ” The decision was annoying. Somehow my dad had managed to go astray from the gospel and now I needed to bring him back. Yet I couldn’t help but feel seeds of doubt beginning to grow as I processed the news over the next few days. My dad had always been a spiritual mentor of mine and didn’t make rash decisions. How could he have gone so wrong?

A month before the phone call my very kind and gracious Southern Baptist church asked me to be their youth and outreach pastor until I left for seminary in January. At some point during my employment I had stumbled onto a Christianity Today article that depicted an “evangelical identity crisis.” The author painted of picture of young evangelicals, growing up in a post-modern world and yearning to be firmly rooted in history, encouraged that others had stood strong for Christ in changing and troubled times. Yet in most evangelical churches much of the church calendar is not observed, the Apostles Creed is never mentioned, many of the songs are written after 1997, and if any anecdotal story is told about a hero from church history, it certainly occured after the Reformation. History is nowhere to be found. The articles depicted my experience perfectly.

For the first time, I panicked. I started looking at the Catechism, finding the most controversial doctrines and laughing at the silliness of the Catholic Church. Indulgences? Papal infallibility? Reassured. The mass was beautiful and the idea of a visible, unified Church sounded wonderful, but it was at the expense of the gospel! Obviously Satan would encourage a large organization that would lead many just short of heaven. I shook off most of the doubts and enjoyed the remainder of my time at university, having fun with the youth group and sharing my faith with the students. Any lingering doubts, my closest friends assured me, would be dealt with at seminary.

The seminary  

I had been looking forward to attending seminary for quite some time. In late 2009 I read a book called Don’t Waste Your Life and was inspired to become a missionary to areas of the world where people had never heard of Jesus. Books like Don’t Waste Your Life and Let the Nations Be Glad convinced me that these people were all going to Hell and that there was no time to waste. My trip to Central Asia was rerouted to Poland because of visa problems, but I still wanted to devote my life to training pastors in a country like India. Like many young evangelicals I had little denominational loyalty, but the Southern Baptists had a fantastic seminary and missions program. After delaying my entry into seminary for a year after graduation, I finally started classes in early January.

The troubles didn’t start until the second week. We were learning about spiritual disciplines like prayer and fasting and I was struck how often the professor would skip from St. Paul to Martin Luther or Jonathan Edwards when describing admirable lives of piety. Did nothing worthwhile happen in the first 1500 years? The skipping of history would continue in many other classes or assigned textbooks. Occasional references to St. Augustine did not obscure the fact that the majority of church history was ignored.

Jefferson Bethke’s “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus” video compounded my distress. This young man went to the church of a pastor I listened to online, and he was simply repeating in poetic form what I had already heard in many sermons: religion, man-made rituals, get in the way of seeing Jesus. I was deeply distressed by the video and its popularity. Even after receiving criticism from both Protestants and Catholics, Jefferson encouraged people to peel back “everything that’s been added” over the last 2,000 years and see the Jesus of the Bible. Here was the key point: church councils who defined the nature of Christ and set up a liturgical calendar celebrating the life of Christ just got in the way of seeing the true Jesus. Of course, who the “true Jesus” was depended on what evangelical mega-church pastor you downloaded.

A Wall Street Journal op-ed noted this “dangereous theological anarchy that is all too common among young evangelicals.” A Catholic blog noted that after all of the denomination splits in Protestantism, it was no wonder that many young evangelicals throw their hands up in frustration and call it all rubbish. The Catholic assertion hit home. Maybe this was why so many of my friends preferred to be called “Christ-followers” rather than “Christians.” They simply wanted to get away from the chaos of Protestant schisms and missed the beautiful unity of the Roman Catholic Church.

I called my dad crying on January 28th. I was going to become Catholic and hated the idea so much. I listed nearly a dozen reasons I felt I had no choice, including the Bethke video and Protestant beliefs that contradicted most of church history. He had never encouraged me to become Catholic—in fact quite the opposite—and told me to wait a few days until I was no longer emotional. I was probably just lonely and needed some community, he said. I agreed and the doubts started to go away the next day.

Ultimately it was questions about church history and the Bible that caused me to withdraw from the seminary three weeks later. As I read my Church History I textbooks and Martin Luther biography I was struck by how novel many of my Baptist beliefs were. Throughout the early church and even during the Reformation I learned that issues like baptism and communion were extremely important. Yet for me they had always been “open-handed” issues. After all, communion was simply eating bread and grape juice every now and then to remember Christ.  Strictly speaking, baptism was not necessary for salvation and was simply a symbol demonstrated after someone had gotten “saved.” Not only did these views contradict church history but, increasingly, they did not match with uncomfortable Bible passages I had always shrugged off (cf  John 6, Rom 6).

Further, the foundation of Protestantism that had been so precious to me, Sola Scriptura, the Bible alone as the sole source of authority, ceased to make sense. Where did the Bible come from? Why did the Reformers remove seven books from the Bible and threaten to remove more? Why didn’t the Bible itself claim to be “sufficient?” Why were there passages that indicated it was not sufficient? The Protestant answers that had sufficed for a year were no longer satisfying. Once this presupposition fell, dozens of others began to crumble.

Conclusion

The last two months have been a continuation of my journey. I have visited several priests and parishes in different states and read much of the U.S. Catechism. I am amazed at the rich history of the Catholic Church and its vast influence as the largest charity in the world and representative of over half the world’s Christians. I am not naïve. I am aware of the many “cradle Catholics” who do not know and even disregard their faith, the priest abuse scandals, and the Medici popes. The Catholic Church understands the importance of “catechizing” people and understands the destruction sin can cause. Poor behavior of Catholics does not negate the entire Catholic faith, just as one scandalous evangelical pastor does not negate the Bible.

I would like to conclude with a note to all evangelicals reading my story, especially my friends. Please understand that I still value my experiences in evangelicalism and that I still affirm much of what you practice. Catholics and Protestants can agree on many things. Contrary to what I was told as an evangelical, Catholics do not think Protestants are denied entrance in heaven. They are not assured of salvation, but neither are Catholics! You are still my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I hope my story encourages you to deepen your relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church.

Thank you for reading! There are, of course, many more reasons for my move to Catholicism, but I’ll let those reasons be explained by the authors below.

– Anthony

Books by evangelicals turned Catholic

Beckwith, Francis. Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic.

Currie, David B. Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic

Hahn, Kimberly and Scott. Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism

Howard, Thomas. Evangelical is Not Enough  

Shea, Mark. By What Authority? An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition.

Rose, Devin. If Protestantism is True: The Reformation Meets Rome

Smith, Christian. How to Go From Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic    in Ninety-Five Difficult Steps.

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123 Responses to A Southern Baptist Seminarian Turns to Rome

  1. John Murray says:

    God bless you Steven! And don’t stop reading the Good Book!

  2. Pingback: Baptist becomes reluctant Catholic | Catholic Canada

  3. Chris says:

    Welcome. Your story sounds very familiar to mine. Fortunately you are making the change much earlier in life than I did. I converted to the Catholic Church just six years ago. Like you I came through an evangelical background, non-denominational at times, Southern Baptist for a while and even Assembly of God. I struggled with variety of beliefs within the protestant denominations. You never new what you were going to get when you went to a new church. I too was in Poland, as an expat, where I actually started studying the Catholic Church, went on-line to the Vatican and started reading the Cathechism. The skipping over of so much history became a glaring gap and was also key to my conversion.

    I do not regret my journey into the Catholic Church. My faith was rebuilt up and it has been a great blessing to me and my family. I am sure it will the same for you.

    God Bless!

  4. Melissa G says:

    Welcome home! Your story reminds me of my friend, Leona Choy. From her blog :
    She served with her husband in mission, church, and educational work in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, and the U.S. They co-founded AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST, INC. a campus ministry among Chinese university students and scholars in North America. Leona traveled more than a dozen times to the People’s Republic of China as a guide and escort, for ministry with her husband among Christians in China, and as an English teaching consultant. She is president of WTRM-FM (Southern Light Gospel Music Network)in the Shenandoah Vally of Virginia. She is founder and editorial director of GOLDEN MORNING PUBLISHING. Leona wrote, edited, or collaborated over thirty books, many foreign language editions, and published scores of articles. Four adult sons, ten grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren keep her busy when she is not at her computer or traveling.

    http://leonachoy.blogspot.com/

    Her book “Journey into the Land of More” details her conversion into the Catholic faith.

  5. John says:

    Welcome home! You have just made the most important and best decision in your life. As a convert to the Catholic Church, I am can empathize with your struggles. Keep reading and studying!

  6. Alan R says:

    Dear Steven,
    I came from an agnostic background and entered the Church 2 years ago. I encourage you to continue your prayer, service, and studies. I never thought I would become a Christian let alone Catholic. Now I can’t imagine my life any other way. I am grateful to God for His great mercy.
    Peace be with you,
    Alan R

  7. Tan Chooi Long Paul says:

    I, too, disregarded the Church for a few years in my 20’s but the Holy Spirit has worked wonders for me.
    Pray that the Paraclete will be on your life journey.

  8. Pingback: Liturgical Renewal Liturgy Vestment Southern Baptist Convert | Big Pulpit

  9. Mitchell Button says:

    Now be prepared to die to self and become a saint!

    May God’s graces continue to poor down upon you.

  10. RX says:

    It’s a beautiful testimony… I am glad you chose to be a Catholic. Will be sharing this link with my friends

  11. Dear Steven, I am a former Baptist, then Anglican, then finally Catholic. It’s so worth it!
    The church is so splendid, its teaching so glorious, and the Eucharist is…..words really do fail to describe. And remember your Evangelical roots are but a foretaste of the fullness of the faith. Your personal relationship with Jesus will explode into an intimate relationship with Jesus through Sacred ritual, prayer, and Eucharist. Oh, I’m so happy for you. God bless…….

  12. William says:

    Steven, I am from a long line of Southern Baptist ministers. I received my BA in religion from a Baptist college and was headed to seminary when God had a different plan. My Methodist wife and I would end up serving for two years with the Southern Baptist Convention in Jerusalem where we were confronted with history and Catholic Palestinians. The witness of both would precipitate our own conversion some 33 years ago. We are so thankful! We both are long time theology teachers in the local Catholic high school. Welcome aboard!

  13. Misterd418 says:

    Welcome! Made my journey home (similar in some ways) 4 years ago and have not regretted it since.

  14. Pingback: Maybe I’m wrong about Bethke’s “Why I hate aerodynamics, but love airplanes” video. « romish internet graffiti

  15. X Contra says:

    Good eyes over there, Steven. You saw your way through, with God’s help.

    And it caught my eye when you said you’d spent a summer in Poland. It is an interesting place. You went to evangelize and in return, you got evangelized, that first infinitesimal nudge that you hardly noticed.

    When you mentioned that 1500 years of air in your seminary books, it gave me a chuckle. That is exactly the kind of thing that many people behind the Iron Curtain had to fight against — that the communists tried to erase their history. If you read up on the history of Solidarity in Poland and Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, you will see a ton of historian types fighting for their own history. They used to write that one must live in the truth.

    Erasing history: you’ll see good examples in the photos of Lenin and Stalin. Their comrades in the initial photo eventually get airbrushed out for political reasons. Just google “stalin” and “airbrush” to see the sequence of photos.

    You described your seminary education in a similar way. I never thought of the Reformation in that way, as having attempted to erase 1500 years of Christian life, but I see now that it is appropriate.

    Welcome aboard, Steven. Now it gets REALLY interesting!

  16. Thank you for this story, Steven! I couldn’t help but notice that you called your dad about the decision to become Catholic on January 28th, which, on the current calendar, is the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas. I imagine that, for a conversion like yours, marked by being open to examination and trying to see what “the other side” actually believes, his prayerful intercession was not lacking!

  17. Keaton Christiansen says:

    Wait, why isn’t he becoming Lutheran? That question was never settled in my mind. We’re historic, traditional, and catholic. Lutherans claim the same rich theological inheritance of the church fathers (33AD – 1517AD), while being able to look at them realistically as sinful men. Lutherans theology has a vigorous reliance on the gifts of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as Jesus instituted them.

    I mean, it’s a good thing to notice that protestantism jettisoned the better part of their tradition to their detriment. But it’s not fundamentally better to pick the oldest, most “traditional” and “mystical” church you can find as a way to recover an inheritance. Not all of that inheritance is a good thing. Read the council of Trent. Read up on the Donation of Constantine. Read up on the “pornocracy” and the Great Schism and the investiture controversy with Gregory VII. The Roman church still claims these sinful men as fathers, and keeps the doctrines they made. That’s a history, but it doesn’t seem to me to be a realistic way of looking at it.

    • Mary Anne says:

      Keaton, Luther split with the church, causing a schism and heresy. The Roman Catholic church remains the fullness of truth passed down from Jesus Christ. As Steven (and Paul) mentions in so many words, we have a heavenly gift passed on by earthen vessels. When something is holy, as is Jesus Christ’s bride, the Catholic church, there is no choice but for it to remain.

    • Steve says:

      You forgot to mention the Crusades and the Inquisition. Haven’t you heard about the Borgias? The reason it is the “Oldest” Church is because it is the church that Jesus instituted. It is the Church about whom he said; “The gates of hell shall not prevail against her.” I do not knock Lutherans, but if Christ’s wish that “all should be one” is to be realized in this world it will be by universal acknowledgment of the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church. There is no other.

    • JIM says:

      Keaton,

      You just gave reasons for the Catholic Church! The Church is Holy, but not all its members as they are human. Tragedies like the Great Schism are proof the Gates of Hell will not prevail against his one HOLY Catholic Church! You should read the book “Pope Fiction” by Patrick Madrid.

    • Keaton said:
      “The Roman church still claims these sinful men as fathers, and keeps the doctrines they made.”

      I had your same concern at one time. But what I found upon investigation was that sinful men like the Borgia popes actually never defined doctrine. Catholics claim that doctrinre is defined under very specific circumstances. Things like the “pornocracy” dont change that. Just as Peter denying Christ doesnt change his position as Apostle. Christ promised to protect the Church, but it’s members will still have personal failings.
      My heritage is LCMS Lutheran. I have much love and respect for (real) Lutherans. The thing is, they no longer have the apostolic succession tracing back to the apostles. And if they did, they certainly don’t have the communion with Rome necessary for being within the Church. These blatent facts are what led me to Catholicism.

    • Tony says:

      But one thing that Luther (and Lutherans) seem to forget is that we are ALL sinners. One of Jesus’ chosen followers denied him 3 times and went on to lead the early Church, another betrayed him and committed suicide in infamy.

      With all those evil leaders, the fact that we’re still around after 2000 years is proof positive that Jesus is indeed with us. :)

  18. Ray S says:

    It’s a good story and a moving one. I would like to pass it along to some family members who are not Catholic, and a couple who used to be. Trouble is I don’t want to seem to be taking advantage of my position as elderly patriarch of our extended clan. This position has long troubled me . . . I would appreciate any comments.

    RJS

    • Doug says:

      JRS,
      I understand your position. It is important to remain in prayer about it and focus on God’s desires, not just yours. That said, it sounds like the Holy Spirit has been encouraging you in that direction. so when he opens the door be prepared to act and follow his lead. He needs a willing instrument.

      God bless!

  19. Mr. Martin Savage says:

    Dear Steven,

    God bless you!

    If you think your life has become blessed or that scales have fallen from your eyes since you’ve received faith in God’s Church, his Mystical Body, wait until God blesses you – if he hasn’t already – with the grace to have faith in a holy devotion to Mary – and particularly in this age, to Her Immaculate Heart.

    If the Church is the road to Heaven, Mary is the flightpath.

    Salve Maria!

  20. JIM says:

    Great story! You sholud go on EWTN “The Journey Home” with Marcus Grodi.

  21. JIM says:

    Jeff Cavins is another good read who was raised Catholic and became an Evangelical Pastor. His book “My Life on the Rock: A Rebel Returns to the Catholic Faith” is great for converts or cradle Catholics.

  22. Eric says:

    Welcome home, brother!

  23. Mark says:

    Rjs,
    As the oldest son of a Conservative Baptist pastor and a 1975 convert who remains the sole Catholic in the wider family for who knows how many generations, I sympathize. I see my primary role in two ways: 1) intercessory prayer based on the holiest life I can live; 2) preparation so that my knowledge of the faith stands me in good stead when questions arise. The timing must be left to the Holy Spirit. May He work great things in your family!

  24. TheLadyJane says:

    God bless you, Steven! Welcome home!!

  25. Pingback: What to Expect When You’re Converting | St. Joseph's Vanguard

  26. Tota Tua says:

    Deo Gratias! What a testimony!

  27. Owen says:

    Welcome home Steven from a fellow convert and former career Protestant minister. God bless you and keep you.

    Devon, God bless you and thanks for sharing the story.

  28. The Holy Spirit is very active in your life! Praise God! May He continue to guide you and strengthen you. Welcome!

  29. Hidden One says:

    “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” – Anglican theologian and historian Rev. J.H. Newman, later Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, in An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1845.

  30. Pingback: My Story « thereluctantroad

  31. TnConvert says:

    May the Holy Spirit continue to enrich your faith, as you receive the Eucharist! I was a lifelong Southern Baptist, and learned to love Jesus in that tradition. It took much prodding from the Holy Spirit for me to come into the Barque of Peter (kicking and screaming). After a 10 year journey, I could not imaging my life without receiving the Body of Christ. How blessed we are that Christ humbles Himself to come to us in the Blessed Sacrament! Welcome home!

  32. Bonnie says:

    To Steven, 1 John 2:19They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” You never understood the truth, therefore you did not put your trust and faith in the one and true God. Just like Judas, he was one of 12, but never understood or accepted the truth for what ever reason. If you like most catholics has put your trust in the catholic religion you are still NOT saved. It is a shame how Satan has deceived you with the same old tactic that he used on Eve, mixing truth with lies. The one thing we can all rely on is that He will soon be coming and exposing all of those proclaiming a false gospel and dealing with them.

    • Garrison says:

      Bonnie,
      We have put our trust in Christ’s promise to protect His Church built upon Peter and his confession of faith (Matt. 16:18). We also believe that the Church understood herself as having the authority to bind all the faithful and teach infallibly by the protection of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28). We believe that He gave us his Body and Blood, of which we truly eat and drink, so that we may have life everlasting with him (John 6:41-59). As for Blessed Cardinal Newman, he was indeed a sinful man, as are we all, but that does not negate the truth of his quote.

    • Mark says:

      Bonnie,
      I am taking some time to pray for you, right now. Since you believe that we Catholics have been deceived by Satan, and we Catholics believe that you Protestants are the ones who have been misled, we seem to be at an impasse, unless we can engage in honest and meaningful discussion instead of talking at each other. True and honest dialogue, from the heart, is willing to listen as well as to speak, and when speaking, will do so with gentleness and reverence. I pray that all of us in these comment boxes will do just that. May Jesus fill your heart with the Holy Spirit completely!

  33. Amanda says:

    Hi Steven,
    Thank you for this remarkable article. Everytime I read it, it fills me with joy or I realize I have seen something new inside of it. Mostly I just wanted to thank you. I apologize for all of the cradle Catholics who do not know and/or understand church teaching. I spent many years not knowing or understanding, and I find myself learning many new things each and every day. I find consolation in praying for the intersession of Our Lady, and just simply watching Jesus work in my life, for example through the Holy Eucharist. I think it’s more about wanting to understand. Empty me of myself, and fill me of You. Anyways, thank you again. :)
    Totus Tuus.
    Jesus, I trust in You!
    God Bless, Amanda.