A Church I Could Confidently Defend!
Featuring Cody Lynn/
January 27, 2014
It’s impossible for me to remember a time when God didn’t play a large role in my life. My earliest memories are of my dad inviting me to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and reading Bible stories to me. I had a children’s picture Bible that contained many stories. After Dad read aloud out of his Bible, he’d find the story in mine and share it with me. I was taught that Christmas was about the birth of Christ and Easter was about His Resurrection. From a very young age, I had a love for Scripture and for learning about God. While we didn’t go to church at that time, God played a large role in our lives.
The discovering role of church
I remember one night when my dad came home and told our family that he decided to start going to church. That day at work, he had gotten into a conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness. While he knew that his friend was incorrect, my dad struggled to answer his arguments. This caused him to want to find a church for our family to attend.
I was seven when we found our first church. Though I can hardly remember it, I do know that I loved my Sunday School teachers and quickly began to love church. I believe that the church was non-denominational, but I cannot be sure. After going there for almost a year, my parents began noticing that the pastor held some unbiblical views and, thus, they began searching for a new church. A family that we were friends with had been attending a newer church that was close by and so we started going with them. It was a Baptist church, but at the time we thought it was non-denominational. We were always aware of its Baptist influence, but denomination didn’t matter to anyone there. As a result, it was never mentioned.
I didn’t want to leave our first church, but I instantly fell in love with our new one. The teachers were great and friendly. I learned a lot from the very first day and this was satisfying my thirst for knowledge. I enjoyed their emphasis on knowing the books of the Bible and memorizing verses. I was always looking forward to Sundays. Around this time my parents bought me my first adult Bible. I spent large amounts of time reading it, even to the point of staying up late on school nights.
A year later I wanted to be baptized. Since I was young, my Sunday School teachers wanted to be sure that I understood the purpose of baptism. I met with the director of the Sunday School program and we discussed baptism. She decided that I was ready and I was baptized, along with my parents, a few months later. That was a great day.
Concurrently with all of this, my dad became my spiritual instructor and remained so for years. When he volunteered to teach in the first through fourth grade section of the church’s Sunday School (more specifically my grade), he solidified this position in my life. He was an amazing teacher and through him I learned many things about Christianity. I never had a teacher that could communicate the lessons as effectively as he could and none became as close with their students.
After fourth grade, I moved on to my church’s class for fifth and sixth graders. I had a hard time adjusting to my new class. I felt that games had taken the place of learning, and I soon began to dislike church, in contrast to the previous three years, which was a time of rapid spiritual growth. In response, I joyfully began attending either the adult service or my dad’s third grade class. It’s worth noting that, while I didn’t learn much in the fifth and sixth grade class, I highly respected the knowledge of the teachers. The head teacher actually became the only person, besides my dad, that I would go to with religious questions. I have had many discussions with him and he always provided me with good answers.
Moving on to seventh grade was a relief. The youth service had an engaging sermon and worship music like a rock concert. The preaching was relatable and the youth pastor was a great speaker. I learned a lot from a single service. While I once again enjoyed church, my attendance dropped, due to reasons beyond my control.
Unfortunately, when I reached eighth grade, the youth service had changed. The staff decided to separate the seventh and eighth graders from the high schoolers. Again, I found myself in a position where I felt I was learning nothing and, again, moved to the adult service.
Assisting in ministry
Having my dad as a teacher during my elementary years inspired me to volunteer as soon as I was old enough (around the end of seventh grade). Since my dad was a teacher, I had the privilege of being his assistant. We taught together for three years, alternating between the third and fourth grades. As a teenage volunteer, I was responsible for watching the kids before service. I jokingly called this job “baby-sitting duty,” but I enjoyed babysitting. In addition, I helped my dad lead large group lessons (all four grades) once a month and, towards the end of this time, assisted in preparing activities for his specific class. Leading the large group lessons was my favorite. I loved the opportunity to interact with all of the kids.
By the time I reached ninth grade, the youth service staff had been completely replaced. I thought the new team was great; they were more involved with the students and also amazing speakers. Before services, the leaders would spend time talking to the students, so I was able to meet most of them quickly. I also liked that one of the youth pastors and his wife were involved with the worship band. This staff included two pastors who alternated between weeks, and I loved listening to both of them. After the sermon, we would break off into small groups, in which we would discuss the lesson. While I enjoyed the youth service, my attendance was infrequent. On a lot of the weeks that I’d teach, I wouldn’t stay for another service, and on some of the weeks I didn’t teach, I’d go to the adult service or not go to church at all. There were also the Sundays that my family would go to the earlier service and, as a result, the youth service was unavailable.
In April of my sophomore year, I was asked to be a camp counselor for a third through sixth grade camp. I accepted and was assigned the third grade boys (the class I worked with) along with my dad and another adult. I enjoyed this camp and became closer with my class. With the class I had prior to this one, I didn’t have a strong relationship with any of the students, so I enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the kids.
My dad and I continued teaching until June, and then decided to cut down on the time we taught for the summer.
During these years the Catholic Church was almost never talked about. I viewed Catholics as saved, but holding on to some unbiblical and ridiculous practices. On a couple occasions, I made fun of the Marian doctrines and compared the Catholic view of saints to paganism (no one I knew had made this comparison). Also during my sophomore year, I learned about two Catholic doctrines that I found to be ridiculous: the idea of mortal sin and the belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I couldn’t believe that Catholics held to these doctrines. To me, they were obviously false. Despite these things, I thought it foolish to view Catholics as anything less than Christian, and I was unaware that some people thought otherwise.
The same Bible?
That July, I found out that one of my friends was Catholic, this caused me to ask my dad about Catholicism on our way to church one Sunday. Primarily, I wanted to verify that Catholics were indeed saved and wanted to know if we had the same Bible; he answered both of these in the affirmative. I was still curious about our Bibles, so I decided to look into that when I arrived home.
That day at service, we discussed our personal Christian story in small groups. This was something I never really knew how to reply to when asked; I always thought that accepting Christ was the end. Since I did that at age three, I never knew what to say. That day I said that I accepted Jesus at a young age and grew up a Christian. The leader mentioned that he became a Christian as an adult, which made me to feel lucky that I never had to convert or make a religious decision.
After arriving home I went straight to my computer and did a search on the question “do Catholics and Protestants have the same Bible?” What I found shocked me. Apparently, the Reformers removed seven books from the Bible! At first, I didn’t believe this and searched for more credible sources. What I first read was confirmed, and I began searching to see if there was a good reason for the removal of these books. I found nothing. The best Catholic arguments were never addressed and the most persuasive Protestant arguments actually seemed to support Catholicism. Although I wasn’t ready to accept Catholicism, I found it hard to remain Protestant.
I know this appears to have occurred very quickly, but up to this point I had viewed any alteration to the Bible as a sign of a false religion. I began to doubt the credibility of the Protestant position because, if the Reformers had removed inspired writings from the Bible, then it was possible they made other mistakes as well. A movement that was guided by God would not have done this. Like I said, I wasn’t considering Catholicism at this point, because I believed that there was no justification for Apostolic Tradition and I couldn’t accept praying to saints. I was considering saying that all Christians were wrong, but I still hoped I would find a good reason for the absence of the deuterocanonical books.
I spent the next two days searching for a way to accept the Protestant position on these missing books, but I didn’t have any luck. I just found the arguments for keeping these books to be too convincing. This was especially true when it was cited that the councils of Carthage and Hippo included these books in the canon. This indicated that these books were considered Scripture by the same authority that canonized the other sixty-six books. As a result, I doubted that there were grounds to discard these books. The Protestant arguments weren’t convincing and were easily refuted by Catholic apologists. The argument that was the most promising was that these books taught unbiblical doctrine (purgatory and prayers for the dead were cited). Protestants supported these arguments by saying that Catholics added these books during the Council of Trent to provide support for these beliefs. First of all, I didn’t remember those doctrines being forbidden by the Bible. Furthermore, it was proven that these books had a history of being accepted by the Church long before the Reformation. This made me wonder if the Reformers actually removed these books in order to more easily separate themselves from Catholicism. The more I would look, the more it seemed that the deuterocanonical books belonged in the Bible. Still, I was hoping I would find some evidence that would show otherwise.
One night, someone suggested that I read the deuterocanonical books myself in order to come to my own conclusion. I thought this was a good idea, but first I wanted to verify that there weren’t any other differences in our Bibles. If Catholics were to change anything in the Bible to make their teachings seem true, I thought, it would have to be Jesus’s prohibition against tradition. Therefore, I decided to find out whether or not Catholic Bibles forbade tradition. For a second time, I was surprised by what I found.
I started with Matthew 15:3, because this was a clear condemnation of all traditions: “He answered them, “And why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” However, I had never considered that this verse was talking about specific kinds of tradition (more specifically ones that nullified God’s word and were created by man). I realized that Matthew 15:3 was in no way a condemnation upon all tradition. Then, I read other verses that actually supported Apostolic Tradition: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thessalonian 3:6) and “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you” (1 Corinthians 11:2). I had never imagined that verses like these would be in the Bible.
Immediately after, I discovered that the doctrine of sola Scriptura wasn’t even in the Bible, and if I were to truly follow this doctrine, it would be impossible for me to know which books of the Bible were truly inspired! Shocked, I immediately searched for the Protestant explanation only to find that the verses used to support sola Scriptura didn’t actually support it. The most popular of these verses was 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (New International Version). The problem with this verse is that it calls Scripture “useful” not “sufficient.” This meant that one could be confident that the Bible would be good for teaching, but not necessarily all that was needed, as would be indicated by the word “sufficient.” Other Protestants told me that sola Scriptura did not need to be found in the Bible to be true. The obvious problem with this defence was that sola Scriptura said that the Bible was the only inspired source for doctrine, but if the Bible did not support this view, then sola Scriptura came from an uninspired source. How then could I be sure that this doctrine was true in the first place? I was provided with no certain proof that this doctrine was what God had intended for His Church.
On the same day I found multiple other verses that shocked me. For example, there were verses that supported confession, the Real Presence, and the papacy.
All of these caused me to realize that I needed to actually consider Catholicism. I wasn’t convinced, but I saw that Catholics did have good arguments. Combined with my doubts about the Protestant canon, I realized that Catholicism had a chance of being true. As a Christian it was my duty to investigate this, without bias, and find the fullness of truth.
I continued looking into sola Scriptura, but I also began researching sola fide (Latin: faith alone). Meanwhile, I also looked into Catholic beliefs on Mary, the saints, the Sacraments, purgatory, and papal authority; I quickly saw that they all had scriptural support. As a result, I focused more intently on sola fide and sola Scriptura; with these doctrines, both sides seemed to offer good explanations. In addition, since they were major motives for the Reformation, I felt that they deserved the most attention.
Having never researched theology, I found myself overwhelmed, struggling to decide which biblical interpretations were correct. Although, the more I looked, the more I came to favor Catholic theology. When I would discuss verses that seemed to challenge Protestantism with people at my church, I found the responses unsatisfactory. The interpretations of these verses seemed forced, and I struggled to accept these views. After a conversation, I would leave feeling like I could never confidently defend Protestant interpretations. Before or after these conversations, I would look online for Protestant explanations to the verses that seemed to support Catholicism. My conclusions were always the same. On the other hand, when I would investigate verses that were used to disprove Catholicism, Catholic apologists presented good explanations for them. The verses that seemed to be in conflict, were synthesized perfectly; it was a theology I could defend confidently.
As the summer progressed, although I was leaning towards Catholicism, I didn’t feel like I had enough information to be assured of a decision. In addition, off and on, I would come across an article that would cast doubt on the truthfulness of Catholicism. As a result, I continued in my investigation. I frequently asked God for guidance in my research and to keep me unbiased until I was ready to make a decision.
Eventually, I reached a point where I struggled to find any more websites that provided useful information, but I did not have enough information to make an informed decision; so, I decided to obtain six apologetics books, three for each side. I did some research and selected the ones I wanted for the Catholic perspective and ordered them. I decided to approach an old Sunday School teacher to discuss and see if he could recommend some reading for the Protestant side. I had met with him a few times during the summer, and he had mentioned owning some books on Catholicism, and even allowed me to borrow one after our first meeting. It was a few weeks until we were able to meet again, and in the meantime I decided to scour the Internet for any more information.
I was finally able to see my teacher again on the last day of summer break. When I had begun researching, I wanted to finish by the time school started; I predicted a busy schedule and didn’t want to be attempting religious research and piles of homework simultaneously. When I arrived at his house, we began to discuss my research and a few doctrines I was looking into. As I listened to his responses, I began to move closer to Catholicism. All I heard were repeats of the arguments I had heard all summer and my presentation of the Catholic rebuttals didn’t receive satisfactory answers. Everything he said pushed me towards the Catholic Church.
Before I left, he lent me a book aimed at proving Catholicism false. However, this was the same book I had borrowed after our first meeting! I had found it unconvincing then, so I was hesitant to re-read it. However, I was convinced to give this book a second chance and selected a Catholic apologetics book that I thought would be the best for comparison.
I arrived home and began comparing the two books. I decided to begin with the doctrine of justification, and started by reading the pertinent chapter in the Catholic book. When I switched to the Protestant book, I found that the chapter on justification proved nothing. It based the majority of its case on the Book of Romans, which I had already discovered did not prove support sola fide. The other verses cited did not make a convincing case against Catholicism. I began to look through the book, to see what the author said about other doctrinal issues. On every one I looked at, I found that the author’s argument was easily answered, and in many cases the book attempted to refute a misguided portrait of the Catholic Church — a Church that simply didn’t exist. Since the only Protestant book I had didn’t impress me, I decided put my research on hold until I could obtain some more books.
The start of school brought lots of time for reflection, and I was able to go through all of the information I had received over the summer. As I began thinking about the main verses presented by both sides, I repeatedly came to conclusions that corresponded with Catholicism. I continued to research online, looking into specific verses and seeing which side had the best interpretations. I would also pay attention to the way in which each side responded to the other’s argument. This process helped decrease the number of verses that appeared to support Protestantism.
After about a month of school, I still had not purchased any Protestant apologetics material and had only read small sections of my Catholic books. Although, by this point, I came to the realization that I was already in agreement with Catholicism, and that the only reason I continued to research and wait for books presenting the Protestant argument was so that I could validate my research in the eyes of those who knew me. Still, I decided to continue researching just to make sure.
Time to make up my mind
By the middle of October, it was time for me to help my dad teach Sunday School. I had taught Sunday School twice since I started looking into Catholicism. Both times, the lesson had included a disputed belief, which had me feel hypocritical. When he wanted to discuss our lesson, I told him I couldn’t teach. For the first time, I made the point that I could not teach, because I was on the brink of deciding to become Catholic. The conversation that followed made me realize that it was time to truly make up my mind, and the next day, I announced that I was going to go to Mass that Sunday.
I was a little nervous at Mass. I had never experienced a liturgy and had a difficult time following along. Also, as a teenager, coming in alone was uncomfortable. Regardless, it was a wonderful experience and, by Monday, I couldn’t wait to go back! I felt a strong desire to go to church, which was something I hadn’t felt in a long time.
A few weeks later I sent an e-mail to my Catholic parish asking about Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), but before I received a reply, I began second guessing my decision. On the following Sunday, I went to my old church after Mass. Before service began, I found one of the youth pastors and asked if we could talk. I told him that I had been considering Catholicism and he told me to come to talk to him after the service. I hadn’t been to the youth service since I began my investigation and being back felt weird. I found that I actually preferred liturgical worship; it felt more focused on God and provided a peaceful atmosphere. After the service, I briefly talked to my pastor about Catholicism, and we decided to meet again next Saturday, so that we could have a more in depth conversation.
When we met on the following Saturday, we spent a couple of hours discussing multiple different points of disagreement. I found him to be knowledgeable, and, out of the people I talked to, he was one of the most respectful towards Catholicism. Still, our conversation confirmed why I was heading towards Catholicism. One of the largest problems I saw were the divisions outside of Catholicism. I was aware of the large number of denominations, but our conversation illustrated how divided a single congregation could be. When I brought up assurance of salvation, he told me that he disagreed with the head pastor and actually thought that salvation could be lost if one constantly refused to do God’s will. On the same topic, my former teacher had told me that even if a saved person completely rejected God, they’d still go to heaven. I assumed that the head pastor took a middle point of view: that the person who rejected God was never saved in the first place (a common Protestant point of view). In addition, some other Sunday School teachers believed in assurance of salvation, but if one died before repenting certain sins, it would cost one his or her salvation. I was bothered by what I saw as disagreement on an extremely important doctrine.
At home I began to reflect on the conversation I just had and realized that I had no choice but to convert. Within a week, my parish’s RCIA instructor contacted me, and we set up a meeting. We decided that I wouldn’t go through the class just yet, but would join the youth group, so that I could get involved at the church and decide if I really wanted to convert. The following June, I set up another meeting to discuss RCIA and subsequently started attending it. I was confirmed on the Easter Vigil of 2013.