I grew up in an extremely marginal Christian home. Even though my parents never went to church, said prayers before meals, or in any outward way demonstrated any commitment to Christ or His Church, we always said we were Christians.
When I was six years old, I attended the vacation Bible school at the Assembly of God. For about three years after that, I would occasionally attend Sunday school.
When I was fourteen years old (1965), my three sisters and I started attending First Baptist Church. After receiving Christ, taking the new member class and being baptized, we became members. I didn’t get involved in the youth group or attend Sunday school, but would occasionally go to Sunday worship.
In 1969, I met and fell in love with Harriet Dvorsky. After a whirlwind courtship, we were married in the Baptist church. Harriet had been raised in the Catholic Church but hadn’t been attending since she was 14. We settled in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where I was attending the local community college and had a job with General Motors. We lived in Ypsilanti for six years but never found a Baptist church that we wanted to join.
In 1975, we moved to Blissfield, Michigan, and started looking for a church. There was a sense of urgency, because the Jesus Movement was popular where I worked, and I got caught up in it. I started daily Bible reading, prayer, and Bible studies at lunch with other “freaks.” I developed the habit of daily Scripture reading and read through the Bible every year. Harriet and I went to Christian concerts and bought records and tapes. The songs not only reinforced what we already believed; they also shaped our belief.
I also started buying Christian books, magazines, and newspapers. My reading had neither rhyme nor reason; I would read material from Catholic and anti-Catholic authors, charismatic and anti-charismatic authors. I figured that every church had both truth and errors. One just needed to hold onto the truth and reject the errors, and the Holy Spirit would guide him.
We settled on St. Paul Lutheran Church and joined the new member class. I had a difficult time with the Lutheran understanding of the sacraments being a means of grace, especially infant Baptism and their belief in the eucharistic Real Presence. I studied everything I could about the Lutheran understanding of the sacraments. But I still couldn’t understand why you would baptize someone before he came to faith, and it became the subject of much discussion with my Bible study group at work.
The Christians at work disagreed with what I was learning about Baptism. They insisted that infant Baptism was an empty work. They always quoted Titus 3:5: “God saved us, not on the basis of any righteous deeds we had done, but by virtue of His own mercy.” But I argued that Baptism was a gift from God, not a righteous work that we do. I said: “In that text, Paul goes on to say we’re saved by, ‘the washing of regeneration,’ which is our baptism.” They would counter that this Scripture could not mean water Baptism, because we are not saved through Baptism. Therefore, the “washing of regeneration” must be washing ourselves in the word of God through the baptism in the Holy Spirit. In return, I pointed out that in Acts 16, when Lydia and the jailer came to faith in Christ their entire families were baptized. Therefore, if the family included babies, they would have been baptized. Scripture doesn’t say that there were babies, but it also doesn’t exclude them.
We joined St. Paul Lutheran Church, and our two children were baptized shortly afterwards. Harriet and I became deeply involved in the life of the congregation and in the Lutheran Charismatic Renewal. Soon I was teaching Sunday school, and I was elected as a church elder and president of the church council. The more we got involved, the more we enjoyed being part of the Lutheran church.
After a few years, I became convinced that the Lord wanted me to become a pastor. However, I had no desire to do so, since I already had my life planned out. For three months, I argued with the Lord about why this idea was absurd. Interestingly, one of the foundational teachings we had received was on the lordship of Jesus Christ. When the Lord, either through Scripture or the leading of the Holy Spirit, tells you to do something, the only answer a disciple can give is, “Yes, Lord.” If you say, “No, Lord, I won’t obey,” you’re saying that Jesus is not really the Lord of your life. One Sunday, Harriet told me, “Dave, I think the Lord wants you to become a pastor. I’ve been fighting the idea because I absolutely do not want to be a pastor’s wife. But….” After our discussion we both said, “Yes,” to God’s plan for our lives.
We went to speak with our pastor. He said he would support us one hundred percent. We discussed the next step, which was for me to return to college. In order to go to a Lutheran seminary, you must have a bachelor’s degree, and I only had an associate degree. But I couldn’t afford college. Our pastor said that there were funds available. If I signed up for classes and purchased my books, he would reimburse me.
When the Lord tells you to do something, He will provide everything you need, from finances to abilities. I enrolled at Eastern Michigan University. One thing God provided was a place for meditation and prayer; it was a Catholic chapel. Every day, I would pray in the chapel while Mass was being celebrated. I was impressed by the beauty of the liturgy and their humility when they said, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed” (see Matt 8:8).
After graduation, we moved to Columbus, Ohio, where I enrolled at Trinity Lutheran Seminary. It was in seminary that I discovered the writings of the Church Fathers. I was so impressed by them; they were completely sold out to Christ and His Church. I started with the Didache, where the teachings about Baptism and the Eucharist sounded Lutheran to me. The Church Fathers definitely moved me away from Evangelical theology to Lutheran theology. The reason they didn’t, at that time, help me to become Catholic was because I knew less than nothing about Catholic teaching or theology. I say, “less than nothing,” because most of what I thought I knew was half-truths, slander, and outright lies. I had to unlearn quite a few things in order to learn the truth. Even then, I wasn’t anti-Catholic, just totally indifferent to Catholicism.
In seminary, I took a class on Reformation history. Luther believed that Holy Scripture is the only authority needed for doctrine. He believed that anyone of good will, reading the Scriptures, would come to a correct interpretation. His ideas were very quickly put to the test. The Reformation was fairly new when another Reformer, Zwingli, and Luther got into a huge argument about Holy Communion. Zwingli’s position was that the Eucharist was a symbolic memorial meal. He emphasized the words, “Do this in memory of me.” Luther, on the other hand, emphasized the words, “This is my body.” At one point, the argument became so heated that Luther took off his shoe and, pounding the table for emphasis, shouted, “The text says, “This is my body, this is my body, this is my body!” Both men were appealing to Scripture, but each came up with a drastically different interpretation.
I graduated from seminary in 1985, was ordained, and took my first call at St. James Lutheran Church in Coral Gables, Florida. The congregation was deeply involved in the Lutheran Charismatic Renewal and in Lutheran Cursillo (a name later changed to Via de Cristo). I served as a spiritual director on several teams. One of the other spiritual directors was from the Church of God and spoke of his daily habit of praying the Rosary. This made no sense to me, since the Rosary is a Catholic prayer, but I came to know him as a solid Christian leader, so I decided that the Rosary wasn’t hurting him and might even be helping his spiritual growth. I became involved in the Kairos Prison Ministry (Cursillo for inmates). Kairos was an inter-denominational ministry, and many of those serving on the team were Catholics.
During our time in Coral Gables, I started having a recurring dream, in which I was scheduled to preach at an unfamiliar church. The deacon would come up to me and say, “Sorry, but you’re in the wrong church. The one you’re looking for is up the road.” I would then leave the building to look for the right church. Another dream was that I would be looking at the pulpit, which was mounted on the wall. I asked the deacon, “How do I get into the pulpit?” His answer was, “Go out that side door and around to the back of the church. You’ll find a door there that leads to the pulpit.” Following his directions, I went out the side door, stepped outside and was immediately lost and confused. I never could find the door to the pulpit; indeed, I couldn’t even find the door I came out of. I would wander around anxiously. Both dreams always ended with me standing in the middle of the street with different churches stretching far in either direction.
We left Coral Gables in 1991 and took a call to St. Michael Lutheran Church in Canton, Michigan. St. Michael was the largest of the Lutheran churches I served, with over 1700 members. I was one of three ordained pastors, and my position was the Pastor of Evangelism. I was responsible for all advertising, outreach, and attended all community meetings. Because of this, I came to know the Catholic deacons and priests serving in our area. My wife and I attended concerts and plays held at the local Catholic church.
Because of my recurring dream of being in the wrong church, I began studying what other churches believed. My assumption was that the Lord was calling me back to a Pentecostal or Evangelical church. However, when I studied their beliefs, there was always much I couldn’t agree with. I could not go back to seeing the sacraments as merely symbolic.
It was around this time that the first version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church was published. There’s a saying, “The truth will set you free, but first it makes you angry,” and it’s true. I read through the Catechism and found much beauty and truth, but also things that I couldn’t agree with. However, my interest in the Church Fathers was revived. I purchased a set of their writings and began to study them. A friend, who is Catholic, began giving me books about the lives of the saints, beginning with my two favorites, Francis and Clare. This was the beginning of the Lord drawing me into the Catholic Church.A friend, who is Catholic, began giving me books about the lives of the saints, beginning with my two favorites, Francis and Clare. This was the beginning of the Lord drawing me into the Catholic Church. Click To Tweet
There is a scene in the first Star Wars movie, where the Millennium Falcon comes out of hyperspace and gets caught in the tractor beam of the Death Star. Once someone was in that beam, there was no way out. This is how I see what happened to me. Unlike Han Solo, I fought against the attraction, so it would be three steps forward and two steps back.
In the fall of 1999, the Lord led Harriet and me to our final Lutheran church, Redeemer, in Owosso, Michigan. This was a small congregation, of which I was the only pastor. I continued my involvement in community events, served on a variety of ministry boards, and was the president of the Ministerial Association. Owosso churches seemed to have an unusually high number of church splits, leading to new church plants around town. This bothered a lot of the pastors in Owosso, and there were frequent discussions on how we needed to find a way for Christians to walk in unity. The general feeling was that unity would happen if only people would read their Bibles and obey the teachings of Jesus. I asked, “Who would have the authority to interpret Scripture?” The others answered, “If people would stop interpreting the Bible and just read and obey it, everyone would see that I’m right, and we could walk in unity.”The general feeling was that unity would happen if only people would read their Bibles and obey the teachings of Jesus. I asked, Who would have the authority to interpret Scripture? Click To Tweet
The lack of unity was also evident in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), where I was. Every year, each synod (a geographic area under the authority of a Lutheran bishop) would have a business meeting. There would be debates, forums, and discussions about abortion, divorce and remarriage, the blessing of LGBT unions, global warming, etc. Everyone who spoke quoted Scripture to strengthen his argument. Ultimately, I realized that you couldn’t just pull a verse out of the Bible to solve arguments over contemporary issues. Depending on their background, people interpret Scripture in different ways, leading not to unity, but to division. During discussions people would often say, “For 2,000 years the church has taught…,” which was an appeal to tradition. The appeal to tradition was made because Scripture alone could not bear the weight of those arguments.I realized that you couldn’t just pull a verse out of the Bible to solve arguments over contemporary issues. Depending on their background, people interpret Scripture in different ways, leading not to unity, but to division. Click To Tweet
The need for Scripture and tradition is seen most clearly in the current arguments about contraception and abortion. The ELCA passed a resolution in which they made a commitment to remain neutral on the discussion of abortion. However, the S.E. Michigan Synod gave $1,000 a year to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights, a very pro-abortion organization. It is not just Lutherans who are pro-abortion. You can find pro-abortion Christians in every denomination, even those who use Scripture alone as the basis for their argument. Since I became a Christian, I have always been pro-life. When I read the Didache, I realized that Christians have been pro-life for 2,000 years. Once again, Scripture alone cannot handle the weight of the abortion debate. However, Scripture and tradition together become a bulwark for the truth.When I read the Didache, I realized that Christians have been pro-life for 2,000 years. Once again, Scripture alone cannot handle the weight of the abortion debate. However, Scripture and tradition together become a bulwark for the truth. Click To Tweet
In August of 2007, the National Assembly of the ELCA voted to ordain homosexuals living in a committed relationship, and to move toward the blessing of gay unions. Immediately, the congregation I served began the process of leaving the ELCA. Strangely, it was this process that convinced me that I needed to become Catholic.
Personally, I was torn. I didn’t like the idea of belonging to a splinter group, but I also could not, in good conscience, remain in the ELCA. My reading had convinced me that Apostolic Tradition was a very important consideration when voting on new ideas. I began reading and praying over Scriptures to see how the Lord felt about all these different church splits.
In the third and fourth chapters of Revelation, Jesus sends letters to seven churches in Asia. The churches in Ephesus, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea had huge problems. In these churches, you would find false teachers and prophets, sexual immorality, apostasy, lukewarm believers, and a total loss of love. In every case, Jesus calls the congregation, and the individuals in it, to repentance. Not once does He ask, “Why are you staying in this dead church? Why haven’t you started a new one?” When you read Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17, you can see why Jesus never recommends schism. How could He pray for unity in John 17, then call for division in Revelation? What I experienced in almost every Protestant church wasn’t even hinted at in this text.
I bought the revised Catholic Catechism and read it four times. The more I read it, the more I came to understand and believe everything it taught. Along with that, I continued buying books about the Church Fathers and contemporary conversion stories. I came to a place where I began to love everything about the Catholic Church. I prayed that the Lord would open my eyes if my bias was blinding me to the truth. A couple of times a week, I would attend morning Mass. I also started praying the Rosary, but I couldn’t pray the prayers and meditate on the mysteries at the same time.
When we went on vacation or to visit relatives, we often worshiped at Baptist, Pentecostal, or Charismatic churches. All these churches love the Lord and claim that everything they teach and believe comes out of Sacred Scripture. Yet, I would often hear the pastors of these churches contradict or explain away the plain words of the Bible.All these churches love the Lord and claim that everything they teach and believe comes out of Sacred Scripture. Yet, I would often hear the pastors of these churches contradict or explain away the plain words of the Bible. Click To Tweet
One Sunday, we were invited to my cousin’s baptism. During the prelude to the baptisms, one of the pastors wanted to make sure we understood that nothing was going to happen in baptism: “The Bible is very clear that Baptism does not save you!” Immediately the Scripture came to mind: “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you” (1 Pet 3:20-21). That pastor went on to say, “And let me assure you that Baptism does not wash away your sins, because only the blood of Jesus washes us white as snow!” My thought was: “Then why did Ananias say to the Apostle Paul, ‘And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins’ (Acts 22:16)?” I was troubled that, while every denomination made the claim that their teaching and doctrine came from Scripture alone, it was becoming clear to me that everyone twists, ignores, and even contradicts the Scripture to keep their doctrine. This was especially true when it came to the teachings about Baptism and communion.
Several times we’ve been at Evangelical churches when they celebrated communion. On one occasion, the pastor, during the words of institution said, “On the night in which He was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This represents my body which is for you…’’ (supposedly from 1 Corinthians 11:24). There is not one single manuscript in which the word represents is found. However, being a Lutheran, I understood what the pastor was doing. When Luther added the word “alone” in Romans 3:28, so that it read, “We are saved by faith alone,” he said it was implied in the text. I was sure that these pastors would give me the same excuse for changing “is” to “represents” in this text. In reading the writings of the Church Fathers, I came to see that they never say that the bread or wine only represents the body of Christ. Rather, they uniformly agree and always declare that it is the Body and Blood of Christ.
When he was 87 years old, my dad gave his life to Christ and asked me to baptize him at the family reunion in August. Since my mom had never been baptized, I thought maybe she and dad would get baptized together. But when I asked my mom about it, she responded, “I don’t need to be baptized, because my mother said we were good enough without it.” I tried to discuss this with her, but she only got angry that I would want her to disrespect her mother. They began going to church every Sunday, either at the Quaker church, where my mom’s family were members, or at the Assembly of God church. They took their questions about Baptism to the pastor of the Quaker church. He told them that, certainly, mom was free to be baptized, if she wished, but she was right that Baptism was not in any way necessary. The pastor went on to speak about John the Baptist, who said, “I baptize you with water … but he who is coming after me … will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matt 3:11). He went on to say that we no longer needed water because the main thing is to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which Christ gives to everyone when they come to faith. Somehow my mom felt that getting baptized would be an insult to her mother, and she had to be loyal to her mother.
The disagreement over Baptism was a real clarifying factor for me. How can the doctrine of Scripture alone work when the differences of interpretation go so deep into the very question of salvation? Jesus teaches that the way we will know false teachers is by the fruit of their teaching. It seems to me that the fruit of Luther’s teaching on grace, faith, and Scripture alone was continued division — never unity. I wondered, is it possible that everyone is wrong at some point, and some are closer to the truth at other points? Or is it possible that there is one denomination that has the fullness of truth? For me, this became more than just a philosophical question. My mom was refusing to be baptized, and her pastor said it didn’t really matter one way or the other. He assured her that she was saved by faith alone, not by works of righteousness like Baptism. However, if she had gone to him and said, “I was baptized as a baby by the pastor sprinkling water over my head,” he would have insisted that she be rebaptized, because infant Baptism and sprinkling made her Baptism invalid. Sadly, my mom died in April of 2017, having never received the grace of Baptism.
Harriet and I agreed that the Lord was calling me to retire from the Lutheran ministry. On January 1, 2016, we moved to Adrian, Michigan, and started attending Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church. Since Harriet was baptized and confirmed a Catholic, she only needed to make a confession to Father Anthony and have Bishop Boyea declare our marriage valid to return to full communion with the Catholic Church. I say “only,” but her confession was a huge deal, and she felt very nervous about it. It had been over fifty years since her last confession. One Sunday morning, Father Anthony told us that Bishop Earl Boyea had declared our marriage a valid, sacramental marriage. Harriet made her confession on Tuesday, in Father Anthony’s office. We then needed to go to Owosso for some business the next few days. On Thursday, we went to Mass at St. Paul’s. I never realized the amount of guilt Harriet had been carrying around. She received the host and returned to her pew. She had her eyes closed and was praying and weeping. Afterwards, she told me that, when she received the host, all her guilt and shame was gone. Nothing she had ever done, no prayer she had ever prayed, no confession to a Lutheran pastor, could set her free from the burden of guilt and shame she had carried around for fifty years. But when she participated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and received the Holy Eucharist, the shame and guilt were suddenly gone....when she participated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and received the Holy Eucharist, the shame and guilt were suddenly gone. Click To Tweet
After weeks of discussion with Father Anthony Strouse about what I believed, I was received into the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church on April 9, 2016. As a result, I have a strong feeling that I’ve come home. Also, the dreams about being in the wrong church have stopped.
I still love and have great respect for all my brothers and sisters in the faith who attend Protestant churches. I received such good teaching in those churches that there is nothing I had to give up by becoming Catholic. Rather, I am blessed with receiving more. Thank God I no longer must argue and decide who has the correct doctrine. I have the Pope and the Magisterium. Thank God I no longer must wonder who has the truth. The Catholic Church has the fullness of truth. Thank God our unity isn’t in how we interpret the Scriptures; our unity is found in the Pope, the bishops, and the Eucharist in the Church that Jesus Christ instituted.