My heart was pounding as I walked into the small café to meet with my bishop in the Charismatic Episcopal Church CEC). In this meeting, in February 1999, I planned to inform him of my intention to come into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. I was nervous and concerned about how he might take my news.
I knew that making this announcement would produce in me a certain sense of finality. But I did not fully understand the depth of emotion this action would touch. Welling up and overflowing inside me was the excitement that after all these years of searching for truth, I had found a great treasure. I was certain I was ready to become Catholic, and this certainty brought a profound peace that carried me through the variety of emotions connected to such a drastic conversion.
“The Way, the Truth, and the Life”
Mike McCaughna was a great friend during elementary and middle school. We were unbeatable in neighborhood football, had sleepovers, and got into a lot of mischief. Mike was a Baptist preacher’s son.
It was through our friendship, in the early seventies, that I began to question my faith in a good way. I was Presbyterian, but I liked visiting Mike’s church as a boy because the singing was more upbeat, the preaching was more energetic, and they had altar calls. People would walk to the front of the church to give their life to Jesus. (I still do this at every Mass!)
When I was fourteen, I prayed that Jesus would come into my heart and life, and I gave myself to Him. When I was sixteen, I received the baptism in the Holy Spirit in a dynamic, unquestionable way. My faith and hunger for the Scriptures came alive as never before. While this experience brought a power to live a more vibrant faith, another experience led me to fine-tune my faith.
Like so many before me, when I was sixteen, I thought I really knew it all. And being newly filled with the Spirit, I was eager to talk about it. In a disagreement with me about the Bible one evening, Ray Scherf, a wonderful elder of our church, said something that became a driving force in my faith walk and will for the rest of my life. In the middle of our debate, he paused and said, “Steve, don’t ever be afraid of the truth.”
I find it fascinating how something that simple stayed with me. But it was like a word from God. From that day on, I was committed to pursue the truth, even if it meant moving in a direction that made me uncomfortable.
“All Scripture is inspired by God”
The Holy Spirit has been the dynamic in my life — the power or dunamis (the New Testament Greek term). My journey was always for truth, and the Holy Spirit would lead me into all truth, as I studied the Bible and the writings of the early Church Fathers. I imagine that if I could see in the spiritual world, I would see tracks in the ground where my heels had been dug in for twenty-something years. But the Holy Spirit would consistently challenge me to believe every truth in the Bible.
Beginning with my spiritual rebirth of faith at sixteen, I experienced an insatiable desire to read the Bible. After two years with a steady diet of Spirit-filled prayer, Bible study, tape series, and retreats, I discerned that God was calling me to be a pastor in the church. So in 1977, I transferred to Oral Roberts University to study the Bible and prepare to be a pastor.
I was determined to guide God’s people into truth, not “dead religion.” And with the Spirit’s help, I would find that truth in the Bible.
I focused my studies on the Bible. I especially enjoyed learning Hebrew and Greek because they would be important tools for my quest. I remember my excitement when I reached the level where I could take classes that actually read books of the Bible in these original languages.
One part of being scholarly was to research all the great Bible scholars and theologians through the ages, listen to their interpretations of a Bible passage or topic, determine the strengths and weaknesses of each argument, and then write my conclusions. This was like an intense and exciting mission to sift through the great mysteries of the Bible, to discover once and for all the truth of the Holy Scriptures.
As with all great human missions, however, I encountered a problem. My determination in the Spirit remained strong, but my excitement was checked by what I discovered in my pursuit of truth.
The first thing I realized was that I was not the first to attempt this noble task. Great men of faith before me had learned Greek and Hebrew and studied the Scriptures in detail. The problem, however — their great scholarship not withstanding — was that they came up with different opinions, even those from the same theological or denominational backgrounds.
It became apparent to me how each scholar’s theology, experience, agenda, and culture influenced his or her interpretation of the biblical text. As a result, I gradually realized that my search for truth was a more complex struggle than I ever expected, and overcoming my own biases would make this an even harder quest.
Pursuing truth in the Bible is a great endeavor. But for me as a Protestant, the Bible itself raised many concerns, verses we would refer to as “hard passages.” All too often these were passages that taught things contrary to what we believed based on other Scriptures.
We would set these aside, up on the shelf so to speak, until we came across a definitive answer — or, lacking that, we would simply wait until we “could get to heaven.” In heaven, we planned to ask Jesus what these verses truly meant. What I didn’t expect to discover was how clear the Bible would become once seen through the eyes of Catholic Sacred Tradition. This discovery began twenty years later, at a private dinner with a Protestant brother.
Dinner with Dave
Dave was a preacher in a Bible-believing denomination. He seemed genuinely troubled that I would become Catholic after believing in the Bible alone as the source of my faith and in faith alone as the key to eternal life. So we agreed to meet for dinner at a local Big Boy restaurant for a friendly discussion.
I let Dave set the agenda for our discussion by asking if he could tell me his most pressing concern about the Catholic Church. That was easy: The Catholic Church, he said, undermined the Word of God by its manmade tradition. Jesus had rebuked the Pharisees for this same thing. We agreed to discuss this particular issue at dinner.
I asked Dave whether he would be comfortable preaching in his church that “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (Jas 2:24). We discussed how this was the only place in the Bible where the words “faith alone” appeared together. I was surprised when he said he would never preach this teaching in his church.
I challenged him to consider that the doctrine of “faith alone” is a manmade tradition from the Reformation and is refuted in the Bible. I also challenged him to consider that his tradition undermined this Bible verse.
Dave began to question me concerning important verses he thought Catholics did not believe. He asked if I believed Ephesians 2:8–9, which says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man may boast.”
Yes, I certainly believe that. Catholics fully believe that “it is by grace that we are saved, and again it is by grace that our works can bear fruit for eternal life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1697). We thank the Holy Spirit in us for bringing us to faith, and we thank Jesus, who lives in us, for continuing to do good works through us. To God be the glory! Many of my Protestant friends did not know the official Catholic teaching about grace and good works.
We followed this pattern of discussion through many different places in the Bible. The verses I shared showed how the Catholic teaching on Baptism, Tradition, and the Eucharist come directly from the Bible.
“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you” (1 Pt 3:21). “He saved us … by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit” (Ti 3:5).
“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thes 2:15). “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you” (1 Cor 11:2).
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16).
“‘I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’
“The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven’ …
“Many of His disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ … After this many of His disciples drew back and no longer walked with Him (Jn 6:51–58, 60, 66).
Dave admitted that he did not believe what these Bible verses were plainly saying. His tradition of faith alone and the Bible alone would, in the end, undermine his desire to believe every truth written in the Word of God.
I know, because I was once there. Where does it say in the Bible that if we simply label a verse a “hard passage” we can ignore it and we do not have to believe it? Dave continued to raise some verses he thought Catholics do not believe. But every verse he introduced is believed within the Catholic tradition.
I was almost surprised by the outcome: Protestant tradition, not Catholic tradition, would sometimes undermine the Word of God. I no longer struggled with hard passages. The Bible, which came alive for me by the Holy Spirit, truly is a Catholic book. My Catholic faith was strengthened. I was able to believe all that the Bible teaches.
At Oral Roberts University, my excitement was growing about a class that was coming up. Being raised Presbyterian (Reformed) and having become Charismatic, I had a class coming up that was taught by a man who was both Reformed and Charismatic. The class was devoted to integrating these two parts of my spiritual formation.
When that professor became ill, another scholar who was as Eastern Orthodox convert took the class. But he changed the area of focus. Instead of studying Reformed and Charismatic theology, we got a steady dose of early Church Fathers with an Eastern Orthodox twist.
Many of us were quietly outraged. This professor seemed to convert two or three seminarians each year to the Eastern Orthodox Church. We had the Bible. We had the Spirit. Why were we learning our faith from a man who valued a religion of dead ritual?
One of the Church Fathers we read was Justin Martyr, who wrote around the year a.d. 140. Justin was interesting because his writing includes the earliest description of a church service. This was great! This would be my proof in writing that the Church was a simple Bible-believing, Spirit-filled worshipping community.
I dived into the reading with tremendous anticipation. What would it say? I was shocked. I remember hearing myself saying, “Look how fast they fell away from the faith!”
But then I sensed the Holy Spirit warning me: “No, Steve, it is you who are two thousand years removed from the Apostles.” I read it again with an open mind. The first recorded church service had all the elements of the Catholic Mass.
This was difficult to accept, but I still had a way out. The Episcopal liturgy resembles the Catholic Mass. My prejudice against the Catholic faith ultimately meant that I would become Episcopal first.
A second Church Father would also change my life. Irenaeus was bishop of Lyons, Gaul (now France), from a.d. 180 to 202. He was the disciple of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who was the disciple of the Apostle John. The historians I read were somewhat uninterested in Irenaeus, because they said he added nothing new to the development of Christian theology.
Aha! My interest was piqued. A bishop in the second century who taught nothing new, but authentically passed on the apostolic faith. Irenaeus himself contends that his teaching is the very teaching of the apostles. One of his books was even titled Proof of the Apostolic Preaching.
But Irenaeus wrote the most fascinating thing. In another of his books, Against Heresies, he challenged his readers not to take his word alone but to go to any of the bishops of any of the churches in his day because they were all teaching the same thing. Tears came to my eyes.
I said, “Not anymore, Irenaeus; today we all tend to teach our own thing.” I began reading everything this faithful bishop had written, looking for the true faith that was held with one mind at the beginning of the Church.
The pope’s authority
Then came the most amazing statement of all. I had been taught that Pope Gregory the Great was the one who first claimed universal authority for the pope in the sixth century. But Irenaeus proved this claim wrong.
He was explaining to his readers how he could easily list the apostolic succession of every bishop of every church in his time. But to do so would require too much space in his book. So he decided he would give only the apostolic succession of the bishop of the Church of Rome.
Why? Because, he said, everyone had to agree with that church anyway on account of its “preeminent authority.” The authority of the Church of Rome went back to the teaching of the Apostles!
My eventual decision to come into full communion with the Catholic Church was influenced profoundly by St. Irenaeus. To my delight, his writings were steeped in biblical references. He was a remarkable bishop who was faithful and wholly committed to one thing: passing on the apostolic tradition he had received from Polycarp, who had received it from John, who had lain on the bosom of our Lord Jesus Christ.
All the earliest writers recognized a special importance in the Eucharist. The early Christian text called the Didache, Justin Martyr, and especially Ignatius of Antioch all gave instructions and directions concerning the Eucharist. It was the center of the early Church’s worship.
The question I had was whether to emphasize the words “This is my body” or “Do this in memory.” Was the Eucharist always understood to be the Body of Christ, or was the Eucharist originally just a memorial? What I came to understand was that the biblical use of “memory” was much more than merely recalling a past event.
When the Jews in the Bible, who lived a thousand years after the time of Moses, would remember the great events of the Exodus, they spoke as if they were the ones actually there. The ritual remembering connected them to the event.
When Jesus commands, “Do this in memory of me,” he intends that we relive the Eucharist in a way that we actually participate in the original once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago. This is the reason Paul says, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16). “Do this in memory of me” and “This is My body” are two sides of the same coin!
“Don’t they know what that means?” my dad had exclaimed as he dialed the phone. It was 1974, and he was calling a family whose teenage son was dating a Catholic girl! As a boy, I had often listened to my dad explain the many dangers of the Catholic Church.
In light of that upbringing, I would not be able to become Catholic easily. Much of my seminary training had involved anti-Catholic apologetics. One evangelism program I had taken part in had even provided the tracts and technique for proselytizing Catholics because they did not believe in faith alone. These experiences had created a deep bias in me. I was carrying significant emotional baggage that resisted becoming Catholic.
Throughout my life, I had studied the Bible. Now I had found it to be Catholic. Church history was Catholic. Tradition was Catholic.
Because of this journey for truth, I had become Catholic in faith and worship style. But I was not in communion with the Catholic Church. Why? I decided to explore the possibility of coming into full communion with the Catholic Church.
What about Mary?
My wife, Cindy, and I would talk about Catholic teachings almost every day in the fall of 1998. What about Mary? What about the pope? We went through every issue quite thoroughly, and we took our time.
Though I was committed to finding the truth, I loved being the pastor of the wonderful people at Church of the Resurrection, a Charismatic Episcopal congregation. There was no hurry. Looking back, I imagine that I looked at every issue so closely because we did not want to leave Resurrection.
What would being Catholic mean for us? What would it be like to be Catholic? Ultimately, I needed to be honest.
Someone once told me that if you want to know what Israelis think, don’t ask Palestinians. To find out what Catholics truly believe about Mary, I could no longer be honest if I only asked anti-Catholics. So I read the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Catholic teaching is very clear. The faithful are to worship only God, and Catholics worship God as Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Catholics use the words “adore” or “adoration” for worship but the words “venerate” or “veneration” with reference to the respect and honor that is appropriate for human beings.
Catholic teaching forbids the worship of Mary, but Catholics venerate her as the mother of Jesus, Who is fully God and fully man. Catholics also ask Mary to intercede for them with her Son Jesus Christ. This teaching is clear and consistent.
Some people very close to me said, “I do not care what the Catholic Church teaches; when I look at those people, I can plainly see they are worshipping Mary.” Sounds like Archie Bunker saying, “Don’t bore me with the facts. I’ve already made up my mind.”
In all fairness, even if someone wrongly did worship Mary, this does not mean that Catholics as a whole worship Mary any more than the Pentecostal who reads his horoscope means Pentecostals as a whole believe in astrology. Both people act contrary to the clear teachings of their tradition. Catholics honor Mary (and Scripture), who proclaims in the Bible: “Henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:48). And in the same way Protestants ask friends to pray for them, Catholics ask their friends in heaven to pray for them. They are a great cloud of witnesses (see Heb 12:1)!
Others ask, “Why don’t Catholics go directly to Jesus, who intercedes perfectly for us in heaven?” But, strangely, at the same time, they belong to the Intercessors Prayer Group at their Protestant church.
It is common for Protestants to ask someone to intercede for them in prayer. Why won’t they ask those who live closest to the Lord in heaven to intercede for them in prayer? Talk about an untapped prayer resource!
One day, Cindy was praying in the car, asking God about the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Until that time, Cindy did not believe it. In her prayer, God revealed the reasons for this great truth. She came home excited to tell me about how the Holy Spirit had revealed to her the reasons for the Immaculate Conception.
I was in shock. I got out the Catechism and read back to her almost word for word what she told me. I had just finished studying in the teachings of the Catholic Church the very words she had heard in prayer. I kidded her that it must be nice not having to study.
When we realized we were Catholic in belief, we quit protesting against the Catholic Church. Obviously, the word Protest(ant) is a reference to the five-hundred-year protest against the Catholic Church. This culture of protesting is so strong with some that one of the Charismatic Episcopal Church teachers coined the phrase “Romaphobia.”
Many Christians will not believe or practice something just because Rome does. I realized that the abuses that existed in the Church in the Middle Ages were corrected a long time ago. It was in the Charismatic Episcopal Church that I realized how much we Protestants had thrown out the baby with the bathwater.
Just before I was ordained a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church in 1995, I had to struggle with my position on infant Baptism. The CEC baptized infants, and I needed to be one-hundred-percent sure I believed in it, too. In Peter’s first sermon on the day of Pentecost, he said to them:
“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one who the Lord our God calls to Him” (Acts 2:38–39, emphasis added).
Many who do not believe in infant Baptism claim that the word “children” here refers to descendants, not necessarily their children alive at the time. So I let the Bible determine how the word “children” would be interpreted. I looked in the Greek to see what word was used in this verse.
The Greek word is teknon. I studied every place that teknon was used in the New Testament. In every single case, it means a person already born.
Teknon never means a potential person. It could mean “descendant” in the sense of a person being a child of Abraham, but in every instance, that person was always already born. A descendant of Abraham not yet born is called the “seed” of Abraham.
This distinction between a “child” meaning someone already born and “seed” meaning someone not yet born is consistently followed. This is especially true in the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Therefore, the “children” in Acts 2:39 must have been born already. They were “children,” not “descendants.”
Baptism is for children! This insight helps interpret verses in which a person and his whole household were baptized.
In Colossians chapter 2, Baptism is compared to circumcision. Circumcision was performed on children born into the covenant, and on converts and their children, too. Children were always included in the Old Testament covenant and were marked by the sign of the covenant.
How discouraging if children could not have Baptism, the mark of the New Covenant? Interestingly, a study of the New Testament era reveals that Gentile converts to Judaism were washed in a ritual bath — their children, too! The words that were spoken over them in this ritual bath are remarkably similar to the words used in the New Testament to describe Baptism and its effects.
The Church Fathers who address infant Baptism all attribute it to apostolic tradition. Some misleadingly teach that Tertullian, the first of the Fathers to speak of infant baptism, was against it. What they failed to mention was that he wanted everyone, not just infants, to wait until they were near death so they would not abandon their faith after baptism. He acknowledged that infant baptism was the early practice, but those who abandoned the faith later in life scandalized him.
Interestingly, I was told that a recent study showed that a higher percentage of people baptized after the age of reason fall away from their faith than those baptized as infants. I wondered why we were not taught the whole truth.
The first Christian to describe the baptism of people of various ages was Hippolytus, around a.d. 210. He instructs the faithful to baptize the little ones first. If they can speak for themselves, let them do so. If they cannot yet speak for themselves, then let a parent or sponsor speak for them. Then baptize the men, and last the women.
Hippolytus claims that this is the tradition that was passed down from the Apostles. I learned that the practice of “believer’s baptism,” which requires all children to wait until the age of reason, was never accepted for children who grew up within the Church until the Reformation — fifteen hundred years after the fact. Any early Christians who delayed baptism for their children, for any reason, were firmly rebuked for denying this grace-filled sacrament to the infants. What a tremendous joy it has been for me to baptize many little ones into the New Creation in Jesus Christ!
Coming into full communion with the Catholic Church in 1999 brought a great sense of fulfillment. Conversion, though, always has two sides. Those who have gone through conversion know what I mean.
I was certain I would become Catholic. I was uncertain what becoming Catholic would mean to all the cherished friendships I valued as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church.
Peter once questioned Jesus, saying, “We have left everything and followed you. What the shall we have?”
Jesus responded, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Mt 19:27, 29). So, all wrapped up together, I experienced the excitement and joy of gaining such a rich Catholic faith with the potential of losing many of the people I loved the most.
The convocation of the Great Lakes Diocese of the Charismatic Episcopal Church in 1998 had provided a good opportunity for people to get to know their diocese. Those who attended from my parish, Church of the Resurrection, were astonished to hear our bishop introduce me to the diocese with such favorable words. He said that he loved all his priests, but that I was like a son to him. I genuinely felt this same close bond. Now, I wondered, could our bond endure this important change in my life?
As we gathered, we were amazed to discover so many others who had been on the same journey. At one time, each of us had thought that he was the only one who believed in the Bible, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the sacraments and liturgy all at the same time. The Charismatic Episcopal Church was a brand-new denomination of like-minded men and women attempting to recover and balance these three strands we felt essential to the Christian tradition: the Bible, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the sacraments and liturgy. We were committed to growing in the truth, and it took courage to break from our previous faith traditions and ministries to walk in this new convergence of three streams.
Those closest to me were my church family at Resurrection. Four years earlier, in the spring of 1995, it had all begun when my wife and I had enjoyed dinner with a couple in Brighton, Michigan. They were former Episcopalians who were looking for the same expression of the Christian faith that we had in the Charismatic Episcopal Church.
Soon after this dinner, we began to meet with five other families of like mind. In June, I was ordained to the transitional deaconate, and within a few months, others had joined with us to become the original founding members of the Church of the Resurrection. On September 15in the same Mass, we were received as a mission parish, and I was ordained a priest.
Each year for a couple of years, the membership of Resurrection doubled until we leveled off. We grew together. Everyone participated according to his or her gifts, and I grew to be the pastor and father of a family knit together in love. As was the developing custom of the Charismatic Episcopal Church, my wife and I planned to be at Resurrection for life.
When we left in 1999, the profound depth of grief and loss was overwhelming. Those we were closest to in the parish and diocese seemed to cut us off. Perhaps they felt hurt, abandoned, or betrayed.
For many, conversion has some very real costs. Peter and Jesus remind us of this truth. Weeping on my bed from my personal loss, I said to Cindy (who sat graciously beside me), “No one will ever know what this was like.”
But people do know. My personal conversion contains many common elements that others have experienced. In the same way, I suspect that my personal reasons for coming into full communion with the Catholic Church will speak to some of those courageous people who are going through this same process.
The most difficult step in my journey, however, was meeting in that café to inform my CEC bishop of my decision to become Catholic. He was sympathetic; he even admitted that he would become Catholic, too, but he knew that cannon law would prevent him being the pastor of a church. He was a pastor and could not give it up.
The thought of not being a priest was devastating to me, too. I suggested that only he could know how tough my decision really was. Maybe they would not let me be a priest, but they would allow me to be obedient.
He had another concern as well. I could appreciate the rich treasure of the Catholic faith and leave so much to gain it, he said, but other Catholics would not have this same appreciation of their faith. They would walk out of the church from the Communion line, he said; they would not even wait for the blessing.
When I finally came into the Catholic Church, I watched after Mass on Sundays. Some would take Communion and leave immediately, but most returned to their pew and most of these knelt to pray until Communion ended. Most Catholics who attend church do appreciate their faith.
My journey of truth will always continue, but my search for the true Church has brought me home. Cindy and I have never looked back. Many of our former parishioners and diocesan friends have been restored to us. Some have even joined us in full communion with the Catholic Church. Remarkably, the priest who replaced me at Resurrection has become Catholic, too!
We did not give up any of our faith. I am still a Bible Christian. I am still a Charismatic. Ultimately, I kept what I had and added to it the fullness of the Catholic Faith that has been guarded faithfully, in an unbroken line, from the time of the Apostles and Jesus Christ. And I have learned, grown, and been enriched from the faith walk and wisdom of many saints who have loved Jesus with all their hearts, minds, and strength for almost two thousand years.