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The Authority of Scripture

Vivian Centurion
October 12, 2021 No Comments

Why would a Bible-believing Christian join the Catholic Church? I wasn’t ignorant of Scripture; on the contrary, I was marinated in Scripture. It fueled me. I taught a small Bible study group for women for many years. I knew how to research and look into commentaries. But I did have reservations, questions, and difficulties I put on the back burner because I found no answers or the answers I found were unsatisfactory. But then, I was looking for answers everywhere except the Catholic Church. My experience with meeting Catholics was that they were superstitious and ignorant of Scripture — and even their own doctrines, unable to give an intelligent answer to support their beliefs. So I thought they were at best simpleminded and at worst heretics.

I’ve been a Christian my whole life. My father came from the Orthodox Faith, and my mother was Protestant. I was baptized as an infant in Lebanon, in the Syriac Orthodox Church, coming to America when I was five years old. In America, my faith formation took place in various Protestant denominations and also via the radio, commentaries, and other books. We visited the Orthodox church only a few times a year, for special occasions, until I was about eight or ten. We weren’t “practicing” Orthodox since my mother was the spiritual driver in the family. She would take all five of us kids, usually walking to various churches, depending on where we lived, but they were always Protestant.

When I was two years old, there was an incident with my eyes. My teenage cousin was playing with me and accidentally poked my eye, which became infected. That event left me cross-eyed for eight years. My maternal grandmother would anoint my head with oil often and pray over me, and my mom and many others did the same. When I was about ten, we were watching TV. A group was visiting the Holy Land and talking about Jesus’ empty tomb. My mother told me to touch the TV screen and ask God to straighten my eyes. I did so, and immediately my eye, after eight years of living with crossed eyes and taunts, became straight. It was the first time in my life that I saw myself with straight eyes.

My extended family thought I had had surgery; they wouldn’t believe that God had performed a miracle. This event planted a seed in me. Time passed, and like many teens, I became less fervent in my faith, trying to find my footing and where I fit in this world. The world pulls you one way and God calls you in another direction. I didn’t realize the significance religion would have in my later life.

When I was 18 years old, I read the Bible for the first time, “rededicated” my life to Jesus and was “re-baptized” in a Foursquare church. I did backslide for a few years, but God brought me back to Him. For the next 30 years, I lived as a Protestant — Foursquare, Baptist, and non-denominational Evangelical. I read through my Bible and devotionals regularly, attended and later taught Bible Studies, and was grateful for every sermon that nurtured my faith. It was a culmination of all those years of whetting my appetite that drew me to want and pursue something more. My thought was: never be satisfied with the progress you have made, because God is greater; so keep on pursuing Him.

By 2002, I was married with three kids, living in our current home in Northridge, California. In the chaos of raising kids, I discovered the solace of Scripture. In reading my Bible, I loved the way both Testaments connected to each other. God’s cleverness orchestrated everything and brought about unity and perfection. Yet something was missing. Many times, a question would pop into my mind, prompting me to chase down the answer. It’s thrilling to find answers and connect dots. Before I knew it, over the years — especially the last five years of it — my Christian journey evolved from a journey into an obsessive quest. I was drawn to find out how we got here. Why so many denominations? Who’s right? Can we ever be reconciled? Did Christ establish one visible Church or an invisible Church?

I owe a lot to my husband, Scott, a cradle Catholic who never once tried to push me into Catholicism. What he did was much more profound: he remained steadfast. Although we loved each other, we would argue a lot. The first six years of our marriage were cyclical arguments about religion. The more I prayed for God to change Scott, the more God changed me.

It’s hard when you can’t share conversations about your intimate faith. Instead of bringing us together, faith was like a wedge in our marriage. We eventually moved past the hostility and rested at acceptance of one another’s perspective on faith: we agreed to disagree. When I surrendered to God and trusted Him with my husband, then my husband didn’t feel attacked. So we slowly moved into a better place in our marriage. But while we were united in many areas of our marriage, we were separated in the most central part.

We had three little children and agreed that going to church as a family unit was important. There were many years when we attended both a non-denominational church on Saturday nights and a Catholic Mass on Sunday mornings. Somewhere along the line, I started to feel more at home in the Catholic Mass when I actively listened to the readings and prayers. I didn’t fit in our non-denominational church any more, yet I didn’t think I fit in at the Catholic church, either. I couldn’t go against my conscience and convert just to make peace. However, the more I listened and participated in the Catholic Mass, the more I fell in love with the reverence and worship of the liturgy. As the kids started to attend Catholic school, we volunteered and were involved in various activities. We started to attend less at my church. Meanwhile, God was opening the doors for my husband to minister in various Bible studies at our parish. Through the years, I also helped in various areas. As I gradually came out of my bubble, I began to see that there were Catholics who were “real Christians.” They were actually no different than Protestants in their genuine and deep commitment to Christ. I started to see the similarities in our faith, that we have much common ground. God planted us in a great parish, with a wonderful pastor and warm parishioners. Our priest welcomed me, even though I wasn’t Catholic and didn’t intend to convert. He loved me and allowed me to use my talents there.

It wasn’t only that my conversion was slow — at this point I had been with my husband for 24 years and attending this parish for 14 years — it also came with much wrestling and reflection. As I attempted to discover who God was, I was beginning to get a deeper and wider picture of His Church. It wasn’t just about “me and Jesus,” but about an entire Christian family. Jesus prayed for us to be a family, praying for us to be one as He and the Father are one (see John 17). God wasn’t just calling me to Him; He was calling me to His family, both here and in heaven (see Ephesians 3:15).

From about five years before my conversion, we were only attending our Catholic parish. We stopped going to my church. I didn’t need to attend the non-denominational church to hear a good sermon; I could do that on TV or radio. I was divided with my own identity, because I questioned whether I needed to go to church to be a Christian. Why did I need to go to church, especially a megachurch? I really didn’t get anything out of it. I already did my own in-depth Bible study on my own. Sermons were designed to bring people forward to an altar call to receive Christ, to rededicate one’s life, or to prayer. That might be beneficial for those individuals, but after years of church it didn’t make sense for a seasoned Christian like me to sit through a sermon, then watch an altar call. On most days, I was familiar with the topic preached, and I’d even add in my own notes while the preacher was talk- ing. Hebrews 10:25 tells us not to neglect gathering with believers. So I thought to myself, if I had a Bible study group, wouldn’t that count? I figured, if it really didn’t matter whether I went to a church service, then I would just go with my husband to Mass.

I also began to question what worship meant. Was worship a song and a sermon? The songs began to feel more like concerts, and the sermons felt like a Bible lesson at best and a motivational speech laced with humor at worst. As beneficial as those can be, I had to ask: was that worship? Communion was a symbol to help us remember what Christ did on the cross. Was that worship? I began to feel curious about how the early Christians worshiped. What did worship mean to them?

I began to notice the differences between our churches. At the Catholic church it was assumed everyone in the pew was a Christian, since there was never an altar call; no one came forward for prayer — just the opposite from the Protestant church, where it was assumed that everyone needed to be evangelized.

There was more happening at the Mass. Although helpful, the sermon or homily wasn’t the reason one went to Mass. You went because Jesus is there. A lot of Protestants have a problem with the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, but this Presence wasn’t a crazy notion to me for two reasons: 1) My limited understanding of the Orthodox faith was that they believe in the true Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, although they refer to it as a Mystery, not a Sacrament. 2) I believe that, when receiving communion, Jesus is there with me in that moment of time. That’s why we’re taught in Scripture that receiving communion while in the state of sin is dangerous. St. Paul warns us not to participate in an unworthy manner (see 1 Corinthians 11:27). I likened it to the curses for disobedience and blessings for obedience that Moses gives the Israelites as they prepare to enter the Promised Land (see Deuteronomy 28). There’s a saying that the same sun that hardens the clay, warms the wax. So the blessing and the curse come from the same source. It never made sense that communion was just symbolic if judgment was attached.

Not fitting in anywhere, I started looking into different churches in our area, trying to find some middle ground to the Catholic Church. Something that felt Catholic without being Catholic. I called myself “the woman without a country.” Nothing felt right. Some churches had a liturgical ambiance, but something was missing. Frustrated, I grew jealous of my husband and his faith. He knew where he belonged, and he sincerely believed he was part of the Church that Christ established. I was miffed at the Reformers. It’s not my fault the Church had schisms — several and counting. I felt like the child of a divorced family. Why did the Church have to break up? We threw the baby out with the bathwater. Just to be clear, I was not looking at the Catholic Church with rose colored glasses; I was familiar with her history. But as my husband would say, 2000 years later the Catholic Church still stands — not because her members are spotless, but because the “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18).

By now, I wasn’t just reading to grow in faith. I was in pursuit of something. I couldn’t articulate it, but the Catholic Church was nowhere on my radar. My journey was intentional; I had to find answers. Unsettled, I had to know “the truth,” even if it turned out that I was wrong about my beliefs. This was my prayer for years. As I was reading my way into the Church, I did so with fervent prayer.

In the meantime, I was still attending Catholic Mass, and periodically I would be lost in prayer as I began to see things in the Mass that I had read about in the early Church Fathers. My conversion started out intellectually, with reason, logic, and facts, but even with all the knowledge I acquired, I couldn’t surrender until I had a profound experience.

At this point I had been going to a Catholic parish for about 14 years. Yes, I was stubborn! I was unsure of His Church and what worship was supposed to look like in the 21st century. On June 10th, 2019, my interior dam broke. All I remember is one word that came to me with clarity: authority.

I never would have guessed that my stronghold was authority. I thought my issues lay with the saints, Mary, purgatory, and other doctrines that Protestants commonly object to. But the concept of authority connected my head with my heart. It wasn’t easy to accept. My prayer of wanting to know the truth, even if I’m wrong, came back to me. If Christ is the ultimate authority, why wouldn’t I come under the authority He had established? I felt like Paul on the road to Damascus.

I had been fighting God all these years and didn’t know it. I was judging His saints and children as if they were lost, but it was they who were faithful to His authority. I was physically sick in bed for a week. I wrestled with the flood of emotions from this stronghold that had broken within me, feeling an entire spectrum of emotions, like the joys of liberation and heaviness of regret. God had broken through my preconceived assumptions and ingrained prejudice — which I didn’t know I had until I was face to face with them. God humbled me. But now that He had my attention, He also began to rebuild (see Hosea 6:1).

I devoured Catholic apologetic books one after the other. Meanwhile, my husband was quiet. You’d think he would have been jumping for joy when I spoke to him about what was happening to me, but he was quiet. I later asked him why he wasn’t excited, and he responded that he was “cautiously optimistic.” He didn’t realize how close I was to a decision. He knew I had been searching and struggling for a while, but with this strange sight before him, he needed time to process what was happening to me.

I was now listening to understand rather than listening to find fault. This attitude profoundly affected me, because if the enlightenment was from God, then I must wholly surrender.

But what if it was all from the devil and I was being deceived? That thought occurred to me on several occasions, but it didn’t last. It didn’t even get a chance to stake its ground, because I had already arrived at the conclusion of my search. I was so overwhelmed by the evidence and so humbled by God’s grace that all doubt drained away.

I used to find it insulting when Catholics would say that they had the fullness of the faith; now I understood. In Peter Kreeft’s book, Catholics and Protestants: What Can We Learn from Each Other?, he writes, “when a Jew becomes a Christian, he comes to believe more, not less. He loses nothing in Judaism but fulfills it …. When a Protestant becomes a Catholic, he loses nothing positive in Protestantism but perfects it” (p. 61). I was becoming more Christian. It could not be a deception. It was a work of the Holy Spirit drawing me closer.

I read a book by Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism. This hit home. It helped me to see how my faith was influenced and shaped by Fundamentalist teaching. Without knowing it — never having attended a Fundamentalist church — the effects of Fundamentalism were present. I recognized that I had absorbed anti-Catholic teaching, intentional or unintentional, planted throughout my formative years. I had listened to a lot of Christian radio sermons from various denominations. When they made accusations, or distorted Catholic teaching, or spoke as ex-Catholics about why they left the Church, I had simply received their teachiing. I had no reason to doubt them, since they were respected pastors. Over time, I acquired the idea that the Catholic Church was dead wrong, and thank God for the Reformers, who saved Christianity. Until confronted, I didn’t know these were part of my belief system. All along I wanted to avoid being deceived by the Catholics, and now I felt at least misinformed and at worst cheated by Protestantism. As I mentioned, authority was my stronghold, and God just crumbled that stronghold and everything it represented.

Links from various videos led me to Peter Kreeft videos, and from there, I found the Coming Home Network. In a moment, I was home. No longer “the woman without a country,” I couldn’t read and watch enough stories. They all made the same difficult decision, many at a great cost to livelihood and relationships. I was overwhelmed. I saw my own story in the countless narratives. I had thought I was alone, that no one had had my experience or could relate to my dilemma, that I was the only one who didn’t fit in any church. What did God tell Elijah when he thought he was alone and wanted to die? You’re not the only one, there are seven thousand like you (see 1 Kings 19:18). Well, it turns out that there are many more like me.

Catholicism answered my long-time questions. I began to connect the dots. After my moment of profound grace on June 10th, when God humbled me and showed me that my issue was authority, everything was clear. I didn’t need to object or argue against Catholic doctrine any more. In listening to understand, I could receive what God was trying to give me. It was very liberating to submit to authority when I read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I discovered that it is woven with Scripture throughout. The same arguments that didn’t make sense before now made complete sense. I didn’t even feel the need to defend my views, because it was more important to come under the authority that Christ had placed over me. I stopped hurtling my opinions and just listened.

We made an appointment to speak with our priest to find out what the next step would be for me. I was nervous and excited, but it was easy to approach him because I had known him for over 10 years. He said I didn’t need RCIA classes since I had already done the research and studying on my own. We decided to wait a few months for the right timing. The religious sister who was director of RCIA was on summer vacation with her Order, and my sponsor, who was a long-time parishioner and close friend, needed to be there. I think it was good to wait and let it sink in. Four months later, on October 6th, 2019, I was confirmed. However, I did join the RCIA group before and after my confirmation, because there are always things we can learn, and some things are not taught in books.

All the studying I had done over the years wasn’t in vain. I thought I would have to start over and re-learn my Bible, but that wasn’t the case. I did need to correct my flawed theology, but God doesn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. I started to put everything together and am still amazed by how much there is to learn. I found many of my answers in my own New King James Bible, where I had underlined or circled many passages. God really does meet us where we are; He speaks our heart language. My heart language is Scripture. He met me there and connected the Old Testament to the New Testament in a way I hadn’t seen before, because the Catholic Faith connects them. The Bible came to life in a profound way.

Regarding the Eucharist: I now saw the Catholic Mass as an extension of Jewish roots. Jesus said He didn’t come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (see Matthew 5:17). If the Old Testament is a copy and shadow of what was to come then the New Testament would be the fulfillment, not another copy (see Hebrews 8:5-6). The institution of the Eucharist is the fulfillment of Passover and of the manna in the desert. They can’t just be mere symbols. In John 6, Jesus was clear (despite all those years that I glossed over it) that we were to eat His Body in order to abide in Him. The Israelites in Egypt ate the Passover lamb, which was symbolic of Christ. In the desert they ate the manna, which was symbolic of Christ. Now that the Messiah has come, are we to eat another symbol in order to commune with Him? If we eat another symbol, how is that fulfillment?

Paul spoke of great consequences for those that receive the Body and Blood in an unworthy manner (see 1 Corinthians 11:24-30). It didn’t make sense that severe consequences would be attached to a symbol.

Regarding Mary: I began to prayerfully meditate on her role in salvation history. I studied her in Scripture and other books. Behold Your Mother by Tim Staples was very helpful to me. I had to flesh her out, to think of her as more than a painting or a statue. We regard the Blood of Jesus as power and salvation; I began to think about that Blood. Where did it come from? His DNA was of Mary. His Body and His Blood came from His mother, since He had no biological father. She was the first Christian. She “communed” with Him for nine months — then for 33 years. What conversations they must have had during that time!

Regarding purgatory: I was taught that 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 is speaking of your “works” not “you.” Yes, my works are being judged in this passage, but the judgment is coming down on me. Who I chose to be, how I lived my life, my earthly attachments — they are all part of me, so I am what is being judged here.

This passage is speaking of a believer, not a non-believer. Therefore, only those who are “saved” will be judged in this way. When will this happen? Experience tells us that it doesn’t happen in our earthly lifetime, so it is obviously speaking of the afterlife. Revelation 20:11-12 speaks of the judgment from the great white throne. Books will be opened and the Book of Life. We know the Book of Life has every believer’s name; it’s our reservation to heaven. What are the “other books” about? We will be judged by our works (see Romans 2:6-8). After all, we were created to do good works (see Ephesians 2:10). Have we lived that out?

It makes sense that this moment of burning away our work (that had the appearance of kingdom work, but when tested burned away) would be painful to me, since it’s my life work. This aligns with the idea of the purifying of the person before one enters heaven. It’s not a punishment, but a cleansing of all that I thought was holy and good; all that I thought was kingdom work. A time to rid myself of earthly attachments and misconceptions. I think this will be the kind of pain that’s followed by rest, a consoling. It only hurts as it’s happening, but then it feels good to be cleansed, purified, and sanctified. That’s how I have come to think of purgatory. It is Christ completing His sanctifying work in me (see Philippians 1:6). As a Protestant, I believed in sanctification. But now I see that its development to completion can be called purgatory.

I am now confidently convinced that in the Church there is order, logic, history, and a bigger picture of God’s family. I’m home.

Vivian Centurion

VIVIAN CENTURION is a wife and mother. She lives with her husband and three grown children in the suburbs of Los Angeles, California. She came into full communion with the Church on October 6, 2019.

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