This is the second post in the Converting to Catholicism Series I am doing here at Frogging It. You can view the first post in the series here: Where Jesus Is! If you have any questions, please feel free to comment or e-mail me.
In my journey toward Catholicism, one of the things that always stuck with me was that Truth is not relative. God is Good. He wants us to worship Him. And He doesn’t want us to be confused. He wants us to know Him.
My roommate often said, “Truth is like a multifaceted diamond. You can view it from different angles and admire it’s beauty, but it will look different depending on which side you’re viewing it.” I think this is a useful analogy when you are trying to exist in a Protestant world where there are many “flavors” of Christianity, but they emphasize different things. You may not be ready to label all the other denominations as heretics, so this explanation makes sense.
But for some things, this isn’t enough.
The church I grew up in was a little less sweet to the other denominations. Most were suspect. Most were probably heretics. There were a few brands of Christianity that maybe had not jeopardized their salvation through their theology, but our doctrinal disagreements with them were still very serious reason for concern. (Edit: I want to clarify that I think at this church they very much felt like they were guardians of Truth. And I think I can credit my upbringing there with my firm belief that there is such a thing. But I also felt like a lot of the emphasis was on who we were not, rather than who we were.)
But in college I started to make my break with this viewpoint. I knew lots of people. Lots who were able to point to the Scriptures as their source of truth. They pointed to different verses and their churches ended up looking very different. I was more willing to accept a “multi-faceted” church idea…but it didn’t satisfy me. There were still major disagreements within Christianity, and I couldn’t pretend like we were just looking at it from different angles. We were looking at it from different angles through sin-stained magnifying glasses.
If God is who He says He is, then there is a right way and a wrong way to understand Him. A right way and a wrong way to worship Him. We see it in the Bible when people are punished for making “strange” offerings. Wait! Isn’t it the thought that counts?
Christianity has been around for a while. And because of that, there’s been lots of time for lots of people to put their own spin on it. Back in the early days, these kinds of spin-off interpretations would officially be labeled as heresy, and the Christian Church would move on. And so it continued. But the Church wasn’t doing this just because. It wasn’t trying to be mean. Or bully the little guy. Or make anyone feel bad. They believed that there was a correct way to understand and worship God! And this way, they had the responsibility to protect.
But Luther’s Reformation brought on a whole new level of spin-off interpretations. Because this all happened right around the time of the arrival of the printing press, people could propagate their own ideas much more easily.
Think about how much the internet has changed our world. How readily information is available. How you can spread the word about something happening on the other side of the world so very quickly. That’s what the printing press did to the world before our time. So the spin-offs and splintering of the Christian Church were happening at an unprecedented pace. And that brought crisis to the church.
So, what were we, as “reformers” left with? A splintered broken church. More focused on what we are not than what we are. We’re not them. They teach that baptism is for infants, so they’re wrong. We don’t practice speaking in tongues, so we’re the true church…and on it goes.
If you took a more relative view, it really didn’t matter what the details were. Weren’t we all worshiping the same God?
But for me there was always this nagging “Truth” thing….
“God is not the God of dissension, but of peace.” 1 Cor. 14:33
When you consider who God is, and consider Jesus prayer for unity in the Church (“That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” John 17:21), it is hard to imagine that he had in mind the broken church of today.
I began to believe that there was indeed, somewhere, One, True Church. And it was now a matter of finding this Church. How do you find it? What does it look like?
When Jesus promised Peter and the disciples that the “gates of Hell” would not “prevail” against the Church, (Matthew 16:18 – “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”) it seems pretty clear that at this moment, Jesus is founding the very “One, True Church” of which I was in search.
And from there, it is only a matter of reading the accounts in the New Testament about how the Church worked, reading the early Christian writings, which document what their worship looked like, and doing the math. (I’d love to write more on this part, but right now I’d just like to focus on the unity thing.)
One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.
I found Her. The Church! I’ll be honest. At first I wanted not to believe what my history lessons were showing me. I didn’t want to believe that this Church that I had always believed was corrupt from top to bottom was in fact the Bride of Christ. Sure, history pointed that way, but what of the Scripture?
Time and time again, after reading about different doctrines of Catholicism and wrestling with them, I couldn’t help but note the consistency with Scripture. Not just a verse here and there, but the whole of Scripture.
What Fulton Sheen said was true about me:
“There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”
And the thing is, this Church that I found, She’s been there since that day that Jesus spoke those words to Peter. Conflicts have arisen, but she hasn’t gone away. Corrupt leaders have risen in her ranks, and yet the doctrines have not been corrupted. Disagreements have come up, but the Church always carefully defines what is orthodox. Jesus Christ is protecting and guiding His Church in “all truth!”
Our church is not simply a Western European thing. We are not just Roman Catholics. We are Eastern Catholics too! We are all part of this One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
What has been really amazing to me is to visit some of these other kinds of Catholic Churches here in the US, and to visit other Catholic Churches around the world, and despite our different flavors, our worship is distinctively similar to each other and to those descriptions by early Christians of their worship.
This need for unity in the Church is what eventually made me realize the need for a Pope in the Church. He is a visible head of the Church, and that allows the Church to have dialogue with the world in a way we could not without him. He leads us under the protection of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus set the church up in this way, by setting Peter up as a leader among the apostles. You can see it in Scripture when there are disagreements in the early church and the first Ecumenical Council is called: the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). And it is very much this “final word” of Peter and the Council that the Church needs to maintain it’s unity.
I am so thankful that I have been brought around into unity with the Church. I couldn’t have found it on my own. I fought it. I didn’t want it. I was known to say, “Anything but the Catholic Church!”
And in finding the Church, I have found that Christianity is SO much bigger than I ever thought. And I didn’t even have to become a Relativist!
(Note: I’m not trying to depict a sinless Church, where we are better than them! Our Church is full of Sinners, just like the rest of Christianity. If this is what you are seeking, you will never find it. Our church is made up of sinful people. And that’s what makes it heartbreaking and beautiful. We don’t put our faith in the people, though. We put our faith in the Cross, and pray for salvation from ourselves.)