After surrendering my life to Christ, I had so many questions. I started to read the bible feverishly and learn as much about the Gospel as I could. I would would listen to podcasts and watch sermons on TV and read all the books I could. The more I learned about God and His ways, the more I wanted to know.
Among the many questions I had, there were quite a few that had to do with the teachings and traditions of the Catholic Church that I had grown up with.
One morning, I was watching the famous pastor Charles Stanley on TV. Compared to a Catholic Mass, his church service was very different. For starters, his sermons lasted on average between thirty and forty-five minutes, where as a Catholic Priest’s Homily only lasts about three minutes.
Second, when the camera panned to the audience in Charles Stanley’s church, everyone had their bible open along with a notebook to take notes. This was mind blowing to me! Not only do you read the Bible for yourself at church, but you learn enough to take notes?! I had been attending Catholic Mass every Sunday for twenty-six years and I had never opened a Bible and I had never needed to take notes.
Third, Charles Stanley (like most pastor’s in Protestant Churches) is seen by his congregation as a guide, not as an infallible messenger. As such, rather than simply accepting his interpretation of the Bible as the only way, each person is encouraged to read and study the word for themselves.
Seeing how different this was from the system I grew up in, I was intrigued to learn more. Heather encouraged me to try out a Bible-based Protestant Church and since she was so right about BSF, I decided to heed her advice. Not knowing where to start, I simply stopped in at the First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg that was down the street from my apartment. At first, is it was a little weird. Everyone was super friendly and welcoming, the music was contemporary (with drums and an electric guitar), the message lasted about thirty minutes and was both spiritually educational and entertaining, and the mood was light. It was so different from what I had grown up with.
The Catholic Churches that I had regularly attended were starkly quiet and cold. The music was always somber and usually sung off key and the message was always the same, year after year, according to liturgical calendar: 1st Reading, 2nd Reading, Gospel, Our Father, Communion, run out the door. According to my parents, the priest was good if he kept it under forty-five minutes and he was bad if it went over an hour.
Even though I had spent my entire life in the Catholic Church, I never understood meaning behind it all. I had heard the lectors read from the Bible Sunday after Sunday, but I never understood what it all meant. For me, there was no context to it all. Even though I had attended Catechism (Sunday School) from age seven through age sixteen, I never really had an amazing teacher who could make it all come alive.
Or maybe I just wasn’t ready to hear.
Either way, it didn’t happen for me during my years in the Catholic Church. Not through all of my sacraments, nor as an alter boy. Not in the youth group or in the college ministries. Though I’m now positive that it all served as a pathway for my eventual surrender, it never really made sense at the time.
However, it wasn’t until I went through a divorce that the legalism of the Catholic Church was truly revealed to me:
As her Dad was a Deacon in the church, I was shocked when he gave her his blessing to go through with the divorce. It was my understanding that the Catholic Church was adamantly opposed to divorce, just like they are opposed to contraception and abortion. But according to her, there were exceptions.
“My Dad said he could talk to the Bishop and we can get an annulment.” she said. “Since he’s friends with the Bishop, he said they could make and exception.”
Friends with the Bishop? That’s all it takes?! In the Bible and at our wedding, the Priest specifically said “What God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Mark 10:9) Yet, her Dad was telling us that man can, in fact, separate what God has joined together?
At that point, I was convinced that someone was lying. Either the Priest who married us was lying when he said that “What God had joined together, let no man separate” or the Bishop was lying about his power to “separate our marriage after God had joined it together”. Either way, I no longer wanted anything to do with it. Not just the legalism of marriage, but the infallibility of the Pope, the forgiveness of sins only through confession to a Priest, and the restrictions on taking Holy Communion.
I reached a point where these rules and traditions didn’t make sense anymore, even though they had served a great purpose in the past, for centuries and centuries. But I was now at a place where I didn’t need a Priest in order to confess my sins to Christ, nor did I need a Priest to tell me that Christ had forgiven me. I didn’t need a Priest to read the Bible to me as I was capable of reading it on my own. And most importantly, I didn’t need a Priest to tell me whether or not I was worthy of taking Communion as I already know that I’m not worthy, but that Jesus Christ accepts me anyways.
At the time, I was mad at the Catholic Church for the inconsistencies that they practiced. But I’m not mad anymore. I’m actually appreciative for all the the Catholic Church has done through the centuries to keep the Gospel of Christ alive. I’m appreciative for the foundation of faith that the church laid in my parents’ lives which led to the foundation in my life. I’m appreciative for all the charities the have founded and all the hospitals they have established and all the hope they have spread, despite any transgressions the Church may have committed.
Even so, I no longer consider myself a Catholic nor do I consider myself a Protestant. I grew up Catholic and I am appreciative of that. But now, I identify myself as a Bible-believing follower of Jesus Christ. I attend a non-denominational church that believes in the Bible as the word of God and I confess my sins and accept forgiveness directly with Christ.