Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Convert-sation

My mother is a Catholic convert and my dad is a cradle Catholic. When I was a teenager, I asked my dad how he convinced my mom to become a Catholic. "I didn't," was his response. "I just took her to Mass and she decided to do that on her own. You'll have to ask her why."

So off I went to ask my mom. My parents always spoke about worship as something you should do that makes you comfortable. I was in the Bible belt South unaware of the different ways Catholics worship (rites etc), so naturally it meant that any Christian form of worship was acceptable when I was old enough. Until then, Catholic I will be raised as. First I had to clarify things. I thought my mother was Baptist because her two younger brothers are. My grandparents never ascribed themselves to a particular denomination. I never went to church with them so naturally I had no idea what my mother was raised as. "You were Baptist right?" I asked. "No, I was Methodist." I looked surprised. "How did that happen? Were your parents Methodist?" "No," she replied. "In Highschool, my best friends were Methodist so I just went to their church and became Methodist, but it wasn't for me. I just did it because that's what my friends were." "So how did you became Catholic?" I asked. "I met your father and he took me to Mass. I felt comfortable like I belonged there so I converted."

And that's all she wrote. My mother converted like so many Catholics convert to Evangelical circles because she felt comfortable there. Her story is unique. Most people who convert to Catholicism say it's because something Biblical didn't sit right with them.

I've been reading a lot of conversion or reversion stories as well as statics. A large number of Catholics are converting to Evangelical churches (very few to mainline Protestants). The number is larger than the other way around, but that makes sense because there are more Catholics than in any one denomination. Therefore there are more people converting to Evangelical denominations. Many reasons for leaving the church are the same reasons my mom converted to Catholicism: comfort. Many Protestants have outreach programs and unlike Catholic worship services there's a lot more fellowship going on. Some of the individual churches have smaller congregations making it easier to reach out to those interested in their church. So a large number of former Catholics felt ignored or given the cold shoulder.

To defend Catholicism, we don't hold conversations during our worship service. We are there to pray and worship God, not socialize. We stand up, sit down, and kneel to make our bodies fully participate in the worship of God along with our hearts and minds. That's the reason why we don't talk. It's not because we're being unfriendly. Most conversations (are supposed to) be held outside of Mass either before entering or after exiting. We have fellowship too, but you have to make an effort to come because our congregations are large and our ministries many. In other words, people are very busy. It's hard to notice if someone is new or just visiting. We do have adult education formation, but that all depends on the interest. If you want to learn something, you have to approach the priest and get something started. It's unfortunate that we make people work for social contact in our church, but there aren't as many priests as their used to be. And many Evangelical churches, whatever the size, typically have two ministers. My two priests serve a church size of over 200 families. So it's a numbers game. In order for that to change, we need more priests.

Another big reason that people leave is because of the Church's lack of catechesis. Many people aren't taught the basic tenets of the Catholic faith from a young age (I know I wasn't) and are unaware of basic dogma and where this can be found in the Bible. This is sad because our Church has a rich theological history, but our catechism books are filled with happy people and large pictures. There were no quotes from church fathers or quotes from the Bible following vocabulary text. For example cardinal virtues are explained in the Confirmation text, but the passages in the Bible that list them aren't given. While morals are taught very well little else is explained. Thus many Catholics grow up with a disconnect thinking that Catholic dogma can't be found in the Bible and what's worse can't explain the definitions of things like cardinal virtues. They are found incidentally in Wisdom 8:7 while theological virtues are found in 1 Cor 13.

So when a Catholic ventures out into the world of Fundamentalists who have memorized scripture and can pull out different zinger passages to dispute Catholic dogma, the largely uncatechized Catholic feels like something is wrong with their beliefs. Thus they convert to what they think is the best Biblical-following church without having any clue that Catholic teaching is founded in the Bible as well. And unfortunately, it's a numbers game. Because we are short on theologically well-trained ministers, lay as well as religious, often people rely on these terrible text books to teach Biblical tenets. It's unfortunate. For my own children, I plan on teaching them dogma using the Catechism and the Bible. No water-downed theology for my children. And I hope more people do the same or at least actively seek out information about the faith on their own.

So why convert to Catholicism at all? Well you may be surprised that the reason as I mentioned earlier is because Evangelicals find a passage which doesn't sit right with their current theological training. There is a Evangelical convert who said:

"It was here that we first heard about the doctrine of Eternal Security – the belief that a once a Christian is “saved,” he cannot lose salvation no matter what he does. We objected initially, but were assured it was true, our friends firing off memorized Bible verses to support the doctrine. We backed down for a while. Then Mike began his own Bible study by listening to tapes of the Bible while exercising. I also studied, on my own, with my dictionaries, concordances and Greek interlinear. Before long, Mike was using these sources as well. We soon became convinced that there were hundreds of verses that did not align with the “once saved, always saved” doctrine. Our Bible study group swelled to overflowing as Mike taught how Scripture refuted Eternal Security. We were labeled Arminian even though we had never heard of Arminius or what he wrote. But we did reject Calvinism, especially the doctrine of Limited Atonement."

Interestingly, when people convert to Catholicism they speak lovingly about their time in Protestant circles since Biblical study is and was the foundation of their faith which they learned as Evangelicals. The Catholic Church does not demonize Protestants (at least not from pulpits). We think they hold some basic truths to Christianity but not the complete truth. When Catholics leave the Church, they speak awful about it. They say they were unwelcomed or that everything they learned as a Catholic was wrong. It's really sad that people are that hostile. I wonder why.

Revealing dogmatic truths is the reason I evangelize with Biblical passages. The idea is to prove why a Catholic believes what we believe. Not only do I direct this information to those family and friends who are Catholic but may be unaware, but I also direct this information to Bible-believing Protestants so 1) they may understand what the Church teaches beyond the misconceptions and thus at least tolerate Catholicism 2) have them become aware of the many Protestant dogmas such as Eternal Security which conflict with many scriptural passages.

I truly believe that although Protestants claim to be sola-scriptura (scripture only) they do follow tenets and dogma of their church leaders like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and their own preachers. "Following what the Bible says" in and of itself is a traditional theology since the Bible wasn't compiled until 393 and wasn't fully established until the 16th century. Up until that point early church teachers taught vocally. Most people couldn't read anyway. Plus passages can be interpreted in many different ways. To follow a particular teaching, for example no dancing or no musical instruments during a worship service means you are following someone's interpretation. So it suffices to say that Protestants follow traditions on church teachings not just the Bible. And that's why many people convert to Catholicism. They realize that while some of these teachings are found in the Bible they come from someone's interpretation. In other words, Protestants don't follow sola-scriptura. It's impossible to do so.

It's the duty of Catholics to evangelize. We are called by our Baptism to do so. So while I don't stand around street corners or university quads asking "survey questions" on faith (are you saved?), I do hang out here on blogger making it my mission to spread the message of Christ and her true Church that is to say the Catholic church. You're more than welcome to remove me from your blog rolls if that bothers you. I'm not holding you hostage. However, if you wish to stay and hear about morning sickness and my kids, you will have to hear me preach, for lack of a better word, about Catholicism. I've had enough attempts by people to make me "accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior" that I think it's high time I tell people the same thing. With that said, I am intending to turn my usual direction of discourse from defending Catholic dogma to dispelling Protestant dogma (like the rapture for instance). I'm just giving you fair warning, which is much more than I was given as a teen.

And if you think I'm being uncharitable and nastily targeting Protestants, I want to point out that I am just as hard on my own church. If you read my blog long enough, you'll discover that there are many things Catholics do that do not sit well with me (like God Bless the USA at Mass). So I'm not treating anyone differently. In fact I would say that I have been most kind to Protestants and more harsh to Catholics, but that's about to change. You're all going to hear my rants. Sorry. God bless you cause you ain't seen nothin' yet.

1 comment:

  1. great post!!!

    My family (5 kids, mom and dad) converted when I was twelve (all 4 grandparents coming from different traditions) WHY? We went church shopping and loved the crucifix, the Eucharist and confession! and nobody invited us---we catholics need to invite!!!

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