Thursday, April 25, 2013

My Conversion Story - Part 4

In 2004 our family left the Presbyterian church and started attending a growing charismatic church that was in the same town.  We had been discussing finding a church home closer to where we live for a few years but it was easier to just stay put.  We now had two little ones who had been born and baptized in the Presbyterian faith and as they started to get older we realized we needed to find a church home that we could realistically drive to more than once a week so they could start to attend the youth activities.  The problem was, there were no PCA churches closer than a 45 minute drive from our home.  We were happy with our faith background but knew we needed to be closer to home and our new church fit the bill.  We had friends who attended there so it made the transition easier.  This church was growing rapidly and was in the middle of a building campaign.  As a young mom, it was nice to be able to drop our kids off in nursery or children's church and be able to spend an hour and 1/2 listening to a great band, singing and worshiping, and then hearing an awesome sermon.  The whole service was designed to really give me a break (trust me, as a stay at home mom to two boys under three, that was desperately needed).  I didn't miss my days in the old church nursery too much!  I was able to sit with my husband and focus on God during that time.  God opened our hearts and minds to charismatic concepts that, as Presbyterians, were foreign to us.  I began to realize that God was bigger than the box I had put Him in.  It was God who showed me that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit (things like healings and speaking in tongue) could still be alive in this day and age.  God used this time in Doug and my life to bring healing and renewal, in our individual lives and in our marriage.  It was a time of tremendous spiritual growth.  It was a time of physical growth in our family too...our third son would be born the following year.

Game Boy's dedication, 2005
Our charismatic church did not believe in infant baptism, so Game Boy would be our first baby who would not be baptized in the faith.  Instead, they would perform an infant dedication.  Afterward we threw a pool party at our house and one of our Catholic friends stopped by with his kids to help us celebrate.
Actual picture of Firstborn & Soccer Boy
taken on that day in our pool!
I'll never forget the conversation we had that day in the pool.  He was raised in a Catholic home and basically only had Catholic friends growing up so he was curious about our Protestant faith.  I loved to argue theology so I was more than willing to "show him the light" of how our religion worked (ha,ha...I'm pretty sure God was laughing at me that day)!  He absolutely floored me when he asked if I believed in the virgin birth of Jesus.  I was stunned speechless for a moment...not believe in the virgin birth?  All of the Christian faith hinges on the concept of the virgin birth?!  Why would he think that Protestants didn't believe in that?  Then it dawned on me, Catholics believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary (so, in other words, she remained a virgin after Jesus' birth, Joseph and her never had relations before or afterwards).  Protestants believe that Mary only remained a virgin until sometime after Jesus was born, then their marriage would have been consummated in the common way, like all other marriages.  Because of this and his unfamiliarity with the Protestant viewpoint, he wondered if we believed in the virgin birth at all.  I set him straight on it, but it made me wonder what other misconceptions did Catholics have about Protestants.  I mean, if you could miss something like the virgin birth, which is a pretty basic concept, there had to be other misconceptions too.  My friend went on to explain the Catholic concept of Sacraments and the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church (baptism being one of them).  Sacraments, I vaguely knew something about the term, but I didn't know that there were seven of them.  In fact, I realized I didn't know much about them at all and my friend knew quite a lot and he admitted he was not a theologian by any stretch.  He was sort of surprised I didn't know any of them, in fact, he was surprised the Protestant church didn't practice them (well, we did do some of them, but we didn't call them "sacraments").  Considering how important they were in the Catholic Church, he just assumed we did them also.  The whole conversation made me wonder what I was missing in my knowledge of the Catholic faith.  I thought I knew what they believed, that they did idol worship (come on, look at all the statues they have), and they thought the Pope was perfect and that Mary was always a virgin.  Oh, and they had to go to confession (which I kind of saw as a Catholic "get out of jail free" card).  It seemed most of my Catholic friends saw it that way too, the running joke was they could do whatever they wanted on Friday as long as they confessed it on Sunday.  We had taken the NFP classes, so I knew they were against birth control (and remember, I thought they got that one right).

God started working on me that day, I remembered the way I felt when I came into the charismatic church, how I thought I knew everything there was to know about God and worship and how I was proven wrong.  I began to wonder about what I didn't know about the Catholic faith.  I had to admit, most of the Catholics I knew did not seem to be practicing Christians.  Most of them were cradle Catholics who were nominal Christians at best.  I could honestly think of only three people in my entire life experience who were, what I would have considered, "born again" Catholics.  Who seemed to have an authentic relationship with Jesus and were also authentically Catholic.  It was a rarity and I saw them more as the exception to the rule.  They were Christians in spite of being Catholic and not because of it.

My friend dropped off a book to me later that week, Rome Sweet Home, by Scott and Kimberly Hahn.  He said he didn't have all the theological answers to the questions I was asking him but he thought the book would help because it was written by a Presbyterian pastor who converted to the Catholic faith.  That interested me, I had never heard of anyone converting to the Catholic faith, much less a pastor.  The only converts I knew were people who married Catholics and they only did it to be married in the Catholic Church.  Besides, I figured I would be able to read the book so I would understand what Catholics say about what they believe (as opposed to what Protestants say Catholics believe).  Then I could argue with my friend more effectively.  If anything, it would broaden my religious horizons, I loved to read and I was especially interested in theology.  I had nothing but time with three boys under the age of four, haha!  I finished reading it within days, I could not put it down.  Anyone who has ever read it knows what I'm going to I was reading it dawned on me that huh, he actually makes sense...then it becomes, holy ****, this is not good because, he really, really makes sense!  I had no argument with anything he said, none at all.  I tried to get Doug to read it because I really needed some common, Protestant sense because I must have been missing something pretty darn obvious to be thinking that the Catholic Church had this right but Doug is not a big reader and really wanted nothing to do with it.  He said the Catholic Church was wrong, period.  They obviously had to be wrong because of the priest scandal and all the terrible stuff that happened in the past (crusades, Spanish inquisition).  Besides, they believed in purgatory, and that was, well... purgatory!!  In his mind there was no way they could be right and he was not even open to researching it.  I did what was reasonable to not cause friction in my marriage and put it aside.  We were Protestants, and that was that.  God surely wanted us on the same team, and anyway I was busy with the boys and didn't have the time to look into it further.  God had used our friend to plant the seeds but it would be a few years before anything would come of it.

Next installment...the controversy of women's place in the church and how reading the early church fathers led me to attend my first Mass.

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