Tuesday, January 4, 2011

From Pastor to Parishioner: My Love for Christ Led Me Home

By Drake McCalister

(Catholic.com) If you grew up Catholic, it may be difficult for you to relate to those who profess faith in Jesus but whose stomachs turn at the thought of being Catholic. It might seem odd that the Catholic theology you’ve grown up with is seen by others as an offense to God. I was one of the stomach turners. There are days that I wake up and I still can’t believe I’m Catholic.

I grew up in the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, usually referred to as Foursquare. Foursquare is a Pentecostal denomination that began in the 1920s and is not rooted in the Reformation. In fact, we had already rejected many things the Reformers believed. While we did hold to sola scriptura and sola fide, we did not believe in "once saved always saved," and, as Pentecostals, we believed in miracles and the gifts of the Spirit, which many of the Reformers rejected. You could say we had already "reformed the reform."

Our denomination had a hierarchy of sorts, but each church was free to design its services and internal composition as it saw fit. We were more concerned that people’s lives were being changed by Jesus than with church structure. In some ways this is good—there is little value in a well-oiled machine that doesn’t change lives. We were much more experientially formed than theologically formed. We cared about theology, but the life-changing experience with Jesus was what really mattered.

I must say that, on the whole, if you’re going to pick a Protestant denomination, Foursquare is a good place to be. It is firm in its moral teachings, and with its focus on living for Jesus, a person will inevitably grow closer and more like Jesus the longer he attends.

Who’s Ever Heard of Catholic Radio?

In my early twenties, I discerned a call to enter into full-time ministry and became a Foursquare pastor. Through my years of ministry, my wife and I learned to hear the voice of God and were willing to do anything and go anywhere that God wanted us to go. This led us to plant a new Foursquare congregation in the university district of Seattle, Washington, in 1999. Foursquare doesn’t fund you when you start a new congregation, so whatever you bring or raise from outside support is all you have. When I arrived with my wife and three girls, I had no income, three months worth of money in the bank, and great faith that we would reach the people of Seattle with the gospel of Jesus. We knew God would provide. Our desire was to seek first his kingdom and let him take care of the rest (cf. Matt. 6:33), and he always has.

During this time we ministered to teens, college students, young adults, and young married families. Each week we would head out to the strip by the college and pass out food and clothes to street kids and send groups of two around the block to start up conversations about the gospel. None of us were evangelists by nature; we simply knew that the only way the unsaved would find Jesus would be if we went to them—we couldn’t expect them to just wander into our church.

It was during this time that the door first opened to the Catholic Church. I happened to turn on the radio and catch Catholic Answers Live on Sacred Heart Radio in Seattle. "That’s weird," I thought. "Who’s ever heard of Catholic radio? And what do Catholics need with a radio station anyway?" I wasn’t necessarily anti-Catholic, but I held the usual Reformation-inspired opinions of the Catholic Church and how blessed we were to be free from Romanism. As I listened to the show I was shocked to hear not only a clear presentation of Catholic teaching but also that Catholics still believed in transubstantiation, papal infallibility, and so on.

As the years went on in Seattle, I would occasionally tune back in to Catholic Answers Live and many other shows on Sacred Heart Radio, mainly for the purpose of understanding what Catholics teach so that I could have a reasoned defense to the contrary. The problem was that, time after time, the Catholic explanation of theology was every bit a biblical as my beliefs, albeit in a different way.

Now, because our denomination started in the 1920s, I was oblivious to Church history. For us the Reformation wasn’t the good old days; Acts 2 and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues are the good old days. There was virtually nothing done to fill in the gaps between the present and the first-century Church.

But the Catholics I listened to kept claiming that the earliest Christians were Catholic and that their writings from the first few centuries verify that claim. They would regularly present a point of theology that was rooted in Scripture and then support it with quotes from the "early Church Fathers." The speakers were clear that these writings are not inspired, nor are they on the same level as Scripture, but they do provide us with the historical context to know what the early Christians believed. More importantly, these early Christian writers claimed that these beliefs were handed down by the apostles, and some of them were even taught by the apostles.

At that time, Catholic Answers regularly threw out a challenge not to take their word for any of the positions of the Catholic Church but see for oneself if they are true. I decided to take them up on this challenge, figuring it would be easy. First of all, the Catholic Church sets an impossible standard for itself: infallibility in its dogmatic teachings on matters of faith and morals. All I had to do was prove one doctrine false and the entire system would cease to be without error. Secondly, I was sure that when I found the writings of these "early Church Fathers" and read them in context, they would set the story straight.

But there was a catch. Along with this challenge, there was a caution: Be careful—you just might become Catholic. Yeah, right! Impossible.

My Ship Came In

I started with a slow and measured search into Catholic teaching and Church history. This all changed after a most unexpected event. I was invited to speak at a Foursquare high school camp in the summer of 2003. The man who owned the camp was a gracious servant of Jesus and was gifted with what our denomination calls "prophetic insight," meaning that God gave him insight into things of which he had no natural knowledge. I had never met him before, and as we got to know each other that week, he said he might have some insight from the Lord for me. These encounters usually yielded a general word of encouragement that could probably apply to anybody. Nonetheless, I met with him in his office to pray and see if God had any direction for me.

He began to pray and said he could see a picture in his mind. He saw me and my family standing on the ocean shore and in the water was a huge ship. He said on the side of the ship were the words "Queen Mary." (At this point in my study, I didn’t know that this is a title for Mary; my interest was concentrated on the huge ship.) He looked straight at me and said, "I’m not sure, but maybe you’re supposed to have something to do with the Catholic Church."

I almost fell out of my chair. I told him about my unexpected encounter with Catholicism—the radio shows, the early Church Fathers, the challenge. I left the camp thinking that God might use me in some type of bridge ministry between Protestants and Catholics. Of course, I assumed it would be for bringing Catholics out of Catholicism and into the true unity and "fullness" of Protestantism. With my renewed focus, I returned home and aggressively pursued understanding Catholic theology, Church history, and how I could serve God in this capacity. "If I’m going to reach Catholics," I thought, "I’ll need to know what they believe and how they support those beliefs."

Hitting the Wall

As I examined each point of theology, I found that the Catholic Church’s teachings were the most biblical, the most historical, and the most reasonable. I was also surprised to find that Catholics also believed in miracles and the Pentecostal gifts I had grown up with (but with a more sound foundation). I thought, "Oh man! If this is true, I have to become Catholic."

The day finally came where I hit the wall and realized that the teachings of the Catholic Church are true. I realized that Jesus truly did establish a Church and didn’t leave the gospel to survive in an "every man for himself" model. In the end, I found that I, like all Bible-based groups, could support my theology from Scripture, but I always had to ignore certain passages to make it fit, and I couldn’t provide any support for its existence in the history of the Church. I found that Catholic theology makes sense of the whole of Scripture and that only Catholic theology is attested to from writings before the death of the apostle John to the present day.

I wasn’t excited about this discovery, for it would cost me most of what I had invested over thirteen years of pastoral ministry. But my desire was to follow Christ, so I resigned my pastorate in August 2004. Once again my wife and I and three girls were without an income, with three months’ worth of money to live on and full of faith that God would provide. And he has.

Now that all of us have come home to the Church, we are constantly amazed at the grace that God provides for living a powerful, Spirit-filled life. When understood properly, Scripture, liturgy, prayer, and the sacraments are far more capable of shaping our Christian walk than any of the relaxed church structures in which I had grown up. I have found that the structure and liturgies that used to turn my stomach have become a greater source of joy than I could have ever imagined.

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