My copy of “Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, Volume III: The Writings of the Church Fathers Affirming the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura” arrived in the mail a couple days ago. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it’s not what I got. With a couple of kids in tow, I’ve hardly read the whole book, but I’ve skimmed a fair portion in each of the sections. What I’ve found is a lot of quotes that either are completely irrelevant to the point they’re trying to make or are taken wholly out of context. I have not found one quote that suggests to me what it does to the authors. How is it possible that someone has compiled a whole book of quotes in which they’ve bolded and emphasized sections which they think mean one thing, and then I read it and find something completely different? Someone is deceiving themselves here. So I have to ask out of fairness, is it me?
Honestly, I’m astounded. How did I transform to this perspective? If only you all could have seen me a year ago. What happened? Were my eyes opened and now I’m left gaping at everyone else wondering why they’re so blind? Is there only a sane remnant left on this planet and have I been admitted into its brotherhood? I know that Protestants think that they’re the sane ones and Catholics are blind, so how do you figure out who’s right, without automatically being biased by the emphatic “I am!!!”? Led by my over analytical nature, I sat down with Chris the other night to discuss how I might figure out whether or not I am deceiving myself, or just believing what I want to believe, or seeing what I want to see. Here’s what we came up with:
First of all, you may be somewhat certain that you’re not just believing something because you want to if you do not want to believe it. I’m sure there are always doubters who will accuse me of desiring the Catholic Church to be the true Church for whatever reason they may come up with, but this isn’t for them. I am rather convinced that this is the last thing I ever wanted. When I met my husband, Catholicism repulsed me. I debated issues with him vehemently, even without checking what the foundations of my beliefs were, because my beliefs were the only possible true beliefs! He thought we could lose our salvation, I thought the sinner’s prayer saved you once and for all. He emphasized serving the Lord, I emphasized a personal relationship. He wanted to baptize our children, I wanted to wait until they could confess their faith themselves. Talking to him about it, he even says he can’t see how a person as adamant as I was could sound like I do now. I asked him why he married me then. He felt that was what God wanted of him and so he better do it! I think I can say with reasonable certitude that I didn’t just want to believe this.
Even if you aren’t just believing because you want to, how do you know you aren’t being fooled? Assuming the beliefs in question are reasonable and self-consistent, then one way of testing the spirits is to judge them by their fruit. This may be more difficult than the simple phrase implies, and it brings up a lot of subsequent questions. Undoubtedly, I have experienced bad fruit in Protestantism in the form of radical ideology, unseemly behavior, hypocrisy, pastor veneration, self-promotion, etc. There are also people who say they’ve experienced bad fruit in Catholicism. They say everyone was just going through the routine and they experienced dead faith and corrupt priests. My theory says that this Catholic bad fruit is a result of faithless individuals and the Protestant bad fruit is an inevitable result of a corrupt system. Of course, I can’t prove that to anyone, although I may share my reasons for believing this at a later date.
I can’t judge whether or not these people who experienced Catholicism accurately understood the faith of those around them, or had any faith of their own to begin with, or why Protestantism works better for them. What I can do is relate my own experience. I was a very sincere little Christian girl. For as long as I can remember, I have loved God and wanted to do His will. I went through life trying to be good, not to win my salvation, but out of love of Christ. In high school I was a little evangelist, wearing Christian t-shirts and jewelry, taking every opportunity to share Christ with others. I was surrounded by people only pretending to be spiritual, and so backed away from the “in” crowd at my church. Meanwhile, I was still trying to be faithful. In college, I got tired of the hypocrisy, and stayed away from Churches for a few years. I still read my Bible faithfully, had little post-it notes with verses to memorize all over my apartment. Eventually I got back into a better spiritual community. That’s when I met Chris. I don’t think the bad experiences I had (which I will detail in another post soon) were a result of insufficient faith on my part. I know that there are good churches out there, and I have gone to them. But a look at the history of the Reformation and the foundations of Protestantism makes me believe there is absolutely nothing protecting Christians from these things, and the system actually encourages it.
In high contrast, Catholicism has been a haven for me. Individuals are not singled out and praised, no one person can over-run the church and lead it into heresy or insanity, and the Church is devoted in every way to serve the needs of its parishioners and of the community. Catholic Charities in the Kansas City diocese serve over 84,000 people annually. The Church has Bible lessons, community events, fellowship and they feed the poor, fight for the unborn, educate the uneducated, and love the unloved. This is just a little bit to say: I have experienced abundant good fruit in the Catholic Church, and have grown in my spiritual understanding because of it. Were the people doing the Judas shuffle (which is what my old priest called it when people duck out right after communion) just not paying attention?
As best I can determine based on reason, fruitfulness, and desires, I am not fooling myself with my current Catholic perspective. I can’t know for sure, and I can’t persuade anyone else to believe me. I’ve gotten to the point that I don’t expect to find anything that the Church cannot stand against. All I can do is be prepared to face the consequences if I should find something. If I did, I don’t know if I could return to the folds of Protestantism. Would I be a lone Christian with my Bible in the wilderness? I guess it depends on what I might find. I asked Chris what he would do, and he thought he might head to the Orthodox church down the road and have a talk with the priest there to figure it out.
Now I wonder, how is it that my perspective has changed so dramatically? And how is it that others cannot see what I see? Are those people more concerned about being right or being their own masters than learning the truth of the gospel? And who out there is willing to face evidence that challenges them to change?
I’m reminded of the via moderna saying right now: “God will not deny grace to him who does his best.” People have interpreted this phrase to mean that you can work really, really hard and get to heaven. But what if we understand “does his best” to mean “earnestly seeks God with all his heart”? In such a case, maybe that is the real key to finding the truth. Seek God earnestly and you will find Him. Become what God wants you to become and you will recognize truth when you see it.