Here’s What I Learned About Catholics When I Was A Protestant

by Apologetics, Testimonies

In a world overrun with social media and two-second soundbites, it’s often a challenge to know who to trust or what to believe.

I should know.

I was raised in a Protestant Christian church with Protestant friends. I attended a Protestant school. I read Protestant books. I was taught Protestant doctrine.

Those Christians believed deeply and cared about me. They loved Jesus. They were good people with good intentions. They still are.

But they gave me some really bad advice.

They told me, through both their words and their actions, that I should never join the Catholic Church.

Most of my Protestant friends, family, and teachers didn’t go so far as to believe that the Catholic Church was the Beast in the book of Revelation or that the Pope was the anti-Christ. However, they did believe that many Catholic doctrines and traditions were anti-Christian.

And nearly all thought that “the Catholics burn way too much incense.”

I don’t blame my Protestant influences for their anti-Catholic beliefs. In many cases, they’d been taught to distrust the Catholic Church since childhood. Generations of Protestants have passed down anti-Catholic biases—often, in my opinion, due to misperceptions, bad data, and the occasional bad Catholic.

I believe, however, that we shouldn’t base our faith merely on what we’re taught or what our ancestors believed. Faith should be based on facts revealed through evidence.

Christianity itself is centered on Christ’s literal death and resurrection and the evidence thereof. Shouldn’t all faith have reasonable evidence as its basis?

I don’t believe in the Loch Ness Monster because convincing evidence doesn’t exist. Blurry photos and hoaxes don’t do the trick.

But if a dozen unrelated eyewitnesses came forward, along with maybe a few original photos, I could be persuaded of Nessie’s existence.

THE BEGINNING OF MY JOURNEY TO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

When our oldest son turned four, my wife and I decided that a private school with small classes would fit his personality better than a public school. And, while visiting private schools in our area, we decided that the best elementary school for our son was the Catholic one.

As a Protestant, that terrified me.

All the bad things I’d been taught about the Catholic Church bubbled up inside, and I felt more than a little nauseous. Even so, I had to admit that the school, for some bizarre reason, felt like home.

How could a school centered around anti-Christian dogma feel like home? I was perplexed.

So, before signing the registration papers, I decided to do something I should’ve done long before. I set out to investigate the claims of the Catholic Church.

What I found transformed my life.

INVESTIGATING CATHOLICISM

Although I never fell for the most extreme positions such as the Beast and anti-Christ claims, other anti-Catholic assertions appeared much more reasonable.

At the heart of many Protestant arguments was the belief that scripture alone, often referred to as sola scriptura, is the only authoritative source of Christian faith and practice.

But when I opened up the Bible to find passages arguing for sola scriptura, I found that none exist! In fact Saint Paul, writing to Christians in Thessalonica, commanded: “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Saint Paul clearly told his readers to follow not only what he wrote, but also what he taught! The traditions passed down from the apostles!!

I’m not at all attempting to discount the inspiration or importance of scripture. I firmly believe that God guided its authors. But the authors are not the only folks He guided, and every single apostolic teaching isn’t in the Bible.

I also believe that sola scriptura doesn’t make logical sense.

Thousands of Protestant denominations and independent churches exist, many with their own doctrinal statements. Each statement is based on an independent interpretation of scripture by its leaders.

If God intended us to follow scripture alone, wouldn’t He ensure scripture itself is immune to interpretation?

Many Protestants believe that Jesus left us the Holy Spirit to guide us when we read the Bible. While I agree that the Holy Spirit does guide us, we’re still stuck with a wide array of interpretations.

For example, Catholic and some non-Catholic Christians believe that baptism is a sacrament through which God imparts grace. Many non-Catholic Christians, on the other hand, deem baptism as merely a symbolic recognition of one’s faith.

They all share the same New Testament, however, including the passages about baptism.

If we can’t agree on something as foundational as baptism, how can we possibly think it makes sense to interpret scripture on our own?

To me, therefore, it seems logical—and essential—that we need an interpreter. In fact, ever since Jesus ascended into Heaven we’ve needed one.

But who or what could that be?

WHO SHOULD WE TRUST?

As a Protestant, I had long followed the teachings of some of the earliest Protestants. Folks like Martin Luther and John Calvin. Folks that argued against some Catholic doctrines such as Papal authority, the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and praying to saints.

As I considered their perspectives, however, I was dumbfounded. The Protestant Reformation didn’t begin until the 16th century.

Why was I trusting in the teachings of men who preached 1500 years after Jesus rose from the dead? Wouldn’t the earliest Christians be in a better position to know what Jesus and the Apostles actually taught?

Thankfully, newadvent.org and other online resources make the writings of the early Church fathers readily available.

I decided to see if anything they wrote answered my questions. It didn’t take long to find out.

Here are a few things I learned:

Saint Justin Martyr, who converted to Christianity as an adult, was a huge help. Somewhere around AD 150, he wrote a letter, now known as The First Apology, to the Roman emperor. In it, he documented Christian beliefs of the time.

In Chapter 66, he wrote that “the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”

No doubt in his mind. No doubt in the minds of Saints Ignatius and Irenaeus, either, as their second century writings make clear. Jesus is really present in the Eucharist.

But maybe that’s just an anomaly, I wondered. Perhaps the early Christians agree with Luther on other matters?

What about praying to the saints? Shouldn’t we pray to God alone?

Not according to Saint Jerome in his fourth century work, Contra Vigilant. “If the Apostles and Martyrs, while still in the body, can pray for others…how much more after their crowns, victories, and triumphs are won!”

Crowns, victories, and triumphs are won as saints enter into Heaven. Saints that Jerome says will pray for us if we ask.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, Origen, and countless other early Christians agree.

And, interestingly, so does the Bible!

Revelation 8:4 tells us, “The smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hand of the angel.”

Saints are the holy ones. This passage even refutes the claim that Catholics burn too much incense!

I was floored!

The writings of the early Christians supported Catholic doctrine time and time again!

To make it even easier, I learned that the Catechism makes Catholic teachings accessible to everyone. It includes quotes from Scripture, Saints, and Church fathers.

But why did it appear that the Catholic Church had it right?

Is The Catholic Church JESUS’ CHURCH?

I’d often heard the claim that Jesus established the Catholic Church. But rather than believing that claim, I rebelled against it. Weren’t all followers of Jesus—not just Catholics—part of His Church?

While I do still believe that there are plenty of non-Catholic Christians, I’ve learned that they’re missing out on a lot of what Jesus intended.

Jesus taught his apostles. He then gave the apostles authority to share His teachings.

In the fourth book of his Against Heresies, Saint Irenaeus wrote that:

“Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church — those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father.”

The word presbyter is synonymous with priest, and episcopate with bishops. So Irenaeus is telling us that priests and bishops are successors of the apostles. And, as such, they’ve received the truth.

He wrote those words less than a century after Saint John, the last surviving apostle, died.

The only Church with an unbroken succession of leaders, dating all the way back to the apostles, is the Catholic Church. In fact, the first Pope was the Apostle Peter!

I knew what I had to do.

I joined RCIA and, at the following Easter Vigil, officially joined the Catholic Church!

SO WHAT SHOULD YOU DO NOW?

If you’re a practicing Catholic, be confident that you’re where Jesus wants you to be. Praise Him for the truth and love He’s provided.

If you’re a non-Catholic or a skeptical Catholic, dig into the Bible and the early Christian saints. I bet that after you do you’ll consider coming home to the Church that Jesus intended for us all.

Jesus didn’t abandon us when He ascended into Heaven. He left His teachings—and us—in the loving arms of His one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.

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Image: Photo by Nycholas Benaia on Unsplash

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